Polished concrete vs. hardwood

Asked by Panthroman, Seattle, WA Thu Apr 23, 2009

1 - Which costs more to install?
2 - Has anyone dealt with polished concrete for more than a couple years? How does it hold up?
3 - If the polished concrete stain comes out poorly, is it possible to change?
4 - I love the look and feel of concrete (with radiant heat), but I'm nervous about taking the chance! Hardwood is tried and true. Any suggestions?


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John Stewart, Agent, Seattle, WA
Tue Apr 28, 2009
The comfort of heat coming through your socks is very seductive, which means it must be good for your health. I’ll never own another bathroom without it.
1. Cost: This will depend on whether you are on ground level or higher.
a. If you are on the ground, there isn’t any comparison because not only is the concrete material less expensive but you don’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 I’d say that a true hardwood floor is more expensive than concrete and it is more critical to follow the manufacturer’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.
2. Maintenance:
a. Concrete color is either applied to the surface or mixed into the concrete truck at the batch plant. It is also possible to “dust” 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 “arty.” 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 doesn’t need to be an experiment. There are lots of people who specialize in it. It’s been around longer than wood; check out the Roman baths. Need any referrals?
3 votes
Can't you wax the floor every few years to keep up the look as well? Do you need to use a sealant if you have wax? I just moved into a house with a waxed cement basement, and I'm not quite sure how to maintain it. I just don't want to let the repair go too long. http://www.taylorsteamer.com
Flag Wed Apr 15, 2015
Derrick Sly, Home Buyer, Albuquerque, NM
Mon Nov 10, 2014
Polished concrete can actually be stained to a variety of colors. Besides that, it scuffs far less than wood. It can be a bit colder though. It might not be the best choice for a bathroom.
1 vote
Jeffrey Saeg…, Agent, Seattle, WA
Mon Jul 12, 2010
I've had experience with both floor types and each offer benefits.
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.
1 vote
I hadn't seen anyone use polished concrete in my area until a few weeks ago. I thought it would be too cold, but I was pleasantly surprised. They had a few rugs to take the edge of the temperature, and it looked like it would be extremely easy to clean. After seeing polished concrete in action, I think it's as good an option as carpet. | http://www.aaaconcreteak.com
Flag Mon Jan 26, 2015
Heather Cava…, , Glendale, AZ
Wed May 13, 2009
The cost for polished concrete will vary by location, type of concrete (soft/hard), the degree of shine, and other decorative features like dye or cuts. The average cost on commercial jobs is about $2.50/sq ft without the decorative elements. For a home, the cost will be higher. If you are living in the home, you will have some dust so the contractor will have to seal of doorways to areas that you don't want finished. In a home, polished concrete will last a long time. If done correctly and maintained properly it will last for years. When the shine dulls you could have the floors burnished with a professional burnishing machine. The published costs over 20 years average $0.30 per square foot.

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.

Have fun!
1 vote
Thank you so much for this. Concrete can last forever, but only if you take care of it. There's still a lot of maintenance tricks to watch for. Don't get concrete if you think you can just ignore it and expect it to still look nice. Get concrete if you genuinely like the look and are willing to work to maintain it. | http://www.sabreconcrete.com
Flag Thu Feb 12, 2015
Mark Despain, Agent, Seattle, WA
Thu Apr 23, 2009
You can grind and polish raw concrete to expose the aggregate pebbles and then use a clear sealant which is a look I really like. If you just polish and apply a stain or an acid stain then the only thing you can do to change it is add color/stain.

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.
Web Reference:  http://www.homehounds.com
1 vote
Courtney Coo…, Agent, Seattle, WA
Thu Apr 23, 2009
I love the look of the polished concrete, too, but I would still stick with the hardwood around here. I have seen some pretty worn polished concrete, although I think a lot of that depends on the install. Cost wise, last time I had asked about it and it has been a few years it was pretty similar in price just because of the labor of the concrete.

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!
Web Reference:  http://www.cooperjacobs.com
1 vote
I agree, Courtney, I like the look of polished concrete much more. I have heard that polished concrete withstands stains much easier than hardwood as well. Also, polished concrete will never splinter. Wood flooring on the other hand will wear out over time and splinter. I would get quotes from a commercial flooring company to see which one would be more affordable for your situation.
Flag Tue Nov 18, 2014
We have hardwood floors currently. It needs timber polishing every so often. But it's definitely warmer than concrete.

Sal Wesson | http://www.rivergumfloors.com.au
Flag Thu May 29, 2014
SeattleHome.…, Agent, Seattle, WA
Thu Apr 23, 2009
Patrick is right about your resale options - although concrete can be a very attractive surface, you'll have a larger pool of potential buyers who would prefer wood.

