Monday, August 8, 2016

Building Restoration: If Floors Could Talk

If floors could talk…
A look back on the history and the future of floor restoration

Gone are the days when floor restoration teams were set with a hatchet hammer, sandpaper and wax. In the early 1900s, if you could drive 38 nails a minute, you were hired, but considered slow. Today, you can size up a facility floor-restoration project with an infrared smartphone, and select from ergonomically designed power tools matched to the precise needs of the job.

As a leader in the floor care industry, Advance thought it would be interesting to take a quick peek at the past and future of floor care and restoration.

Great Expectations
Wood, tile, concrete -- each require a different approach, and on top of that, they may be coated with anything from anti-slip to high-gloss treatments. Although the physical work has gotten easier, advances in flooring materials, tools, cleaning agents and regulations have added complexity to the work that hands-on craftspeople love to do.

Another way that restoration has changed over time is that the more we learn about allergens, dust, mold and toxins, the more we depend on facility managers and janitors to keep us well.  An interest in eco-friendly and LEED-certified materials is also on the rise.

All You Have You Owe to Carpet
According to Hardwood Floors Magazine, floor care and restoration leaped forward with the advent of carpeting. Seen as a rescue from the tedious work of waxing floors,
its popularity soared in the 1960s -- running wood-flooring factories out of business.

The outcome was that a whole new industry was born. In search of new sources of income, displaced wood workers began to make a point of offering their services to victims of fire, even watching the news for tips on who might be in need. By the time the wood floor industry saw signs of recovery, so many workers had left that new workers had to be trained -- fast. This sparked the development of training programs and trade associations as the industry became more complex.

Aging Buildings Hide Treasure
Thanks to the construction booms of the 1920s and 1940s we now have aging buildings in need of restoration. This raises a number of issues, for instance:

      Will a neglected, grime covered floor be damaged in the process of polishing it for the first time in decades?
      Are original materials still available?
      Will contemporary materials have the same look as the old -- many of which are now banned due to lead or other toxins.
      What if no color photos are available from the building’s original use?

These are questions that came up as a part of the St. Paul, Minn. historic Union Depot’s restoration of 2012. As you can see here, the outcome is stunning. 

Next Up?
Based on highlights of an industry convention coming up in Sept. 2016, The Experience, you’re likely to see new smartphone-based tools designed to take environmental readings of salt, dust, humidity, rain, vibration, solar radiation and thermal shock resistance. As capability expands, training may become more specialized. Trade associations such as the Restoration Industry Association seem to be ready to help workers stay informed.

Restoring floors is one thing; cleaning them is another. This October, visit Advance at the ISSA/INTERCLEAN® One Show in Chicago to show you how it’s done right. Hope to see you there.


Wahlgren, Kim. “The History of the Wood Flooring Industry.” 31 Dec. 1999

Union Depot
(Flooring story begins at 3:00 mark)

Smartphone app