How to install concrete floors

An image of a man smoothening concrete during installation using a hand float. Today, concrete flooring has become a preference for most homeowners, mainly because of its flexibility. You can even install it over an existing floor, not to mention natural soil. Even better, you can embellish the floor while pouring the concrete during installation.

However, whether or not you get the most out of your concrete floor mostly depends on how well you install it. Even the slightest mistake could compromise the entire outlook. In this article is a stepwise guide on how to install concrete floors to enable you to achieve a professional outlook.

Let us dive into some of the essential aspects you should pay attention to while installing concrete floors in both interior and exterior spaces.

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How to Install Concrete Floors

Professional builders mostly perform concrete floor installation, and it’s safer that way. However, if you’re an audacious DIYer, installing a concrete floor in a small living space or basement can be an exciting adventure if you have the necessary knowledge and equipment.

The process involved in installing a concrete floor varies depending on your floor’s condition and how you would like to finish the floor. You can install by;

  • Removing the existing finish floor to reveal the underlying concrete slab. The finished floor, in this case, can either be vinyl, laminate, tiles, you name it. Once the finish floor is out of the way, consider assessing the condition of the existing concrete. If the floor’s still in good condition, you may polish it using a concrete grinder and then sand the surface.
  • Pouring a thin overlay of fresh concrete in the case of an old floor to revitalize it. This is the best way to go if the underlying concrete exhibits defects such as cracks and holes. The overlay, in this case, acts as a freshly poured concrete slab. Therefore, once it dries up, you may polish the floor then decorate it as you would a fresh slab.
  • Pouring a fresh concrete slab in the absence of an existing floor. Freshly poured concrete is also the ultimate solution for old floors that may be difficult to rejuvenate using an overlay. In such cases, you have to eliminate the existing floor, preferably by jackhammering it from its perimeter towards the center.

However, the above processes are just the tip of the iceberg when installing a concrete floor. Depending on your project’s intensity, concrete floor installation tends to be very involving and may take up to a week. It entails effectively preparing the surface for installation and installing the finish floor or decorating the surface as you please.

Regardless of the state of the existing floor and your finish floor of choice, ensure you finish up by sealing the floor using a concrete sealer to enhance the floor’s longevity. The most significant determinant of concrete floor durability is its smoothness. This means the floor should be free from cracks, bumps, or holes before introducing the finish floor. Let’s dive into more details on how you can effectively install a concrete floor from scratch.

How do you prepare the ground for Concrete?

One of the keys to a defect-free concrete floor is adequate surface preparation before pouring the concrete. Fortunately, ground preparation for concrete is relatively easy as you can even pour it on dirt or wet ground and still get the best out of the floor. The ground preparation process also depends on the intensity of the project and the type of soil in question. Additionally, if you’re installing in exterior spaces, the first step would be to remove any surface vegetation if present.

That said, below are the steps to follow when preparing the ground for concrete:

Dig about three to five inches below the ground.

The depth varies depending on your concrete slab’s thickness and the type of soil involved. The slab usually lies at a depth of about three inches from the ground. However, when dealing with soil that exhibits poor drainage, you will have to dig an additional two inches to accommodate the gravel, which goes a long way in preventing the accumulation of water underneath the slab.

Even out the surface.

This step involves leveling the ground by reducing any high points, preferably using a rake, and filling the low points with the extra dirt. You may use a level to check whether the ground is adequately even for best results.

Compress the soil, preferably using a tamper.

Tamping helps to compact the soil for a perfectly even outlook. The tamper comprises heavy steel to consolidate the ground in readiness for the concrete slab.

Pour about four to six inches of gravel

Whether you’re dealing with sand or clay soil, consider incorporating a gravel base to minimize the chances of cracking. Thanks to the high porosity of concrete, gravel is necessary to serve as a moisture barrier between the ground and the slab. It prevents moisture from seeping through your concrete slab, resulting to a cracked floor. After pouring the gravel, be sure to compact it using a tamper to prevent it from shifting. More importantly, the soil’s drainage should determine the depth of the gravel.

Be sure to take your time during the ground preparation process because the foundation is crucial. Poor preparation is most likely to result in a less durable concrete floor prone to moisture damage. Also, depending on the soil type, controlling the moisture content is of utmost importance as it helps to ensure there is adequate density to bear the weight of the floor. Therefore, ensure the soil isn’t too dry or too wet, which may compromise the density.

What is involved in Installing a Polished Concrete Floor?

Installing polished concrete is the best course of action if you’re looking to renovate your floors with a simple, stylish yet durable solution. This flooring type is the ideal solution, especially if you are on a budget, as it’s relatively affordable. Time is an important factor when installing a polished concrete floor, as the process can take days to weeks depending on your project’s size. You can also polish an old concrete floor by pouring a thin overlay on the floor before proceeding. Whether you are polishing an existing floor or installing an entirely new concrete floor, here are the essential aspects involved in the process:

Preparation

In the case of an existing or old floor, preparation entails cleaning and leveling the floor by filling up any cracks or holes present. Old concrete floors may require more effort, as it involves introducing an epoxy layer before pouring a thin overlay onto the floor to act as a fresh slab.

On the other hand, when installing a new polished concrete floor, preparation entails examining the surface to ensure it can effectively support the concrete, in addition to digging the ground to an appropriate depth. Although optional, I recommend pouring gravel before the concrete to reinforce durability. Also, ensure the ground is even before pouring the concrete.

Pouring

This applies if you install a new concrete floor rather than polishing an existing floor. It can be labor-intensive depending on the size of the project, and the concrete can take up to three days to fully cure. It is advisable to use a pump truck and wheelbarrow to pour the concrete efficiently. More importantly, consider starting from the edges and finishing at an access point to avoid interfering with the concrete before it sets completely.

