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Applications  > Decorative flatwork
Stain, stamp, polish, add texture to concrete surfaces
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Decorative flatwork is a method of applying texture, color, stamping, or other techniques to enhance flat concrete applications.


decorative concreteDecorative flatwork techniques allows the designer and owner to move away from gray concrete into the world of color and texture. It can add distinction indoors and outdoors to:

  • interior floors
  • driveways
  • sidewalks
  • plazas
  • patios

Decorative flatwork is an affordable alternative and durable in any climate. Concrete’s workability allows it to take on the colors, textures and shapes of materials that cost two to ten times more, such as brick or flagstone, yet provide similar aesthetics and good long term performance.

Colored and textured concrete can be used to tie outdoor spaces with the surrounding built and natural environment. Colors and patterns can complement an exterior façade or vegetation. When used as a walkway, patio, pool deck, terrace, or courtyard, decorative flatwork enhances the human experience of the outdoor space. Geometric patterns can be scored, stamped, rolled or inlaid into the concrete. Other interesting patterns can be obtained by using divider strips to form panels of various sizes and shapes - rectangular, square, circular or diamond. Special techniques are available to make concrete slip-resistant and sparkling.

While concrete’s initial costs can be higher than some other materials used as driveways, its life-cycle costs are much lower than most competing materials due to its lower maintenance costs. Also, enhancing concrete finishes can be done on a tight budget. A simple rock salt finish adds an interesting mottled look, and an easy broom finish turns plain concrete into a design feature.

Decorative concrete is just as pleasing indoors as they are outdoors. Colored and imprinted concrete is an excellent flooring material combining the economy, durability, decorative qualities and strength of concrete. These floors also provide the thermal mass for passive solar and other buildings. From a real estate marketing standpoint, special concrete finishing, both indoors and outdoors, enhances the prestige and value of property.


Decorative flatwork has many environmental benefits. See associated sustainability solutions and technical briefs (right) for more detail.

Resource Efficient. Reduces need for finishes in general including carpet which is associated with indoor air quality problems.

Energy Performance and Thermal Mass. Thermal mass improves energy performance when appropriately insulated. When 3 in. or more in thickness, concrete forms an air barrier. May contribute to LEED Credit EA 1.

Durable. Concrete stands up to natural disasters, wind-driven rain, moisture damage, and vermin. Less replacement means reduced resource requirements.

Cool. Using light- or natural-colored material helps reduce the heat island affect. When used for exposed horizontal surfaces may contribute to LEED Credit SS 7.

Low emitting. Concrete has low VOC emission and does not degrade indoor air quality.

Recyclable. Concrete is commonly recycled in urban areas into fill and road base material at the end of service life. When existing concrete is recycled during construction, may contribute to LEED Credit M 2.

Local. Materials are usually extracted and manufactured locally. May contribute to LEED Credit M 5.

Recycled content. Fly ash, slag cement, or silica fume can substitute partially for cement, and recycled aggregates can replace newly mined gravel. Recycled content can contribute to LEED Credit M 4.



Driveway with exposed aggregate finish with divider strips (PCA No. 7064)Textures (Exposed Aggregate Concrete)
An exposed aggregate finish softens the look of traditional concrete. Texture is achieved by brushing and washing away surface mortar as the concrete begins to harden, so the stone or gravel in the concrete becomes visible. Any attractive stone can be imbedded into the surface – marble, granite chips, pebbles, or even shells for beachfront property.
Patterns (Stamped Concrete)
Semi-hardened concrete can be pattern-stamped with special tools to create the custom look and feel of slate, cobblestone, brick or tile. The patterns can help scale down large expanses of paving.
Stamped Concrete
Pattern-stamped concrete
Patterned-stamped concrete drive
Stained concrete on interior floor. (PCA No. 5074)Colors (Pigments and Staining)
Concrete can be cast in a wide variety of colors. Pastels and earth tones are produced by mixing mineral pigments throughout the concrete. For deeper tones, finishers use the dry-shake method – sprinkling powdered, prepackaged color-hardeners onto a freshly cast concrete slab, then trowelling it into the surface. Precast concrete products, such as pavers and garden stones, are available in the same full palette of colors.


