Trends in decorative concrete
By: DEBRA WILLIAMS
Decorative concrete has become a booming industry over the past five years, and the industry shows no sign of slowing down as both contractors and homeowners discover the variety of textures and colors available, as well as decorative concrete's affordability.
From driveways, walkways and pool decks, decorative concrete has found its way inside through the entryway and into recreation and dining rooms, bathrooms, and kitchen and utility areas, not to mention countertops and splash-backs. Homeowners and builders are even using the structural floor slab as a beautiful design feature by applying penetrating stains or imprinting during new building.
"Concrete was originally something used as a utilitarian building material," says Robert Harris, training director for the L. M. Scofield Co. "It wasn't used as a visible feature, but now with the options available for coloring, texturing, imprinting, staining or stenciling, concrete has become a versatile and attractive focal point in both interior and exterior design for upscale homes, businesses and retail centers. Our training programs are in tremendous demand."
Current trends in the market are pushing the use of decorative concrete even further. New products and processes are making it possible to apply decorative polymer modified cementitious toppings over worn or cracked surfaces, eliminating time and expenses for removal. The toppings can be used to achieve either a smooth or textured appearance in different colors and patterns.
Topping less-than-perfect concrete
Technical advances allow the patching and topping of less-than perfect concrete. Bomanite Corp., a Madera, Calif.-based manufacturer of decorative concrete products, has seen sales of its Thin-Set product grow since its introduction three years ago. The formulated polymer modified topping for concrete can be used on damaged concrete.
Chris Stewart, vice president of technical services and research and development at Bomanite, says the secret behind Thin-Set's success is its ability to securely adhere and move with the concrete.
"If it's a hairline situation, overlays can be successful," Stewart says. "If you're going across a moving point, though, it won't work. Crack repair methods bridge those cracks and let movement take place without upsetting the Thin-Set."
Photo courtesy of Bomanite Corp.
Thinner layers, more texture
L.M. Scofield Co., another manufacturer based in California, has introduced two grades of its Scofield Texturetop product. It can be used to resurface existing concrete with a thin topping that can be stenciled, stamped or troweled to achieve a wide range of effects.
Scofield offers a range of products in both standard and custom matched colors that are popular with homeowners and builders, the company says. One of its products from the 1920s, Lithochrome Chemstain, has seen a resurgence of use. The product can be used on both existing concrete and cementitious toppings to achieve faux finishes and artistic motifs.
Decorative concrete is moving indoors at a very rapid pace. One popular trend is to extend the walkway into the foyer or entryway of the home, creating a smooth and natural transition from outside to the interior of the home. When used in a transition to a back patio, decorative concrete complements outside living spaces.
While concrete's permanence often attracts homeowners, the use of concrete indoors has had some disadvantages until recently. Now, thinner overlays can allow second and third layers of decorative concrete features when homeowners decide to change decor. Of course, decorative concrete can always be covered by carpet, tile or other traditional flooring.
One trend that isn't catching on
The do-it-yourself trend is one that doesn't appear to be catching on in the decorative concrete industry. While a few companies are marketing limited products designed for this growing market sector, most homeowners lack the skills needed and shy away from the process.
"Most homeowners don't feel comfortable handling concrete," explains Frank Piccolo, owner of Artcrete Inc., a Natchitoches, La.-based manufacturer. "This is a medium that arrives in a liquid state and becomes a solid within three hours. The most exposure the typical homeowner has to concrete is seeing it as a slab."
Decorative concrete's growing popularity is creating a greater demand for contractors skilled in its use. Piccolo says entry into this booming business begins with manufacturer training, often provided free or at little cost.
"The days of going to get materials and stumbling around to figure out how to do something are over," he adds. "No one needs to do that now."
For example, The Scofield Institute near Atlanta offers contractors seminars that provide training in the use of Scofield products as well as tips to market them. Presentations, demonstrations and workshops are available from Scofield and many others at regional locations and industry tradeshows. That training, though, should be just the beginning. Practice is a must for contractors before adding decorative concrete to their list of commercial services.
"When I start out doing anything, I practice. It's the same thing for contractors," Piccolo says. "Make sure you know your stuff, then do your mother-in-law's porch or your sister's walkway. Get to where you are proficient and you have work to show off."
That practice work will then turn into a contractor's portfolio, something homeowners will want to check before choosing a contractor to install decorative concrete.
Decorative concrete does offer homeowners one very important do it-yourself project: maintenance.
"It's true that concrete is hard to wear out," Piccolo says. "It's a material that generally outlasts its user." He adds, though, that proper care does improve its lasting power and appearance.
Homeowners should clean it regularly as prescribed by manufacturers and apply a sealant annually. Sealants are specially designed for decorative concrete, but are applied in a fashion similar to deck treatments. That's something homeowners usually feel comfortable doing. Bomanite's Stewart says many choose not to do it on their own. Many of Bomanite's licensees make more doing annual maintenance than in the original product application, he says.
Interior concrete and toppings can be protected by waxing with simple-to-apply polishes that are intended for use on concrete, such as Carefree by Johnson’s Wax. Just like carpet, vinyl and any other flooring material, some cleaning and maintenance is necessary to protect the appearance and improve hygiene.
Exterior concrete wears best if it is pressure washed or cleaned with a rotary scrubber. In residential use resealing once a year may take only an hour or two and involve minimal cost to keep colors beautiful and improve the appearance.