Concrete Flooring Buyers Guide
Concrete is a diverse flooring material with many qualities recommending it and a few drawbacks to consider. This concrete flooring guide gives you the information needed to decide if this is the right material for your flooring project. Answers about durability and decorative options are found below along with pros and cons, common questions and answers.
Concrete Flooring Wear & Durability
If durability is a top priority for you, then you’ve found your material! The hardness of concrete gives it the strength to stand up to heavy traffic, water, playing children and the dangers that pets pose to materials like carpeting and hardwood flooring.
Concrete isn’t going to wear out like many other floors will, but it isn’t completely immune to trouble. Its durability is threatened by a handful of dangers:
- Failing to properly seal concrete will make it susceptible to staining
- The surface of most concrete experiences minor cracks over time, which can be repaired or covered
- Polished concrete dulls and paint is worn off over time, especially if sandy grit isn’t regularly removed
These issues can be prevented or slowed, and they are correctable. Details are found in our cleaning, care and maintenance guide to concrete flooring.
Pros and Cons of Concrete Flooring
What are the best reasons for installing concrete, and what are the drawbacks? We’ve mentioned some already. Here is the complete list.
Concrete flooring pros:
- Durability of 50 to 100 years
- Impressive spectrum of decorative options, as discussed below, to fit with styles from rustic to traditional to modern
- Suitable for in-floor radiant heating
- Ideal for wet locations such as the kitchen, bathroom, basement and garage
- Resists scratches and chips
- Low-to-moderate maintenance required
- An existing concrete floor can be enhanced with cleaning, staining, stenciling, painting, adding an epoxy coating or overlaying the slab with a thin layer of fresh material and stamping it
- Considered green, sustainable building material due to its durability, energy efficiency and recyclability
- Can be covered later with many types of flooring
Concrete flooring cons:
- Costs more than many flooring materials, especially when decoratively finished, though this negative is offset by its durability
- Hardness makes it unforgiving when items are dropped on it or a person falls on it, and it can be uncomfortable to stand on for long periods of time (a drawback alleviated by padded area rugs where standing is common)
- More difficult and costly to remove than most flooring types; covering is an option, but floor height differences will be produced
- Feels cold to the touch when unheated
- Severe cracking is possible with faulty installation and will be noticeable
- Breakdown of the surface (spalling) of garage floors is possible if the concrete isn’t properly sealed and is subjected to moisture and freeze/thaw cycles
- Considered not green due to the significant use of fossil fuel in production (embodied energy)
The thought of concrete flooring indoors is a turn-off to those who picture ugly, sterile floors throughout their home. Today’s decorative concrete floors vastly differ from that stark image. The range of techniques below create a remarkable variety of style options befitting the most upscale residences.
Plain, sealed concrete floors are a clean-looking, durable and affordable option in the garage, basement or utility areas. Tinted concrete adds color in any room at an affordable cost, but tinting is available on new floors only.
Polish plain floors to produce an urban or modern vibe. Concrete polish is available in varying degrees of reflective clarity:
- Flat/Ground: No or very slight light reflection
- Satin/Honed/Matte: Slightly brighter with a little more life reflection
- Semi-polished: Significant light reflection, though objects reflected look fuzzy rather than crisp
- Highly-polished/Gloss: Highest reflective sheen, and reflected images are sharp
Staining, whether acid etching or acrylic, followed by polishing delivers a lasting, rich luster that can be tailored to mimic marble, granite, tanned leather or wood. Acid produces earthy colors; acrylic polymers and pigments span the spectrum from white to black. Staining existing concrete floors updates their appearance and obscures cracking.
Stenciling is a newer concrete floor treatment. Stencils are laid on the floor, and the exposed concrete is most often colored with paint or dye. Acid staining works with concrete stenciling too. An unlimited range of styles including popular brand logos, graphics and area rug designs make this a trending technique. The stenciled floor is sealed and polished to the desired level of gleam. Another recent technique is randomly embedding flat stones in the concrete before giving the floor a high-gloss finish to replicate a waterscape such as a river bed or lake/ocean shoreline.
Stamping concrete is widespread outdoors but can be done on interior floors too. Popular patterns include pavers, large tiles, wood planks, fallen leaves, cobblestone and large stones. Stampable overlays are a new product and technique that involves pouring up to ¾” of concrete on top of existing concrete and then imprinting it with a large stamp.
Concrete coatings including metallic and metallic flake create energetic pop for game rooms, home gyms, basements and garages.
Creative homeowners and contractors use combinations of techniques that result in beautifully one-of-a-kind concrete floors.
Concrete Flooring FAQs
Q: What is radiant heating, and why is it suitable to concrete flooring?
A: Either electric heating cables or hot-water tubes are laid on the subfloor in back-and-forth style, and the concrete is poured over them. When tubes are used, heated water is pumped through them. Radiant heat systems are used with concrete because the heat transfers easily, won’t damage the concrete and rises through the floor to heat the space above.
Q: Can a badly cracked concrete floor be refinished?
A: Not in the sense that hardwood is, but a thin, tough layer of concrete can be poured onto the old floor to create a new finish, a technique known as microtopping. The new surface can be stamped or stained too.
Q: Are concrete floors loud, and what can be done about it?
A: They create noise like tile and hardwood, and the noise can be reduced with area rugs and runners in walking paths.
Q: Is staining concrete a DIY job?
A: It can be, but you risk poor results (which are permanent) unless thoroughly familiar with the products and techniques used.