Variations in the color and texture of concrete surfaces are limited only by the imagination of the designer and the skill of the concrete craftsman. Many people have been incorrectly led to believe that in severe freeze/thaw climates, major cracks in concrete are inevitable, and pop-outs, scaling and spalling should be expected. To prevent these problems, choose a contractor carefully who will specify the right concrete mix for the climate and perform skilled installation. Ask to see samples of past work similar to the desired product.

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Located at BookstoreBob Harris' Guide to Stained Concrete Floors (2004)
Bob Harris, Decorative Concrete Institute, Item Code LT283, 100 pages
Guide to Stained Concrete Floors is a 100-page, full-color resource with detailed information and practical tips on staining concrete interior floors. This publication is available for $35 at the Portland Cement Association Bookstore.
Located at BookstoreBob Harris' Guide to Stamped Concrete (2004)
Bob Harris, Decorative Concrete Institute, Item Code LT284, 144 pages
Available for $45. The guide covers topics of vital importance for anyone planning to stamp concrete, including: - Nine sources for stamping design ideas - Maximizing your profits by knowing what to charge - Concrete mix considerations for stamping concrete - Site conditions affecting stamped concrete work and how to prepare or avoid them - How to prepare concrete for stamping, including tips for striking off and finishing - Three important steps to applying color hardener - Tools that are essential for successful stamping - How and when to start stamping - Important issues to avoid when stamping - Fixing minor flaws in stamped concrete work - Effective techniques for the application of sealers - 10 ways to promote and sell your stamped concrete work - How to distinguish your stamped concrete work from competitors
Located at BookstoreFinishing Concrete with Color and Texture (2004)
Steven H. Kosmatka and Terry C. Collins, Portland Cement Association, Item Code PA124, 72 pages
Available for $35. This publication is a basic guide for planning and constructing decorative concrete surfaces on concrete slabs. While intended primarily for concrete contractors, it also will be useful to concrete finishers, concrete finishers apprentices, homebuilders, general contractors, architects, engineers, landscape architects, homeowners, vocational education students, specification writers, inspectors, and many others.
Located at BookstorePolished concrete outshines other flooring options (2006)
Environmental Building News, Volume 15, Number 2
Article requires subscription (weekly subscriptions available for $12.95). Stone-polishing techniques and mineralizing treatments are turning concrete into one of the most functional, most cost-effective, and greenest flooring options around. In this feature article, Alex Wilson explores the ups and downs of polished, densified concrete.
Download DocumentWhat's Your IAQ I.Q.? (1999)
Environmental Council of Concrete Organizations, #2846
Architects, engineers, and builders are becoming more proactive in assuring the Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) of the buildings for which they are responsible. Concrete is the best building material for forestalling sick building syndrome. Concrete also reduces the outgassing of indoor air pollutants. Because concrete structures are more energy efficient, they lower emissions form furnaces. This document is available for free from Environmental Council of Concrete Organizations. To find this article: Follow the link provided, then click "catalog" and scroll half way down the page to find the article.
Located at External Web SiteChanges In Store (2006)
Wal-Mart showcases green concrete technologies at its store in Texas.
This 4 page article was originally featured in the May 2006 edition of Concrete Producer Magazine, by Hanley Wood. Wal-Mart testing a range of green strategies at this prototype store in McKinney, TX. Along with other green strategies, concrete was used as interior finish flooring, reducing VOC's and maintenance, and pervious pavement in the parking area to improve ground water quality and quantity.
Located at External Web SiteConcrete Homes
Portland Cement Association
A web resource for general information on concrete homes.
Located at External Web SiteHigh-gloss Finishes (2007)
The Construction Specifier, by Howard Jancy, CSI, CDT, and Greg Schwietz, SCI, CDT, 2007
Polishing concrete can be used to refurbish old or damaged floors or add dimension to new ones. The process to attain glossy surfaces is discussed, along with safety standards, maintenance, and chemical treatments to protect floors. This discussion also includes an overview of materials used to color concrete surfaces to add a further decorative element.
Located at External Web SiteNational Ready Mixed Concrete Association
Industry resource for ready mixed concrete.
Located at External Web SitePolished Concrete Can Be Green (2007)
L&M Concretenews, January, 2007: Volume 7, Number 1
A durable, long lasting, attractive polished concrete floor is a value-loaded option within the reach of almost any facility today.