Introduction to Decorative Concrete
Decorative concrete, also commonly referred to as architectural concrete, can most easily be described as any technique that alters what would be plain, grey concrete to be more aesthetically pleasing. Decorative concrete can encompass many different looks and techniques. It can include simple coloring techniques such as acid stains, acrylic stains, concrete dyes, and integral colors (also called integrated colors; mixed into the concrete before it is poured). It can also include special treatments including stamping, scoring, chiseling, and polishing that can change the texture of the surface. Many times, decorative concrete integrates multiple techniques to truly customize the slab.
Probably one of the most well-known techniques for transforming plain concrete to be more design-friendly is staining, especially for interior applications. This technique involves taking a cured concrete slab and literally staining it to be a different color (or colors). There are two main types of concrete stain. The most common type of concrete stain is an acid stain. It is known for producing rich color. The acid reacts to the concrete and takes on its own life. The result is a marbleized coloring, much like grainy leather. It is probably one of the most difficult stains to work with; it requires much caution while applying because you are working with acid, after all. This stain does not cover defects in the concrete. On the contrary, it will likely show defects, even those you didn’t see when the concrete was in its natural state. However, this character that the acid stain reveals is part of the allure of the finished product of an acid stain job. Water-based concrete stains and acrylic concrete stains create a much more uniform look than do acid stains. These stains have a thin, milky consistency, allowing them to seep into the concrete’s pores, which differentiates them from any concrete paint, which can flake off because paints simply coat the surface. Because there is no chemical reaction between the stain and the concrete, it applies more like a dye.
It is a better alternative than acid stain for concrete pads that have cosmetic defects because coverage is fairly consistent. However, it is still a semi-translucent stain, so it will not completely disguise soils and other defects in the concrete. Water-based stains are also commonly called concrete dyes. It is often used to accent the work of an acid stain job by giving certain areas of the concrete a different color. Acrylic stains offer a wide variety of deep and bright colors with a much broader selection than acid stain offers. Also, whereas acid stains rely on a reaction with the concrete to produce color, the acrylic stain colors are usually the same in the bottle as they are on the concrete. This makes predicting the outcome much easier. It also allows for easier mixing at the jobsite to match other colors around. After the stain job is complete, it is recommended to put some sort of protective coating on the surface. This will prevent fading and wear. For outdoor applications, a concrete sealer is recommended. A solvent sealer or xylene-based sealer will leave a durable, semi-gloss coat, whereas a water-based sealer will leave a matte finish. For indoor applications, it is generally recommended to apply a wax, much like that which is used on a gym floor. In summary, staining is usually a good option if you have a concrete slab currently that you would like to add color to. Stains do not hide defects in the concrete, nor do they change the texture of the concrete. They simply add a semi-transparent, semi-permanent color. There are many tools and techniques that expand design options when using concrete stain. For example, there are stencils on the market that allow for a color design. Also, scored lines are also commonly used to add a pattern or design into the concrete.
Stain can also be used in conjunction with stamped concrete to add accent coloring. Plus, there are many different ways to apply stain to achieve different looks. advantages of stained concrete. Of course, the greatest advantage of stained concrete is the visual appeal. Staining concrete allows you to turn a functional element into a design element. Plus, with the wide array of colors and designs, staining can be used to compliment almost any design theme. Another advantage of stained concrete is that it is a semi-permanent, durable option. Because you are simply altering the color of concrete without altering its physical strength, your stained concrete will have the life of a boring, white slab (which some concrete is engineered to last more than fifty years!). Also, because the color is actually seeped into the concrete versus a layer on top like paint, it will not flake off like paint tends to. Stain can also be described as a “green” renovation project because you can simply transform what you already have, which means less waste in our landfills caused by starting over. In addition, staining requires no extra material aside from sealer or wax to make the flooring surface ready for use. Stained concrete is just as easy to maintain as a regular concrete slab if not easier because the sealer prevents stains and rinses easily. It may require a new coat of sealer or wax occasionally to maintain the finish. A simple broom or hose will often clean the surface adequately. Finally, another advantage of stained concrete is that it is relatively inexpensive compared to other options while yielding a custom, unique product.
