Beauty on the Surface
With the onset of summer comes the joy of being able to use your pool and patio on a daily basis. It might be even more fun to lounge in the sun if that dull, gray concrete got a much-needed facelift. And although concretes durability and strength are indisputable, attractiveness might not be the first thing that comes to mind when considering the material. With todays innovative techniques, the centuries-old material can have new life and a new look. Through the development of several treatments, concretes versatility outside has made it a modern material of choice for eye-catching pool decks, driveways, walls and more.
There are many ways to turn concrete from dull and gray to vibrant and colorful. One popular technique is stamping, in which a rubber tool is used to literally stamp impressions into concrete. Stamping can result in a slate or granite look and also add grout lines. When colored concrete is used, the stamp adds a second color, which becomes the grout lines. In the end, plain old concrete can be made to visually imitate other materials, looking like sand, brick, tile, even flagstone and cobblestone.
Adding color to concrete is another beautifying technique. Acid staining is one current trend, which consists of applying a stain to bare concrete. The stain causes a chemical reaction, resulting in a decorative look that can resemble old leather. Acid staining presents a great option for patios and driveways. In addition to staining, the concrete itself can be colored prior to pouring it. Pre-colored concrete has the benefit of easy repair, and if it does chip, at least it is the same color all the way through, says Josh Johnson at J. Aaron Cast Stone.
Altering the texture and color of concrete is not the only choice available these days. For an even snazzier look, homeowners can try an acrylic modified cement overlay system, which is put on top of existing concrete. There are colored quartz finishes, in which colored rock quartz is blended with clear epoxy, bonded to the concrete and topped with a clear coat sealer. Yet another decorative choice is the color chip flake system, which looks like terrazzo, but is much less expensive and quicker to create.
Steve Dobbs, vice president of Concrete Conversions in Marietta, which installs and distributes Elite Crete Systems, says an advantage of overlay systems is that its not necessary to tear out existing concrete to give your pool and patio a fresh new look. What most homeowners will find surprising is that their existing pools and patios can receive the same look and feel of decorative concrete, Dobbs says. The overlays can create the appearance of more expensive materials such as stone, slate and brick pavers.
Concrete does not have to be relegated to the floor; it also can get vertical with splattered textures on walls. And where there are walls, there might be columns. One of my favorite projects was when we did the exterior wall of a parking deck in Midtown, says Mike Burke, owner of CTI of Georgia. They wanted to have a brick look to match the building. Once the deck wall was completed, columns were added in the same brick concrete.
It is not just new concrete that can have this ornamental treatment. Many companies perform concrete resurfacing, which can be both decorative and restorative. The whole resurfacing and decorative concrete industry itself is really starting to wake up and be a viable choice for floors, Burke says. That means pool decks, patios and sidewalks. Concrete slab areas also can be extended with resurfacing. For example, a patio can be enlarged then resurfaced, creating a bigger patio with one top level.
A resurfacing job can take three to four days and is a four-step process. The product is as important as the installation. According to Burke, most mistakes are made during the surface preparation stage. If preparation is not performed properly, it might lead to peeling. With resurfacing, old or cracked concrete can be brought back to life and made more attractive, and its strong too.
The product used by Gary Bragg at Unique Resurfacing Concepts Inc. holds up to 6,000 pounds per square inch (psi) and is slick, waterproof and fireproof. In fact, the product has government approval for high-traffic areas like bridges and runways. Not bad for a material that also comes in more than 1,000 colors and can be stamped to look like more unstable decorative substances.
Concrete is the biggest construction material in the world, Dobbs says. Until five or six years ago, it was just ugly and gray, but now, he says, architects are choosing concrete specifically for nice areas like patios and pools.
Concrete pavers represent another option. Very popular in Europe, the preformed bricks of concrete are gaining recognition in the United States They come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors and can be textured, weathered or antiqued. Although pavers might be a bit more expensive than slab concrete, they still are more cost effective than natural stone, and pavers have some additional benefits. They have a minimum 8,000 psi and can be replaced in parts instead of in whole, says Rick Cawston at Belgard Hardscapes. Additionally, every area completed with pavers becomes a one-of-a-kind work of art because no two paving jobs are exactly alike.
Outdoor kitchens can get a boost from concrete, too. Sinks get funky with concrete and might have a rustic look with a trowel finish where you can see the tool marks or can have a smooth surface that looks like granite. For pools and hot tubs, concrete coping creates a decorative countertop.
Resurfacing is one way to repair concrete, but it will not help when concrete has sunk. Both erosion and settling can lead to sinking, particularly when the land was not compacted properly. Instead of tearing out the old concrete and starting over, the concrete can actually be lifted. Called slab-jacking, this technique uses a remote-controlled machine that drills holes in the concrete then pumps new concrete underneath to lift the original slab. Lifting concrete is a great choice for situations where matching is an issue. For example, if your stairs have sunk and the brick that was used is no longer available, the stairs can be raised, keeping the original brick. There is no real limit to the size of an area that can be lifted, according to Bob Montbach at B-Level Southeast. Projects can run the gamut from one sidewalk slab to warehouse floors and 8-foot stairs.
Whether it is used indoors or outdoors, today concrete stands as both a durable and beautiful option. Staining, stamping and other decorative options create unique looks that can turn any slab into a virtual masterpiece.