Is Polished Concrete a cost effective way to replace carpeting?
March 17, 2010 11:43 AM   Subscribe

Is cement polishing a viable and cost-effective way to treat cement floors that have been carpeted for decades?

The carpets in our apartment are getting removed and replaced by something other than carpeting (yay!). The floors underneath the carpets are all older concrete- they are at least a couple of decades old and may be as much as 30-50 years old. So, I believe that means it is almost 100% certain that the concrete is not laser leveled.

Our landlord has suggested replacing the carpets with linoleum which I find a pretty yucky idea. I like hardwood, wood laminate, tile, and polished concrete. We're also willing and planning on paying for part of the project to encourage him to splurge on the nicer stuff. I love the look and feel of polished concrete, and at $3-7/sq ft it appears to be a cost effective alternative to the other materials I enjoy, which seem to run between $9-$25/sq ft.

I'm just wondering before I suggest polished concrete, whether it is viable? In addition to being old, there are several surfaces, adding up to about 800 sq ft that are not contiguous (bedroom and living room with a single concrete step in between them).

Does anyone have any advice on whether this is a reasonable project given the broken-up layout and the non-laser leveled concrete? Or if not, any non-linoleum, non-carpet suggestions for flooring?

We're in Pasadena (L.A. area) of California, if it matters.

posted by arnicae to Home & Garden (14 answers total)
I would expect wood laminated to run more like $3-5/sq foot for materials with another, say, $3 for installation plus some for trim, etc. Underlay is about $2/sq ft. I bought a nice bamboo laminate and did it myself (only 150 sq ft though) and the material ran about that price - I would guess $9/sq ft installed for a decent bamboo laminate would be reasonable. Don't be too afraid of buying cheaper flooring - I've had really good experiences with the lower-end stuff.

No way you'll pay $20 or even $15 per sq ft for engineered wood. IMO.
posted by GuyZero at 11:55 AM on March 17, 2010

I don't know about laser leveling, but I've stayed in two houses with beautiful, smooth, concrete floors, stained a reddish-brown, built in the 1920's and the 1960's. The floors were original to the houses. I doubt that there were lasers involved, so I'm not sure why it would be important. One house had wall to wall carpeting, which damaged the underlying concrete floors because the carpet was attached with nails into the concrete. This was in the SW US too.
posted by SandiBeech at 11:58 AM on March 17, 2010

Couple of things to consider...

* Polished concrete may not even be an option, depending on the state of the floor as it exists, whether in leveling or the concrete composition itself may not be amenable to polishing or epoxy. You'll need certainly a professional opinion.

* Without underfloor heating, concrete will be surprisingly cold (which may not be a problem in California, per se). Adding heating will raise the price significantly. Or you could go with concrete + throw rugs, which might look very good.

* With throw rugs, you could then coordinate the look of the discontiguous spaces -- i.e. matching rug sets to tie the areas together visually.

We're also willing and planning on paying for part of the project to encourage him to splurge on the nicer stuff.

Get this in writing, and see if you can offset future rent or repayment of the security deposit because of your contribution. You won't be taking the value of that floor with you when you leave. But he'll keep it.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:59 AM on March 17, 2010

Some brand new retail spaces are being built with polished concrete that looks like it was a factory floor, with different looks in different areas, some exposed aggregate (but ground smooth) and some not.

I think that it is worth a try here. The first thing to do will be to get the concrete VERY clean, and then etching it with muriatic (a diluted hydrochloric acid available in home improvement stores) and then putting a finish on it (ask the floor people at said store) to see how it looks, with all your stuff, including some area rugs, on it.

Depending on how "warm" your decor is, it could work, or it could feel very 60's Soviet.
posted by Danf at 12:02 PM on March 17, 2010

Polished concrete has to be done when the concrete is poured. There aren't really any good options for resurfacing concrete after it has set (no attractive ones anyway). That said, you certainly can stain or coat the existing concrete, which should be pretty cheap. Laser-levelling is mostly irrelevant, as good concrete crews can finish a slab to a pretty high level of accuracy. The more important aspect is the finish. If it was assumed that the slab was to be covered by flooring, it may not be as smooth as you'd like for an exposed floor.

