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Decorative Concrete

Learn about the many uses for decorative concrete.

Decorative concrete is easily customized and can be molded to a customer's specifications. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
Decorative concrete is easily customized and can be molded to a customer's specifications.

Decorative concrete is an emerging trend in both interior and exterior design. Some uses of concrete, such as driveways, pool decks and patios, are well known. Other uses of the material, including kitchen counters, bathroom tiles and sinks, may be more surprising. One of concrete's major draws is its ability to mimic more expensive materials, such as flagstone, brick, slate, Spanish tile and wood.

Decorative concrete is easily customized. It can be stained, stenciled and molded to a decorator's exact specifications. It can also be dyed, polished and applied as an overlay. In addition to its design versatility, many homeowners and designers are choosing to use concrete because of its environmental friendliness. Considered a green product, concrete is a sustainable material that does not require nonrenewable resources for its production. Some decorative concrete manufacturers also include recycled materials in the final product.

Stamped Concrete

Stamped concrete, also referred to as patterned or imprinted concrete, is designed solely to replicate the look of other materials and surfaces. Commonly used in interior flooring and outdoor patios, stamped concrete may take on the appearance of pine, slate, sandstone, cobblestones and more. Some stamped concrete applications mimic surfaces found in nature, such as a stone-covered river bottom or fractured, sun-dried soil. According to the Stamped Concrete Association of America, stamped concrete is indistinguishable from the material it mimics. Basic stamped concrete typically costs $6 to $8 per square foot, and stamped concrete with multiple patterns or coloring effects costs approximately $15 per square foot.

This type of decorative concrete maintains its original appearance by being resealed every three to four years. Stamped concrete that is rich in color may require resealing as often as every year. Exterior stamped concrete does not need any additional maintenance to prepare it for the winter.

Concrete Pavers

Concrete pavers, or paving stones, are typically installed in exterior applications, such as driveways, patios and pool decks. Pavers are available in a wide variety of colors and textures and are used to create a patterned solid surface. While the installation process can be labor-intensive, once the pavers are laid they are ready to use. Individual pavers are also easily removed and replaced, which can save the cost of resurfacing if an area is damaged and allows easier access for pool repairs. Like stamped concrete, pavers require periodic resealing.

Because pavers must be individually laid and interlocked, the cost of installation is dependent on several factors, including site preparation, the size of the project and labor costs. In general, the cost for just the material is about $4 to $6 per square foot for basic designs and $7 to $20 per square foot for elaborate designs.

Concrete Flooring

By using concrete, designers can bring virtually any flooring idea to fruition. Decorative finishes are available for existing undecorated concrete flooring and for those who are pouring concrete without a professional contractor. Existing floors can be chemically stained to resemble granite or marble, and artists can create unique effects with stain by brushing, mopping or using other methods of application. For smaller-scale projects, such as outdoor patio flooring, a liquid or powdered colorant can be added into ready-mix concrete. Stenciling can also be used on new and existing concrete floors to create a decorative effect. Homeowners can incorporate elaborate designs, and businesses can display their logos in the flooring, which would be impossible with most other materials.

The design options are nearly limitless with concrete flooring, but some homeowners may struggle with the idea of a concrete surface within the home. In addition to their sustainability and durability benefits, concrete floors reduce mold growth and allergens, which can make the material the healthiest option for some allergy sufferers. However, some families, particularly those with small children, may be reluctant to install a flooring material that is so unforgiving to falls and dropped objects. According to the Concrete Network, a concrete surface is similar to natural stone flooring and ceramic tile. Many concrete floor owners compensate for the hard surface with the use of area rugs and cut down on concrete's echo effect with curtains, pillows and wall fabrics. Because of its natural thermal elements, concrete flooring is ideal for radiant heating.

Concrete Countertops

The use of concrete countertops in the kitchen has dramatically increased over the last several years, according to HGTV. Homeowners are opting for concrete over laminates and granite because of the material's versatility. The majority of concrete countertops are formed, cured and finished at the manufacturer's facility, but some are molded directly on top of the kitchen cabinets. Each fabricator has a signature method of mixing, casting and treating concrete countertops, and the homeowner chooses the design specifications. This type of countertop can be personalized in ways other materials do not allow. For example, sentimental mementos like glass from a wine bottle or a swatch of fabric can be placed within the countertop.

The popularity of concrete countertops in the bathroom is also increasing. Sinks and soap dishes are often cast from concrete for an integrated look. The cost of a concrete countertop can be high, costing about $65 to $200 per square foot.

Concrete Tiles

Concrete tiles are used in kitchens, bathrooms and on roofs. Covering a countertop in concrete tiles is a considerably less expensive option than a custom concrete countertop. Interior concrete tiles cost about $3 to $5 per square foot. They do, however, require professional installation because of the specialized tools needed, and the surface must first be inspected to ensure it can withstand the weight. As with all uses of decorative concrete, tiles are popular because of their durability.

Concrete roof tiles are Class-A fire rated and highly resistant to wind and hail. According to the Portland Cement Association, concrete roof tiles can withstand winds of more than 125 miles per hour. The tiles can replicate the more expensive look of clay, slate, wood and stone, and have been known to last longer than the structure they are covering. A tile roof is maintained by yearly visual inspections and periodic cleaning with a pressure washer.

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