To Seal, Or Not To Seal

As a contractor in the stone and tile industry, one of the most common services that we’ll be asked to provide will be the sealing of the tile and grout surfaces. While this service provides very high profit margins with minimal effort, knowing when a sealer is applicable and passing that knowledge onto your customers is a sure way to gain trust and the reputation of the true stone professional in your area. To better determine when sealers are, and are not applicable, it is important to understand how the sealer performs and what they are actually doing to the surface being sealed.

Clear penetrating sealers, most commonly referred to as “impregnators”, are offered in a variety of designs for protection from oil and water based stains of many types of surfaces. They are actually a two-part product; the first part being the carrier of the sealer, typically a water or solvent molecule, and the second part being the “resin”, or the solid that is actually clogging the pores of the stone. Natural look sealers (TECH SEAL, MAX GUARD, SELECT SEAL, and RAPID SEAL) and enhancing sealers (REVEAL & SEAL, ENHANCER) are all categorized as “penetrating”. These sealers are designed to “penetrate” past the surface tension of the substrate and fill the pores below, effectively blocking out other liquids.

So what should be sealed using an impregnating sealer? Simply put, every surface that it is absorbent. The biggest misnomer in the industry is that all natural stone is absorbent and therefore every stone needs to be sealed. Most granite, a large variety of marbles, and even some travertine have such a tight crystalline structure that even the highest quality solvent based sealers are unable to penetrate past the surface tension. These surfaces are tightened even further during the polishing process making the stone almost impenetrable. This is not to say that you should stop offering sealing for these types of surfaces. Many times your customers are going to have natural stone flooring that has not been brought up to a high polish or are purposely brought down to a completely matte finish. In these instances a penetrating sealer will be effective almost every single time. So how do we decide which stones should and which stones shouldn’t be sealed? It’s simple. Put water on the surface and find out if it absorbs. This absorption will be obvious as the surface will darken almost immediately as the water touches to the stone. A lot of times, during the bidding process, I’ll take a terry cloth and get it wet. I’ll then fold it into quarters and set the damp cloth on the areas that are to be treated. After measuring the area and answering any questions that the homeowner may have, I pick up the towel and look to see if that area has darkened. It will be very obvious at that point whether or not you should recommend sealing to you customers. If there is a dark square where your damp cloth was, they will benefit from a sealer. If not, they probably won’t. Here is a list of some common surfaces that you’ll run into and whether or not they should be sealed. Make note that there are no absolutes in this industry and that all surfaces should be tested for their absorbency rate regardless of the material.

“Shoulds” • All cementacious grout, both sanded and un-sanded • Limestone • Tumbled marble • Honed marble • Flamed granite • Tumbled travertine • Honed travertine • Slate • Saltillo • Brick • Concrete • Flagstone • Sandstone

“ Should Nots” • Epoxy or Acrylic grouts • Polished granite • Polished travertine • Polished marble • Ceramic tile • Polished terrazzo • Cultured stones • Color coated grout

So once you have determined whether or not the surface should be sealed, choosing the right base of sealer is the next important step. I get asked all the time, “which sealer is the best to use?” As mentioned earlier, there are typically two types of sealer bases; water and solvent. So how do we determine which sealer is better? The solvent based sealers are almost twice as much as the water based version, so certainly they must be better, right? Not necessarily. In fact, the chemicals used to seal or enhance the surfaces that you’re restoring are the exact same in both the water and solvent based. The difference between the two lies solely in the molecule that carries the chemical into the surface that is being sealed. With the solvent molecules being so much smaller, they are going to be more effective in penetrating past the surface tension of the denser stones like marble, granite, and travertine. Whereas, more porous surfaces such as brick, grout or Saltillo will absorb the water based sealers just as effectively. Once the carrier has evaporated, the sealing component remains in the pores of the stone leaving the surface resistant to staining. Here’s another list for you guys to help you determine which sealer is going to work best for your particular project. As always, I will recommend that you do an absorbency test on the areas that you will be sealing to make certain that you are choosing the right option.