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.
Web Reference:  http://SeattleHome.com
1 vote
Patrick Beri…, Agent, Seattle, WA
Thu Apr 23, 2009
I don't know what the costs are for concrete--But most buyers will prefer wood, depending on what room(s) you're talking about.
1 vote
Nancy Blinst…, Home Buyer, Phoenix, AZ
Thu Aug 10, 2017
I've enjoyed having hardwood floors (pre-finished, which is very durable) in my home and they're perfect. Recently, however, we rented a cabin that had polished concrete, with areas colored in a pattern. I don't think they were new. I will say, I would never turn away from a house that had concrete like that - I'm all about having something you can clean thoroughly, especially if it's attractive - which both these floor types were.
0 votes
Dlm4305, Home Buyer, Seattle, WA
Thu Aug 10, 2017
We had our concrete floors done with an epoxy. Best move we ever made. Durable, easy to clean and everyone admires them.
0 votes
Artechstone1, Home Seller, Sydney, FL
Thu Feb 18, 2016
When selecting a Hardwood flooring, think about how often you will clean it. They are generally more expensive than Polished concrete floors.On high moisture surface timber flooring is not suitable. For this reason, I would like to share some ideas for bringing out optimal beauty in all stone and concrete surfaces with Artech Stone Polishing Service in Sydney. For more details contact http://www.artechfloorpolishing.com.au/service.php
0 votes
Emma Taylor, Home Owner, Seattle, WA
Mon Jul 20, 2015
The installation cost for both types of flooring depends upon different factors such as where the house is located, which type of material you can use, etc. But, In my experience wood floors are little bit expensive to install than to Polished concrete one. Polished concrete one requires low maintenance and will be able to look great for many years. I suggest you go with polished concrete.
0 votes
Nora Moore, Home Buyer, American Fork, UT
Wed Jan 21, 2015
I'm not sure which one is more expensive, but there are some fun things about both options. Having a heated, concrete floor can be really nice. Have you ever seen the flooring when they've ground down to expose the aggregate pebbles and then put on a clear coat? It's a really fun look. http://www.accoc.com.au/services
0 votes
Calvin James, Home Buyer, Orem, UT
Sat Nov 22, 2014
I am a big fan of concrete. It is cheaper, lasts longer, and requires less maintenance. We put in a new back patio last summer and used stamped concrete. It looks really good and we have had no issues with it! I would definitely go with the concrete. http://www.imagineconcrete.com/stampedconcrete
0 votes
Jackson Will…, Home Buyer, Provo, UT
Thu Nov 13, 2014
I tend to think that hardwood is generally a better way to go. For general look if nothing else I have always preferred it. With that being said, I have used both and polished concrete lasted a little longer for me. The downside is that polished concrete is extremely difficult to replace if there are ever any issues. You should talk to an installer and see what they suggest based on your needs and wants.
0 votes
Kiara Jane T…, Home Buyer, Kansas City, MO
Fri Oct 24, 2014
I would love to have polished concrete in my basement! It looks so elegant and easy to maintain. Is that something we could do ourselves? Or do I need to call a company? http://www.carmixcanada.ca/
0 votes
Patrick Beri…, Agent, Seattle, WA
Wed Oct 24, 2012
You know, a lot depends on where in the house you're doing this, as well as the style of the property and the room(s) in particular where you're considering this. Without knowing any of this, I'd say go with hardwood.
0 votes
Nicole Demer…, Agent, Mercer Island, WA
Thu Oct 18, 2012
If you try concrete and are not satisfied, you can modify it by adding tile on top or search for another solution.
0 votes
ellajane57, , Seattle, WA
Thu Sep 27, 2012
I have wood floors that I love but my sister likes concrete with acid stain. I'm sure either one would work. I think you can install your own hardwood floor, the cost should be cheaper. I'd choose whatever you like better. Maybe you could visit neighbors houses and get a better idea.
0 votes
Nddance, ,
Tue Feb 7, 2012
1. In my experience wood floors are more expensive to install than to polish existing concrete.
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.

Nick Dancer
Owner, Dancer Concrete Design
Blogging @ http://www.cozywithconcrete.com
Web @ http://www.dancerconcrete.com
0 votes
., , 98110
Mon Feb 7, 2011
You can never go wrong with hardwood flooring.
0 votes
Kevin Hergert, , Seattle, WA
Tue Jan 4, 2011
My feeling is that hardwood is timeless, concrete is possibly a trend.

I would be concerned about cracks (not structural, just cosmetic)

You should also look into any potential overloading of the floor system (weight).
0 votes
Craig Rhodes, , Sun City West, AZ
Tue Aug 31, 2010
Polished concrete is not seen much in the N.W. except with commercial projects. For resale here. go with tile or hardwood, tile being the most common.
0 votes
Brenda Rogers, Agent, Rangeley, ME
Sun Aug 22, 2010
Since you posted this in April I'm sure you've decided, and I hope that you went with the polished floor. We use it in all of our homes here in Maine with Radiant heat. Staining it doesn't always work well because the concrete even from the same manufacturer and out of the same truck can "land" differently causing the colors to be off. But a well burned (the technical name for how it is polished) Concrete floor without coloring in it turns a beautiful blue-gray much like slate. Clean it with Armstrong cleaner, and I then I put 2 - 3 coats of Future Floor Wax and you have a durable long lasting, beautiful floor, that doesn't inhibit the radiant from working.

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!
0 votes
The Cascade…, Agent, Issaquah, WA
Mon Jul 12, 2010
From a simple re-sale standpoint. Hardwoods are more common and will appeal to more people. Always important to think about.
0 votes
Leanne Finlay, Agent, Kirkland, WA
Wed Dec 30, 2009
I prefer wood. If you drop your coffee cup on it, it probably won't shatter. My folks have exposed aggregate in their front hallway and dining room, and it's been maintenance free for years, and I like the look of it - but that dining room never feels warm and cozy to me.

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.
0 votes
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