Building homes that are green and environmentally friendly has become the mantra for more and more builders and homeowners, as they discover how easy it can be to attain all the benefits of sustainable construction without sacrificing aesthetics or breaking the budget. In fact, going green often saves money, especially over time, while being kinder to planet Earth.
Decorative concrete flooring is a perfect example of this synergy of beauty, sustainability and economy, giving you a durable, low-maintenance floor that will last the life of your home. Concrete floors, when left exposed, conserve resources by functioning both as a foundation slab and finished floor. This eliminates the need for carpeting and other floor coverings that would eventually require replacement. In addition to conserving materials, concrete flooring offers many other environmental benefits, such as contributing to better energy efficiency and improving indoor air quality. The topics listed above are the most compelling reasons to go green with decorative concrete floors.
Typically, interior concrete floor slabs have been hidden under other flooring materials such as carpet, hardwood, vinyl or ceramic tile. But why waste resources and money to add another layer of flooring when you can simply leave the concrete exposed?
Decorative techniques such as coloring, staining, stamping, stenciling and polishing give you unlimited design versatility, allowing you to create floors that mimic more traditional materials, such as tile or slate, or custom design a look that’s totally unique.
If you’re concerned about the toxicity of the products used to color, stain and seal concrete, you now have more environmentally friendly options than ever before. Although some concrete sealers and coatings are still solvent-based, many products today are available in low-odor, nontoxic versions that won’t affect indoor air quality.
Durability and Resource Conservation
When properly installed and sealed, a decorative concrete floor should last a lifetime and will never need replacement. Few flooring materials can boast this same longevity. Carpet, tile and even wood floors eventually need replacement, which uses up resources and creates waste disposal problems. If you stick with a neutral color palette for your concrete floor, it will easily accommodate any future changes to your interior décor.
Concrete floors also utilize sustainable materials. The predominant raw material for the cement in concrete is limestone, the most abundant mineral on earth. Your ready-mix supplier can also make concrete using waste byproducts, which reduces the consumption of raw materials. Fly ash, slag cement and silica fume, all waste byproducts from power plants, steel mills and other manufacturing facilities, are commonly used as partial cement replacements. Decorative concrete floors can also incorporate recycled products, such as crushed glass, bits of recycled plastic, marble chips, metal shavings and even seashells.
Finally, in the highly unlikely event that your concrete floor ever needs to be replaced, the concrete itself can also be recycled at the end of its long service life.
Another way concrete floors minimize waste: The fresh concrete that goes into a floor slab is manufactured at a local ready-mix plant in the quantities needed for each project. This also saves on the energy required to transport a factory-made product such as tile or carpet from the plant, to the distributor and eventually to your home.
Because of their thermal mass and ability to retain heat, concrete floors are ideal for passive solar home designs. When homes are built to take advantage of solar radiation entering through windows in the winter months, concrete floors will absorb the heat from the direct sunlight and release the stored heat as needed at night to keep rooms warmer. Conversely in the summer and in hot climates, concrete floors shielded from the sun will stay cool longer and can actually help lower air-conditioning costs.
Concrete floors are also ideal for use with energy-efficient radiant in-floor heating systems. With radiant heating, coils heated by electricity or hot water are embedded in concrete floors, warming the floor itself to deliver clean, even heat. The Healthy House Institute says that with radiant heating, people can be comfortable at lower temperatures than with forced-air heating, helping to rein in utility bills. Another benefit: When homes are heated with in-floor radiant heating, no air is being blown around, as with forced-air systems, so no dust or dirt gets recirculated into the air.
An exposed concrete floor is often an economical alternative to other finish solutions such as hardwood flooring and tile. For new residential construction or commercial projects with site-cast concrete floor slabs, choosing to leave the concrete floors exposed can save big money over the life of the building. First, you don’t have to buy and install an additional floor covering to put on top of the floor slab. In addition, the durability and low maintenance needs of concrete flooring will save you the recurring maintenance and replacement costs associated with less-enduring flooring materials, such as carpet and vinyl tile. In a typical home environment, decorative concrete floors are very low-maintenance, requiring only periodic sweeping or wet mopping.
By Anne Balogh, ConcreteNetwork.com