How to Properly Stain a Concrete Floor

4 BASIC STEPS FOR SUCCESSFUL CONCRETE STAINING

This morning stopped by a local thrift store to check out the furniture and to see if I could find any nice antique pieces.  As I walked through the donated furniture section I noticed how age really showed the difference in the quality of the furniture items in the store. Items that were built well seemed to get better with age, while the cheaper furniture looked terrible after years of use. The wear and tear on the well-built items just seemed to add to the character of the furniture, but the older items looked worse with only as a simple scratch or scuff.  This little trip through the store had me thinking about how most of the items we as consumers purchase are at their best on the day of purchase and continue to  in value year after year until we end up throwing the item away and buying new.  Why do we now seem to accept disposable products as the norm?

The flooring industry operates in the same manner.  When you choose to install a carpet, laminate, VCT or another cheap flooring alternative then you choose the disposable route.  These items never age well and continue to look worse and worse until it’s time to rip them out and replace leaving piles of flooring in landfills.  It is flooring materials like real wood, stone and stained concrete floors that can develop a patina and character as they age which adds to their value instead of taking it away. Installing one of these flooring surfaces almost ensures a lifetime quality floor for your home.

When done well reactive stained concrete floors produce a floor that rivals the best in the high-end flooring market.  At my company Dancer Concrete Design our concrete staining process consists of 4 basic steps that need to be taken to produce a nicely finished stained concrete floor. Here I will explain these 4 steps and show you picture of our team following this process for a project in Indianapolis.

PREP

Remove any sealer, paint, or bond breakers

This process is all about cleaning the concrete surface and preparing for subsequent polishing steps. The prep step typically involves removing contamination or bond breakers from the concrete surface such as paints, glues, mastics, sealers, drywall mud, removing rough trowel marks, etc. We complete this step by purely mechanical methods such as grinding or scraping. For this step we use a 3 head concrete polisher fitted with diamond abrasives for our preparation process. This step removes anything that is on the surface and leaves a bare concrete floor. We also maintain clean working environments while we work by hooking all of our equipment up to specialty concrete vacuum systems.

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This picture shows how important proper preparation is. The left side is concrete that has been sealed. The right side is after our preparation pass. This pass removes sealer and other contamination from the surface.

POLISH

Mechanically refine and smooth the concrete floor

After preparing the concrete floor we move on to polishing the concrete surface. If we are dealing with brand new concrete, free of sealers or contamination, we can skip the prep stage and start with the polishing stage. This polishing process uses additional diamond abrasive passes to refine the concrete floor and continues to make it smoother and smoother. This process is very similar to sanding a wood floor as we continue to move on to higher and higher grits to get a smooth surface free of scratches. When using a reactive stain on a concrete floor we found that the 200 grit level leaves a surface free of scratches and provides a soft satin canvas for coloring.  We also provide options of 400 or 800 grit finishes that will add gloss and additional depth to the concrete.

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The polishing process mechanically polishes the concrete to the desired shine. This must be done on the main section as well as the edges.

STAIN

Impart a permanent color into the concrete surface

Now it’s time for the fun part…Staining! After all that hard laborious work of cleaning the concrete we finally get to add the stain.  Reactive staining works by using a reactive solution that’s imparts mineral salts into the concrete. These minerals permanently change the color and produce floors with variegated and marbleized coloring that brings a soft and subtle touch of organic color to a space.

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Reactive concrete staining provides a permanent and variegated coloring effect to the concrete surface.

SEAL

Protect and enhance the surface

The sealer chooses for your stained concrete floor will greatly impact the depth of color and how the floor performs long-term.  Our sealing system consists of a two-step process using a concrete densifier and stain guard application. The densifier works by penetrating into the porous concrete and increases abrasion resistance by 400% and decreases the permeability of the surface. A stain guard is then applied and burnished to provide additional shine and stain protection. This sealing system is very resistant to scratches, scuffs, and stains, creating a surface that is very durable and easy to keep looking great.

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The finished product results in a floor that looks good the day of install, as well as continuing to gain character and patina over time.

