Solid-Stained Concrete Floors

Remember how our house originally had 9 types of flooring?

Flooring

I’m happy to say, we’re down to 8!  We’ve eliminated the “Sewing Room” and “Bathrooms” flooring as well as some of the “Guest Room / Beer Room” and “Hallway/Dining Room / Kitchen”, and “Andy’s Office / Atrium” flooring.  However, we’re in the process of adding some new tile in the atrium and have gone with solid “stained” concrete in the “Guest Room” (now Nadine’s room), “Sewing Room” (now guest room), Hallway, and Bathrooms.  Eventually, we plan to do all the floors in the whole house in solid stained concrete (the atrium is different because it’s uncovered and not technically in the house).

The system we are using is mostly Behr products purchased at Home Depot.  It’s called Solid Color Concrete Stain but it goes on and looks more like paint- and the process is more like a painting process.  Since we wanted the same flooring throughout the house, we spent a lot of time considering our options.  I am against carpeting (although Andy is not) because it stains easily, is never really clean, and it is said to be inefficient with the radiant floor heating system.  Wood and pergo were also out due to the incompatibility with the radiant heating system.  Cork was out mostly due to our dog’s claws (which we knew would scratch hardwood thus assumed would scratch cork even more). That left 2 viable options: tile and the concrete.  We chose solid stained concrete for the following reasons:

1. Andy doesn’t like grout lines in tile- he hypothesizes (because he doesn’t actually do the floor cleaning) that they trap dirt and make it harder to clean.

2. If we go with the concrete (we’re on a slab foundation, so we’re really just using what’s already there), we have the option to switch to tile later with minimal effort (or so we think… I’ve read some anecdotes about trouble putting tile on top of finished concrete…).

3. Cost.  Considering we’re doing the labor ourselves, the cost of materials is much less than buying tile at about $5/square foot.  This may consideration may not be valid if we were paying for the labor.

Once we chose on the general “concrete” route, we still had several options.  We could have gone natural by either grinding & polishing the existing slab or adding a skim coat.  After a lot of research, I found some horror stories with both methods- one from a neighbor 2-doors down (so I assumed we would have the same issue) plus it would add a lot to our materials/rentals cost and be much messier and more difficult to do one room at a time-  so we decided to go for a solid paint-like stain on our existing slab, without grinding it.  I saw some really cool pictures of a solid stained concrete floor in an Eichler (here), and after many test samples and debates with Andy, we decided to go for something similar.

Here’s the process we used and some comments on how it’s held up after 2 years:

1. Remove all existing flooring and tile mastic, down to the slab:

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Andy did this step.  Depending on the room, some were relatively easy (generally speaking, the smaller rooms with older tile, like the bathrooms) and some were a real pain.  I ended up buying him this jack hammer (with the scraping blade attachment) for Christmas, which has helped quite a bit, but it’s still a manual labor job that’s noisy and messy.  The pros we hired to re-tile the atrium even used it plus our neighbors and family have used it, so it’s been a worthwhile investment for us. But make no mistakes, there is a lot of very difficult labor involved in this step.

2. Remove as much of the old black stuff as is possible reasonable.  Originally, our house, like most Eichlers, had 8″x8″ (asbestos-containing) vinyl tile that was adhered with an (asbestos-containing) black glue/mastic.  Even though the previous owners had removed almost all of the tiles (there were a hand full of tiles still left in closets), there was a lot of the black stuff left under the new mastic/tile they had installed.  Needless to say, you SHOULD wear a mask/whole body protection/not attempt this step yourselves due to the asbestos containing nature of the black stuff.  Having read a lot about it from the Redneck Modern blog, we initially tried using Bean-e-doo to remove it.  We did this in Nadine’s room, which was the first room where we did the stained concrete.  It was a real pain (for Andy… I was pregnant at the time and nowhere to be seen)… it was pretty expensive and difficult to clean up and didn’t do an amazing job (there was enough of the black stuff left that we knew we couldn’t go the bare concrete route without grinding the slab, which we didn’t want to do).  Following many coats of Bean-e-doo, Andy used a de-greaser and washed and rinsed and repeated many times.  Maybe it was because I was pregnant, but I was super afraid of the black stuff (I’m sure it causes cancer!)  and wanted no sign of it ever around anywhere that my baby would ever be, much less sleep every night (ha!  she doesn’t actually sleep at night!)… so I really forced encouraged Andy to be meticulous with this step and remove as much of the black stuff as humanly possible.  This is what the the floor in Nadine’s room looked like after this step:

