4 Finishing Options for Decorative Concrete

Posted on August 21, 2018

Decorative concrete gives the standard variety a serious makeover. Enjoy durability and style combined in one attractive, long-lasting surface. You'll find that the creative applications are virtually limitless. The undeniable curb appeal of decorative concrete means that a percentage of the cost is frequently recovered at resale.

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4 Types of Decorative Concrete

Let's take a closer look at four ways to make concrete more decorative and therefore more appealing.

1. Integral coloring

One of the most popular kinds of decorative concrete is the integrally colored variety. Integral color concrete is not stained or dyed. Rather, the color results from the addition of a selected pigment during the mixing process. Since the pigment is integrated into the concrete, the color remains even if the surface is chipped or otherwise scarred.

2. Texturing

It is also possible to finish concrete with a wide range of surface textures. For example, sandblasting, chemical applications and other means are often used to expose the aggregates. Textures can also be trowelled on to mimic the look of slate, wood or other natural materials. Textured finishes often make concrete more slip-resistant.

3. Stenciling and staining

It is also possible to stencil concrete to achieve aesthetically pleasing results. Selected areas are masked off prior to sandblasting, acid etching or staining. Interesting faux and mottled finishes are possible that are popular everywhere from homes and restaurant patios to hotels and art museums.

4. Stamping

There are often savings associated with stamping concrete to mimic brick, natural slate or cobblestone rather than using such materials. Stamping yields a very hard surface that resists damage and reduces long-term maintenance expenses.

A single stamp pattern costs less than contrasting patterns with multiple colors and/or borders. On the other hand, scoring or hand-coloring concrete usually adds to both the look and to the cost.

Stamping and sealing must be precise and professional to avoid issues like ridging and efflorescence (crystallized surface deposits).

Tips for Selecting a Finishing Option

Decorative concrete is used in a diverse array of indoor and outdoor applications from floors and countertops to driveways, sidewalks and patios. Architectural designs and color schemes may guide you as you match decorative concrete to the overall look of the property.

If durability is a priority, you might consider stamped surfaces over exposed aggregates, although the right sealers can prolong the lifespan of decorative concrete in general. Integral colored concrete that's receptive to polishing is ideal for interior floors, both residential and commercial.

The cost of decorative concrete varies in relation to the amount of hand finishing required. For example, hand trowelling or scoring may increase costs. Added steps like polishing also impact costs.

Questions to Ask the Contractor

Success with decorative concrete relies, to a degree, on quality communication between client and contractor. Here are questions to ask your concrete contractor:

  1. How close a color match can I expect?
    It is always important for a contractor to manage expectations when decorative concrete is used, particularly when it comes to color. A contractor should provide samples or reference projects so a customer has a clear understanding of potential color variations. Clients should understand that freshly placed concrete will be a different tone than fully cured concrete.
  2. How long do I need to stay off the concrete?
    If you are the owner of the property, find out how long you need to stay off the freshly placed decorative concrete. Contractors should use curing compounds specifically formulated for colored concrete. For optimal results, it is important that the curing process remain unimpeded.
  3. What about concrete sealing and maintenance?
    Proper sealing of decorative concrete maintains color integrity. Sealers can also intensify the color effect. A good sealer is both UV-resistant and slip-resistant. Periodic re-sealing should occur every 1-3 years.

Decorative Concrete Case Studies

Here are four projects where designers used decorative concrete in innovative and desirable ways:

Commercial flooring

Weis Markets enjoys a significant presence in Pennsylvania and four other states. One of its 160 stores is in Selinsgrove, a community along the Susquehanna River about 35 miles north of Harrisburg.

The design team for a new store chose highly polished concrete flooring over vinyl for a number of reasons. The reflective surface reduces lighting needs, and it is easier to keep it clean. The surface is more skid-resistant, reducing the potential for slips and falls.

About one-third of the 3,000 cubic yards of concrete used in the overall project was integral color concrete. Five pours alternated between darker and lighter colored concrete sourced from a ready-mix supplier just four miles away. The store's owners also chose decorative concrete instead of brick in an outdoor dining area.

Pool project

At a residence named PACA's Residential Decorative Project of the Year in 2014, designers combined integral color concrete and locally obtained limestone boulders to create a distinctive pool area. A dark grey release agent was used with an integral grey color pigment concrete stamped with a stone pattern. The pool project delivered the desired aesthetic along with a durable, low-maintenance surface.

Riverfront residence

At another residential project, art and ecology converged along the shores of one of the state's major rivers. The Susquehanna River Lodge is a LEED Gold-certified project prominently featuring different types decorative concrete. Inside, there's a polished floor featuring integral color concrete. The walks and patios are fashioned from exposed aggregate concrete, while the driveway is fashioned from stamped, integral color concrete.

Picnic pad

At the Lebanon Valley Agricultural Center, you'll find a water-permeable picnic pad fashioned from dark gray and red concrete. The attractive pad provides a spot for staff members to enjoy lunch outdoors. Visiting designers, contractors and property owners witness an effective way to mitigate the effects of water runoff.

About PACA

Have other questions regarding decorative concrete? Don't hesitate to reach out to the team at the Pennsylvania Aggregates and Concrete Association (PACA). We'll gladly assist you as you plan your next project.