Top 5 Tips for Successful Decorative Concrete Contracting
As decorative concrete flooring options continue to expand, the choices available to clients can become bewildering. As their best resource and as the concrete installer, you as the professional must be on your game to ensure their satisfaction and continue to build and maintain your own reputation.
Because the “latest and greatest” will ultimately fall to you to deliver, here are 5 tips to keep you ahead of the curve:
- Know your products
- Educate yourself and your client
- Negotiate a milestone schedule, not a calendar one
- Don’t neglect the basics
- Provide a maintenance schedule
In its early days, decorative concrete had a limit to the number of finishes that were used. But today, the wide range of additives, finishes and techniques used in decorative concrete (along with the almost infinite combination of the above) each have their own set of advantages and limitations. Whether for aesthetic, practical or financial reasons, it’s important for you to understand the application and desired outcome of each material that will be in the concrete mix or applied to the finished slab.
The exciting part of the range of options available – stamping, staining, overlays, micro-toppings, dyes, polishes, aggregates, and more – is that the end result is only limited by the designer’s creativity and the contractor’s product knowledge. The downside, of course, is that the end result will rely totally on the contractor’s product and practical knowledge. Even as a staple of the building industry, concrete is sensitive to a number of variables that can mean a bad outcome if not understood and managed properly. And decorative concrete pushes it into even higher-stakes territory. So be sure you understand the necessary specifications for each product involved in the process.
Educating yourself means staying current on new products or applications, taking technique training to build your skill set, and researching the products best suited to your local regions’ climate and conditions. It means knowing local suppliers for the best supply sources, and building an experienced crew that has hands-on knowledge of decorative concrete techniques and finishes. And it means communicating with the entire build team to prepare and complete the job as specified. (1)
Educating your client may be the most important task you, as a flooring professional have. While they will be relying on your professional expertise, you can also keep them informed about the project schedule, the finished outcome and the necessary post-installation maintenance. Showing samples of techniques you’re trained in can be a great time to discuss the natural variances of concrete products. The more these expectations can be made clear before the work begins, the more amenable the relationship is likely to be through the project and the better the end success of the project as well.
One of the key elements of any building project is the schedule. Trying to keep all subcontractors on time is both a time-management and a financial reality. But with concrete, the danger of running the project by the clock is that a concrete drying schedule cannot be predicted by any rule-of-thumb approach. Too many variables will influence the concrete’s drying time – the initial mix, ambient conditions, trowelling methods, specific requirements for stamping or texturing, the presence of color dyes or tints in the admixture, and so on.
With concrete flooring, trying to rush the job can ultimately mean a flooring failure of applied floorings or decorative finishes alike. Any excess moisture in the slab will ultimately work its way to the surface where it can cause scaling, staining, adhesive or overlay failure, blistering or other surface problems. In order to prevent moisture-related flooring problems, relative humidity (RH) testing provides the best indicator of when a slab has reached the specified moisture level for the chosen finish technique. By measuring the slab’s internal moisture conditions, you can be confident in making a go/no-go decision for proceeding with the chosen decorative concrete finish. Negotiating a schedule that allows for the readiness of the concrete floor will save both time and money in the long run.
The standard practices of concrete flooring installation become even more crucial to a successful decorative concrete flooring finish. As much as possible, keep the surface free from contaminants, including possible materials or residue from other subcontractors. Try to minimize foot traffic over the green concrete slab – even the slightest foot or tool impression can show up when a stain or texture is applied. Make sure HVAC systems are operational at all times. Clean the surface before applying any finishes, stains or sealers. And make regular relative humidity measurements to monitor the slab’s moisture conditions.
Once you have successfully completed each decorative concrete floor, including applying a protective sealer or covering as necessary, be sure that the maintenance schedule or procedure is clear to the client. (It should also be discussed during the project planning stage.) Some floor finishes require regular renewal or reapplication and whether you negotiate to be responsible for that aspect of the floor’s care, or the client will take that responsibility, the expectations again must be clear in order to protect and ensure the floors beauty and durability, as well as any possible warranty that you will provide.
Decorative concrete flooring is becoming increasingly popular for its durability, its beauty and its basic maintenance appeal. Make sure that you have laid the best foundation for that client’s floors by providing professional installations and informed communication at all times.
- Some very specific details for contractors can be found here: http://cpcnc.org/images/graphics/Guideline_Success_Arch_Dec_Conc_CPCNC_ver_1.pdf