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Nick Dancer


Exposing Stained and Polished Concrete

A LOOK DEEPER INTO POLISHED CONCRETE FLOORING

When choosing to polish concrete there are many options to make sure the floor looks and performs to your standards. Some of these options include deciding on the final polishing grit or shine of the floor, or choosing what color will look just right in the space. One of the features that I have seen overlooked in these design decisions is the aggregate exposure of the finished floor, or how deep the grinding phase of the concrete will go into the concrete. This decision can have a big impact on the final look of the space as extensive grinding can remove the surface layer of the floor exposing the inner workings of the concrete.

Choosing the depth of the polish determines the aggregate exposure of the final finished floor. The choice to expose the aggregate in polishing in purely a cosmetic choice, but aggregates role in the structural concrete is key for strength.   Here’s a quick rundown of aggregate and its role in concrete – In its basic state concrete is made up of cement powder, small aggregate, large aggregate and water. The aggregate is typically a locally mined sand and rock. The concrete gets strength by the cement powder and water acting as a glue that holds all of this very hard and strong stone and sand in a fixed place.

In a typical concrete floor you would never see the aggregate. The finishing process involved with new concrete flooring pushes the aggregate into the concrete mix allowing the cement paste and water (cream) to rise to the surface so finishing can proceed and produce a nice smooth floor.  When choosing to grind deep into the concrete we remove this cream layer resulting in exposing the aggregate (stone and sand) in the concrete. Let’s take a look at the 3 different exposure levels.

Option 1 – Cream Finish

This finish level polishes the top layer of the concrete. This is the most affordable option and also provides the most color movement and shifting when using concrete dyes or stains to color the concrete. This will show some of the tooling marks from the finishing process of pouring the concrete. This finished floor has a lot of movement and shifting in the surface.

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Option 2 – Light Exposure

This finish level exposes the sand and small parts of the larger aggregate. When using aggressive diamond abrasives to remove a glue or sealer from the concrete this is typically the finish unless deeper grinding is wanted. When staining this type of floor a more monochromatic color will be achieved.

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Option 3 – Heavy Exposure

This finish level fully exposes the larger aggregate in the concrete. This gives the concrete a terrazzo type look. This finish is typically the most expensive as it involves extensive grinding at the beginning part of the concrete polishing project.  When grinding this deep, a grouting process; used to fill air voids in the concrete, is also recommended.

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LOCAL FLAVOR

One of the most unique aspects of concrete flooring is that every floor will have its own unique look. This is very true when exposing the aggregate in the concrete. Different regions all have rocks that are natural to the area. For example concrete made in Utah may contain granite as the main aggregate, while concrete made in Florida may contain softer aggregate such as seashells. When pouring a new concrete floor or using a self-leveling overlay material, decorative aggregate such as marble chips, or glass chips can also be broadcast into the wet concrete mix so these are exposed during the polishing process for a customized look.

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Nick Dancer


Night Owls

WHOOO DID THIS AMAZING POLISHED CONCRETE FLOOR?

I happen to be a morning person, a very early morning person.  I have a pretty consistent morning routine that includes a 4:30 wake-up call followed by drinking coffee, reading, working out, sorting through emails, checking Facebook, and then heading off to work.  In my line of business my morning routine doesn’t always line up with the client’s timeline of having contractors in their space.  Sometimes we have to work around the client’s business hours and change our schedule around by working third shift.  This was the case with our recent concrete polishing project at Connolly’s Do It Best in Fort Wayne.  Our crew did not shy away from the challenge of providing a quality project on the client’s schedule while keeping a clean environment for the client’s open business hours.

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Removing the old flooring required hours of manual removal. To make this process faster we had a crew of 4  remove the floor and started the polishing right behind.

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The existing vct was removed prior to polishing the floor.

QUALITY

The client’s designer approached our company after recognizing that they needed a high end floor that would be consistent with the new upscale offerings of their Benjamin Moore Paint line.  The designer knew that a large percentage of the design and feel of a space is determined by the floor, and that the existing VCT tile and laminate floor was not going to make the cut for the high quality look the client desired. This well designed and color enhanced floor will catch the eye of those who want to purchase the best products available on Connolly’s shelves.  This rebranded department will soon have several remodeled parts at its completion, but we had the honor of providing the first key piece to this high end store remodel.  After discussing options and making an on-site sample, a final finish of a Level 3 -1600 grit shine was chosen. The floor was also dyed the colors Midnight Black and Sand in a predetermined flow to bring movement and color variation to the space.

