Colored Concrete Cost Guide
Colored concrete is a relatively inexpensive way to add resale value to a property. Used for both interior and exterior features, decorative concrete applications require less maintenance and are less labor-intensive than other surface finishes. They also require less long-term and short-term maintenance. For homeowners searching for aesthetically-pleasing and environmentally-friendly finishes, a wide range of colored concrete possibilities can add curb appeal and home value for a relatively small investment, but consumers need to consider a number of factors.
Average cost of installed colored concrete per square foot:
- Minimum: $5 - $8
- Maximum: $18 or more
Compared to other construction materials, decorative concrete is both versatile and cost-effective. It can be used for interior projects such as floors and countertops as well as exterior surfaces like patios and driveways. Stamping, staining and polishing can transform a utilitarian gray concrete slab into a beautiful flagstone or marble look-alike, but these treatments will also increase the cost of the concrete.
The following elements will increase the cost of decorative concrete:
- Demolition and removal of existing concrete work
- Complicated designs or details versus simple patterns
- Embedded details
- Greater numbers of colors versus a single color
- Greater numbers of stamped textures versus a single texture
- Specialty forms or mold work such as curves or unique shapes
- Higher degrees of polishing on the finished surface
As with any home improvement project, the cost of materials and labor have the largest impact on the cost of the final product. Most homeowners do not have the knowledge or the skill to pour colored concrete or to color existing concrete surfaces, so they should seek multiple estimates for the project from professionals. Each estimate needs to have a detailed breakdown of material costs and projected labor expenses.
Any do-it-yourself project will be significantly less costly than a contracted job, but pouring concrete requires specialized material and knowledge. For many DIYers, a decorative concrete project might be better left to an experienced professional with the proper tools. In order to change a gray concrete, one can use one of four methods: concrete dyes, dry-shake color hardeners, integral color or stains.
Concrete dyes are acetone-based and water-based stains, often used to color basement and garage floors. These dyes are typically in a concentrated form that can be mixed safely on-site with water or a solvent. One can apply this dye-solvent mixture with an airless sprayer, pump up sprayer, brush or sponge; the solvent penetrates the concrete, taking the color with it. Multiple applications of a single color create a bold, vibrant color, or one can mix several colors for a customized color.
Since the dyes are water-based, they dry quickly and are relatively safe to use. Additionally, they seal the concrete as they are applied, saving time and money. Those shopping for concrete dyes will find options from Ameripolish, Behr, Kingdom Products and Kemiko.
Dry-Shake Color Hardeners
Most dry-shake color hardeners are a blend of pigments, finely-graded silica sand, Portland cement and wetting agents. They come as powders that are hand tossed over freshly-poured concrete and then spread over the surface with a float or trowel. The color is concentrated on the surface of the concrete and is more intense than other color applications. The combination of the Portland cement and the hard mineral aggregates adds a hard, strong surface that is more durable and wear-resistant than standard concrete.
Dry-shake color hardeners are often used for exterior slabs because of this durability, and professionals choose them for concrete overlays and stamped concrete since their vibrant pastes produce sharper imprints in the concrete. Lithochrome, Smart Mix and Qualitop Metal all produce quality dry-shake color hardeners.
Integral colors are available in granular, liquid and powdered forms, and they are added directly to the concrete mix so the color extends through the entire concrete slab. For this reason, the color will not fade, chip or wear away. By layering integral colors with other applications, such as concrete dye or concrete stain, one can create variegated effects, mimicking brick, stone, tile and wood. Some of the best-known integral color products are from Solachrome and Scofield.
Unlike concrete dyes, concrete stains are acid-based and react chemically, creating a mottled effect. The acid in concrete stains has to be neutralized after application, and the concrete surface has to be rinsed repeatedly before a sealant can be applied. This process may add a day or two to the project timeline.
Although stains can leave a deep, rich color on concrete, the color palette is more limited than those of the other three methods, mimicking colors found in natural stones. As for brands, In-Stone and Kemiko have some of the best-rated concrete stains.
Due to recent innovations in polishing equipment and techniques, contractors are able to grind down concrete floor surfaces to finishes that no longer need waxing or coatings to stay shiny. It stays durable and performs well, with a high luster and smooth appearance that can’t be beat by many other flooring options for the same value and maintenance costs.
Creating a polished concrete floor requires labor-intensive work and careful timing that’s highly dependent on the level of sheen. First the concrete is leveled with diamond abrasive grits to get right level of gloss, then bull floated to bring the cream to the top. When the water sheen has disappeared, you must begin repeatedly troweling the slab with a rectangular steel trowel. Repeated steel troweling on firm yet still wet concrete gives it the polished finish. You kneel on a square of plywood while doing this and step to a second square of plywood when you must move. You must move quickly before the concrete sets too firmly. In other words, this is usually a job for an experienced professional.
Polished concrete floors require little maintenance because they’re more durable and easier to clean. It’s non-slippery because of the polishing instead of wax, meaning there’s less worry for falling or getting hurt on the flooring. It also reduces dust mite and allergen problems, along with mold and mildew growth.
Disadvantages of Colored Concrete
Colored concrete can add between 10 and 30 percent to the cost of a project with other decorative elements such as stamping and patterns adding significantly more. Concrete is extremely hard and cold, so standing on a concrete floor for long periods of time can cause discomfort. Likewise items dropped on a concrete surface are susceptible to damage, and concrete that is not properly poured, sealed and maintained is susceptible to cracks and mold growth.
Decorative concrete requires extensive knowledge and skill, so it is best done by a professional with experience. This experience also comes with a price tag; homeowners should seek out multiple estimates for a colored concrete project to find the most affordable contractor. Depending on the coloring method, decorative concrete can be a messy process. For example, the fine powder of dry-shake color hardeners can easily blow onto nearby surfaces, so the surrounding surfaces must be covered during application.
Advantages of Colored Concrete
When compared to other building materials, decorative concrete is an affordable alternative. The combinations of color, pattern and shape possibilities are nearly endless, adding visual interest and durability to a living space. Concrete requires little maintenance, and when properly installed, sealed and maintained, color will last for the life of the concrete. In the case of dry-shake color hardeners, the life of the concrete is extended because of the additional protection of the hardener, and all of the methods make the concrete more stain-resistant.
Decorative concrete, especially colored concrete, can add expensive-looking finishes to interior and exterior spaces without costing a fortune, but the process also requires specialized materials and tools. Homeowners should seek help from experienced professionals for the best outcome.
Last updated on May 20, 2016
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