There was a time when having an exposed concrete floor might have prompted your friends to chip in and buy you a carpet, assuming that you couldn't afford to buy one yourself. How times have changed...
Although we traditionally think of concrete as a ‘cold’ material, if used with access to direct sunlight, it can act as an effective thermal mass, meaning it absorbs heat, stores it and then slowly releases it over the rest of the day and into the night in a way that timber or carpet can’t. This is why many solar passive houses have concrete floors. Of course, concrete can ‘look’ cold, but it can easily be warmed up by teaming it with warmer-looking materials. In the kitchen above the concrete creates a lovely contrast to the warmth of the timber.
If building a home from scratch, it’s a good idea to plan on the look you want for your floor well ahead of starting the build. The concrete pour happens early on and if you want to achieve certain finishes, they might need to be done at this stage. Underfloor heating is installed at this stage, too, so needs be planned for.
If you are finishing the floor before completing the rest of the build, you will need to protect it. Refresh Renovations specialist Tim Walters recommends protecting the slab with a “layer of plywood to prevent damage by a million different sets of boots during construction.”
Another option to consider is adding colour to the floor. This can be incorporated into the mix at pour stage, in which case you’ll need to think about your colour selection early on. If you wait and add colour later, you can you use water-based dyes or acids. Again, plan ahead and seek advice from your builder, architect or your concrete contractor as there is some unpredictability involved with adding colour to concrete and mixed results are sometime reported. It’s not an exact science so take care and do your homework…
There are many choices for the final finish and look of your concrete flooring. High-gloss or matt looks can be achieved according to preference. There are also many different levels to the concrete floor ‘polish’. It all depends on personal taste and budget. If you like, you can simply grind back and cover with a polyurethane, which will be less expensive but will require more ongoing maintenance as it will need to be re-done every few years.
The most expensive method of polishing will achieve the most hardwearing and long-lasting result and can produce a look of such high polish that it can almost resemble marble. Once a floor is polished to this degree it will no longer require any further coatings.
For renovators, if you’re going for an exposed concrete floor, this is one part of the build that we especially recommend not doing yourself and rather employ the services of a professional like Refresh Renovations, unless you really know what you’re doing. While imperfections and limited cracking can be an intrinsic part of the character, it’s going to be your floor covering for a long time so you want it to remain looking good for all that time, and it’s hard to go back.
If you like concrete but are unsure about having it throughout your house, you could try it in limited areas, like the bathroom.
One issue with concrete is that some people say they find it hard on their joints – backs and feet especially. If you’re concerned about this, one of the ways it can be dealt with is to put rubber mats or cork cushioning on the concrete in areas where you expect to spend lots of time standing, such as in the kitchen. Or you could always wear slippers or soft-soled shoes indoors.
If you’ve ever ripped up an old carpet and seen all the dust and dirt that has been collecting over the years, you’ll be aware of one of concrete’s advantages over carpet. It’s cleaner and won’t collect dust – it only requires a sweep and the occasional light mop. Rugs can be taken outside and shaken in the old fashioned way to get rid of dirt and pet hairs.
Concrete has a high ‘embodied energy’ meaning there is a lot of energy used in its production. However, this is balanced against its ability to save on future energy by acting as a thermal mass, as previously mentioned. It is also very durable and hard-wearing, so a well-installed concrete floor will far outlast other flooring materials. That’s why it’s a popular floor choice for ‘green’ homes.
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*All information is believed to be true at time of publishing and is subject to change.
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