Decorative Concrete Flooring Services

We specialize in interior acid-stained concrete, but the decorative concrete services we provide and the products we use, are versatile. They can be applied to almost any architectural concrete surface indoors or out, horizontal or vertical, and we are glad to speak with you about your unique decorative concrete project.

Acid Staining

The main reason concrete floors are stained is because paint, even special concrete paint, does not adhere well, or last. Stain, under a durable, clear sealer, does last, especially if the floor is cleaned and maintained.  Concrete stains are also chosen instead of colored epoxy coatings, for example, because their translucency helps make concrete look like something stylish and expensive, like marble, granite, travertine, flagstone, and other forms of natural stone, rather than something merely utilitarian and functional.  Decorative concrete scoring may also then be performed to create patterning effects that complement or enhance this "natural stone" appearance. Here are some of the most  popular Acid Stained Concrete Scoring Patterns.

There is a growing variety of concrete staining materials on the market. Acid stains, and the earth tones they offer, are the most popular, but for wider color range and variation, and greater control over detail, "tints", "concrete dyes" and "acrylic concrete stains" - water-based and solvent-based - are also used.  For an illustration of the basic acid stain colors, see these color charts:  Brickform E-Stain; Legacy Fresco; Artcrete Faux Brick; EZCHEM PermaPro; and SCP Chrome-Etch.  To view some of the brighter colors attainable with tints, dyes and acrylic stains, see these color charts:  Consolideck GemTone; Chroma-Tech Polystains; H&C Dye Stains; and Mason's Select.  We use a range of concrete coloring options depending on the needs of a particular project.

Faux-Stone Acid-Stained Concrete Floor

Here is a closeup of a very realistic looking, interior flagstone floor that was created by first drawing the pattern on the concrete floor with soapstone and then acid-staining the "rocks" one by one.

Many people think of acid-staining as a do-it-yourself project, like house painting, but it's really not.  It takes a considerable degree of skill and experience to avoid the easy pitfalls that can quickly ruin a stained concrete flooring project, and to achieve the natural stone effects that will make people think they're seeing something they're not.   We have that skill and experience, and will bring a realistic, fluid feel to your concrete floor that will augment the ambient look and design you plan to achieve through architecture, furnishings, lighting, woodwork, and paint or wall coverings.

One misnomer about acid-staining is that the products are hazardous to deal with, require special means of disposal, and are not eco-friendly.  But when following the proper procedures, there is no real risk to the applicator and none at all to others nearby. Acid stains are 95% water and generally contain only 5% or less of a mild acidic solution, which is then "neutralized" upon contact and reaction with the concrete.  Also, the metallic compounds that most acid stains use for coloring are commonly found in soil and fertilizer, such as iron, copper, chromium, and manganese; and unlike other building materials, acid stains contain no volatile organic compounds (VOC's), meaning there are no lingering harmful effects after application and installation.

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Acid Stained Driveways




This is a driveway that was sawcut and patterned, and then acid-stained in a Southwestern motif, to complement the building style of the home.

Acid-staining is primarily done on interior floors, such as finished basements, and retail or other commercial business settings, but one great, overlooked acid-stain application is for concrete driveways, where the marbled stone finish creates an inviting look for an entryway to a home, and can vastly increase the real estate value of the property.  Because most people don’t know much about driveway treatments, though, they leave their driveways uncolored and unfinished, or have stamped concrete installed, which can be very difficult to keep clean, and chips and spalls easily, especially in northern climates.

One of the main reasons homeowners don’t inquire about driveway treatments, like acid staining, is the unsightly accumulation of tire marks, vehicular fluid leaks, dirt, and other dark stains that arise from normal driveway activity.  This is discouraging, and can seem impossible to overcome.  But such blemishes can be removed from the concrete prior to acid staining, and once stained the colored concrete can be protected by a clear sealer that enhances the color of the stain; repels moisture, fluids, the UV rays of the sun, acid rain, and other contaminants; and allows the driveway to be easily cleaned. 



This driveway was stenciled and patterned with a thin cement overlay before acid- staining.  You can see how the beauty and contrast of the driveway makes the home stand in isolated elegance.

Even if driveway blemishes cannot be completely eradicated, or something does happen to the sealed acid-stained concrete, these blemishes are much less noticeable on colored concrete, and they can generally be easily wiped or cleaned up.  Additionally, maintenance of acid-stained driveways is not difficult.  It consists primarily of occasional pressure washing, or mild scrubbing and attentive rinsing, with a garden hose.  Re-sealing the driveway is usually done every few years with one or two coats of a quality sealer, similar to resealing a backyard wood deck or stamped concrete patio.

