Questions about Concrete Flooring

Is a decorative concrete floor right for you? Here, we separate the truth from the reality to help you make an informed decision.

By: Anne Balogh, The Concrete Network

When people are first introduced to the beauty of decorative concrete flooring, they are initially “floored” by its good looks (sorry, the pun was too tempting to pass up). However, once that love-at-first-sight reaction fades, it’s often followed by skepticism about the practicality of concrete flooring, especially in a home environment. Many homeowners will ask: Beyond its aesthetic attributes, is concrete really a flooring material I can live with for the long term?

Like any flooring material, concrete does have some inherent drawbacks. However, many of them are easy to overcome, and in the end, the positives of concrete flooring far outweigh the negatives. To help you evaluate whether concrete floors are a good fit for your lifestyle and aesthetic tastes, here are frank answers to some common questions about concrete floors.

Are Concrete Floors Cold and Damp?

The truth:

Yes, concrete can be cold, but no more so than ceramic tile or natural stone flooring. And yes, concrete floors can transmit moisture vapor if they aren’t insulated properly or if the slab is built on a poorly drained sub-base.

The reality:

    • Concrete doesn’t have to be cold. Its thermal properties give it the ability to store and radiate heat. By embedding radiant heating cables in concrete floors, for example, you can keep floors toasty warm in the winter and you can control the temperature level.
    • In properly constructed newer homes, today’s building codes typically require installation of a vapor barrier under concrete slabs to block moisture migration and that feeling of dampness.
    • If the home is built to take advantage of solar radiation entering through windows, concrete floors will absorb the heat from the sun to keep rooms warmer in the winter.
    • In summer and in hot climates, a cooler floor can be an advantage and can actually help lower air-conditioning costs.

Are Concrete Floors Loud and Hard on the Feet?

The truth: 

Yes, concrete is a hard material and won’t cushion or “give” under bare feet. And concrete floors can be loud and produce an echo effect, but no more so than ceramic tile, natural stone flooring, and some hardwood or bamboo floors.

The reality:

    • Concrete’s hardness also contributes to its durability and abrasion resistance. In a commercial or warehouse setting, hard is good. You need a hard surface that can stand up to forklift traffic and heavy foot traffic.
    • For a residential floor, you can help cushion concrete with area rugs, which are easier to clean than wall-to-wall carpet.
    • While concrete may be hard, it’s not abrasive to the feet, especially if it’s polished or has a smooth finish.
    • You can muffle the echo effect by using sound-absorptive materials in the room, such as area rugs, curtains, pillows and wall fabrics.

Are Decorative Concrete Floors Expensive?

The truth:

The initial outlay for decorative concrete may exceed the cost of a low- to mid-priced floor covering, such as carpeting, vinyl tile and wood laminates.

The reality:

    • When compared with high-end floor coverings, such as ceramic tile, slate and marble, decorative concrete is often an economical alternative. Plus, skilled concrete artisans can duplicate the look of these pricier materials.
    • The life expectancy of a concrete floor will far surpass that of most floor covering materials. That means in the long run you can save money because you’ll never need to rip out and replace worn or damaged flooring.

Is Decorative Concrete Maintenance Free?

The truth: 

No type of flooring material is truly “maintenance free,” no matter what the manufacturer may claim. While concrete floors are relatively easy to maintain, compared with other types of floor surfaces, they aren’t completely maintenance free. How much maintenance your floor will need largely depends on the amount of traffic it receives. The maintenance needs of a residential floor will be much different than those for a floor in a high-traffic commercial or retail environment.

The reality:

    • In most cases, residential concrete floors experience light foot traffic, and a simple cleaning regimen of occasional sweeping and damp mopping will keep concrete floors looking like new for many years.
    • When protected with a good sealer and a coat of floor finish or wax, concrete floors are highly resistant to staining, chemicals and abrasion.
    • If your concrete floor ever loses its luster or shine, cleaning of the floor and reapplying a coat or two of floor finish will normally bring it back to its original state. In a non-aggressive environment such as a home, it’s not uncommon to have a year or more go by with just light maintenance before it’s necessary to buff and refinish the floor.
    • In areas of heavy traffic, such as entrances and foyers, you can reduce maintenance and wear and tear by using floor mats, both inside and outside of the entryways.

