The Pros and Cons of Concrete Flooring

Low cost and unique finishes make concrete floors attractive, but they have special requirements.

By: John Riha
Contemporary Italian Farmhouse Kitchen

Contemporary Italian Farmhouse Kitchen

This Austin, Texas, kitchen features warm colors and dark cabinetry that call back to the traditional, rustic feel of an Italian farmhouse. Wood beams criss-cross the ceiling, while broad, modern windows bring in loads of light.

Photo by: Fine Focus Photography

Fine Focus Photography

Concrete is incredibly hard and strong — no wonder it’s used for streets and driveways! As a flooring material, it has all the strength and durability of a highway. You can’t scratch or dent a concrete floor.

It also can make a fashion statement. Added dyes and etching techniques can turn gray, boring concrete into your home’s star attraction. Cost ranges from downright cheap ($2 per square foot) to relatively pricey ($30 per square foot, depending on finishes). 

Obviously, concrete is heavy. If you’re putting in new concrete floors on grade, the weight won’t be a concern. If you’re looking to install concrete over a subfloor supported by joists, you’ll need a structural engineer to determine if your floor can stand the weight. Lightweight concrete may be a solution.

Pros of Concrete Floors

  • Low-maintenance: The same properties that make concrete floors so durable also make them easy to care for. Properly sealed concrete floors shrug off dirt, grit, stains, spills, and hard impacts. A little sweeping and damp mopping is all that’s required to keep them looking like new.
  • Beautiful design options: Modern techniques for concrete finishing have moved concrete floors from ho-hum to luxurious. Dyes added as the wet concrete is being mixed produces concrete in a huge range of earthy colors. Surface treatments such as acid stains, concrete stains and paint made for concrete floors turn plain concrete into beautiful, one-of-a-kind finishes. Also, concrete can be stamped with rubber stencils to give it texture. Combined with the right dyes or coloring agents, finished concrete can be made to mimic ceramic tile, natural stone, brick, even dirt!
  • Heated floors: For new construction or for concrete poured over an existing slab, you have the option to add radiant heat — electrical cables or hot water tubes embedded in the concrete to create warm, comfy floors.

Cons of Concrete Floors

  • Hardness: There’s no denying that concrete is hard underfoot, a quality that some find uncomfortable. It’s also unforgiving — a dropped glass definitely won’t survive — and it may be a concern if there are small children or elderly folks in the household. Area rugs can help alleviate concerns.
  • Moisture: In below-grade basements, moisture migrating up from underneath the slab may make concrete unacceptably damp and damage any surface treatments, such as paint. Proper sealing of the concrete helps, as does mitigation of any outside problem areas like leaky gutters and poor soil drainage.
  • Cracking: Like it or not, even expertly installed concrete may develop cracks over time. That’s because the large expanse of a slab has to endure changes in temperature, moisture and settling. Colored cement paste and patching materials help disguise cracks.
  • Environmentally suspect: While concrete itself is an inert, biodegradable material, the process of making cement requires a lot of energy and produces carbon dioxide. Compared to other building materials such as steel, wood and glass, concrete has by far the most embodied energy.

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