Special Report: Broken Bottle Flooring

By Brian Kraemer
Published in the August 2005 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Using new technologies to perform old jobs is one of the themes of this column. Every month I have the opportunity to track down and write about something slightly off the radar that has the potential to find its way into a facility in a useful way. In this case, EnviroGLO capitalizes on an old home improvement method to do a modern job that gains momentum everyday.

Terrazzo, as a word at least, has been around since the 15th Century. Venetian marble workers would take home scraps from work and use them to craft floors in their own residences—especially on the terrace. And so the process of turning scrap marble into flooring was given a name.

When terrazzo floors first debuted, they came through the use of recycled scrap marble. The pieces of marble were collected, brought to a home, and set in clay which would harden into a floor.

Today, the practice of conservation is still present in the process. “EnviroGLAS has taken the original use of terrazzo, embraced the original principle of using waste material, and brought it into this century,” says Patty Bates-Ballard, public relations director for the Plano, TX-based EnviroGLAS. “But instead of using marble, we use today’s waste material: glass.”

Every piece of glass that makes its way into an EnviroGLAS floor has been used before. “We work with a municipal recycling program,” explains Bates-Ballard. “We can give each program specs, and they can grind the glass down to useable sizes for us.”

Not only does EnviroGLAS recycle glass, it can also reuse contaminated glass. This is glass that, when it was melted down to be remade, got combined with some Pyrex, a coffee mug, or a lightbulb. Any of these will make the glass unusable as a bottle because companies that sell bottles can have no imperfections in them. However, since EnviroGLAS goes down on the floor, there is much less concern of anyone complaining because they came across an imperfection in a piece of glass that is in the floor.

In order for a terrazzo pathway or floor to be installed, a facility manager just has to make a few concessions. First, a void of about 3/8″ needs to dug out of the surrounding flooring. Next, a seal barrier is laid. Then a wet mixture of glass and binder—usually an epoxy—is troweled into the void. The installer makes sure the glass is well distributed throughout, and then lets it begin to dry. Finally, a wet grind is performed to reduce the amount of dust; then the new floor is polished. “The whole process takes about a week,” says Bates-Ballard.

“Once installed, terrazzo can guarantee the floor will last the life of the building,” Bates-Ballard continues. “It can be cleaned with mild cleansers, resurfaced if there are issues with the floor, and lightly buffed from time to time. It is very low maintenance.” This makes it an appealing factor to a facility manager. In a building where turnaround doesn’t happen every couple of years, terrazzo is an investment that, once the initial cost is paid, will add value to the building by reducing cleaning and other routine maintenance expenses.

“A terrazzo floor looks like the beach,” says Bates-Ballard. “When the surf goes out and there are hundreds of tiny seashells on the sand—that’s what the floor looks like.” It became only a matter of time until those glass seashells were put to use doing something other than looking nice for visitors; something functional. And considering the number of the building disasters that have happened recently, EnviroGLAS has created EnviroGLO to help address the safety needs of occupants.

EnviroGLO takes the bits of glass in the floor and coats them in photoluminescent paint. “A facility manager who has decided to install a terrazzo floor might want to mix 75% EnviroGLAS with 25% EnviroGLO,” Bates-Ballard explains. “This way, the entire floor won’t glow, only the parts that the facility manager wants to highlight.” These can be parts of the floor that lead to the entrance or exit of a building.

And for people who work in very tall buildings, where an emergency escape may include a trip down a stairwell, EnviroGLO makes for a natural fit. “One of the best uses for it is in stairwells. When people have to escape without using elevators, EnviroGLO could be used on the stairs,” says Bates Ballard. In addition to being on the stairs, EnviroGLO would work well on the landings, giving people something to target while they are making their escape from the building.

“The photoluminescent paint, in general, will last about 10 hours,” says Bates-Ballard. Like most other photoluminescent products, after the glow has been spent, the natural light that shines on the product during the day will recharge the floor.

A facility manager who puts down terrazzo with EnviroGLO is, essentially, getting two things at once. Obviously, the durability and low maintenance of the floor is attractive to a facility manager who is looking to get a long life out of a building’s floor. But in addition to the longevity of the floor, the lifespan of the emergency egress system has to be considered as well. As long as the paint continues to take a charge from natural light and glow when the lights are off, the building will permanently be equipped with lighted evacuation routes.

By combining scrap glass with safety considerations and an environmental purpose, EnviroGLO provides the opportunity for facility managers to fuse an old world method to new world concerns.