Should Use Solvent • Granite • Travertine • Quartzite • Polished concrete • Marble • Polished limestone • Slate Should Use Water • Sandstone • Honed limestone • Flagstone • Stucco • Saltillo • Terra Cotta • Clay brick • Honed concrete • Cementacious Brick • Grout

Ask Jasen

Dealing with the Elements…

Jasen, Do you have recommendation for lime pops on brick? 1. Preventative 2. Correcting. Thanks, Kevin.

Hello, Kevin Was this brick installed outdoors? I usually don’t like putting coatings on surfaces outdoors for this exact reason…Without the coating it would be fairly easy to remove the minerals with Easy Etch provided the bricks are clay and not concrete. There is actually no way to completely prevent this from occurring again, but using the product Preserve will drastically slow down the minerals from reappearing by reacting and hardening the stone’s integrity. With the coating present this will be a much more challenging project. You would need to first remove the coating and then remove the lime with the Easy Etch, followed with the treatment of Preserve. If they are looking for an enhanced (but not shiny) look, you can seal the brick with the Reveal & Seal within 20 minutes after applying the Preserve. I would not recommend re-coating this bricks especially since they have a history of mineral migration. Hope this helped, Jasen

Over Sealing…The Common Culprit

Jasen, Yesterday I sealed an interior flagstone floor using a water based penetrating sealer. Today I got a call back from the homeowner saying that there are white blotches throughout. What could have caused this and what can I do to fix it?

Dave

Hello, Dave Which sealer did you use? Those white blotches could have been caused by a reaction with the water and the minerals present int he stone, but most likely is the result of leaving too much sealer on the surface without properly wiping the excess. Mineral reactions typically take a while to build, so it wouldn’t be something that you’d see right away. If it is caused by excess sealer, use the product Modern Clean to remove it and rinse well. If the white areas are a form of mineral migration, you’ll have to use the product Easy Etch to remove them. Make note that Easy Etch is an acid product and can damage the stone’s surface if it is sensitive to low pH cleaners (most sandstone flagstone is not.) I’d suggest doing a test area to ensure that the cleaner will not damage the stone before cleaning the whole area. If you have any other questions please feel free to contact me at any time,

Jasen

Sometimes it’s just best to walk away…

Hey Jasen,

See pic below. They had a flood and it has damaged the marble. The floor is dry. It seems like the marble has completely absorbed the water. Have you seem this before? Is it fixable?

Hey, Noel Do you know how long the floors have been dry? It could take days to dry up…this would be the best case scenario for a variety of reasons. First, if it is staining, chances are it has stained through out the entire stone. But even if it’s just on the surface grinding it out will prove to be very challenging. You’re right up on the wall so grinding it out evenly will be tough to say the very least…Also, that appears to be a Thassos White which means that it is one of the harder marbles to re-polish. If I couldn’t take it out with a simple poultice I’d most likely walk away from it… Jasen

Is Your Website Targeting the RIGHT keywords?

The Google keyword tool provides data on the average monthly number of searches for keyword people use on their search engine. This is quite useful when identifying what keyword searches to optimize your website for. Keyword and niche research is the key to success for your marketing efforts, so it’s very important to get the right keywords. Targeting the wrong keywords equals wasted effort, simple as that. For example, the Google keyword tool provides data on the average monthly number of searches for “tile cleaning”…1600. So 1600 people are searching for tile cleaning each month in the U.S.…sounds like a good keyword to target right? The keyword is quite competitive…but let’s step back a moment and think about this.

When people search online, they are typically looking to solve a problem. Providing the solution to the problem right when a searcher is looking gives you a huge leg up. People with a dirty tile floor could just as easily search for “how to clean grout”…a MUCH LESS competitive term to rank in the search results for with an average number of people searching monthly of 5400…THREE TIMES THE NUMBER SEARCHING FOR TILE CLEANING.