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You can see how it leaves a bit of an oily residue which is more pronounced near the center of the room and the door.

Given the labor involved in the Bean-e-doo step (and the stuff stinks, despite being pretty natural) we had smartly decided to do some tests in her closet- we did one patch without any Bean-e-doo, where Andy had just done some scraping with a metal blade. In retrospect (in my non-pregnant state), as long as the stuff is well covered (i.e. with several coats of stain and top coat), toxicity shouldn’t be a problem- with asbestos the real issue is in disturbing it.

3. Etch the concrete.  This step is so that the paint-like stain has something to really “grab” onto and help with adherence.  Also, if you skip the Bean-e-doo step (which we eventually did… keep reading), it removes some more of the black stuff.  After having done 4 rooms, we still haven’t been super consistent with the brand of concrete etch that we use. It’s one of those things that we tend to pick up on the way home from work as needed (you go through a lot of it).  The Behr brand seems pretty decent- they carry it at Home Depot, so it has been our default (though I think we found brands that work better). The goal here is for the super smooth concrete to become a little more porous.

4. Patch the concrete.  Again, we weren’t super consistent about this step and tended to be more thorough in areas where we knew it mattered most (i.e. not in the guest room).  If there were any cracks wider than 2mm or so, Andy would chisel them out to about 1″ wide and 1″ deep.  Same with holes and divots (most often those left from carpet tack strips around the perimeter of rooms that once had carpet).  We also tried different types of concrete patch and they all worked pretty well.  I was told (by a woman working in the local hardware store’s paint department) that the patch should cure for 30 days before proceeding to apply any primer or stain/paint.  There are special types of fast-curing patch that you can buy, but we didn’t find that it really mattered.

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Once the patch was dry, we scraped and sanded to get it to blend in with the rest of the concrete as much as possible.

I will say that for HUGE HOLES (like 2′ by 2′ where we moved plumbing in the slab) we did let the concrete cure for at least 30 days.  This actually wasn’t as big of a pain as you may think… we always had other things to do in the meantime.

One thing that we discovered is that this stuff should be done AFTER etching- because the etch eats through new stuff MUCH faster than old stuff… so if you patch first (which we did in Nadine’s room) the etch will make the patches more apparent.  Also, we found that not etching the patch doesn’t seem to affect the ability of the primer/paint/top-coat to adhere.    At this point, 99% of the work is done.

5. Clean and dry the concrete.  If you’re like us, there has been drywall, tile mastic, etc. falling on your neglected concrete floor for the last several weeks/months while you tackled other projects (like re-building walls and gestating).  I used some scrapers to remove any chunks, scrub brushes where needed, then a final 2-3 passes with my Shark Steam Mop.  Then, let it dry for at least a day.  This is a relatively easy step and pretty rewarding.

6. Prime the concrete.  We used the Behr Concrete Primer made especially for this.  I’m not sure how necessary this step is- we did a test in Nadine’s closet without primer and it didn’t seem to make a difference… but since that was a no-traffic closet (thus not the best test) and the stuff is cheap (a little goes a LONG way, we are still at the top of the first can even after several hundred square feet of priming) and very easy to apply, we’ve been consistently applying it before the stain. We just mixed it up with a paint stir stick, poured a little directly onto the floor, then spread with a paint roller attached to an extension stick.  On the first few rooms, we went around the perimeter of the room with a paint brush, but eventually realized I could do a good-enough job with the roller.  Also, we did the floors before the walls got painted and baseboards were installed, so it didn’t matter if I got a little on the wall.  But going on it looks a bit scary and we questioned whether we just ruined all of Andy’s hard work:

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But after it dries, it’s just a bit shiny.

