Choosing Your Stone Care Provider

Your home is your canvas. You have created a living space that makes you feel comfortable and safe. The use of color has given you the freedom to express yourself. Your furniture is tasteful, plush, or ornate. Your home is a reflection of you. But one aspect seems to be waning. One small part of your perfect space has been slowly degrading. Every effort has been put into its care.

You have repeatedly admonished yourself or your housekeeper to make a greater effort to keep your natural stone floors looking clean and bright. But with every passing day your grout lines get blacker, holes become more evident, and the shine is distorted. After a year on your hands and knees with focused effort you’ve decided to call a professional. And what does he tell you? Your one year old floor is ruined and needs to be refinished, honed, deep cleaned, sealed, your grout is black and can’t become clean, the holes in your travertine will not become clean, you need a grout treatment, grout stain, color seal, your floor needs a good coat of wax, to be polished, crystallized, powder polished, pressure washed, sanded, diamond sanded, chemical polished, re-grouted, we have the best method, don’t trust that guy, they’re going out of business, we have the solution, every line to get your business.

Your asking yourself, “Do they want to solve my problem or are they after my money.”Ask five different professionals. Many times you get five different answers. You are dealing with a contractor. In the past that meant something. A contractor had a license, insurance, a bond, a method of oversight that allowed the consumer to know that they were getting good advice from a trained qualified professional. It’s not like that anymore. The stone industry has truly become caveat emptor. BUYER BEWARE.

The purpose of this piece is to educate you on the language of the stone industry so that you can make an informed decision based on concrete facts. The evaluation, also known as the estimate is your chance to learn something about your floor. Before you invite them into your home, here are a few terms that you should know.

  1. Etch: A chemical reaction between your stone and a liquid. Etching takes place on marble, travertine, limestone, and other like materials. That little white spot on your polished floor that is lighter than surrounding area and no longer has a shine is an etch mark. Etches are the result of chemical reactions between your stone and acid containing substances. There are so many acid containing substances in our homes including all citrus, colas, and many household cleaners. It is important to exercise care when these items are in use.
  2. Deep Cleaning: Deep cleaning is the process by which the darkness is removed from the stone and grout. Travertine collects dirt in its pores, limestone slowly turns grey, Marble and tile floors stay clean but the grout tends to discolor from dirt and debris. The deep cleaning process removes this soiling safely and effectively without using harsh chemicals while insuring that your surface looks “like new” again.
  3. Dullness: Dullness occurs when scratches and etches from use combine to reduce the clarity of a reflected light on the surface of your stone. Dullness is a condition that requires refinishing to remove.
  4. Refinishing: Refinishing is the systematic removal of damage from the surface of your stone. Refinishing involves the use of diamond pads and other abrasives to first remove scratches and etches then through successive smoother grits, the surface is brought to the desired finish. The only way to remove all scratches and etches from your stone surfaces is by refinishing.
  5. Chemical Polishing: The final step in the refinishing system for a polished stone; chemical polishing is not often used independently of refinishing. This process will remove light surface scuffs and abrasions, as well as increase the overall reflection of the treated surface.
  6. Hone: A hone is a term used to describe any level of shine on a stone’s surface. A low hone is also described as a matte or flat finish. Each level of abrasive used increases the level of reflection from flat to satin (high hone) to polished.
  7. Stain: A stain is a solid particle that has been carried into the surface by a liquid and was left behind as the liquid evaporated. These are common on porous surfaces such as limestone, concrete, and many light colored granites. Stain removal treatments involve the use of many different chemicals and solvents. Many times a poultice is necessary to remove a stain.
  8. Poultice: A poultice is a cream prepared for the application to the stained area. The poultice process can take from a few hours to several days to complete and should be completed by a professional who has experience in stain removal.