Now, one could argue that someone searching for how to clean grout is looking for a do it yourself solution…but provided with the truth about how affordable your services are, how beautiful their grout will look when you’re finished, how satisfied your clients are, and how happy they’ll be with the same day transformation, many people will pick up the phone and schedule a bid. Less competitive keyword with 3 times the search volume=hidden gem.

Google says they will replace Google Keyword Tool with a new product that will be tied in with your Google account and will only be available to approved adsense and adwords clients. Now that Google Keyword Tool is being replaced, how are you to be assured of finding relevant keywords that people are actually looking for? Call Ken for 5 free sources.

For more information about optimizing your web presence to target keywords that convert to leads, call Ken Sherman or email ken@goprolocal.com

DIY Home Renovation Health Risks

This guest post was authored by Brian Turner at mesothelioma.com/blog/authors/brian

Lead and Asbestos: Hidden Dangers in Home Renovations

As the economy slowly recovers, many Americans are taking on renovations to enlarge or remodel their homes. Unfortunately, many homeowners start projects they are unable to finish on their own. Moreover, they are often unaware of the health hazards lurking in their attics, basements, floors and walls.

While do-it-yourself carpenters contemplate the size, shape and color of their rooms, they often fail to consider the dangers behind the walls. Old wiring, old plumbing and mold are just some of the potential hazards. Many older homes contain dangerous chemicals, metals and other toxic materials.

Generally, the blatant and easy-to-spot dangers are not the most serious renovation hazards. The real dangers are usually hidden and impossible to spot without professional analysis. These toxins pose a direct threat to the health of do-it-yourself homeowners and the residential contractors they hire for the job.

Lead Exposure and Lead Poisoning

Lead exposure is a major health concern for American homeowners, particularly for those who live in older homes. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), homes built before 1978 were likely finished with lead-based paints.

In older homes, flaking or deteriorating paint may contain hazardous levels of lead. The painted edges of windows, doors and drawers can create lead dust when they rub against each other. Home renovators may generate dust when they scrape, sand, saw or hammer painted materials. Many old porches and fences contain lead-based exterior paints.

Home renovations, repairs and painting projects can create toxic lead hazards when walls are disturbed or demolished. Other materials may also harbor toxins. Lead pipes, fixtures and solder were commonly used in homes that were built before 1986. Even the lead-free plumbing in newer homes may contain a small percentage of lead. Corroded plumbing allows lead to leach into drinking water and impact health. The symptoms of lead poisoning include high blood pressure, memory loss, mental decline and reproductive problems.

Hiring lead-safe certified contractors is one measure that homeowners can take to protect themselves from lead exposure during renovations. Working safely, using the proper equipment and taking extra precautions will ensure the results.

Asbestos Exposure and Mesothelioma

Asbestos is another dangerous material that homeowners must prepare for when planning a home renovation. Asbestos has received a lot of attention in recent years due to the growing number of mesothelioma cases in the United States. Mesothelioma is a rare and deadly form of cancer that is primarily caused by asbestos exposure.

Like lead, asbestos was used in numerous household products and building supplies. The resilient material was notable for its fire resistance and heat insulation qualities. Homes built before 1977 used asbestos generously in wallboards, insulation, flooring, roofing and dozens of other materials.

Asbestos poses the greatest threat to homeowners during renovations and repairs. When asbestos is torn, cut, sanded, scraped, drilled, hammered or disturbed in any way, microscopic fibers escape into the air. If the particles are breathed into the body, they can embed in the lungs and cause serious respiratory illnesses. Even worse, the warning signs of mesothelioma and other diseases may not appear for 20 to 50 years after exposure.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) encourages American homeowners to contact professionals to sample and analyze suspected asbestos materials. During remodeling projects, they advise renovators to wear protective gear and to shut down the HVAC systems to minimize asbestos particles. Lightly wetting asbestos before handling it may also reduce the spread of toxic fibers.