     Best of all, the acid staining of all outdoor surfaces, including driveways, walkways, patios and pool decks, is durable, and will not fade due to UV exposure, whereas water-based stains and dyes, such as those used on wood decks, always do, and eventually need to be recolored.  Acid stain colors used on driveways are generally of a gold, terra cotta, or brown tone, and can accented by a border, simple design, or saw-cut pattern, such as those in the Acid Staining section above.

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Concrete Sealing

Acid Stained Concrete Floor Being Sealed


This warehouse concrete floor was acid-stained to protect it from oil spills and stains. Here, a clear sealer is being applied to enhance the pale brown color, and add a protective glossy film over the acid stain.

A clear concrete sealer is required for every decorative concrete flooring project.  First, the sealer brings out the color of stained concrete (see photo right).  Without it, the color of the floor would be pale and flat.  Second, the sealer protects the concrete surface from scratches, abrasion, moisture, stains, and dirt.  An acid-stained concrete floor with no sealer would eventually lose most of its color due to foot traffic.  Third, sealers make maintenance easier.  Dust comes up readily, and wax or floor finish can be applied and removed without affecting the basic appearance of the floor.  Fourth, concrete sealers add depth and gloss to stained concrete, drawing greater attention to its elegance and beauty. 

Four types of sealers are commonly used on acid-stained or decorative concrete:  1) acrylics; 2) epoxies; 3) urethanes; and 4) polyureas.  Each type of sealer achieves the four purposes listed above.  The main differences are in terms of durability and expense.  Acrylics are the least durable and most affordable, whereas polyureas are the most durable and most expensive.  Epoxies and urethanes fall somewhere in between, the main advantages of epoxies being toughness, and adhesion, and those of urethanes, chemical, UV, and scratch resistance.  Acrylics are sufficiently durable for most homes, while epoxies and urethanes are almost always required for business settings.  Polyureas are best reserved for harsh environments, such as warehouses, garage floors, or hair salons.


Company Brochure for Polyurea Development Association

One of the best new sealers for acid stained concrete is the "polyurea".  It is durable, long-lasting, and easy to maintain.

 

Sealers come in water and solvent-based versions.  Contractors favor solvent-based sealers because they are easier to apply and to fix.  Homeowners and businesses prefer water-based sealers because they are odorless and safer to use.  But water- and solvent-based sealers are also chosen for their color enhancement abilities.  Solvent-based sealers significantly deepen the color of stained concrete, while water-based sealers enhance color only slightly.  As such, the choice of sealer can result in two completely different shades of the same color of concrete stain.  We work with every customer to choose the sealer that best suits their project environment, fits their budget parameters, and achieves the optimal color enhancement and gloss.  We perform stained and sealed color samples at the outset of every stained concrete flooring project. 

Lastly, there are many new sealers on the market containing no water or solvent whatsoever.  These generally fall into the categories of epoxies, polyureas and polysiloxanes. Their main advantage, in addition to durability, is very short cure time and quick return to service of the floor.

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Concrete Overlays

Often because of age, abuse, cracking, or adhesive from previous floor treatments, such as carpet, tile or hardwood, an existing concrete slab cannot be effectively stained. In this instance, thin polymer-fortified cement overlays can be installed to provide a brand new concrete surface to work with. At depths as shallow as 1/8", these cement or 'concrete overlays' are extremely durable, permanent, and allow for great creativity in patterning and coloring.  Because of their polymer modification, these cement overlays also have great adhesion to concrete, and installed properly will not break apart or delaminate.
 

Installation of Decorative Concrete Overlay

A self-leveling concrete overlay is being poured out of a 10-gallon mixing barrel by one worker and gauge-raked to a uniform depth of ¼” by another worker. The floor will be hard enough to walk on or stain in two hours.

Cement overlays normally come in white and gray, and may be stained as such or integrally colored during installation and then stained to provide a unique, customized color pattern that may not be achieved through the use of concrete stain alone. These overlays may also then be topped with another type of thin cement overlay, called a "micro topping", that allows the first overlay to show through slightly. This system generally can add a more varied color effect than the use of a single overlay. Lastly, concrete overlays may be stenciled or stamped during placement to impart pattern and texture.

