How to give concrete texture, pattern and color
The concrete texture, pattern and color available today for floors has nothing in common with the low-budget gray slabs of the past. An explosion of color, texturing and aggregate choices offer an attractive and versatile way to create outdoor kitchens, patios, sidewalks, pool decks or garden rooms.
Concrete can be finished with an infinite variety of textures, imprints and patterns, in colors ranging from earth tones to bright whites to bold hues.
Concrete texture and pattern
One way to add color and texture is to combine a concrete base with exposed aggregates.
“Exposed aggregates have been very popular for decades,” says Terry Collins, concrete construction engineer with the Portland Cement Association, Skokie, Illinois. “Shake-on hardeners and pattern stamping are also popular now. Colors are floated in, and then a second coating of color is applied when the surface is stamped. This acts as a bond breaker so that the concrete doesn’t stick to the pattern stamp, allowing for a clear impression.”
Some builders elevate concrete to art, creating decorative finishes by hand. Tony Leos of Create Concrete Solutions in St. Augustine, Texas, for instance, invented a faux woodgrained scored concrete. Rather than stamp the outline of the boards onto the concrete, Leos designs the texture of the wood grain by hand and then scores the slab to resemble wood.
Many decorative concrete textures and finishes can be created with simple techniques similar to those used for faux paint finishes. “I have seen faux finishes created using sea sponges and rags pressed into the slab,” says Leos. “I have seen guys embed natural leaves from trees to create a pattern. The options are pretty limitless. Sometimes I lay a plastic drop cloth on the floor and leave it for 20 minutes and then remove it to create a marbled look. You can use anything you want for a decorative look.”
Texture has its practical side as well. “Concrete must always have a texture for skid resistance to provide safety for the public,” says Collins.
Apply a good breathable sealer to increase durability, says Collins, and pay attention to proper strength, proper air content and proper curing. Concrete that has been properly cured and finished is more durable than other masonry products and can actually gain strength over time. Fiber-reinforced concrete is ideal for driveways and garage flooring because it eliminates the need for wire mesh in many applications.
Garage floors can be stained or covered with a durable epoxy finish. They must be sealed because oil will stain untreated concrete. Synthetic garage tiles that snap in place over a concrete slab are another option for finishing automobile parking areas. New products on the market to easily resurface concrete driveways in as little as one day.
There are three different techniques used to apply color to concrete:
- Add integral color to the concrete during mixing for a uniform color throughout the slab.
- Sprinkle color hardeners on freshly poured concrete for a harder surface (up to 7,500 psi, versus 4,000 psi for standard concrete surfaces)
- Chemical staining, the most versatile way to color concrete, creates a mottled look that can then be used to create faux surfaces.
Concrete resurfacing: style and substance
It’s now possible to turn back the clock on a spalled driveway or sidewalk with decorative options for new concrete ranging from integral stains to aggregates, stamping, stenciling and traditional broom and trowel texturing.
The end results are hard to distinguish from brand-new slabs, thanks to products like QUIKRETE’s Concrete Resurfacer. And they are easy to learn and apply. “You simply mix the product in a 5-gallon bucket and apply with a squeegee, but it is important to pressure wash as per the package instructions,” notes Randy Williams, QUIKRETE national sales manager. “This will allow you to achieve a proper bond to the existing concrete.”
The product doesn’t require sealing, and the new surface can be walked on in six hours and driven on in 24 hours.
Other exterior flooring options
For the high-end customer, stone is often a first choice for exterior flooring. Slate, limestone and granite offer naturally rough surfaces that provide a slip-resistant finish that works well outdoors in most all applications including pool decks, patios and walkways. The durability of natural stone can’t be matched. Unfortunately, neither can the price per foot. But clients who splurge won’t be sorry: Choices range from giant slabs to stepping stones.
When working with stone, keep safety in mind. Slate does not need to be sealed outside, and some sealers may make stone slippery. Granite used outdoors should not be honed for the same reason. And when any natural stone products are installed in freeze-thaw conditions, ensure a proper substrate.
When installing ceramic tile outdoors, take care to find tile rated for this use. (Some contractors don’t recommend ceramic tile for outdoor use because its sealed surface is too slick for all-weather, year-round use.) Tile has one advantage over slabs. The depth of the pieces tends to be more uniform.
Brick is the perfect choice for walkways, patios and decks outside traditional homes. Clay paving bricks can be set in a sand base with a crushed gravel underlay for a naturalistic look or in a poured concrete base for added durability. True brick is extremely strong and colorfast. But brick will retain heat, so it may not be practical for certain applications like pool decks. In that case choose brick concrete pavers, which stay cooler underfoot. In cold climates, purchase materials rated for severe weather or cracking will be a risk.
Concrete pavers simulate the look of stone at a better price point. Colors and patterns can be mixed to mimic almost any type of slate, brick, river stone or cobblestone. Pavers suitable for driveways are also widely available.
New synthetic pavers made of high-density plastic resin have several advantages, namely that they don’t require site preparation or finishing. Synthetic pavers can be installed directly over dirt, even when the ground is not level.