Designs and materials cycle in and out of popularity and terrazzo flooring is back in the spotlight for many of today’s designers. Flecks of color and a mottled look —not to mention amazing durability — make terrazzo popular for homes as well as commercial buildings. The history of the material goes back centuries but new colors and changes in production are making it a modern material that is in demand, ideal for minimalist interiors.
What is Terrazzo?
Terrazzo – the Italian word for terrace– is actually a composite material that is used mainly for floors, but also for walls. It contains any variety of material chips–from stone, glass or marble to granite – that are held together with a binder. Today, that is usually a concrete or epoxy-resin binder. Sometimes extra chips are sprinkled on top while the material is still wet. The flooring is then cured, ground and polished. While you can buy terrazzo tiles, most often when people think about a terrazzo floor, it is the type that is poured in place.
The terrazzo we use today has its roots in Italy, where workers put marble fragments into cement for a more inexpensive flooring material. Although it made its debut in the United States in the late 1890s but didn’t really become popular until the 1920s. Early versions cracked easily, but after the development of divider strips and the electric grinding machine, it rose in popularity, especially in the era of Art Deco and Moderne style. The divider strips allowed for curved designs, which were emblematic of this design era.
Initially used primarily in commercial buildings, it has become more popular in homes, not just as flooring, but also as a material for kitchen surfaces like countertops and backsplashes. The colors and flecks are customizable, allowing for a wide range of design possibilities. Of course, as with any material, there are pros and cons to using it in your home. So before you make a decision, it’s best to weigh all the different factors.
Pros of Terrazzo Flooring
It’s a High-Style Option
When you choose terrazzo flooring, you’re opting for beauty, elegance and a high-end material that is growing in popularity. The color and mix of chips that you choose will be unique and provide a magnificent base for the design of the space. Terrazzo is a more stylish alternative to concrete floors in modern or industrial designs that helps “soften the hard edges.” Whatever the style of your home, the floor will be a distinctive custom feature that adds to its value.
Terrazzo is Durable
Floors done with terrazzo — which is also comparatively light — are about as durable as they come. That’s why you’ll find the material in many commercial spaces. The stone or glass chips are mixed into a concrete or resin base that is stronger than any other flooring option. Yes, they can still chip – although it’s hard to do – but the repair of a terrazzo floor is not expensive. Besides, the appearance of a terrazzo floor camouflages any minor chips or scratches if they do occur. If the terrazzo floor was not properly installed, cracks can form and these are much more costly to remedy.
Cleaning is a Breeze
Terrazzo floors are among the easiest to clean: There’s no scouring, polishing or scrubbing. The speckled texture and strong base material make them difficult to stain and just about everything can be cleaned up with a mop and a bucket of water. No special or chemical cleaners are required. Terrazzo floors also have a sealant that is applied when they are installed and this makes them waterproof.
Terrazzo is the Epitome of Customization
Because the spectrum of colors nearly limitless, you really can achieve a one-of-a-kind floor with terrazzo. Go neutral, go bright – it’s entirely up to personal preference. Also, because it is poured into place, you can easily create custom designs. Also be molded into tubs, countertops or sinks, or even furniture.
Terrazzo is Clean and Green
Many terrazzo floors are made with environmentally friendly recycled chips of stone, glass, marble or porcelain. This makes them super appealing to many consumers. In addition, when this type of flooring is installed properly and sealed, it is completely nonporous and doesn’t harbor allergens or molds, making it a healthy choice. The one thing it does retain well is heat, which makes it an ideal surface for homes with radiant heating.
Cons of Terrazzo Flooring
High Initial Costs
Terrazzo can be one of the most expensive types of flooring to install, both with regard to materials as well as labor for installation. Of course, the size and design of the floor will affect the price, but the types of chips you choose to mix in can also make it more expensive. In addition, the more base colors your design includes, the higher the price will be. The cost of installing a terrazzo floor can run anywhere from $25 to $90 per square foot. If budget is a concern, limit your choice of materials to glass or granite instead of more expensive aggregate materials. It’s also important to remember that not everyone is a fan and if you are not staying in the home for a longer period of time, you may not recoup the value of the investment.
Terrazzo is Definitely Not a DIY Project!
Yes, the installation costs sound pretty pricey at about $20 per square foot, but this is a complex job only for experienced installers. It’s not just a matter of knowing how to mix and pour the floor because there are several important parts to the process: The preparation of the area is critical to a successful installation. Putting down a terrazzo floor requires a smooth surface with an underlayment, which helps prevent cracks and protects the terrazzo from moisture seeping in from underneath. The thicker the layer of base protection, the more costly the project will be. After it is poured, holes can develop in the surface as the floor sets and these need to be filled with grout before it is sealed.
It Can Be Hard and Cold
The very same characteristics that make terrazzo floors desirable can also be drawbacks. Yes, they are hard, durable and last for many decades, but this also means they are not the most comfortable of flooring options. Walking barefoot on these floors is not so pleasant, especially in cold weather and neither is standing for long periods. Depending on the rooms where they are installed, homeowners may want to budget for area rugs as well. The coldness of the floor can be mitigated by adding radiant heating at the time of installation.
Terrazzo Tiles A More Affordable Option
If you’re in love with the look of terrazzo but don’t have the budget for a poured floor, terrazzo tiles can be a more affordable option. While they are still more expensive than porcelain or ceramic tiles, they are cheaper to install than a poured floor: Most are under $40 per square foot installed. A wide range of color and design options are available, just not the full variety that comes with poured terrazzo flooring.
While terrazzo tile installation can also be a project for experienced DIYers, most people opt to let the professionals install these too. Installers can help you achieve more of a poured terrazzo look by adding a finish that is sanded and sealed.
Terrazzo is a stylish flooring option ideal for many of today’s interiors that lean to the modern or industrial end of the design spectrum. That said, it’s important to take into consideration the cost and other variables before choosing a terrazzo floor. If you decide it’s worth the investment, you’ll have an easy care and stylish floor that you can enjoy for decades.