Terrazzo flooring, with its mosaic style of pieces of marble or granite set in polished concrete or epoxy resin, is known for its flexibility and remarkable durability. So it’s no wonder the method has been around for centuries.
With proper care during installation and use, it’s also possible for terrazzo floors to last a number of decades. “There are terrazzo floors that were installed in the early 1900s that are still nice looking jobs,” says James Bateman, terrazzo division manager of Terrazzo & Marble Supply Companies. Indeed, the style is known to some as ‘forever floors,’ a nod to its history and longevity.
A Colorful History
References to terrazzo date all the way back to ancient times, but the origins of today’s terrazzo are modeled after 20th-century Italian work.
Italian masonry workers used to quarry marble and granite using dynamite. After the explosions, many marble pieces would crumble and fall to the side of the quarry, where workers gathered them and mixed the chips with cement. They poured the mixture on their terrazza (or terrace, in Italian) and ground the material with carborundum blocks to expose the marble inside. “At the time, marble was reserved for the Italian aristocracy—certainly not the laborers at the marble quarries,” Meyer says. But terrazzo gave the working class access to a higher design aesthetic.
As people migrated from Europe to the States, traditional terrazzo workers brought the trade with them, though the industry has certainly evolved over the years. Original terrazzo was set in cement, but now 90% of terrazzo floors are made with an epoxy resin, Bateman says.
A Long Life
While Terrazzo flooring may carry a higher upfront cost, its durability and life expectancy often make it the most affordable option, in the long run, Bateman says. When you add up the life cycle costs for carpet, porcelain, or other flooring materials, terrazzo typically ends up saving you money. “It’s definitely the Cadillac of flooring options,” he says. “A lot of people see that initial price tag and think, ‘Oh, wow. That’s five times the value of carpet.’ But you’re probably going to replace that carpet six times in the life of one terrazzo installation.”
Terrazzo’s resilient flooring solutions are used in high-traffic areas like schools, stadiums, and airports. Fortunately, they’re also very easy to clean—warm water and a bucket is all you need. And because the terrazzo is poured in place, the flooring is one seamless surface, alleviating hygiene issues. “With Terrazzo, unlike many hard surface materials such as porcelain or ceramic tiles, it doesn’t have grout joints, which is where bacteria and dirt collect,” Meyer says.
A Sustainable Design
Terrazzo & Marble manufactures its own epoxy that acts as a binder holding the chips together. With the evolution of their epoxy resin technology, the company is able to incorporate materials like aluminum, zinc, and brass as well as exotic aggregates like mother-of-pearl, which consists of crushed seashells. “There’s a lot of color and design flexibility because Terrazzo is poured in place. It’s limited only by the imagination,” Meyer says.
Aggregate options also include recycled products like glass, porcelain, marble, and even beer bottles. “We take a lot of things that would be put into the waste stream that we can reclaim and reuse in a terrazzo floor,” Bateman says. Most of their epoxy products also emit zero VOCs, so you don’t have to worry about indoor air quality.
Just as the 20th-century Italian workers recycled materials from quarries, some floorings are still made from material scraps.
Beyond adding whatever you want to the floor, terrazzo is also customizable in terms of color. “You can select any paint manufacturer’s color from their fan deck and we’ll match the epoxy to it. We have people who will send us a piece of fabric and say, ‘Hey, can you match this?’” Bateman says. “We can match virtually any color under the sun.”
Learn more about Terrazzo & Marble Supply Companies.