Also keep in mind that polished concrete is popular now, but it might quickly become sort of dated, so your landlord might be resistant to this over more traditional flooring choices.
posted by electroboy at 12:50 PM on March 17, 2010

I considered polished concrete for a basement. We decided against it because it was going to cost almost as much as ceramic tile installation (we already owned the tile). It was significantly more expensive than resilient vinyl tile, engineered wood, or carpet. So if you are getting it for a price in your area that is the same as engineered wood, it might be a good deal (or you might be getting overcharged for the wood).
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:02 PM on March 17, 2010

You might want to consider Ikea Tundra laminate wood flooring, it's only $1.15 per square foot.
posted by dacoit at 1:37 PM on March 17, 2010

One other drawback to polished concrete, it's slick as hell if it gets wet.
posted by electroboy at 1:44 PM on March 17, 2010

electroboy writes "Polished concrete has to be done when the concrete is poured. There aren't really any good options for resurfacing concrete after it has set (no attractive ones anyway)."

I'm not sure if we're all talking about the same thing but concrete polishing is done at a minimum 28 days after placement and basically any time after as long as the floor is in good condition (relatively smooth, clean and non porous).
posted by Mitheral at 2:28 PM on March 17, 2010

We did something similar to this at the college library I work at. It is wonderful. The concrete was smoothed, stained, and sealed. Only problem is that it chips.
posted by fifilaru at 2:46 PM on March 17, 2010

Most cement floors are pretty flat and even unless they were a basement floor that needs to drain water. You don't need a laser level to make a floor flat. The tools to level floors have been around for thousands of years. Any concrete floor can be ground and polished and epoxied. The only problem with a highly polished floor is that it is very slippery. If it gets wet or if you walk around in socks, you do run the risk of slipping.
posted by JJ86 at 5:32 PM on March 17, 2010

Is the floor actually concrete and not some kind of less-dense fire retardant material? If I remember correctly, a lot of places use some kind of concrete with gypsum in it. Less heavy, strong enough to be a decent floor, but not strong enough (I would imagine) to take a polish.
posted by gjc at 7:04 PM on March 17, 2010

We're talking about the same thing, although I was maybe a little unclear.

As a prereq to a polished finish, you generally want what's called a hard trowelled finish when the slab is poured, usually done with a power trowel. This creates a smooth, nonporous surface. As far as I know, rougher finishes aren't really suitable for polishing, as you have to do a significant amount of grinding and can end up exposing the aggregate. On the other hand, places like Chipotle have made decent looking floors out of relatively rough slabs that weren't designed to be exposed. I guess it depends on how much character you want your floors to have.
posted by electroboy at 6:20 AM on March 18, 2010

We did this in our circa 1970 house. Pulled up the carpet due to allergy issues (it was NASTY under there). Our slab was very irregular, and the carpet tack strips left some rough spots where they didn't come up easily. We didn't want to deal with the muriatic acid, so we didn't. We just sanded the paint spots a little from the construction, and then used WOOD stain on the concrete, followed by polyurethane, because that's what we had on hand. It looks great, really, and has lasted a long long time. The irregularities in the concrete just make it more interesting, IMO. It is cool in the summer and warm in the winter, and we use a LOT of area rugs. It's a little harder on your feet, and it's a lot louder, which took some getting used to. The whole thing cost us about $100, but took about a week to finish because we stained twice and poly-ed twice. Our thinking then was that we had nothing to lose, really, if we didn't like it we could always cover with the other options. But we love it and we still get tons of compliments even after seven years. I would say it's not for someone who likes everything perfect, but it has a lot of color and texture and looks really good. Email me if you want to talk to DH, who actually did all the work.
posted by raisingsand at 8:00 PM on March 18, 2010

« Older Questions for IT Training Specialist in S. Florida...   |   Great places in Boston to pretend to be Irish. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.