1. Cost: This will depend on whether you are on ground level or higher.
a. If you are on the ground, there isnâ€™t any comparison because not only is the concrete material less expensive but you donâ€™t have to build the substructure to a wooden floor system. Concrete wins handily.
b. If you are looking at upper levels then you have to consider the weight (and the cost of the structure to support it) and you get into a question of upgrading the design mix of the concrete if you want to minimize its thickness or weight.
c. Generally Iâ€™d say that a true hardwood floor is more expensive than concrete and it is more critical to follow the manufacturerâ€™s installation details when laying the wood material over radiant heat. The less expensive wood floors always sound tacky when you walk on them even if they are easier to install.
d. Confirm this opinion by visiting a hardwood flooring showroom on the one hand and by calling a specialty concrete floor installer on the other. The best information on a radiant heating installation will come from a heating contractor who specializes in radiant heat.
a. Concrete color is either applied to the surface or mixed into the concrete truck at the batch plant. It is also possible to â€œdustâ€ the fresh slab with the pigment that they use at the batch plant and trowel it in as the slab cures but this will be very â€œarty.â€ The stains are pretty unpredictable. They interact with the chemicals in the concrete and those chemicals may be distributed unevenly. You need to be willing to live with a lot of variation in color. Some think of it as pretty darn natural looking, like leather.
b. Sealers or waxes are either hard (glossy) or soft (matt sheen). Those that appear soft (warm) tend to hold more dirt and are more difficult to clean. Those that are hard tend to be easy to clean but are extremely slippery when wet.
c. In either case of wood or concrete, the finish will need to be refreshed. If you catch wood in time (every 5 years) you only need to buff it and apply a new coat of finish. If it gets to the point of seeing wood through the surface, you need to re-sand and re-finish. The concrete refresher should be as easy (and frequent) as the wood re-coat. (waxes may have a shorter life span) If you let the sealer wear through to the concrete the repair is about as nasty as the wood sanding.
3. Installation of finished concrete floors: this is not new technology and doesnâ€™t need to be an experiment. There are lots of people who specialize in it. Itâ€™s been around longer than wood; check out the Roman baths. Need any referrals?
You wouldn't go wrong with either.
Polished concrete is a little bit of a misnomer, since while concrete
can be finished to a sheen (called hard troweled), a true gloss or
polished sheen is best done by having a sealer coat applied. There are
many 'sealers' available and you will get what you pay for. Two-part
seal coat finishes are best, but usually cost more and are a little more work to prepare prior to application but are very doable. The two-part sealers are available as water-based mixes which is important.
Color can be attained by different methods. A few choices are 1)integral color (color is part of the concrete mix), 2)acid etched into a concrete surface (color is a result of an acid based material sprayed onto an alkaline surface-in this case concrete), or 3)surfaced applied (usually sprayed). With any of these coloring methods it is be best to have a sealer applied as the last step. The sealers are available in flat or matte, semi-gloss, or gloss or "polished" sheens.
Wood floor types vary. I'm most familiar with 3/4" oak, tongue &
groove. 1/4" top nailed is very common in older homes.
The sealing issues with wood floor are similar to concrete floor;
finishes are available in various 'sheens', and one-part or two-part mixes. Colors available are numerous and are surface applied prior to sealing
similar to what is done with finishing furniture or other wood material. Clear sealers allow the beauty of the wood to be seen, while clear sealers on plain or non-colored concrete might not be what you want.
Durability is as different as the difference with concrete or wood so
concrete will last forever. The type of sealer applied on the
surface really affects the durability of either material (especially wood), and wood is more susceptible to excess surface moisture. The substrate under either material is important and can ultimately affect the longevity of either. If you are going with concrete make sure substrate/subfloor can handle it
Re-finishing of either wood or concrete involves a fair amount of work but is possible with each. There is a limit to the number of times a wood floor can be refinished.
Cost for either material can vary widely and is dependent on a number of things; type of wood, thickness of concrete, room layout, condition of substrate, when completed (new or rehab construction), etc. Wood is probably lower cost or at least can be more competitive since there are many more installers (can also mean more lower quality installers).
Lastly, there is a certain 'warmness' to the appearance of a wood floor that some think is not possible with a concrete floor, though radiant floor heat (either electrical or hydronic) is possible with either.
Again, I don't think you can go wrong with either material. When installed in a professional manner and proper prep conditions, either concrete or wood can give you years of enjoyment. Best of luck with your decision.
It is also considered a green option, earning many buildings LEED points. Why? Because you are using an existing, locally procured product. You are not covering it up and won't have to dispose of it at some point. Polished concrete is low VOC and allergy free.
Like the other comments, find someone that knows what they are doing. Go to http://www.concretenetwork.com to find a contractor in your area. Have the contractor do a sample on your floor. They should do a section of the slab complete with stain to prove the results you can expect. That would be your standard and the rest of the floor should match. Make sure that is in your contract.
Avoid sealers as these will scratch. One chemical company, Prosoco, offers a "guard" product that helps against spills. Topical coatings typically make the concrete unbreathable. That will cause your floor to discolor with time. Considering you are from Seattle, you will want your slab to breathe. For more information on that search for efflourescence. (Hope I spelled that right :))
The biggest thing that will make your polished concrete last a long time is proper maintenance. Another example of a really professional installer will be the maintenance instructions (especially written) they give you.
Although I have never priced concrete installation, It seems it would be more expensive, labor intensive, and I'm sure there are probably fewer contractors that even know how to do it well.
I really like the look of acid stained concrete but the hardwood will probably be cheaper and possibly more marketable. Although concrete is getting more popular. Marketability depends too on which room you put it in, what type of architecture and quality the house is.
There are some very cool wood flooring choices out there that might fit your cool tastes:) Mac's Wholesale Flooring in Seattle has always done great work for my clients and he is a nice guy. Good luck!
That being said, if you're staying for a long time and just want the flooring change for your personal enjoyment - concrete can be beautiful and unique when done correctly.
Many times, the coloring of the concrete is mixed in with the actual dry material at the point of mixing, so once it's in, you're somewhat stuck. You can add some stains later, to alter it a bit, though, as it is a porous material.
2. Polished concrete holds up very well and will be able to look great for many years. When we notice any type of lost surface sheen, staining, etc. We find that a maintenance program has been neglected.
3. The color can re-stained or changed with a concrete dye. You will only be able to go darker though. Talk with your contractor and have on-site samples made to confirm color choices.
4. Hardwood and concrete floors both look great. Go ahead and take a chance with concrete. If you absolutely do not like the floors you can always install hardwood over them.
Owner, Dancer Concrete Design
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I would be concerned about cracks (not structural, just cosmetic)
You should also look into any potential overloading of the floor system (weight).
If you put down some Floating wood floors, and especially carpet over radiant, it changes the R value in the floor and doesn't allow it to work properly!
Hopefully you were able to choose, and it worked out well for you!
There is something about concrete, that no matter how sealed it is, still has a 'concrete smell' too it. Many don't notice this, but I do, epecially in newer homes and condos.