Cracks, color add character to concrete

Uniquely artful, durable, eco-friendly, allergy free and easy to maintain. What is it? Decorative concrete floors for your home.

For years we have seen how enhanced, textured and colored concrete hides oil stains and tire marks on driveways and adds interest to a backyard patio.

Beautifully stained and stamped concrete floors are no longer exclusive to exteriors and commercial establishments. They are making their way into our homes. Concrete floors have many advantages over other flooring options.

The simplest and most popular solution to attaining decorative concrete floors is to stain the concrete slab. If you are moving into a new home, you are in a good position to start the process. Even better is if your builder is aware that you will not be applying traditional flooring and will be using the concrete as your finished surface. A new slab with no previous carpet tack strips or glue deposits is the best surface a concrete floor artisan can hope for. With less flaws in the concrete, you will have more options for your design. Although floors with previous surfaces like carpet, tile or linoleum can be prepared and stained, too.

All concrete will have hairline cracks. The small insignificant cracks will take the stain differently than the areas around them. This adds to the character of your floor. Don't get stressed out about the flaws, they're part of the beauty of this type of floor. If your slab has more than the average preparation work, there are self-leveling concretes that can be applied over your existing slab before the artwork and staining process. This adds an additional cost.

Economically priced, concrete is less expensive than tile or natural stone but more than carpet or linoleum. Locally you will find prices ranging from $4 per square foot (new concrete slab, with no major flaws ) to $6.50 per square foot (remodels, includes removal of existing flooring surface). These are base prices. If you want a border around your stained concrete, there is an additional fee; other decorative options are priced based on their detail/difficulty. Nationally, the prices for stained concrete art range from $4 to $15 per square foot.

Also, when you are considering the costs of a concrete floor, remember to figure in the fact you that will not be replacing this floor. This is the slab your home was built on and, with minor maintenance, your stained concrete floor will stay beautiful for years. If you are concerned about resale, don't be. Because this is the slab normally used as the basis for all other floor surfaces, the new owners can apply any flooring surface they wish without incurring any removal costs if they are not happy with your selection of floor art.

Maintenance is easy with these floors. When the floor has been stained, the artist will apply a sealer and several layers of wax for you. You only need to sweep and damp mop your floor to remove the dust. About once or twice a year you will need to reapply the wax. Traffic patterns will wear away the wax and eventually the stain. Normal wear and tear in a home is not likely to need refinishing for many years, if ever.

Concrete has thermal abilities. In the winter it absorbs heat from the sun keeping your rooms warmer. In the summer it has the ability to absorb the cool air from your air conditioner, keeping the room temperatures lower.

If your home is in the planning stages and the foundation has not been poured, you also might consider adding radiant heat in the concrete. This is an economical and clean way to heat your home by the use of tubes that circulate hot water or electrical heating evenly throughout your floor. And for existing slabs there are ultrathin heat mats available, but you will incur the cost of pouring a thin-set of concrete to encase the mats.

If you think concrete floors are cold and boring, you are both right and wrong. Concrete is a hard surface and can make a room feel cold, much like that of tile or natural stone. But remember we are not talking about natural gray concrete. The colors that are added to the concrete will make a difference in the perception of warmth in your room.

Like a marble floor, you will want to complete your room by adding area rugs, draperies and upholstered furniture to absorb sound and give your room a warm and finished feel.

The part about boring is all wrong. Stained concrete is one of the most versatile flooring options you can consider. You can create your own design, select one from various Web sites or have your finisher make your floor look like an expensive tile. By cutting high-definition lines into your concrete, patterns are created and colors defined. Your floor can become your own masterpiece. Cary Grant of Floor Seasons, a local concrete artisan, calls it "art you can walk on."

The majority of floors that are colored by Grant, are done with a muriatic acid stain. It eats the concrete with color. There also are water-based acrylic colors that can be applied to the concrete, but this is a topical procedure and though the color options are greater, it doesn't wear as well. The differences in these two applications can be compared to staining versus painting wood. When you use stain, the color is absorbed into the material and you will see the beautiful character of your surface. Painting covers up the surface, hiding more flaws, but can eventually chip. You and your floor artisan will decide which process is best for your floor.

Concrete floors are allergen free and eco-friendly. Dust mites love carpets. And when carpet or linoleum is installed, there is prevalent outgassing (release of a chemical gas that was trapped in production). There are no glues involved in concrete. The water-based colors available for concrete floors are 100 percent green. And there is a new way to apply the stains on concrete that are VOC compliant, (volatile organic compound that meets local or national regulations), making stained concrete floors a viable green option.

Decorative concrete floors are smart and artful additions to any home.

Cindy Payne is a certified interior designer with more than 25 years of experience, a member of the American Society of Interior Designers, as well as a licensed contractor. E-mail questions to her at deardesigner@projectdesign or send them to her at Project Design Interiors, 2620 S. Maryland Parkway, Suite 189, Las Vegas, NV 89109. She can be reached online at www.project