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Working with details might just be our specialty. We have a crew of trained craftsman than can make sure all areas are polished.

SCHEDULE + CLEANLINESS

Since our work had to be completed at night while the store was closed we rearranged our sleep habits to become nocturnal, creatures of the night, or night owls.  The work to be completed for this project was broken into two sections to keep store operations flowing during daytime hours. Our entire process was to remove the existing floor and make 8 passes with the concrete polisher to achieve the Level 3 Shine.  We completed each section in two nights and the floor was able to be put into full use by opening of the fifth day.

With the store being open during the day we took extra precautions to maintain a clean environment for customers to shop.  One of the challenges in grinding and polishing concrete is that the process generates large amounts of dust and debris. This was not a problem for us as we have made extensive investments in top of the line concrete vacuum systems to keep the air clean and to minimize dust exposure to other areas. This entire project was able to be completed without masking off or placing barriers to other parts of the store.

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The proper vacuums make all the difference in making sure the area stays dust free. Here we have the large polisher making the initial cut on the concrete surface.. As you can see the dust generated is contained during this process.

This entire project was the result of hard work and dedication from our experienced and dedicated team who worked through long hours at night to make sure this project was a success. We finished Thursday night/Friday morning allowing us the weekend to catch up on our sleep and put my morning routine back in action.

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The final 1600 grit pass being made on section 1 of the floor.

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Making the 1600 grit final pass on section 2 of the polished concrete floor.

Polishing Crew – John Marcey, David Habeger, John Campbell, Nate White, Rob Powers

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Nick Dancer


4 Factors to Consider When Selecting New Flooring

This weekend my wife and I celebrated our 3 year wedding anniversary. Saturday night was supposed to be our romantic night away, a night to let work go and spend some quality time with each other. As we were walking through Jefferson Pointe Shopping Center I remembered I had presented a proposal for the flooring in one of the new retail stores. I knew we were not awarded the project so I was curious on the flooring chose for the space. My wife might tell you I have a few habits that drive her a little crazy, and for our special night out she was fine with going to look at a work project, just as long as I promised to not bend down to analyze and touch the floor. I guess she wanted to be on a date with a regular guy, not one who was crawling around to analyze the chosen finished floor.   I have a little habit that when I see a floor that catches my eye, whether good or bad, I just bend to assess the floor and the material chosen to finish the space.

In my mind every floor installed was to serve a purpose, or to solve a problem for the client. In commercial environments a floor is also regularly used to cover up the concrete underneath. No one would want to see the concrete, right?… This is where my business, Dancer Concrete Design has a niche market in the flooring industry.  Rather than cover the concrete we serve our clients by processing the floor through staining and polishing processes to expose the beauty and characteristics of this durable surface, concrete.

So back to me touching floors….The reason I do this is because I want to understand what the material is, why it was installed in this specific environment, and how it is performing and wearing with use. So many times the wrong floor is chose for a space and it fails to perform as needed, does not meet codes, or may be very costly to maintain.

There are so many flooring choices to choose from for a commercial environment and each one has specific benefits and weakness. This can be a tough choice for an owner as they compare cost and weigh which choose is truly the best fit in their environment. I feel there are 4 categories every floor should be assessed in to determine which floor provides the best solution. These are Design, Durability, Maintenance, and Safety. Below I will go into more detail about each of these categories and how assessing your flooring choice in each one may help guide you in your decision.

Design

I recently heard something about design that really stuck with me. The lady being interviewed shared that, “Great design takes everyone into consideration.”  That really stuck with me because design is so much more than just picking a floor that looks good. Great design takes into consideration how color and material can affect moods, how the lighting will affect the floors appearance, how the floor serves to help create flow in a space, and many other facets of form and function in a room.  Great design also encompasses the other categories of durability, maintenance, and safety.

Jersey Mike's Sub Fort Wayne Indiana Polished Concrete Floors by Dancer Concrete Design (46)

Great design is more than just how a floor looks in the space. Design takes into consideration the look, durability, maintenance, and safety of the floor.

