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

ArtCon Inc. Las Vegas, NV

ArtCon Inc. Las Vegas, NV

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 subbase.

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 (see Choosing a Vapor Barrier).
    • 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 (see Making Concrete Slip Resistant).
  • 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 marble (see Can Polished Concrete Be Slippery?).

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. Bob Harris explains that 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.

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



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