Concrete Basics You Must Know


Here, we'll review some of the hottest current trends in concrete. We'll also take a look at some common mistakes in planning and installing concrete, as well as how to avoid these costly occurrences. Since concrete is definitely not a DIY option, we'll also give you some tips on choosing the best concrete installation professionals in your area.

If you're like many homeowners, you probably think of your driveway and garage floor when you think of concrete. While these are very common applications for concrete, they're not the only options. In fact, this versatile building material has become a trendy choice for unexpected applications such as interior floors and even countertops!

Concrete Trends

While a concrete driveway is hardly a brand-new trend, there are several trends in the industry which can take your driveway from commonplace to contemporary.

Stamped Concrete Driveways

Stamped concrete is one of the hottest trends out there, and with good reason. This process allows you to create different patterns in freshly poured concrete. These designs can be fairly traditional, mimicking brick or stone. They can also be extremely customized, featuring whimsical stamps or even a family crest!

When stamping is combined with color, you can really get creative with concrete. Colored concrete is available in many different shades, allowing you to create a stamped driveway which mimics red brick or river stone perfectly.

While you can stamp a pattern into your entire driveway, front path or patio, you can also use dramatic stamps to create accents in the center or corner of any patch of concrete. This can be done in a driveway, a patio, or anywhere you want to add a touch of artistic visual appeal. Just be sure that your desired pattern won't create a hazard for walking.

Stamped Concrete Patio Surrounds

While the same basic principle applies to patio surrounds as to driveways, many homeowners go a little wild and add exotic-looking accents to their pool or patio area. Since these areas are usually located behind the house, they're not as visible from the street.

Among the many unusual and beautiful stamped concrete options which have become popular for pool and patio areas include accent stamps, stamped concrete which mimics rock or stone, and stamped concrete which mimics hardwood flooring. While this last option may sound odd, the degree of realism which can be achieved by using stamps and stains is truly amazing. Wood flooring surrounding your pool or patio area may not be in harmony with your overall home dècor, but for many modern homes, it provides a strikingly unusual touch.

Interior Concrete Flooring

While using concrete for the floors inside your home may sound odd, remember that today's concrete does not have to be gray, rough and boring. A few trendy finishes can make a bold statement inside your home, and they're suitable for many different rooms. Entry areas, living areas and kitchens are the most popular places for concrete flooring.

Polished concrete has been used extensively in office buildings and other public areas, but only recently have homeowners begun exploring this beautiful and cost-effective option. Polished concrete is just what the name implies. Regular concrete is simply sanded, buffed and polished to a high, deep shine. If colored concrete is used, the dècor options are endless.

Scored concrete is another trendy interior option. In this technique, saws are used to make shallow cuts into the concrete. These cuts form patterns such as diamonds or triangles. Often, scoring is combined with colored concrete, and polished after the design is complete. This combination of treatments gives a finished result which looks remarkably like expensive stone flooring, at a much lower cost.

Acid-washed concrete...that's right, the same technique you loved on your jeans in the 1980's is now popular for flooring! Acid-washing a floor is rather simple; a solution is applied to the floor along with metallic salts in your desired colors. When they react, these substances create a mottled, natural appearance which some homeowners feel is surprisingly close to marble. Combine a few colors which complement your dècor for a truly unique and stunning floor which ties your whole home together.

Concrete Countertops

A cost-effective option for homeowners who love the look of granite or other natural-stone countertops, concrete is becoming very popular for many reasons. In addition to saving money, a concrete countertop gives you a much broader range of color and style options than natural stone. It can be acid-washed, stamped, scored, and polished to create a look that's unique to your home. Concrete, when properly sealed, is also nearly completely non-porous, freeing you from the worry of staining which comes with many natural stone products.

If you're considering concrete countertops, remember their weight. This may sound obvious, but many homeowners have been faced with a potentially hazardous and very expensive emergency project when their older cabinets sagged and cracked under the weight of new concrete countertops. You can avoid this mistake by having a professional assess your existing counter supports and replace them if necessary.

Common Concrete Mistakes

Installing concrete is definitely not a DIY project. Tons of details go into creating a properly poured and finished concrete surface, and heavy equipment is used to mix and pour the concrete. Leave this project to the pros.

The most common mistakes in concrete, from a homeowners' perspective, come during the planning stages.

Ignoring Heavy Usage

Different mixes are used for concrete. Certain mixes can withstand certain amounts of weight. The mixes used on most residential jobs are intended to support common vehicles like cars and trucks. However, a common mistake made by homeowners is failure to inform your contractor that a larger and heavier vehicle will be driven or pulled onto the concrete surface. If you own or plan to buy a large boat, a bus, a large recreational vehicle (RV) or any other unusually heavy vehicle, let your contractor know. They may determine that a special type of concrete is required in the area where the heavy vehicle will be parked or moved. This is essential in preventing cracks, which require costly repairs and can damage your vehicles.

Changing your Mind

Obviously this is your driveway (or patio, walk or pool surround) and you have the final say. However, many homeowners cost themselves time and money by changing their minds at the last minute before installation or, even worse, once installation has already begun.

Once concrete has been poured, it begins to set immediately. Workers have a very small window of time during which they must spread the concrete and finish it in order to create a level and attractive finished product. Interrupting this process results in wasted product and wasted time, which ends up costing you money.

Before you decide on a new concrete driveway or any other concrete feature, plan out the project. Working with your contractor, determine exactly how the finished product will look. If possible, have the finished look drawn up on paper or online, so you can see just how your entire property will look with the new concrete feature in place.

Seeing the concrete this way can help a great deal. It can help to avoid last-minute changes of heart, which are often caused because a homeowner hasn't become comfortable with the idea of their new concrete feature. This is most common with more trendy applications like colored or stamped concrete.

Get a true picture in your mind of how the finished product will look, and be certain that you love it before the installation crew arrives.

Hiring an Inexperienced Contractor

While everybody needs to start somewhere, it's in your best interest to hire a contractor who has experienced in the project you're hiring them for. Simply because a crew has installed tons of traditional concrete driveways does not mean that they can produce a perfectly finished high-shine polished interior floor. Experience translates into quality, so it only makes sense to seek out the most experienced contractor and crew you can find.

If you're not sure about a contractor's experience, don't be afraid to ask. How many stamped concrete jobs have they done? Is polished concrete something they've done in the past? Are they comfortable working residential jobs, which are usually on a much smaller scale?

Exterior concrete installation, just like any outdoor home improvement, depends a great deal on weather and climate. Things like rain cant' be controlled. However, your contractor should be familiar with your local climate in order to prepare and install the most appropriate blend of concrete. A climate with deeply cold winters, for example, usually requires a slightly different blend than a hot, humid climate. Concrete expands and contracts as it freezes and certain mixes can minimize this damaging effect. Before you make a hiring decision, ask how long an individual contractor has been operating in your local area.

How to Hire the Best of the Best

Hiring a concrete contractor doesn't' have to be intimidating. Today's home improvement websites have made the process extremely easy. You can search by location and view important criteria such as licensing, insurance, certification and years of experience. In many cases, you can even read consumer reviews from former clients and view pictures of finished projects. These resources give you valuable insight into the contractor's reliability and quality of work.

Posted by: Diane Sheppard
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