Finding the right people to perform this work is a process in itself. Few trade organizations exist that train and certify stone refinishing technicians. There are some items of concern that you need to be aware of before placing the call. Your stone floors are in need of restoration or deep cleaning. Do you call a company that specializes in natural stone refinishing and maintenance? Or do you call a company that specializes in carpet cleaning that also does stone? Or do you call a company that specializes in janitorial and housekeeping services that also does stone? It is my experience that what a company does best they specialize in. Your resources are vast. Before you go to Google, call around to your friends that have stone and ask who they have used and are they happy with the results. Call your local tile store and ask for referral. The best source of the best work is through these referral based outlets. Their reputations are built on customer satisfaction so they will hold their referrals accountable as well. Once you have a name or two, hit Google and see what is available in your area. The sponsored links are very competitive in many markets, but beware, just because they are willing to pay more, may not mean you will get the best results. There are many companies that just simply need the work more now. Many companies that advertise are not licensed to work in their field. Watch out here. If there is no license, there may not be any liability insurance, or workers compensation insurance. You may be putting yourself at risk for the few dollars you may save.

This is the easy part. Prepare a list of specific questions that you want each person to answer. This list could be as long as you need or may be just one question. But I suggest you ask some specific questions about their experience or company. How long have you been in business? How long have you been working on stone? Have you done anyone in my area? Will you be doing the work? Be careful about certifications, many require less than 20 hours of instruction, then they learn on the job. Do you want them learning on your job?

The Evaluation
Also known as the estimate, the evaluation is your opportunity to interview the prospective company. This interview actually starts the moment that you pick up the phone to place the call. Did you get a live person to answer and schedule an estimate? If not was your message returned promptly? Was your message returned at all? Did the person on the other end of the line ask any pertinent questions about your surfaces? Are you comfortable with this company? Did the representative from the company arrive on time or call and let you know when they would be there? Communication is key in the service business. Did they answer your list of questions to your satisfaction? Do you feel they will do the best job? This should be your primary concern. Price should become a concern only when comparing two or more equal candidates. You are confident that you have three companies of equal ability, only then should the lowest price be chosen. This is your home. Most good companies will be comparably priced within 5% – 10% of each other.

Schedule the project on your terms. There are times during the project that you can not walk on the floor. Some cleaning chemicals and sealers can have a strong odor. Many services will be noisy. Pets should be away from the service areas. Fumes from chemicals many times are heavier that air and will dissipate slower closer to the ground. Pets may be adversely affected by this. It is important that you are aware of this and schedule your days accordingly.

The Project
Remember that even though you trust this company to perform at their best and deliver a great job, they are in your home. If you have special concerns, make sure that you voice them early. Point out specific areas of concern. Make sure that they are masking effectively enough to protect surrounding areas. If you are leaving, make sure they know to pull the door if they leave for lunch and can get back in. Ask them when they think they will be done so you can be home to evaluate and pay for the service. Many homeowners leave bottled waters in the refrigerator for my technicians. Or they let them know that they can use the ice water form the tap on the fridge. This is not required, but really can make a technician put in the extra effort on your behalf.

Completion and Walk-through
This process usually takes place at the end of the day. It is important to view the entire project form every angle and have any concerns addressed at that time. Putting in the extra effort to look at the project will save you money in the long run. There is a great deal of cost in the performance of a re-service. In scheduling the re-service the company must sacrifice revenue and as such, must make it up in other ways; which means higher prices. You do a great deal of service to your contractor by making sure any and all concerns are handled on the day of service.

Follow up and Re-service
Because the light can change and small details can be missed, you might see that little spot around the doorway or in that hard to reach area that needs to be addressed. This is where choosing the best service provider pays off. As they follow up with you, you can let them know of these concerns. It is the reaction that you get that will set them apart from the competition and secure your referrals. Re-service work should be done immediately or at your convenience. Many times it may take an hour or two. It’s how companies react in these situations that validate your decision and cement their name in your mind as the only company that will touch your stone surfaces.

The Last Step
Your natural stone floors look “like new” again. You are thrilled with the results and your choice in service provider. Now it’s time for the feedback. Send a short note about your experience. Evaluate the company on the BBB web site. Post a note on their blog or forum about your experience. Give them a glowing recommendation on Angie’s List. Great companies can still be affected by the economy and market forces. Take care of them, you will need them again. Ted McFadden has been a stone refinishing contractor is Southern California since 1994. Visit Ted’s Company website. For more information on the performance of these services, please look at the Stone Care Guide.

Tags: stone, care, restoration, refinishing, polishing, cleaning, maintenance, marble, travertine, granite, limestone, etch, removal, lippage, stain, poultice, slate, stripping, coating, dirty, how to

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