An Opportunity for
Expanding Your Business
its inception, PaintPRO's mission has been to offer timely, useful information
on new products, innovative techniques and emerging trends that affect
the nation's painting contractors. One such emerging trend is the demand
for decorative concrete - stained, colored, textured - in both commercial
and residential markets, for interior and exterior applications alike.
our February 2000 issue, we provided an introductory overview of the concrete
stains market, followed by an article on concrete surface preparation
in our February 2001 issue. The response has been overwhelming. In fact,
the interest it sparked resulted in the introduction of our sister publication,
Concrete Decor, which focuses exclusively an the decorative concrete marketplace.
painting contractors, decorative concrete projects offer an excellent
opportunity to expand their business beyond the traditional markets. Those
who are willing to make a small investment in tools and training can assure
themselves of a lucrative, even enjoyable way to gain added business,
using many of the skills and tools they already possess.
the past several years, demand for decorative concrete has grown almost
exponentially. Initially favored by commercial establishments such as
casinos and hotels, architects and designers have come to realize that
enhanced concrete-stained, colored, textured - has become an attractive
option in residential applications as well. both interior and exterior.
Concrete - long regarded as a sturdy, durable, functional construction
material - is also viewed as dull, gray, and boring. However, thanks to
an ever-widening array of products and techniques available from dozens
of manufacturers, concrete surfaces can now be aesthetically pleasing,
distinctive, unique, eyecatching works of art.
"Adding color or texture to concrete really completes a project and
provides a certain mood or ambience," says Steve Darke, Southwest
regional sales manager for QC Construction Products. "Unless you're
getting extremely intricate and calling for time intensive designs, the
cost of adding decorative color is negligible, and the result is well
Painting contractors will find that there are many similarities between
painting projects and concrete enhancement projects. For example, in both
cases, all the necessary tools and materials should be on site before
commencing. Additionally, a steady hand and attention to detail are just
as important when working with concrete as with traditional painted surfaces.
Perhaps the most crucial similarity is the need for comprehensive surface
preparation prior to applying product. Just as you wouldn't apply paint
directly over walls or trim surfaces without removing dirt and flaking
paint, decorative concrete specialists ensure that their concrete surface
is free of loose material and contaminants before applying stains or coatings.
Of course, there are also significant differences between concrete work
and traditional painting projects that must be addressed. In the area
of adequate surface preparation, for instance, concrete requires more
work and involves different techniques. When painting, preparation includes
power washing, scraping, sanding and priming. With
concrete, preparation includes examining the surface to determine if there
are any clear sealers or waterproof coatings that must be removed, and
conducting tests to measure moisture and vapor transmission, which can
substantially affect how a stain will react with the surface. Also, any
surface defects must be removed or repaired, if they cannot integrate
with your layout and design objectives.
Painting contractors who are interested in pursuing work in the decorative
concrete arena will need to make a modest investment in equipment. Depending
on how much business is anticipated, equipment such as a floor scrubber,
shotblaster, angle or disc grinders can be rented or purchased. A small
investment in time and money should be allotted in order to receive training
in the various techniques necessary for professional
stain application. Many industry manufacturers offer one-day, two-day,
or three-day seminars with hands-on opportunities to learn everything
you need to know.
For a more detailed explanation of the preparation required prior to staining
concrete, please refer to the article entitled "Preparing Concrete"
in PaintPRO's February 2001 issue.
Stains are not paints
Working with chemically reactive stains is very different from working
with paints. "Stains are not coatings," says Robert Harris of
L.M. Scofield Co., a leading supplier of chemically reactive stains. "They're
designed to color a surface by penetrating it without hiding or covering
it. The stains are transparent, or semi-transparent, which means you'll
sometimes see imperfections in the concrete substrate show through. You
need to honor those imperfections and incorporate them into your design:"
Furthermore, stains can look very different from one concrete surface
to the next, because the age and condition of the floor can have an impact
on how the stain is received. "Each floor is going to be unique and
different," says Darke. "You can try to duplicate patterns or
approximate colors, but no two floors are alike. They're like unique palettes
on which you can create personalized pieces of art:"
Lee Levig of Concrete Works, a California-based contractor, points out,
"This is not a coating, it's a chemical reaction. If the slab has
more lime in it, it's going to react differently and give you a lighter
shade. If there are petroleum products in the slab not visible to the
eye, they will also react and result in a darker color. That's why these
stains can be tricky to work with. You have to be upfront with your customers
and explain that there's a certain amount of unpredictability involved
in using these products:'
For newly poured concrete floors, color can be added at the ready-mix
plant or in dry-shake formulation during the curing process. Painting
contractors, however, should concern themselves primarily with existing
slabs and how to color or stain them.
most basic concrete enhancement is to stain a floor one color, which is
certainly more visually appealing than plain gray, but there are literally
hundreds, perhaps thousands, of examples across the nation of far more
elaborate and compelling designs involving multiple colors, intricate
geometric shapes, and even corporate logos. These are achieved by creating
a design on paper, measuring it out on the slab, marking it with architectural
chalk, and carefully sawcutting the design into the concrete.