Stamped concrete is another common technique of decorative concrete. It literally involves stamping a pattern and/or texture into freshly laid concrete. That being said, stamped concrete requires that new concrete is poured. This isn’t to say that you can’t add a stamped pattern or texture to your existing patio, it just requires a few intermediate steps. If you have an existing concrete pad that you want to add a stamped pattern or texture to, it requires adding a layer of concrete or overlay mixture. Of course, concrete is preferable, as it is one of world’s most durable materials; however, concrete will require a minimum of two inch height increase. There is another product available, often called an overlay mix, that can be applied as little as three-eighths inches thick. However, this plastic-cement polymer does have a shorter life-span than does concrete. There are limitations to capping your patio with concrete or overlaying it. If your patio is cracked or structurally unsound, it is risky to put any coating on it because that coating will likely crack and shift as well. Capping or overlaying your concrete will effectively hide any stains and minor defects in the concrete, though. The process involves pouring concrete much like you would do for ordinary flatwork. The area is framed up, reinforced with rebar, and smoothed out. In order to stamp, the concrete must be dry enough to not be mushy but wet enough to still hold an impression. The timing is perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of stamping. At this point, large rubber stamps are pounded into the concrete, many times with a tool called a tamper. Some sort of release product is used to keep the stamps from sticking. Other special tools, including “flippie” stamps, grout rollers, etc are used to perfect the area. The coloring of stamped concrete can be achieved in many different ways. Some of the coloring materials available for use with stamped concrete include integral/integrated colors, antiquing release colors, color hardeners, and tinted sealers. Integral colors, also called integrated colors, is color that is mixed into the concrete before it is poured. Integral colors come in both liquid and powder form.
The advantage of integral color is that the color is all the way through the concrete, so if the concrete is ever chipped or scarred, the color will be consistent throughout the slab. Antiquing release colors are usually a powder color applied to the surface before stamping occurs. Its functional aspect is that it keeps the stamps from sticking to the concrete. Its aesthetic aspect is that when the excess powder is scrubbed off, it leave behind great accent coloring in the grooves and crevices. Some release colors also come in a liquid form. Color hardeners are applied to the surface of the concrete. They are used to add color to freshly poured concrete. Because they have a cement content and high PSI, we do not recommend their use in climates that change rapidly because color hardeners can cause what we have coined as a “popcorn” effect, where small circles actually pop out of the surface of the concrete. Color hardeners are usually a powder and come in a wide variety of colors. Tinted sealers are just as you would think; they are sealers that have a transparent color tint added in. Some manufacturers make tinted sealers, or you can simply make them yourself, which is usually a good way to go if you are wanting to mix colors or play with transparency. Before you do this though, you need to know what kind of sealer you have and what kind of color product would mix with it. Tinted sealers also come in a wide variety of color options, especially if you will be making it yourself.
Most of the time, contractors will use a variety of coloring techniques to achieve your look. Contractors may also use the technique that is most familiar to them, leaving the others behind. One thing is for sure: make sure that you quiz your contractor about the coloring techniques they use to make sure you are given the information you need to properly pick your colors. Also, make sure he/she isn’t selling you on coloring techniques that may not be suitable for your climate area. advantages of stamped concrete. For the sake of accuracy, this paragraph does not take into account any overlay products because these products do not carry all of the same advantages that concrete does. Stamped concrete, if it is true concrete, often carries with it many advantages. First, it is known for its durability and longevity; after all, it is concrete! Because it is so durable, it can also be described as an environmentally-friendly option because it won’t have to be replaced in the near future, meaning more materials won’t need to be manufactured and less materials will end up in landfills. Also, it is easy to maintain. The sealer allows cleaning to be as easy as rinsing or sweeping. Occasionally, you will need to recoat the surface with sealer, which is an easy spray or roll on process. Finally, stamped concrete is aesthetically pleasing. It is completely customizable with a wide variety of color combinations and stamp patterns. And, considering how long it will last and how easy it is to maintain, it is a low cost in the long run for a beautiful finish.
Scored concrete is a great way to give both new pours and existing pour a new look. Scoring concrete is essentially cutting a shallow cut into the concrete. These cuts can be used to create the illusion of tile or stone or to “draw” a custom pattern or logo into the concrete. Because these lines are actually cut into the concrete, they are as permanent as the slab itself unless covered. Scoring is often combined with colored or stained concrete to accentuate the surface pattern. It can also be applied to plain concrete to just add a touch of decorative design to an otherwise humdrum slab. Concrete can be scored with many different tools, but the most common tools are concrete saws and grinders. Many times a diamond blade is used. For a more rustic or rough look, chiseling the lines is a great method, although it can be more labor intensive and tedious. advantages of scored concrete. Because scoring can be a way to add decorative touches to a slab without tearing out the slab and starting over or covering the slab with other products, it is a very economical and eco-friendly approach to decorative concrete. Also, it is as permanent as the slab is, which means there will be little to no upkeep. Maintenance will involve simple cleaning, which is as easy as sweeping or rinsing. If the scored concrete is sealed, it may require resealing periodically. Finally, the biggest advantage of scored concrete is that it is completely custom.
