Sleek, modern and industrial, polished concrete is a much-desired look for flooring. Find out how it's installed, how much it costs and how easy it is to maintain...
Image: AR Design Studio transformed a dilapidated stable block into a three-bedroom home. The polished concrete floor is teamed with underfloor heatin. Photography: Spacial Images
Once used just for warehouse, garage and basement floors, hardwearing concrete is now the flooring materials of choice for residential projects, from contemporary new-builds to period renovations, offering a seamless wall-to-wall finish with depth of character.
However, with polished concrete flooring not the easiest of flooring to install, and decisions will need to be made early in your build, both allowing builders to install it at the correct time, adjusting timelines for curing and also adopting the cost into your budget.
Benefits of concrete floors
Image: Space Architect Group achieved a cohesive look in this extension by continuing the poured, polished and sealed concrete floor outside. Concrete was also used for the steps, benches and other surfaces and cost £40,000.
Concrete flooring is extremely tough and difficult to damage. It may need regular sealing, but a well-maintained floor will last indefinitely. It has a more natural appearance than resin and can be polished smooth or etched for a decorative effect.
Thermally efficient, concrete flooring is considered to have eco credentials; it is, of course, made from natural materials, lasts a lifetime and negates the need for another flooring layer above. However, it uses a lot of water in production and it is not biodegradable, plus cement manufacturing is heavy on energy use and releases high levels of carbon dioxide, so the debate continues.
Its compatibility with underfloor heating means this durable materials are also wonderfully warm on the foot.
Image: Microtopping, a polished concrete overlay, forms the floor in the kitchen extension of this home, designed by A2 Studio. It cost £85 per square metre, from Polished Concrete Specialists.
The latest micro concrete and micro cement systems are ideal for home installation. This method is usually trowel-applied by hand, so there is minimal upheaval during installation, and no heavy machinery or on-site mixing is required. Applied as a thin coating (2-3mm), these floors are cheaper, quick drying and without the weight of real concrete. Added ingredients, such as polymers, also make them less brittle. With a polished concrete floor, the finish depends on the mineral content, but with a micro concrete system, you can choose the exact shade.
Image: This bedroom features Senso Grain resin flooring with a raw, textured finish. It cost £135 per sqm for 100 sqm, including installation.
The average cost per square metre of polished concrete is around £180, however, if you have concrete sub-flooring in place already and just need polishing, this can bring the costs down to £60 per square metre.
For a more budget-friendly alternative, poured resin floors which can recreate the look of concrete are available from £130 per square metre. Microtopped styles are also available at around £85 per square metre.
Laying concrete floors
Image: Scenario Architecture teamed a pale polished concrete floor, cast on site, with other reflective surfaces to maximise the light in the interior of this renovation and extension project.
Poured concrete floors should be installed by professionals, as they are specialist jobs and should come with a guarantee or warranty. In new-builds or extensions, floors should be laid before doors and any door tracks are fitted and things like kitchen units and partition walls should be built on top of the finished floor.
Drying time takes about a month to cure, meaning you can’t just start walking on it come the next day. Different weather conditions affect the speed of the drying time so check with your flooring subcontractor as to what is a realistic timeline.
When retrofitting a solid concrete base, you need to make sure the building is structurally sound enough to support the extra weight – around 200kg per square metre – before proceeding. If not, you will need to consult an engineer and get structural reinforcement in place to support the additional weight.
Concrete is usually cast in one slab around 10cm thick, which has to be accommodated one way or another. You might be able to raise the level of the whole floor by this much if you are planning concrete throughout, or, if it’s only in certain areas, you need to plan for step details.
Care and maintenance
The beauty of this type of floor is it needs very little maintenance, just a regular sweep with a soft broom or vacuum cleaner to avoid scratches from dirt and grit, and an occasional wipe over with a mop. Seek advice from your installer on recommended cleaning products. Unsealed concrete floors aren’t suitable for residential use as they are porous and susceptible to staining.