There are several techniques for applying decorative concrete overlays.  Some overlays are troweled over the concrete slab. This is the most common type.  Other overlays are self-leveling, meaning they are poured out on to the concrete and then spread to a uniform depth. Finally, some cement overlays are applied with a paint roller or hopper gun. The type of overlay used typically depends on the durability required by the project environment and the look being sought. For example, trowable overlays generally exhibit greater color mottling or "antiquing" through the use of concrete stain than do self-leveling ones, whereas self-leveling overlays provide great uniformity in color, commonly referred to as a "warehouse look".  All overlays, regardless of  application method, require some type of mechanical surface preparation to ensure proper adhesion.

As a rule, the best look from decorative concrete overlays comes through acid-staining.  Acid-staining brings out the variation in the texture and finish of the overlay in a natural looking way.  Concrete dyes and water-based stains are great for achieving a specific color but tend to show the artificial, circular spray patterns that were used to apply them. They also exhibit penetration and adhesion difficulties due to the increased density found with overlays.

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Concrete Engraving

Using an air compressor, pneumatic cutting tools, and a heavy-duty plastic template, images and designs, such as patterned borders, room motif accents, emblems, and logos can be precisely and efficiently engraved into concrete. Decorative concrete engraving becomes a permanent and elegant part of the concrete surface and at only a depth of about 1/16" does not present a trip or safety hazard.  Individual elements of an image or design may colored through acid-staining and/or concrete dyes and water-based acrylic stains, either before or after the engraving process.  Images and designs may be chosen from a preset catalog, or they may be converted from any electronic or computer image file. In the photo below, the sketch of a design on a jewelry case was reproduced on the main floor of an Irish pub in Farmington, Michigan, as a room motif accent. You can read more about the concrete engraving process and see a catalog of available templates on this company's web site:  Engrave-A-Crete.  Premier Veneers uses Engrave-A-Crete tools and templates.

Acid Stained Concrete Engraving Process
A chronological view of the engraving process: 1) the starting artwork; 2) the transfer and imprinting of the image on to the floor; 3) the engraving & staining; and 4) the addition of a protective clear sealer. A precise and beautiful process from start to finish.

 

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Concrete Scoring

Acid Stained Concrete Decorative Scoring Pattern

This finished basement floor was acid-stained dark walnut and saw cut into 3.5’ square tiles. The coloring and sawcutting helped accent the dark wooden furniture, wet bar, and cabinetry stationed around the several basement rooms.

For a large open floor not obscured by a lot of furniture or rugs, saw-cutting or "scoring" decorative lines and simple geometric patterns into acid-stained concrete and cement overlays is a great way to break up the monotony of a single color and draw more attention to the floor. Decorative concrete scoring lines are generally made with a guided angle grinder or concrete saw fitted with a diamond blade and a dust-free vacuum attachment.  The most common cuts are about 1/8" wide and 1/4" deep, although exact dimensions may easily be adjusted by the contractor, if the customers wishes. These decorative cuts are usually done prior to acid-staining the concrete and may be filled with a colored grout to accent the colors in the floor, or left alone, for a more subtle appeal.

Straight wall borders and large square or rectangular tiles are the most popular patterns, while arcs, circles, and diamonds may be chosen for a more contemporary or artistic look. Notice the large-diameter circular border in the previous section on engraving; and the large square tile pattern in the photo at direct right.  Here are some of the most popular Acid Stained Concrete Scoring Patterns

Decorative saw-cuts are also a good way to incorporate unsightly control joints into a larger overall pattern and disguise them, as show in the pool patio project below.

 For additional accenting, concrete scoring lines may be used to separate acid stain colors.   It is important to note, however, that separating colors usually involves a few extra days' labor for a concrete staining contractor, so the customer should expect to pay a little more per square foot.  Also, decorative cutting is generally not a problem with concrete slabs that contain radiant or "hydronic" heating, as long as the tubing was properly installed and is at least 1-2" below the surface of the concrete.

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Stenciled Concrete


Stenciled Concrete Overlay
 

 This concrete retaining wall stairway was sprayed with a thin cement overlay, using a limestone block stencil for patterning, to closely match the limestone block foundation of the home.

Stenciling is used in decorative concrete to add patterning effects that are too complex or detailed to be reproduced on concrete through the scoring of lines. Decorative concrete stenciling can be done in a variety of ways. First, a thin cement overlay may be sprayed or troweled over a stencil, and the stencil removed once the overlay has hardened. This is the method used in the photo at left. It is best for repeating patterns like brick, cobblestone, and slate, and it may be used over an entire area or just as a border. You can see some of the patterns available for stenciled concrete overlays from:  Artcrete Concrete Stencils.