Polished concrete is, just as it sounds, a concrete slab that is polished down until a shiny finish is achieved. These smooth, high-luster floors, if done correctly, do not require any wax or sealer, making it a great option for warehouses, retail locations, etc. But, homeowners are quickly learning that this technique can be utilized for a low maintenance interior flooring. The process is similar in theory to sanding wood. You start with a rough pad and grind into the concrete. Then you move to smoother and smoother pads, step by step, until your finished product is a shiny, smooth floor. Usually, there will be exposed aggregate, making it a neat look. Polished concrete can be stained for some extra color. Or, integral color can be used before the pour to add color throughout. Special, and expensive, tools and materials are often necessary to get a polished finish. advantages of polished concrete. Polished concrete is very durable because it is concrete, one of the most durable materials known to man. It is also very low maintenance because wax or sealer may not be necessary. Sometimes, if the floor loses its luster, it may be necessary to re-polish the floor, repeating the last steps of the polishing process. Polished concrete can also be a great design feature because it is unique and customizable. Colors can be added for a different look, and even special aggregates can be added, aggregates that are only exposed because of the polishing process.
All architectural concrete, except polished concrete and interior stained concrete, should be sealed regularly to maintain its beauty and durability. This process can be outsourced to a concrete company, or it can be a great do-it-yourself project. The process is usually very easy, requiring a spray-on or roll-on application. Some sealers are even mop-on. The most important aspect of resealing a patio is knowing what the original coat of sealer is. If you choose the wrong sealer, you can end up with a huge mess that will be time and money demanding to repair. It is best to contact whoever sealed your patio the first time to know what kind of sealer you should use to recoat your decorative concrete. Sealing concrete makes it stain and fade resistant. It is a protective coating that usually gives a bit of a sheen to the surface, bringing out the richness of the colors used in the decorative concrete, no matter which technique. Many times, freshly sealed concrete can be described as making the concrete look wet. Many times an older patio can be resealed to make it look like new again. Plain concrete can also be sealed for a more modern look that is easy to maintain and resistant to being stained. Sealing concrete will not cover any existing flaws in the slab. Stains will likely be accentuated by the sealant, and scratches or cracks will only be covered with a clear coat. Tinted sealers, as discussed above, can be used to add some color to a slab, whether it is plain or decorative.
concrete vs. other flooring options
Tile. Tiles can come in a variety of colors and patterns, but you are limited to what options are presented to you. Concrete offers the flexibility to choose your look, much like mixing paint. Tile requires a stable pad on which to be laid, which means often times you will need concrete anyway. Plus, the concrete, tile, and grout expands and contracts at different rates, making it susceptible to cracking, especially in outdoor conditions. Also, with tile comes grout lines, which means you have to scrub grout lines. Enough said? natural stone/flagtone. Much like tile, flagstone and natural stone usually requires a concrete base and grout for a semi-permanent slab, which means it comes with the same disadvantages as tile. Plus, you are limited to what mother nature makes, versus picking your own colors with concrete. If the concrete base or grout/mortar are not used, you will end up with an uneven nightmare with weeds growing between the stones. That doesn’t sound like fun! brick. Brick carries with it the same issues as natural stone, flagstone, and tile. >linoleum/vinyl. Although cheap and easy to care for, linoleum and vinyl are not as durable as concrete, nor do they have the aesthetic and “rich” look that concrete offers. Wood. Although beautiful, wood is not the easiest to maintain. It can easily scratch or nick, and it often requires revamp after a few years, especially if not maintained properly. Plus, unless it is taken from sustainable forests, can have negative effects on the forest and wildlife therein. Carpet. Carpet’s main disadvantage is that it easily stains. Even stain resistant carpet is much more likely to stain than sealed , waxed, or polished concrete. Plus, the manufacturing process is not always best for the environment, the chemicals it emits into the home can be harmful, and it retains allergens and pollutants, causing issues for those with breathing problems and allergies.