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7. Stain.  This is the super fun and easy step.  It’s like when you’re a kid and someone puts out all the ingredients to “make pizza” for you and you just come along and throw some toppings on a piece of dough and claim it as your own.   We used Behr Solid Color Concrete Stain in “Pebbled Path” (we did lots of test patches of different colors and found that this one hid dirt pretty well).  The consistency is between that of a stain and a paint, but it is definitely opaque like a paint.  We eventually learned to do this mostly with a paint roller on a stick (I used a brush a little bit around corners and existing molding etc.).  As you’re applying the paint, it can get some tiny bubbles in it, but those seem to fade as it dries.  We did 2-3 coats in each room. You should apply the coats thinly, so after the first coat, you may still see some patches of the black stuff peaking through, but here it is after the 2nd coat (sorry, we only took pictures of this in the bathroom apparently):

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It goes on glossy but it dries very matte, like below:

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8. Apply top coat.  We used this Behr product in low luster.  Again, I don’t think this step is absolutely necessary, and I’m on the fence as to whether it was the right choice or not.  For one, you need to let the stain cure for 30 days!   They don’t say this anywhere on any package (neither the primer, paint nor sealer) so I had to call Behr to figure this out.  We haven’t experimented with doing it in less than 30 days, so I’m not sure if this is a hard requirement- but this was a real pain given that we had stained Nadine’s floor about 35 days before she was born (meaning we had to wait until about 3 days before she was born to seal it).  I was also worried that it would make it more difficult to fix scratches that do occur- but this hasn’t been a problem- I’ve confirmed that you can apply a whole fresh coat of stain on top of the top coat (and then another top coat) without any problems (we did this in the bathroom about 6 months ago).  The biggest down side is that it makes it more slippery.  In a glass house with cement floors and a toddler who likes to play “how can I hurt myself today”, it can be dangerous (even though all of Nadine’s socks have little no-slip things on the bottom).  The advantages are that I really like the look- it looks much more finished with the top coat, and I think it helps protect the paint from scratches.  They sell some sand-like stuff that you could add to help with traction, but I think that would a.) not feel very good on your feet and b.) lead to more scratches in the paint/top coat, so we didn’t use it.

This was our moment of truth.  In Nadine’s room, where we had done the Bean-e-doo, we noticed that after applying 2 coats of stain and letting it cure for 30 days, it would still scratch VERY EASILY if anything mildly sharp hit it (like a ladder leg or a shoe).  I was hoping that the top coat would fix this (I had spot-patched all of the little scratches prior to applying the top coat).  It did not.  And on top of that it turned yellow almost immediately. It was sort of an epic failure… 3 days before Nadine was born.  This is what it looks like today… it’s only gotten worse… it’s a bit tacky so it attracts dirs and scratches super easily.  This is sort of the worst case scenario:

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Luckily, the test patch we did in her closet (without Bean-e-doo) had no problems at all!  So… our conclusion is the the Bean-e-doo was a waste of a TON of time and a lot of money and we weren’t sure how to fix it.  Our only solution was to get a very large area rug and deal with it later.  Now, 2 years later, it’s still bad and I choose not to look at it.  I’m thinking that we may be able to strip it and try again- but there really is no good time to empty out her room to do that- maybe when she goes to medical school.  Anyhow, we learned our lesson early and the rest of the house is holding up really well.

This is how the bathroom looks after 2 years:

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This is 2 days after a regular weekly cleaning- so you can see how there is dirt, but it blends in pretty well.  Also, there is a tiny bit of an “orange peel” texture to the paint- but it’s not noticeable- from a normal person’s perspective, I think it looks similar in texture to a large polished tile, but without grout lines, which is sort of what we were going for.