Stenciling may also be done by etching a pattern into concrete or a cement overlay using plain or colored, gelled muriatic acid. This method is best for intricate patterns that require great attention to detail, such as stylish borders and complex custom images. These patterns become a permanent part of the concrete and usually go no deeper than 1/32". You can see samples and read more about this process at:  Modello Designs and Surface Gel Tek.  Finally, concrete stenciling can also be accomplished through the engraving process (as described above), or through sandblasting, where a greater physical depth is desired than can be achieved through concrete etching. Here is an example of a Stencil Engraved in Concrete.


 

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Surface Preparation

Removal of Tile Adhesive on Concrete before Acid Staining

The adhesive found under carpet and tile is yellow or black. Both adhesives can be removed with chemical strippers or by grinding, but this requires special equipment and know how to leave the floor in condition for acid staining.

Concrete surface preparation is the most important part of any decorative concrete flooring project. For the project to hold up over time, you must begin with a surface that is clean, dry, and sound. Unless you are starting with a brand new concrete slab, this often means removing tile adhesive, thinset mortar, carpet glue or paint, and sometimes a combination of these residues.

Clean: Yellow adhesive, shown in the first photo at right, is water-based and common with vinyl tile and carpet. Black adhesive, shown next, is solvent-based and found under asbestos tile in older homes.  The most predictable and efficient method of removing these adhesives is through concrete grinding, shown in photos three and four. Even more aggressive methods, such as shot blasting and scarifying, are sometimes required for removing thin-set mortar beneath ceramic, porcelain, and stone tile, and raised concrete "caps" that are often installed to cover up electrical and plumbing rough-ins or repair work. The down side to mechanical surface preparation is that a cement overlay is usually required to cover the gouging, pitting, swirling, or other resulting damage to the concrete.

Chemical strippers are very effective in removing thin layers of paint and sealer, as well as tacky or sticky adhesives that would clog grinders. The residue left by these strippers, though, particularly those based on natural oils, like soy, or solvents like methylene chloride, can permanently darken or stain the concrete, so a sample area should always be done first.  Water-based strippers tend to be the most effective and leave the least permanent effects.  If you know the manufacturer of the coating or adhesive  you are trying to strip, they will often supply or recommend an effective product for stripping it.   While most contractors hate and will not perform chemical stripping, it is one of our specialties. 

Paint drips and overspray, drywall mud, and other stains or markings can usually be removed with a rotary floor scrubber and Simple Green, or a grinder fitted with an abrasive ZEC sanding disc.   But there are some blemishes caused by chemicals and solvents during the building process that cannot be detected and will only show up after staining.  This affects a good proportion of almost every concrete slab.  These blemishes can only be fixed by engraving out by hand and touching up with stain, or through faux finishing.  We provide these services at the end of every job at no additional charge.  The best way for a customer to ensure an optimal staining result is to protect the floor during the build-out process with a durable covering, like Ram Board, and to hire a licensed and certified contractor.

Dry:  Once the surface is clean, it should be tested for moisture content and vapor transmission. Excess water in concrete can cause problems with stain color and with the adhesion and clarity of sealers. Moisture will darken stains unevenly and cause clear sealers to turn white.  This is particularly a problem with control joints in a concrete floor, especially after using large amounts of water during cleaning.  Because there are a variety of testing methods for moisture in concrete, and most require special equipment and training, this is best left to a contractor or professional. If moisture is a problem, and does not have an identifiable cause that may be remedied, dehumidification equipment often helps quickly dry the concrete to acceptable levels. New concrete requires at least 28 days to cure, and usually at least 3 months for excess moisture to evaporate.  We test concrete slabs for moisture before every project to ensure that they are dry enough to stain and seal.  We use the Concrete Moisture Encounter from Tramex, and are certified in concrete moisture testing by the International Concrete Repair Institute (ICRI).

Sound: Concrete surface preparation usually requires some patching of holes and repairing of cracks.  Patching can effectively be done with most cement grouts and mortars, although the size and nature of the repair will often dictate the use of a specific type of product, and sometimes a primer, to ensure the stability of the repair.  Also, it is important to note that patches usually do not blend in color with the rest of the floor or accept concrete stain in the same manner as the surrounding concrete. Therefore, it is important to choose a cement you know has good staining properties.  This is often something only a professional staining contractor can determine.  If the repairs are small and few in number, these imperfections may not stand out, or faux finishing techniques may be used to conceal them.