Durability

This category asks the question will this floor hold up to the conditions of the space? What is the life span of this floor? Is this product rated for the appropriate traffic and conditions of the space? Selecting a floor that is rated for your conditions is a must. Check with manufactures and installers to make sure the floor is covered under warranty for your specific application.

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Make sure your floor is correctly rated for your specific application and will hold up long-term to the conditions present in the space.

Maintenance

I am not a fan of cleaning, so for me I would want a floor that requires the least and the easiest maintenance possible. When selecting the right floor the cost of maintaining the surface over its lifespan can easily be overlooked. But did you know many floors maintenance and care over the life of the floor can be 4 -10x the initial installed cost? I think all buyers should understand the maintenance requirements and a thorough understanding of the procedure and cost to maintain a floor for the short-term and long-term.

waxing a floor

VCT tiles are one of the most affordable floors to initially install at around $1.50 – $2.00 sq. ft. (large commercial space), but may cost upwards of $20.00 sq. ft. over the lifetime of the floor with the subsequent waxing and stripping needed to keep the floor looking nice.

Safety

The safety of all involved parties is one of the most important aspects of choosing a floor. When choosing a floor for your space, all codes and regulations should be checked to make sure the right floor is installed in the space. One of the major factors to look for is the Slip Coefficients of Friction of the surfaces. Air quality is also a factor that is gaining attention. A thing such as VOC’s emitted by the floor or the floor possibly harboring bacteria and mold should be assessed.

1-3 Rivers Natural Grocery Co-Op Epoxy Floor by Dancer Concrete Design Fort Wayne, Indiana (30)

This commercial kitchen had several safety issues that need to be considered such as slip resistance and air quality. This seamless epoxy deals with both of these issues by offering a slip resistant finish (even when wet) and the 8″ integral cove eliminates the ability for mold and mildew to grow in the wall to floor transition.

I hope that these 4 categories help you make wiser decisions about your flooring. As you can see, there is quite a bit more to think about with flooring than just picking out a color that complements a space. When viewing your options it may be a good idea to bring in an experienced designer or flooring professional, and if you happen to be looking at stained or polished concrete flooring you can always contact me at create@dancerconcrete.com.

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Nick Dancer


Farming for Polished Concrete

Gone are the days of dirt floors and wooden structures for barns. Today’s farmers are upgrading into climate controlled pole barns that make it much more efficient and ergonomic to maintain equipment and store all their tools. Farmer’s also understand that a little bit of extra investment in their concrete floors in the beginning will add a much nicer work environment, and a finished floor that performs much better than unprotected concrete. For a recent project in Van Wert, Ohio we completed our Polished Concrete Hardwear floor process which offers this added protection.

Our Hardwear Floor process consist of making a single pass with our concrete polisher, 2 applications of our concrete densification process and a finish coat of stain guard. This offers an affordable system that helps protect the concrete and makes it much easier to keep clean.

The other thing we did on this particular project was filled in all the control joints. For those of you who don’t know, control joints are cuts placed in the concrete after it has been poured to control the cracking in concrete.  The joints are placed to be weak points in the concrete so the concrete cracks in these areas instead of randomly throughout the slab. The problem with these control joints is they leave lines in the concrete where dust and debris can collect. The joints also leave weak points where large items like a tractor could break the edge of the joint.  We fixed all these problems by installing a polyurea joint compound. Polyurea is a semi-rigid two-competent material that is installed in the joint to add strength and create a smooth surface profile to the floor.

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The joints are filled with a specialty polyurea material. Using this two-component pump parts A & B are mixed at the tip of the nozzle.  This fast setting product only takes about 25 minutes to set up. The joints are overfilled and then shaved smooth for a even surface profile.

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Our full polished flooring system makes several mechanical passes with the polisher to achieve the desired sheen. For our economical Hardwear floor system only 1 pass is needed on brand new concrete.
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We had a small helper with us on this project. He not only keep mice out of the new barn he also acted as the captain of the concrete polisher.

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The finished surface after densification and stain guard.

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The finished polished concrete floor.

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Nick Dancer