Are Concrete Floors Slippery?

The truth:

They can be, especially when wet, but no more so than vinyl, linoleum, marble or ceramic tile floors.

The reality:

    • Application of a high-gloss sealer to protect and enhance decorative concrete may reduce traction somewhat, but that’s easily remedied by mixing a nonslip additive into the stain or sealer before application.
    • Kept clean and dry, polished concrete floors are generally no slicker than plain concrete surfaces. And they tend to be less slippery than waxed linoleum or polished.

How Long Does Concrete Flooring Last?

Yes, many flooring options are initially cheaper than decorative concrete. But concrete will last longer and eventually give you a better return on your investment. When you amortize the cost of a concrete floor over a lifetime, the price can be comparable or even lower than other high-end flooring materials. Concrete floors rarely if ever need replacement, especially if properly installed and maintained.

Top Misconceptions about Concrete Floors

In a recent survey about concrete floors that we presented to recipients of our “Concrete Quest” newsletter, we gathered some revealing insights into what consumers like and don’t like about concrete floors. While most people love the look of decorative concrete floors and their ability to be customized, they had a few grievances as well, particularly the four concerns listed below, based on the percent of responses.

Some of these criticisms are valid, but they can also apply to other types of hard flooring surfaces. And in defense of concrete, we’d like to point out why a few common objections about concrete as a flooring material are more misperception than fact.

They can crack (48%)

The most common objection to concrete floors (48% of respondents) is the potential for cracking. However, some people actually love the rustic, organic look that can be achieved by staining the floor and leaving minor random cracks exposed. While these can be perceived as an eyesore, micro-toppings offer the ability to hide them under a smooth, new surface that can accept a wide array of decorative treatments, including staining, stamping, and stenciling.

They can be slippery (25%)

Any smooth flooring surface, including vinyl, linoleum, marble and ceramic tile, can be slippery, especially when wet. With concrete, you can easily remedy the problem by mixing an invisible nonslip additive into the stain or sealer before applying it to the floor to give the surface more traction.

They are too cold and hard (20%)

Concrete can be cold, but no more so than ceramic tile or natural stone flooring. The advantage of concrete is its inherent ability to store and radiate heat. By embedding radiant heating cables in concrete floors, for example, you can keep floors warm in the winter and, better yet, control the temperature level. If your home is built to take advantage of solar radiation entering through windows, concrete floors will absorb the heat from the sun to keep rooms warmer in the winter.

No doubt, concrete is hard under bare feet. But that hardness also contributes to its durability and abrasion resistance. For a residential floor, you can help cushion concrete with area rugs, which are easier to clean than wall-to-wall carpet.

They look too industrial (7%)

Certainly plain, unadulterated gray concrete can be perceived as sterile and “industrial.” However, anyone who has seen a concrete floor enriched by a brown or earth-toned stain knows that concrete can be made to look warm and inviting. In fact, brown is the most popular color choice for concrete floors, based on our survey.

Author Anne Balogh, ConcreteNetwork.com Columnist and Senior Editor of Concrete Network Magazine 

Stained Concrete Price

By Joe Nasvik

Concrete Construction asked several contractors what they charge to install acid-etch finishes on floors. The following are some general price ranges:

    • Simple stain applications that include cleanup and a final sealer coat and involve minimal slab preparation will cost about $2 to $4 per square foot. Larger projects typically have the lowest square-foot prices.
    • Stain applications with saw-cut patterning and different colors between sawed lines cost $4 to as much as $10 per square foot depending on design.
    • Applications with sawed patterns and multiple color buildups are priced at about $8 to $15 per square foot depending on design.

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