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Floor removal: how much is too much?

Some believe continuous floor removal ruins the substrate, the choice of machine tooling is often what affects the concrete underneath. Dave Bigham explains how to avoid damage to the concrete surface.

EVERYONE can understand the frustration of carefully priming a wall only to realise it was too thick, making any paint on top look streaky. Laying down floors can bring the same annoyance, especially when you find out the substrate is full of imperfections. While some may believe that continuous floor removal ruins the substrate, the choice of machine tooling is often what affects the concrete underneath.

Typically, flooring is removed for aesthetic reasons — like to match a company’s particular style or branding. For example, well known coffee shops require the same style of floor in each chain to ensure consistency. In homes and offices, the style of floor is typically decided by what’s is currently trending or to match the rest of the interior’s décor.

In some cases, contractors may remove flooring to resolve water damage or repair general wear and tear. No matter the case, floors are built to last, so are removed sparingly. While it is common for contractors to remove some concrete along with the floor covering during renovation, it’s often only a few milometers at a time and usually goes unnoticed. Major damage to the concrete is uncommon, but not impossible, so contractors should understand when concrete requires repair and how to do it effectively.

The success of the new floor relies heavily on how contractors prepare the substrate. If concrete is left uneven, any floor laid on top cannot sit correctly and will need to be ripped up so that the substrate can be fixed. Not only does this add time and create unnecessary waste, but the job can become far more expensive than needed.

Concrete hardness
The hardness of concrete can sometimes be a factor in the level of damage seen during floor removal. Natural materials make up 70% of concrete mixture — and these can vary based on the environment.

Areas such as Tennessee and Ohio, where aggregate is made up of hard rocks like granite and quartzite, often have harder concrete compared to areas that use sandstone and limestone in Florida and Texas. Other factors that impact concrete hardness include curing techniques, levels of hydration and mineral additives in the mixture.

The concrete itself differs so much, therefore the degree of pressure the contractor working on the floor uses massively impacts the level of damage left behind. In areas with softer concrete, a lighter hand is needed to remove flooring and avoid removing chunks of concrete underneath.

Before doing the job, contractors can visit the site and conduct a patch test — removing a small portion of flooring to assess the best method of removal and get an idea of the concrete hardness ahead of time.

Tooling choice
In most situations, concrete damage is owing to tooling choice, rather than machine. If tools are used too aggressively or in the wrong way, contractors have to go back and repair it. It’s also not the type of flooring being removed that’s the issue, but the residue. Older materials like asbestos adhesive used in the ‘40s and ‘50s stays sticky and lasts longer than modern adhesive but also requires special measures to remove.

Not only would contractors need specific PPE to avoid inhaling harsh chemicals, but the adhesive needs heavy-duty tools to remove any excess residue, which can in turn cause damage to the concrete underneath.

Choosing the right tools and steps to take when removing floors are key. For example, gymnasium floors can be removed via ride-on scrapers but need the be scored initially before removal so that the shanks don’t damage anything underneath.

Repairing concrete damage
Once concrete has been damaged, there are a few ways contractors can repair the surface ready for new flooring to be laid on top. Adding a concrete topping or overlay can even out any dents or rivets, ensuring the new flooring can lay flat. This method is often used when large sections of the floor are damaged and need repair.

Alternatively, floor patches are particularly useful when only small parts of the floor are not level, to smooth out the uneven areas. However, floor patches are never as hard as regular PSI concrete strength, so it’s common for these to be removed or damaged during future floor removal. Floor patches are difficult to see or aren’t always bonded correctly to the original concrete and therefore will need to be replaced before new flooring is laid down.

Just like choosing the right priming tool can improve a wall’s finish, knowing which tooling to use on each floor will ensure the concrete underneath is left intact. Even in situations where the concrete is impacted, there are methods to prep the surface and avoid any imperfections to the floor once new material has been laid down.
Dave Bigham is global director of training at surface preparation equipment manufacturer National Flooring Equipment

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