Concrete Restoration and Decoration Tips
DEAR TIM: This has been the winter from Hades. I own a house in Connecticut and my parents have one in sunny Florida. The ice and snow has ravaged my front sidewalk and the concrete patio at the Florida home could use a makeover. I attended a spring home show this weekend and saw a demonstration of a concrete resurfacing product that looked too good to be true. Is there really a product you can apply to concrete to restore it’s original beauty? Can this same product really be colorized and used to create artwork on my concrete that will last the test of time? Jenny P., Hartford, CT
DEAR JENNY: I’ve seen some wild and crazy things at home shows over the years. Believe me there are still hucksters at some of these shows supported by their cunning shills in the audience. The good news is if what you saw is the same product I saw a month ago at a trade show you’re going to be one happy homeowner.
The product I saw is a thin overlay you apply to a concrete surface with a regular squeegee. You can use this same product to create driveway or sidewalk tattoos - as my friend Dan Gray calls them! If you have some patience, a small amount of skill, an air compressor and a small spray gun, only your imagination will hinder what you can do with your sidewalk, driveway or patio!
I’ve seen my share of concrete that’s suffered from snow, ice and normal erosion as well as sun-baked concrete that’s covered with algae, mold and mildew. If the concrete is still structurally sound, you can apply a thin overlay that will bond well and give the concrete new life and many years of extended service. This can save you and your parents big money.
I consider concrete to be structurally sound if it’s just exhibiting light surface spalling. If you do have one or two cracks that have separated, you can apply modern epoxies to bind the slab together. A cracked concrete slab is not a death sentence - not anymore.
Severely cracked and crumbling concrete, or slabs that have large offsets where one piece is higher than the other may be too far gone to save with just a simple overlay.
Outdoor concrete that’s dirty, moldy, and covered with algae can often be restored with just a simple cleaning. Pressure washers are great for this type of work. If you don’t own one, you can rent a machine for a day or use oxygen bleach and a scrub brush on a pole. Never use chlorine bleach to clean an outdoor concrete surface as the toxic chemical will poison any nearby grass, landscaping or trees.
Using the concrete overlay products is easy. The key thing is to read the instructions and make sure the concrete is perfectly clean, free from dust, grease and all loose particles are washed or brushed away. I would absolutely use a pressure washer to prepare a concrete slab for an overlay.
You may feel it’s best to do this work on a sunny, breezy warm day. In my opinion, that’s the worst weather. Overcast days with temperatures in the 55-65 F range are the best. You want the thin overlay to dry slowly and cure well so it bonds permanently to the old concrete.
If you decide to create colored patterns, artwork, or pictures on your concrete, consider doing this on areas of your concrete that will never experience any shovels, plows or other scrapping tools. You don’t want to ruin your artwork with these tools.
You can add many colors to the overlay materials. Powdered color-fast pigments are just added to the water you use to mix the overlay. It’s very simple and the colors will take your breath away they’re so gorgeous.
If you decide to tattoo your concrete, I urge you to practice first. Test your skills applying the sprayed overlay onto pieces of drywall you’ve laid out on your existing concrete. Place sheets of plastic vapor barrier down under the drywall and around the edges of your existing concrete to protect it from overspray.
Once you get the technique down, then you can do the real thing on your concrete. Try a small piece of art first before advancing to a large image. For ideas, think about creating something about your favorite hobby, a flower, or any other image that makes you feel happy. Be sure you plan it’s placement so it’s visible after any patio furniture is placed back on the patio.
If you want to watch a video of professionals showing how to apply the overlay and create artwork, just go to this page of my website. The tools needed are not too expensive.