Refinishing Concrete Floors

I’m thinking of ripping up the carpet in my basement and wondering whether I should replace it with new carpet, or refinish the concrete floors and use area rugs. I recently stayed in the new “green” accommodations at the Kripalu Institute in the Berkshires, where the floor on the main level is really nice-looking concrete. Any idea what the process entails and costs? — Lauren Giles, Waccabuc

Relatively recent developments in grinders and polishers have lifted concrete from the utilitarian to a trendy, beautiful material that’s surprisingly silky to the touch. As you already have a concrete floor, it would be a matter of simply tarting it up (not the technical term). Matthew Johnson, whose Tuckahoe company is called Green Earth Floors, is a master in matters of concrete, with a certificate to prove it, and a website that displays some of the once-ugly, now-gorgeous floors he’s refurbished (including one at Eileen Fisher’s Lab store in Irvington.) “Concrete is a good medium in a basement,” he says. “It’s sustainable, 100 percent green, it doesn’t grow mold,” (as carpet might, if there’s a hint of damp). “It’ll last as least 20 years with minimal maintenance.”

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Typically, a concrete floor is about 4 inches thick, Johnson says. When his company refinishes one, they grind about a 32nd of an inch off the top. “If the concrete underneath is in good shape, we take very, very little. The only thing that’s ugly is the surface.” It’s a mutli-step process that results in a glossy surface so dense that it repels fluids.



“Concrete has great character, but it can look lifeless,” Johnson adds. “I like to stain it because color brings the personality to the surface.” If you have what he calls “a bigger piggy bank,” stains can be applied in artistic ways. “Close your eyes and dream, and I can create it,” Johnson claims. If you have only a normal-sized piggy bank, you can go with a solid color.

Some companies suggest coating the finished concrete to seal it, but Johnson disagrees. “A coating’s best day is the first day you put it down,” he says. “We call them ‘spray and pray’ jobs. Spray and pray we’ll get paid before they fail…. Concrete is a living, breathing thing. You should allow it to breathe.” Maintenance is simple: just damp-mop with water. If you add a conditioner, “the concrete gets harder and prettier,” Johnson says.

Downsides? “Expense. It’s about ten dollars a square foot. You can’t change the color easily. And it’s a slow process. It can take from three to seven days.” There’s no mess, though. As for concrete’s reputation for being cold and hard underfoot, it’s no more so than tile or marble. The area rugs you mention would provide cushioning.

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Some real estate experts claim that making your cellar into a good-looking living space ranks up there with kitchen and bath makeovers in terms of getting your money back, so it’s a wise investment, too.

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