Protecting Your Online Reputation

In today’s competitive market, you must protect your online reputation to avoid losing business..if your local business is not online, it doesn’t exist.

Your prospective customers go online everyday to find out more about you and your business..what will they find…a bunch of people complaining…or a list of happy

clients thrilled about your service?

They are checking sites like Google Places to review experiences others have had with your business. Or sites like Yelp.com, MerchantCircle, or similar review sites to check your online ratings and reputation.

One single negative review, or a poor overall rating, is enough to drive people away for good. In today’s marketing, you cannot afford to lose potential clients because of poor ratings online. That’s where we can help.

Our sister marketing company, Go Pro Local, identifies your negative reviews and then works to restore your online business reputation.

Contact us today and protect your business. Click here for pricing.

Product Video Tutorial: Barrier EXT

Growing Your Business In Tough Times

Congratulations. If your business is still thriving through this economy – you have a lot to be proud of. A slow growing economy, over nice percent unemployment, the value of the dollar dropping, and political gridlock in our government is enough to take the wind right out of your sails. Just turning on the nightly news can make you not want to get out of bed in the morning – but don’t let it get you down. Remember, you’ve done something right to get this far, now it’s time to focus on how you can actually grow.

So you’ve reduced your labor force as much as possible, cut every unnecessary cost conceivable, and have even taken on a larger work load yourself. You can’t save profits by making your business run any tighter, so it’s time to make it grow. You’ll have to crawl out of your comfort shell to make it happen though.

Here are a few ideas, some old some new, that might help your business grow.

Network marketing – It’s the no cost way to advertise. Yes you’ll have to join a business group, get up early, talk to people you don’t know, but real business can come from this effort if you really get involved. You’ll also feel god because you will be helping other business’ as well.

The 2 for 1 plan – run a special in targeted areas or through your customer list offering a two for 1 deal – if scheduled on the same day, on the same street, you’ll give each customer half off their bill if they schedule a cleaning with one of their neighbors. It will actually be cost effective and could drive new business your way.

Seek supplier agreements – Talk to your suppliers about additional discounts if you commit all of your purchasing dollars to their company. They may be more receptive than you think. They’re working hard to keep the lights on as well. Don’t think it will work because they are already getting your business? Remind them of your loyalty, talk to them about your situation. Remember, keeping good customers through a little extra discount costs a lot less for them than replacing one they’ve lost.

Team up with a non-competing service – If you can find another ethical company that can understand the benefit in cross promoting each others services, pursue it. You’ll both increase your potential customer base without mailing one postcard. Make sure their business model matches your own for the best results.

Create a customer loyalty program – Don’t forget that it is much more expensive to get a new customer than to keep existing ones. Send out a letter or an e-mail (hopefully you are keeping a customer list) and let them know that their past business is remembered and appreciated. Offer a discount when they schedule your service next time. It will keep you on their minds and may spur some to give you a call sooner than they might have before.

Look for additional services – Keep your eyes open for other needs your customers may have that are not being fulfilled, it just may be something you can begin offering within your company.

Keep in mind, there are business’ that are growing even in this economy. You will have to get creative, try something new, and seek inexpensive ways of reaching those customers that are still out there and need your service. Most of all, stay mentally positive. As hard as it may be sometimes, our customers still respond favorably to energetic and confident individuals.

All the best.

Nelson Keimer

Are Your Color Charts Up To Date? Discontinued Color Blow-Out

Save big on discontinued colors: With a few of the major grout manufacturers updating their color charts this year Modern Stone has updated our charts as well. We are blowing out the discontinued colors at 50% off! Please note that the following manufacturers are the only colors we will stock: Custom Polyblend, Laticrete, C-Cure, TEC, Mapai, and Hydroment. For a full list of current & discontinued colors click here (colors will be removed from the list when they are gone). Special lasts while supplies last. To place your order for our discontinued blow out colors call 866-868-0810.

