Who Says Concrete has to be Ugly and Boring?

Written by Posted On Sunday, 20 August 2006 17:00

It may not sound like the most decorative alternative, but concrete is becoming a popular choice for homeowners hoping to cut costs while still enjoying pleasing landscape. It is not, though, just any ordinary concrete that's being poured. Decorative/concrete overlay, concrete stamping, and acid staining are alternatives to the use of natural stones.

While the concept isn't new, it is increasingly becoming more popular due to the expensive cost of real stone. The look of concrete stamping, decorative overlay, and acid staining can mirror stone so convincingly that you might not know one of these alternative methods of décor was used. However, if you have visited a theme park then it's likely that you have seen and walked on concrete stamping or decorative overlay, and acid staining, perhaps thinking it was real stone.

These alternative methods transform utilitarian bland concrete into a work of art. The methods are used frequently in large public places and also in homes as a way to perk up otherwise drab concrete by adding texture and color.

The Style & Advantage

There are numerous patterns and colors that can be used to make concrete look like cobblestone, ceramic tile, a wooden boardwalk, brick, flagstone, and more.

"It's less expensive. It's more flexible … it can flex with the temperature as the concrete is flexing. Oftentimes with stone it is going to flex at a different rate than the grout and then you end up having little hairline cracks around your stone and over a period of time water will get in there and then it will start to delaminate the stones," says Ken Tyson, licensed contractor and president of Tyson's Inc. His company in Hawaii installs decorative overlay as well as does concrete leveling and repairs.

Concrete Overlay

Concrete overlay is used on existing concrete to make it look new and fresh. Tyson says, "We're just putting down a quarter inch, sometimes even less, of a polymer-modified concrete."

To create the effect, a template is used. The concrete is first cleaned with a pressure washer. The area is then inspected. Hairline cracks can be filled with the overlay, but sizable cracks should be repaired first. A base coat is applied along with adhesive-backed paper stencils, "then we would trowel on or spray on, whichever technique we wanted to achieve a stone-like finish, we would do that over the top of the stencils in multiple colors, giving you random colors just as you would have with real stone."

After the area dries the stencils are removed, revealing grout lines and a faux-stone finish.

Decorative Concrete

Stamped or decorative concrete can also be used when the new concrete is being poured to create the same effect as the concrete overlay.

"The [gray] concrete is formed and poured like a normal concrete slab would be," says Tyson. There are several techniques says Tyson. He describes one version. A color hardener powder is applied to the gray concrete using a trowel to make the surface even harder and to transform the grey concrete to a desirable color. The concrete cannot be stamped until it is set because the concrete will need to be walked on in order to stamp it. Concrete patterns are stamped using various stamp mats selected by the homeowner.

"The stamp mats are in a variety of sizes from 2 by 2 and 60 by 60 and those will have the imprint of the particular pattern that [the homeowner] has chosen and a good place to look at them is," says Tyson.

The next stage of the process utilizes a colored-powered release agent that is applied to the wet concrete so that when the stamp mat is used the patterns on the mat drive the color into the wet concrete without sticking to the mat. The next day the stamped colored concrete should be sealed.

Acid Staining

Acid staining is yet another appealing look that is often combined with concrete stamping. It isn't painting of the new or existing concrete slab, instead it is an actual coloring process. The color is the result of a reaction that occurs when the solution (which consists of water, acid, and inorganic salts) is combined with the minerals that are already present in the concrete. While this décor style is intriguing, a word of caution. Each slab of concrete can provoke a different outcome, so there can be great variations in coloration patterns.

With alternatives like these, concrete never has to be boring.

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Phoebe Chongchua

Phoebe Chongchua is an award-winning journalist, an author, customer service trainer/speaker, and founder of Setting the Service Standard, a customer service training and consulting program offered by Live Fit Enterprises (LFE) based in San Diego, California. She is the publisher of Live Fit Magazine, an online publication that features information on real estate/finance, physical fitness, travel, and philanthropy. Her company, LFE, specializes in media services including marketing, PR, writing, commercials, corporate videos, customer service training, and keynotes & seminars. Visit her magazine website: www.LiveFitMagazine.com.

Phoebe's articles, feature stories, and columns appear in various publications including The Coast News, Del Mar Village Voice, Rancho Santa Fe Review, and Today's Local News in San Diego, as well as numerous Internet sites. She holds a California real estate license. Phoebe worked for KGTV/10News in San Diego as a Newscaster, Reporter and Community Affairs Specialist for more than a decade. Phoebe's writing is also featured in Donald Trump's book: The Best Real Estate Advice I Ever Received and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Buying Foreclosures. She is the author of If the Trash Stinks, TAKE IT OUT! 14 Worriless Principles for Your Success.

Contact Phoebe at (858) 259-3646 or phoebe@livefitmagazine.com. Visit PhoebeChongchua.com for more information.

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