Bob Murrell 

M3 Technologies

Photos by Bob Murrell

In all of my years in this business, I was only truly “stiffed” one time. Granted, I have worked less on the contracting side than some of you as I have most always been on the technical sales, training, and support side of the business. However, I have done my fair share of restoration projects, both large and small over a more than 40 year career. 

Nowadays, I most always recommend that restoration and maintenance professionals write up contracts before beginning a project. It is important that the person or company funding the project sign the contract. In the event that you have to take someone to civil court, a contract is a must-have. I am no attorney but highly recommend that your contract have the expected results, potential problems, disclaimers, and the fact that there could possibly be additional charges if unforeseen problems arise. It’s basically called CYOA.

Submitting a test area should help your estimate and/or contract to be more accurate. However, there are many issues that can rear their ugly heads. You know this already, if you’ve been doing this for a few years. In any case, you will always hear it from me, in every article and most all verbal recommendations too, submit a test area to confirm both the results and procedure.

What happens when the lippage you thought was minimal turns out to be a much bigger problem than you originally thought? It can be that the low areas are much more difficult to deal with than high edges or corners. These must be dealt with, in many cases, with a hand tool. What if there is wax in these low areas and grout lines?

What happens when the stone is poorly set and some tiles crack? I mean really, do you go around sounding tiles on every job that comes along? The same thing applies to the grout too. Missing grout is a very common issue.

Another hit or miss issue is be rust or discoloration around toilets and faucets on counters and vanity tops. Do you remove, or have you removed all hardware from most countertop and vanity restoration projects? Probably not. You can only get so close as some of these are 24k gold-plated and you certainly don’t want to be replacing those. Rust on white marble around toilets is also very common. It can be a permanent stain as these areas stay moist for very long periods of time and the iron can migrate completely through the stone. You may not ever be able to remove these types of deep stains.

Oh, and guess what. Once you have ground all of the lippage, gone through all of the necessary honing steps and have your first area polished, this is when problems can start to show up.  I don’t know in how many projects this has happened to me, but it is a few, for sure.

Case Study One

On one memorable job, we were grinding and honing a marble floor, and when we got to the 800-grit we noticed divots, in a definite pattern across the floor, that were not noticeable before we started, because the floor was so rough. We never saw them until that point, and to repair them would not have been cost -effective. We simply had to discuss the options with the owner and it was decided that we would hone them all by hand and then polish the floor. They were noticeable but the floor was acceptable, and even more importantly, we got paid. I never figured out what would have been the reason for those divots.

Above, left: Marble floor before restoration, showing excess mortar, rust stains, and wax (and unknown chemical) buildup.  Above, right: Marble floor during the restoration, beginning the handtool work of grinding, leveling  and removing excess mortar.

Above, left: Marble floor before restoration, showing excess mortar, rust stains, and wax (and unknown chemical) buildup.

Above, right: Marble floor during the restoration, beginning the handtool work of grinding, leveling  and removing excess mortar.

Case Study Two

Recently a local contractor had a project to lightly hone an enclosed back porch. This floor of pink Tennessee marble was probably laid in the early 1900s. The home was built in 1829. So this floor had never been ground (and we all know that means it definitely has lippage), had been previously waxed and who knows what other products had been applied over the years.

First we used 120-grit flexible metal discs. They cut fairly aggressively and seemed to remove most of the built-up coatings, minimize most of the lippage, and exfoliated both the stone and grout very well. This helped the floor tremendously. However, there were areas of mortar buildup that we suspect was used to repair missing grout through the years. So a 70-grit flexible metal disc was used on a hand tool to hog off these areas as well as to round off any sharp edges of lippage and to go around the borders. Then a 120- grit metal disc on the hand tool was used to hone these and all problem areas that remained. The floor machine was then run again with the 120-grit metals affixed, to blend everything. 

Above, left: Marble flooring before restoration: typical example of the dirty and  deteriorated condition.  Above, right: Edge of flooring after 120-grit honing: finishing up border work with a Makita grinder and flexible metal tool.

Above, left: Marble flooring before restoration: typical example of the dirty and deteriorated condition.

Above, right: Edge of flooring after 120-grit honing: finishing up border work with a Makita grinder and flexible metal tool.

This floor had sanded grout and mortar so thankfully a honed look was decided upon. The floor was left at the 120-grit level to maximize the surface area and yet still be smooth and exhibit some color. This open surface would help the impregnator/sealer to penetrate better. Stone Soap would be the preferred product for routine maintenance. The Stone Soap will help provide additional protection against foreign contaminants as well as enhance the natural colors of the stone over time. FYI, Stone Soap is usually the go-to product for textured and honed materials.   

Keep in mind that the client had a limited budget and did not want to pay for a total and complete restoration, meaning full lippage removal and a higher hone or even polish. Of course a polish would have been very difficult if even possible due to the sand in the grout and mortar issues. This room was a laundry and mud room so a rustic look was totally acceptable. 

However, as we previously mentioned, as progress takes place, more defects become noticeable. Basically, the better the floor looks, the more you start to see other issues that may need to be addressed. This is where the art of negotiating comes into play. Additional funding could be necessary, especially if there is a substantial amount of additional work the client is requesting. This is why the contract should be specific that additional costs may be involved for improvements that go above and beyond the original scope of work.    

Now it appeared that there may be a water issue under the floor. Keep in mind that only two grinds with the floor machine and some hand tool work took place and the water that was used in this process was managed with standard wet vac procedures. After several days of still noticeable water in the floor, two squirrel-cage fans and dehumidifier were installed. After four days the floor still exhibited water coming from beneath. It would be physically impossible that any water left from the grinding process was still in the floor or setting bed at this point.

Above left, Before: Marble floor, showing first pass with 120-grit metal discs under the floor machine. Above, right: Marble flooring after first complete pass with the floor machine.

Above left, Before: Marble floor, showing first pass with 120-grit metal discs under the floor machine.

Above, right: Marble flooring after first complete pass with the floor machine.

So, it turns out that the client did have some recent grading work against the house done to remedy the water issue. It appears that the grading project did not completely resolve the situation. In any case, using the two fans and the dehumidifier was able to eventually dry the floor enough to seal, and I was eventually and get paid.  

The point is, stuff happens. If it is something you caused, fix it. If it is something you didn’t cause, negotiate and get paid for it.

As always, maintain a good relationship with a distributor of quality products and the technical support to back them up. This is a logical approach and will help make your projects much easier.

Happy Halloween!

Bob Murrell has worked in the natural stone industry for over 40 years and is well known for his expertise in natural stone, tile and decorative concrete restoration and maintenance. He helped develop some of the main products and processes which revolutionized the industry, and is currently the Director of Operations for M3 Technologies.