You need to read less and think more!

This blog is about getting stoked and getting worthwhile things done. There is a sea of useless information bombarding you, and this is a desert island where you beach your boat and build a hut. There are also some clever little construction tricks to be presented.



Sunday, November 18, 2012

concrete floor theory part 5 - the unremarkable steps to excellence

There are a dozen or so men who are no longer alive, but continue to deeply influence me through there writing and legacy.  The Saints (actual Saints - not the NFL team), business leaders like Peter Drucker, great coaches like John Wooden, often seem to have more to teach us posthumous than most of the living.

One thing Coach Wooden preached that has never left me is that it is all the little things done consistently well that add up to excellence.  One story by Bill Walton comes to mind about when he came to UCLA excited to play for Wooden.  On his first day of practice, he expected to learn deep, esoteric secrets of basketball only to be taught the absolute best way to put on his socks and shoes.  It was always about executing the little things as well as you could.  Nothing was too small to perfect.  

I've worked for years to apply that to element7concrete.  We have a written procedure describing the best way to mop a floor.  Ironically, we love concrete with its imperfections and nuances.  We doggedly pursue the ultimate in artful blemishes.    

Today then we share a trick we use on every diamond polished floor and occasionally on stained concrete floors.  Most concrete slabs have footprints in them if you look closely enough.  Some processes highlight them.  Many installers have no idea how to remove them.  Here is one that showed up last month on a honed and polished floor we did in a home designed by

Stehling Klein-Thomas Architects 

in Fredericksburg, TX.

It didn't appear until after the cream of the concrete had been ground off, exposing the fines.  After focused sanding with a handheld polisher with a pad of bonded diamond abrasives, it looked like this:

The keys are the right abrasives, moving in a way that generates maximum friction without melting the pad and creating "schmear", creating a consistent scratch pattern by hand, and stepping up to higher grit abrasives in larger, irregular blobs so that no lines catch the eye in the finished floor.  All this is probably too technical to be interesting to you so here's the point:  It is all little things, learned in the field over time, codified for consistent company-wide performance, that customers, builders, and architects never even notice that make for our excellent reputation.  We deliver day in and day out because of these little things that are not exciting to read about.  That is the point.  It's about staying on your job when nobody cares to look.  That is where excellence is made.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Bold, intentional responses - concrete floor theory part 4

So you are building a house with concrete flooring, and to no one's surprise a mistake has been made.  Maybe the plumber put a pipe in a hallway instead of the bathroom (photos of that next week), or an electrical conduit gets misplaced.  That is a straight up construction error that needs a bold response.   (See last week's episode for when bold responses are not called for)

Last week, I made it sound like we do this when the customer hasn't really embraced the basics of concrete flooring.  I may have even said that "If their Walmart conditioning is strong and they are freaked out - we then need to make the objectionable part the best part of the floor."  That infers that bold responses are not needed with cool people.  Not true.



The customer who commissioned us for this floor was extremely cool.

The electrician and the contractor who poured this slab foundation (our team just did the scoring, polishing and staining here) are cool too.  But being human, they make mistakes, and the electrical conduit that was to be centered under the kitchen island ended up about 2' off the mark.  


Luckily the owner had an interesting piece of limestone with a small fish fossil that seemed to fit the kitchen really well.  So, we cut out a rectangle to accommodate it within 1/16" and mortared it in with anchoring cement.  We overfill the cement and consolidate the material well by handling the trowel or putty knife with a very shaky hand.  After at least a few hours, hone it down with a 100 grit resin bond pad on a handheld polisher and then rough up the fossil with a needle scaler.  

It's been a couple of years since this was put in, and I'm told that the fossil has intrigued and impressed dozens of  house guests so far.  Since the floor has our unique 505 finish, it actually looks better now than it did in 2010 even with no maintenance yet.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Proper reactions to not finding a unicorn - concrete floor theory part 3


The perfect concrete floor is like a unicorn - I can imagine it, but have never seen one.  Concrete slabs are handmade with every re-do leaving clues.  Human effort and the material converge with on the pour day and the nuances are frozen in time.  This is why for a customer, commissioning a concrete floor is more like going to a concert than going to Walmart.  You have to abandon your consumerist conditioning a little to enjoy it.  It is not a mass-produced product for you to buy in a plastic clamshell package.  It is both an event frozen in time and a dynamic process.  

So we are going to have “imperfections”, and we know it going in.  The owner's response then leads our response.  If they are cool, the remarkable nuance starts to seem cool.  If sanding it out looks better, we just do that (often without a discussion).  If their Walmart conditioning is strong and they are freaked out - we then need to make the objectionable part the best part of the floor.  So, there are four responses to encountering them.  

  1. Get excited.  The leaves that fell into your slab were a gift from nature.  The footprint from the man running the trowel machine is an artist's signature.  The raccoon that created a blob on the floor that won't react with acid stain now is reminding us that human's are not alone in this world.



2.   Cover it with a rug.  Honestly, concrete floors with no rugs tire the body and make for spaces with bad acoustics. The whole point of concrete floors can be rugs.  If you like carpet, and opt for rugs over polished concrete, you can clean them yourself with a pressure washer outside on the driveway much better than a professional cleaning company can clean carpet.  If your style changes, you can donate your rugs.  Rugs can be re-purposed indefinitely - Folks in Haiti would love the crappiest rug you can find.
3.  Sand it out.  Especially if the floor is sanded with a big machine anyway (we process every floor with diamond abrasives), we can often just sand it and fade it out.
4.)  Do something bold and intentional.  This is an article unto itself, and most of the best examples of this I can think of were never photographed.  The sad truth is, it is hard to balance doing work with this talking about work.  When we get really busy, the blogging drops off, except now I have been making a point of putting content out weekly regardless of how much work we have coming in.  Something is suffering and I will go fix it now.  Thank you for reading.