Architectural concrete floors are in vogue. That’s not surprising. Concrete floors are durable, easily maintained, a breeze to keep clean, and they are beautiful! For those interested in so-called “green building”, they offer the additional advantages of thermal mass plus the perfect medium for hydronic heating.
Despite these advantages, architectural concrete floors are not for everyone. Firstly, they are not as forgiving underfoot as, say, resilient flooring. Secondly, while the material itself is cheap, the labor to install is relatively high. Finally, a successful installation relies on careful coordination of building systems, demanding a rigorous attention to detail from a architectural design perspective. But for those committed to a functional, elegant, low maintenance flooring solution, few alternatives measure up to architectural concrete.
From a design perspective, the first consideration is the substrate supporting the slab. If the application is slab-on-grade this is relatively simple to address. For a raised wood floor system in new construction the need is to simply take care that the supporting substrate and framing be sized to limit the deflection to recommended tolerances.
In the case of a remodel with raised wood floors, however, very careful consideration needs to be given to investigating the practicability of the proposed installation, and evaluating the nature of the existing floor system then becomes critical to ascertaining whether the installation will be cost effective. The variables include the size and location of any existing isolated footings, the size of the primary and secondary framing members, and the span performance of the sub-floor sheathing.
In either application – new construction or remodel – variables in the slab design need to be carefully considered. These including appropriate concrete mix design, structural reinforcement, whether it is to be heated, and, if it is to be heated, whether this is to be done with electrical or hydronic heating. This decision in turn affects the appropriate thickness of the slab, which in turn informs the sizing of the framing members and foundation system supporting the slab. In order to minimize the possibility of shrinkage cracking, control joints must be very carefully designed as prescribed by industry standards.
Finishing of the floor surface is another consideration. Obtaining a referral to a qualified, professional installer is the most certain way to produce a top-quality result. That said, we have seen budget-conscious homeowners take on this task with their own sweat equity, and with satisfactory result.
Concrete flooring is the answer for everyone. But for those whom it IS the answer the goal of course is to obtain the most cost-effective, elegant, and beautiful result your construction dollars can buy. That result depends upon careful attention to detail, and excellent design always begins with having knowledgeable, experienced, and capable architectural design staff on your team.