Tips:

When painting a room’s entrance, be careful about the threshold with the next room/hallway.  When Andy painted our hallway (after already having done Nadine’s room and the bathroom) he was not careful and left a visible and messy “seam.”  Nadine’s room is a lost cause, so we just left it as-is, but this really annoyed me in the otherwise beautiful hall bath, so we re-painted the whole room (see below).  In the future, I will do all thresholds with a paint brush (and maybe some painter’s tape)- so at least the seam will be well thought out.

Which leads to the next tip… it’s proven perfectly fine and relatively easy to re-paint an entire room.  We did this in the hall bath.  We just cleaned the floor really well with all purpose cleaner, let it dry, applied 2 more coats of stain, waited 30 days, and applied 2 coats of top coat.  So far (6 months later) it has held up really well.  I was worried that we wouldn’t be able to put anything on top of the top coat, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.  This is a HUGE advantage for us, as we are always having to dig into our slab for some reason or another (e.g. repairing leaks in the radiant heat system).

It is slippery (and even without the top coat it is still pretty slippery).  We’ve managed to avoid any tragedies by using small rugs in the bathroom (with a no-slip bottom) and installing a runner in the hallway (the most likely area for Nadine to be running).  Nonetheless, we still have to be VERY careful, especially when it is wet and it does make me nervous (but what mom isn’t nervous?).

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The end result isn’t going to be perfect nor look like a new or newly polished concrete.  You can see where we patched cracks and holes, but only if you are looking closely.  I don’t mind this at all.  The rough patches also seem to collect dirt a bit more easily, but we went with a color that is pretty close to that of dirt, so it’s not super noticible.  Here is what the hallway looks like where we patched a large crack (I probably should have cleaned up the dog hair before taking this picture…):

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The hardest part for us about doing the stain and top coat was to keep it clean long enough for it to dry, in particular, to keep the dog hair off of it.  I found that cleaning with a damp rag RIGHT before applying either was necessary.  Apparently we have a LOT of errant dog hairs that fly around our house.  The 2nd hardest part was to get Andy not to step in it… there are 2 of his foot prints in the hallway, but thankfully they are now hidden under our rug.

How it’s holding up:

Other than in Nadine’s room which I described extensively above, it’s holding up very well after 2 years.  So far, we only have one scratch that occurred when we were installing baseboards in the hallway. Some day I may get around to touching it up, but it’s not noticeable enough for me to exert that kind of effort.  We’re still planning on installing it in the rest of the house, room by room.

Cost Break Down:

Please note that we did not pay for ANY labor in this project- if we were to do that, it woudl substantially impact the cost.  Instead, we paid with many many many hours of our own time.  Given the amount of experimenting that we have had to do, I think it was the right decision for us to do this ourselves (if it were tile, which is much more straight forward, it would probably be a different story).  Also, once the demo is done, it’s a pretty easy job.  With that said, we may hire out the demo in the future, since that is the hardest part, and also pretty difficult to mess up.  So all together, the costs for us have been as follows:

Etch: $20/gallon.  We didn’t measure exactly, but I’d say that a typical room (10’x12′) used about 1.5 gallons, so a gallon covers about 80 square feet.

Patch: $10/container.  It makes sense to match the size of the container with the size of the room… because once you open it, you can’t really re-use it again.

Primer:$20/gallon.  A gallon seems to cover maybe 500 square feet?

Stain:$30/gallon.  A gallon seems to cover maybe 250 square feet?

Top Coat:$20/gallon.  A gallon seems to cover maybe 250 square feet?

So overall, the materials cost about $0.57/square foot (but you’ll need to spend a minimum of about $100) which is pretty darn cheap (our atrium tile is about $6/sq ft).  Also, it’s interesting to see that the largest portion of this cost (about half) is the concrete etch which is really what cleans the existing slab- so if the slab has a lot more to clean, you’ll need to spend more… also if you do want to use something else to remove the black mastic (we do NOT recommend Bean-e-doo, but maybe something like a paint remover would help- I can’t say for sure since I haven’t tried it and don’t know how the stain will react with it) it will also add substantially to the (low) cost.

 

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