Last October, I moderated a seminar in which I first offered insights on the status of specifications found in concrete polishing contracts. Held at the International Concrete Polishing and Staining Conference in Atlanta, I ended my session by asking, “What should be the model specification for concrete polishing?”

My question brought many emotional responses. The goal of this session was to seek agreement on how to establish a consensus on specifications. By the end, I realized that the consensus was simple: There was no consensus.

But in retrospect, I am pleased to learn that all my efforts did accomplish something. The contractors agreed on one key idea—owners and their representatives should not use specifications to dictate how to polish concrete.

“There is more than one way to skin a cat,” many remarked. I agree. Contractors can meet a performance requirement of a polished concrete surface by using a host of different procedures and products. In fact, each contractor has developed his own procedures to accomplish a desired end-product.

The contractors also agreed that a performance-orientated specification must include all floor qualities the owner desires. Each concrete floor must not only perform in a functional, durable and safe manner. It must meet the owner's aesthetic expectation.

This two-fold performance requirement is challenging. Contract language currently contains two distinct and different end-results that an owner's representative is attempting to address and satisfy.

Based upon my experiences as a contractor and from the input at the conference, our industry needs to standardize terminology, verbiage, and acceptance procedures so that architects/designers can expect a predetermined aesthetic and functionality from our completed projects. This should create an even playing field for contractor bids. If similar procedures are duplicated for a specific look or functionality, we can attain the same result.

The importance of developing and following specifications for polishing concrete is gaining attention.
The importance of developing and following specifications for polishing concrete is gaining attention.

Seeking solutions

Let's address a basic problem. An architect asks a contractor to produce a decorative floor. His contract terminology includes, “a concrete floor with exposed aggregate and a gloss finish.” This phrase would concern most experienced polishing contractors who prefer to offer a floor with a satin or matte finish. They recognize the potential problems a general requirement causes.

How does a contractor deliver a polished surface that must produce the desired result? Does the architect who wrote the requirement understand the position in which he has placed all bidders? What are the quantifiable criteria on which all parties can agree for the release of payment? What is a fair measure contractors can offer to convince the architect that they performed the work as specified and therefore, deserve payment?

Upon completing the project, how do you respond when an architect says, “I thought there would be more aggregate showing. Can you grind a little more in this spot?” Or, “It should be shinier.” It is widely known that there is little control over where the aggregate is suspended in a slab.

What if another architect specifies that the contractor must polish the surface to a final grit of 1500? One contractor may start with a 30 metal segment. Another may begin with a 120 metal. The labor costs not only differ significantly, but the result may also be different.

What if another architect specifies a “medium reflectance-equivalent to 60° film gloss when viewed on an angle.” Different slabs require different processes to achieve the same result. And sometimes, similar results will not be duplicated. Again, how can you prove you fulfilled the spec requirements considering the desired look was not achieved? Should you not be paid?

Our industry must offer a practical measure for carrying out a contract. Perhaps it could be a performance requirement such as specifying grits and passes. If the result varies, it could be because of variables beyond our control and not the way work was performed. The architect could request more work, but for additional compensation.

Concrete polishing contractors can only do so much with what they are given. A point of enormous importance was that of the requirements the placing contractor must follow for the properly finished polished floor. The flatwork contractor supplies not only the canvas but many of the tools to attain the final result. If he isn't in the loop, the result cannot be attained with any certainty.

There is much to discuss and agree upon regarding polishing specifications. Someday, we may be able to help our industry focus on what we can do, not what someone thought we would do.

Charles Griffasi is a commercial flatwork contractor and owner of Concrete Innovations, North Tonawanda, N.Y. He is a founder of the International Concrete Polishing and Staining Conference. Visit