Even if repairs do stand out, such as large patching due to plumbing and electrical repairs or upgrades, the overall appearance may not be objectionable.  To remove all signs of patching, a cement overlay that covers the entire floor is usually required.  Concrete overlays are also required to remove all signs of crack repairs.  For this reason, cracks are usually left alone unless they are very wide or present a structural concern.  Small cracks usually add to the look of acid-stained concrete, providing a more "natural" stone appearance.  Some of our past customers have actually asked for cracks with stained concrete, and we have engraved them in artificially.

Unlike almost all decorative concrete contractors, we are trained in "faux finishing" and can generally make any patch or crack blend in to the existing concrete without the aid of a cement overlay.

Once the concrete is Clean, Dry, and Sound, the basis has been established for a successful decorative concrete project that will last for years to come.  We use a well-informed, comprehensive approach to preparing a concrete slab for acid staining, including all the above methods, and use of the best and latest technology.

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Consulting


Failed Stained Concrete Overlay


This unattractive cement overlay was poorly installed by a pool contractor and began delaminating soon thereafter.  It had to be torn out and replaced.

With the rapid growth in popularity of acid-stained and other types of decorative concrete flooring over the last decade, there has been a corresponding increase in the number of new contractors and product manufacturers to meet this demand. Unfortunately, not all new contractors obtain the proper education and training before beginning installations, and not all manufacturers have their formulas or installation instructions fine-tuned before marketing their stains and sealers. As a result, and because acid staining is a skilled trade, highly dependent on product quality, a great deal of substandard work is being done - not only in terms of appearance, but durability, leaving homeowners and businesses wondering where to turn to fix a floor that did not turn out the way they wanted or has begun to peel, scratch, delaminate, or fade.

Making matters worse, news of these bad installations spreads quickly, especially when the projects are in commercial or other public locations. This causes uncertainty, trepidation, confusion, and consternation today, on the part of architects, builders, and project owners looking to use acid- stained concrete on their new floors. A great deal of advice and information on installing or fixing acid stained concrete can be obtained from the Internet, for example on YouTube, through a few minutes of research, but there is hardly ever a common thread to these instructions. Opinions, ideas, and recommendations vary widely. This is partly because  of the rapid growth of the industry but also because state governments do not regulate concrete staining, or other types of decorative concrete flooring, and there are no trade or industry associations with official standards for acid-stained concrete floors.


Manganese Staining on Concrete Floor

Brown discoloration of a new concrete slab that was caused by the use of dirty aggregate and could have been been avoided by specifying clean, washed aggregate in the concrete mix.

This is where decorative concrete consulting comes in. Just as the construction industry has responded to meet popular demand for acid-stained concrete flooring installations, it is also now responding to the demand for fixes and repairs of faulty installations, and specifications and guidance for new projects. New firms offering decorative concrete project consulting can now be found in major metropolitan areas across the country. In most cases, these firms are successful concrete staining contractors, making a transition into consulting.  This is the case with us.  We make an effort to provide a lot of good information about decorative concrete flooring on our companion web sites, Concrete Veneers and Stained Concrete Chicago, and we are one of the few contractors to have been certified in Decorative Concrete, by the Michigan Concrete Association.  Michigan is the only state in the nation with a decorative concrete certification program.

We offer specific insight, advice, and guidance tailored to fit the needs of individual flooring projects throughout the United States and Canada. In many cases, we can provide this assistance by email and the electronic exchange of photos, blueprints, and other construction documents. When necessary, however, we travel onsite to assist with installations or participate in pre-construction and interior design meetings.


Concrete Moisture Testing Before Acid Staining

Electronic moisture meter (above left) to measure moisture content of concrete, and calcium chloride kit (above right) to measure moisture vapor transmission.



Concrete Solvent Spill Before Acid Staining


Permanent stains from solvent spilled during the construction process, that are invisible on dry concrete and will only show up after applying acid stain.

Here are some of the Stained Concrete Consulting Services we provide:

Pre-Project:

  • Decorative concrete mix specifications
  • Decorative concrete pour & finish recommendations
  • Concrete moisture and pH testing
  • Concrete surface evaluation
  • Decorative concrete pattern and design selection and layout
  • Acid-stain color samples
  • Product recommendations
  • Equipment and technique instructions and advice
  • Decorative concrete on-site training and assistance

Post-Project:

  • Decorative concrete defect anaylsis and troubleshooting
  • Touchup and repair
  • Effective dispute resolution
  • Decorative concrete care & maintenance
  • Project remediation, restoration, and re-installation

If you would like help or advice with your stained or decorative concrete flooring project, please fill out the Decorative Concrete Project Submission Form on our Contact Page, and we would be glad to assist you.

 

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