Sawcutting creates partitions or patterns with the colors, and can prevent
colors from bleeding into one another. In addition, the sawcuts can be
used as grout lines for additional accenting.
Sawcutting equipment comes in a variety of sizes and capabilities, from
hand-held angle grinders to large walkbehind tools. For the painting contractor
who can't invest much in new equipment, Engrave-A-Crete, Inc., an industry
leader in concrete cutting equipment, offers a SawKart, a precision-milled
vehicle that holds certain brands of circular saws. "It's our basic
beginner tool;" says CEO Darrel Adamson. "It also has a circular
cutting attachment that allows for cutting arcs and circles. We're about
to introduce a Super SawKart that has a vacuum port on the back. We also
have many other professional cutting tools for the more advanced contractor:"
The creation of dust is a given when using this equipment, which means
vacuum attachments, or a co-worker following behind with a shop vac, are
necessary. The use of appropriate safety equipment is critical as well,
including work shoes, gloves, safety glasses and ventilation masks.
As the market continues to grow, practitioners are trying more and more
new materials and tactics to achieve unique designs in concrete. One method
gaining in popularity is the "resist" technique, which involves
the selective use of a sealer to prevent the stain from penetrating certain
areas of your surface. For instance, when the design calls for two colors,
one light and one dark, the lighter stain is applied first over the entire
Then an acrylic sealer is applied to only those areas you want to remain
light. After the sealer has dried, the darker color is applied over the
entire area, but it can be wiped off the areas where the sealer was applied.
The result can be a very dramatic, clearly defined contrast of colors,
not unlike a tile floor or carpeting, but with far more durability.
Sprinkling various fine materials onto freshly applied stains has been
shown to produce interesting effects. For instance, the sporadic yet imaginative
use of fertilizer, MiracleGro, metal shavings, sawdust, even kitty litter
as accents on alternating squares of a checkerboard design can create
an exciting, attention-getting look. Some designers have called for the
use of wrinkled cellophane or plastic sheets on wet stain to achieve a
marbleized, textured appearance. Still others have produced the look of
vines and leaves by carefully applying stain into a curvy sawcut and using
a compressed air hose to blow the stain out in fan-like designs.
contractors who are initially unsure of their abilities and are therefore
hesitant to use something as unpredictable as acid stain might want to
consider one of the alternative products, such as QC Construction Products'
Cemtint. "It's a deep penetrating pigmented sealer; says Darke. "The
penetrating sealer carries the pigment down into the concrete pores. Because
the porosity of a slab can vary, it ends up giving a variegated, marbled,
patina look, very similar to the look of chemically reactive stain, but
it's far more predictable to work with:"
stains are the future
acid stain appears to be the material of choice and the direction in which
the industry is headed, many observers say. "Right now, acid stains
are being specified in most of my projects," says Levig. I'm doing
mostly residential interiors, and 90 percent of my customers are architects.
They come to me in the planning stages and say `What do you think? Can
we achieve this with stain?' It's great to be part of the design stage.
We just finished a family room - actually, kind of a trophy room - that
uses gold and amber with black splashed on top. It looks like a leopard
Commercial applications of concrete stains have been around for 15-20
years or more - theme parks, Las Vegas casinos, resort hotels and corporate
headquarters lobbies, to name just a few. More recently, restaurants,
coffee bars and other retail locations have seen the wisdom of combining
the elaborate and unique designs typically found in carpets or tile with
the durability of concrete. The newest frontier is the high-end residential
market, where stained concrete floors are showing up not just in basements
and laundry rooms but also foyers, living rooms, or even entire houses,
including kitchen countertops.
"Concrete is a dynamic and versatile material, and the color opportunities
and options are endless," says Harris. "When you're using concrete,
your only limitation is your imagination:"
The writing is on the wall... or the floor, as the case may be. Stained
concrete is an opportunity waiting to be capitalized on by the savvy painting
contractor who wishes to expand his or her business, profits, and customer