The Top 5 Mistakes Businesses Make

Many business owners spend a lot of time and money to create and on-line presence. Unfortunately, many build the wrong website, send the wrong message, and fail to attract customers. This report will uncover these fatal mistakes business make and how you can avoid them in your services business. Click Here to download full report in PDF

Providing the Right Option for Today’s Natural Stone Customer

The true stone enthusiast will explain that the only way to properly restore a natural stone floor would be to grind out the lippage, fill the voids, and refinish the surface to the desirable luster. While there is a great argument for this train of thought, and in a perfect world this would certainly be the case, we do not live in a perfect world and more specifically, we do not live in a perfect economy. It’s true, the trend in today’s market has been to restore versus reinstall or sell, but as contractors we still need to be sensitive to not only our customer’s flooring needs, but also their financial needs.

We all know what the full restoration process entails; grinding the floor flat with metal delippage diamonds, filling the voids the either polymer resins or concrete and latex blends, progressively refinishing surfaces with multiple resin bond diamonds, and often times, finishing the project using high grit honing powders or polishing powders. While this process will provide your customers with an absolutely perfect floor, the costs incurred and time required for such a process may not settle so well with your client. On average, this process is going to cost your customer $1.25 per step, per square foot. And as the contractor, we will spend approximately one day for every 1000 square feet that we are restoring. To make more sense of this, let’s take a 500 square foot area and break down what this means to you and your customer. Assuming that we’re going to leave our floor at a satin finish, the full restoration process is going to require about eight steps. In other words, our 500 square foot area is actually 4000 square feet (8 steps x 500 sq. ft.) and our $1.25 per square foot is actually $10.00 per square foot (8 steps x $1.25) for a grand total of $5,000.00 and 4-5 days in your customer’s home. While there’s no doubt that the result provided with this level of service will be outstanding, finding the customer who is willing to pay this price tag may be a little more difficult to come by.

Now, let’s take this same floor and use a more economical approach to provide similar results with much less labor and time spent in the home. Often times, the floors in question will have minor foot wear and chemical etching from heavy traffic or neglect. Unless these floors have been flattened in the past, there is sure to be tiles that were not installed evenly creating a “lip” from one tile to the next. These lips make restoring the floor evenly impossible with diamond discs, but with the right tools and products, you can still refinish the stone surfaces without charging an arm and a leg. One method to take is using Modern Stone’s honing powders to restore the finish instead of using the diamond discs. With honing powders the need to flatten the floor prior to restoration is eliminated and can often be evened out and restored with minimal steps. Even in a worse case scenario, the amount of labor using honing powders rarely exceeds three steps taking the price of the job from $10.00 per square foot to $3.75 per square foot. In situations where the wear is very minor, the contractor will often need only one step to even it out bringing the costs down even further. Top polishing can also be done in one step as well providing a beautiful lustrous finish and taking out minor chemical etching. Keep in mind that you as the contractor are still making the same amount of money per hour, but the length of the job is being significantly reduced. This means equal profitability for you, less costs for your customers. Being that honing powders cannot be used to remove scratches, these limitations must be addressed prior to starting the job and all expectations must be set in stone. (Pun intended)

Another option that will save your customers money while providing high end results is restoring the stone floors using Modern Stone’s Evolution Pad. Instead of a powder, these pads are embedded with diamonds giving you the results of using a diamond disc while being unaffected by an uneven floor. (Learn more about the Evolution Pads in this month’s, ‘Product Spotlight’.) Having the ability to get diamond results without having to flatten the floors first will mean you can offer higher levels of restoration while eliminating costly steps at the same time. Even when working on a floor that has been heavily neglected, you can restore and refinish the area in no more than four steps.

Becoming the most proficient stone restorer means not only being able to offer the highest level of restoration, but also having the ability to offer multiple options at different pricing structures to meet all of your customer’s needs. At Modern Stone Technologies, we have provided all the tools, products and educational needs for you to offer your customers every level of restoration.