Canadian Contractor

John Bleasby   

Concrete floors: more than 50 shades of grey!

Canadian Contractor

With the ability to be coloured, textured or polished, maybe it’s time to re-visit the idea of residential concrete floors

There’s something very institutional about the notion of concrete floors. Very often they are bland and cold. Nowadays however, concrete can in fact offer so much more both in style and practicality that it now presents an interesting alternative, not only to hardwood but to stone and tile as well.

The basement slab: A gem to be uncovered?
Start with the concrete slab floor in the basement, the unloved cousin of flooring, often covered up with a subfloor then topped with wood, tile or carpet; anything to get rid of the coldness underfoot. However, when buffed and waxed, that uninteresting existing concrete floor shimmers with possibilities. In main floor living spaces, concrete applied as an overlay to a subfloor can bring consistency to the entrance foyer, hallway and living area trio, and can be extended outdoors for a further unifying appearance.

More than 50 shades of grey
Concrete can be buffed shiny and flat, or coloured and textured in numerous different ways. Colours can be mixed into the initial mix, or added afterwards as a coloured acid stain applied to resemble natural stone. Other ways to introduce colours include stains, sealers and dyes that permeate the surface. Paint can be problematic however, as it tends to chip and flake over time, requiring fresh applications every few years.

Read other parts of this flooring series:
Solid hardwood and its composite look-alikes 
Bamboo: a low-priced, eco-friendly alternative
Cork: warm underfoot, infinite in variety


Likewise, textures and patterns can be introduced to concrete at time of installation through etching or handwork, with near-infinite variation. Not only can this be aesthetically pleasing, but in bathrooms where safety is important, patterns can reduce risks of slipping.

Healthy and green?
Yes, concrete actually is a recyclable, eco-friendly material , given that it does not deplete natural resources and is usually locally made and mixed, thus reducing transportation costs. Indoor air quality is improved since concrete inhibits mold, mildew and odours, and contains no harmful Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s). 

The feel underfoot; both warm and cool
The coolness of concrete underfoot is probably best appreciated during warmer seasons and not so much in the colder ones. Area rugs can be used as a seasonal solution. The good news is that like tile, concrete makes an excellent choice if radiant floor heating is desired. Although concrete may take a little time to warm up, heat is retained longer.

Tally the costs and compare
If granite, slate, marble or expensive ceramics are being considered, concrete can make a strong case economically. Once the costs of materials and installation are calculated, concrete floors can be more economical than many other materials. And nothing can beat concrete for longevity. Concrete is a retro-fit material too. A thin micro-topping of concrete can be applied over many existing floor materials if the surface is properly prepared.

No silver bullets
Concrete is not without its shortcomings. Although easy to clean with a mop and pail, assuming floor sealants are reapplied every 3 or 4 years (or waxed more often than that), spills should be cleaned up immediately to prevent staining. Like tile or stone, concrete is very unforgiving should glasses or plates be dropped, and can become tiring underfoot. Some homeowners therefore not only use area rugs in living spaces, but add rubber pads in areas like kitchens, where standing for long periods is expected.

With some imagination on the part of your customer, their designer, or the professional concrete floor installer, concrete floors can deliver a spectacular, elegant and low-maintenance solution.

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