Installing a Terrazzo Floor

  • Intermediate

Terrazzo is an ancient flooring that has more than stood the test of time. It's been used in prestigious buildings throughout history literally from the time of the Romans right through the Renaissance (Michelangelo used it in St. Peter's Basilica) and it's still used today in buildings where its versatility, beauty, ease of maintenance, and durability are wanted.

A traditional terrazzo flooring is a mixture of cement and pieces of aggregate such as marble, granite, glass, or stone chips that is usually installed by professionals working on site. It isn't generally a job for a DIYer since it requires an experienced professional who understands the 'art' to achieve truly spectacular results.

How a Traditional Terrazzo Floor is Installed

First, before any installation work can begin, because a terrazzo floor is made up entirely of cement and stone and is extremely heavy, a survey needs to be done to determine if the existing flooring has the strength to hold the weight.

As well, because terrazzo uses a cement binder, the subfloor needs to be waterproofed, (usually using a liquid damp-proof membrane such as a polyurethane sheet to prevent the moisture in the cement from migrating into the wood, weakening and eventually rotting it.

The actual process of installing a terrazzo floor starts by pouring in a layer of cement. Before the cement can dry the aggregate is added to the floor following the design. A strip of brass, zinc, plastic, or aluminum may be embedded in the cement base to keep the colors separate or the aggregate may simply be scattered randomly on top. Next, the surface is troweled to embed the aggregate and help smooth the floor.

The initial finishing process involves using grinding machinery to further smooth the top layer of the floor surface and then filling any tiny air holes with grout.

Finally, a polishing machine is used to buff the floor surface and a penetrating sealer is added to fill surface pores.

Another Option - Terrazzo Floor Tiles

Homeowners who don't want to invest the time and money to have a professional install a terrazzo floor in their home now have an option - terrazzo tiles.

Terrazzo tile is an excellent compromise allowing homeowners to get the beautiful appearance of a traditional terrazzo floor (including the same color choices) at a price that is a fraction of a traditional floor.

The tiles look like a traditional terrazzo floor but can be installed by a DIYer using techniques similar to installing ceramic or porcelain tiles.

Terrazzo tiles share many of the advantages of traditional floors.

They can be installed either inside or outside without worrying about the effect weather will have on their appearance.

Because the tiles are made primarily from stone, they are water-resistant and also bacteria-resistant, making them ideal for installation on a bathroom or kitchen floor or even on countertops.

Terrazzo tiles actually have a unique advantage over a traditional poured terrazzo floor. Since the tiles are lighter than a poured terrazzo floor, they can be carried upstairs and installed on the second floor of a home so the beauty of a terrazzo floor is no longer restricted to the ground level.