Polishing

For this step, you will need a grinder. Consider starting with a low-grit sanding disc before introducing a finer grit. Your grit size of choice depends on how tough the concrete is, but a 50-grit sanding disc should do the job. Be sure to start with the edges while proceeding systematically to avoid missing some points.

Subsequently, follow up with at least a 160-grit sanding disc to further smoothen the concrete. In this case, you should make at least twice as many passes as those you made using the coarse-grit sanding disc. While polishing, be careful not to scratch the surrounding walls or surfaces.

Sealing

Effectively sealing the floor goes a long way in enhancing perfection and durability. Sealing gives the floor a smooth, glossy finish, offering long lasting protection from scratches and stains. Be sure to clean the floor, preferably using a vacuum cleaner before sealing to ensure it’s free of any dust or debris that would otherwise compromise the sealer’s efficacy. Also, ensure you follow the manufacturer’s instruction on how to apply the sealer for best results. It is also advisable to seal one section at a time to foster even curing. Closing access points is also necessary to prevent insects or dust particles from settling in the room before the sealer fully cures.

How to install a base for a concrete floor

A good base layer is one of the most critical components of a long-lasting concrete floor. Installing a good base is usually follows adequate ground preparation for ultimate results. The base layer usually comprises crushed aggregate but may vary depending on your local building code. You might as well use natural soil as your base if it’s ideal for your location.

Despite the base layer you use, moisture is of importance. For instance, if you are using natural soil, consider dampening it with water to hold the soil particles together, making the base layer more compact.

Additionally, expansion joints also enhance the durability of your floor by preventing cracking which may result from temperature changes. Consider installing quality expansion joints of your preferred thickness by gluing them to the wall. Subsequently, place concrete stakes next to the walls and at the center of the floor to help guide you on how high the floor should be after finishing. However, you will have to remove the stakes after finishing the floor.

Once the grade stakes are in place, you may section the floor by laying a rebar, which will also help in reinforcing the concrete. With the help of rebar stands, elevate the rebar to make your work easier while pouring the concrete. Upon completing these steps, you may proceed to pour the concrete.

How to pour a concrete floor

Depending on the area you want to cover, this can be the most tedious stage of installing a concrete floor and therefore isn’t a one-person job. For instance, if you’re pouring the concrete inside a building’s foundation, you can find the process more challenging than pouring concrete in an already existing structure. You may choose to leave this step to an expert, but you can also do the job if you have the necessary equipment and an adequate workforce. However, consider renting the essential tools to help save on cost. Here are the vital tools you will need to make the procedure a success:

  • A concrete mixer
  • Pump truck
  • A stable wheelbarrow
  • Shovel
  • Rake
  • Hand floats
  • Screed board
  • Bull float
  • Safety equipment

Once these are in place, follow these steps to pour the concrete:

Mix the concrete

Although concrete usually comes as ready-mixed when you purchase, you can still mix the concrete yourself. However, you will want to buy ready-mixed concrete to save time and effort when pouring it over a large area. Also, be sure to notify the supplier about the size of the site you’re dealing with, which includes its length, width, and thickness. More importantly, it’s advisable to have surplus concrete to avoid running short due to factors such as spillages.

Otherwise, if you are handling a small project, you can mix the concrete yourself. Again, depending on your budget and the project’s size, you can mix it manually or use a concrete mixer. Mixing entails putting together cement, sand, and gravel in the ratio 1:2:4. Follow up by adding some water until you achieve a paste-like consistency. The water should be as little as possible to avoid weakening the concrete mixture.

Pour the concrete

You will need a pump truck and a steady wheelbarrow for convenience at this stage. However, you can use a regular truck if you’re on a tight budget, as it will be just as effective. Avoid filling the wheelbarrow to the brim so that you can easily lift and push it while pouring concrete. Also, inverting the last chute on the pump truck enhances preciseness while pouring the concrete in the wheelbarrow, and in this way, you will have minimal spillage.

While pouring the concrete, consider starting with the edges at a corner while moving towards an access point. While at it, try as much as possible not to splash the concrete on the walls to avoid the hassle of scrapping them off later. In addition, pour the concrete on one section at a time to make the process systematic. Subsequently, level each section using a rake by pushing the concrete all over the section and dragging back the excess. You can then smoothen the concrete at the edges using hand floats to achieve the correct grade. Do the same for all sections while ensuring you pour the concrete to reach the floor thickness of your choice.

Screed the concrete

A screed board comes in handy when flattening the concrete to give the floor a professional outlook. The screed boards come in different sizes, and a two-by-four screed board would do the job for an average-sized project. You will screed the concrete gently from the top, moving downwards for this step. Consider starting with the edges and the center so that you can quickly tell how much you should screed the remaining sections. Screeding also involves reducing the high spots and filling up low areas using a rake, then flattening the surface with a screed board one section at a time to make the floor appear even.

Float the area

You will need a bull float for this step. The float enables you to compress the aggregate while elevating the cream. To effectively use the bull float, start by pushing it forward while ensuring the edge of the bull float away from you is tilted upwards. Follow up by pulling it back while ensuring that the edge of the float facing you is tilted upwards. Do so repeatedly while moving towards an access point until the cream rises before smoothening the surface.

Seal the concrete

Apart from adequate ground prepping and installing a good base, sealing the concrete immediately after pouring goes a long way to enhance the concrete’s durability. Getting yourself a quality concrete sealer promotes curing, prevents cracking, and protects your floor from stains. Once the sealing is complete, let the concrete cure for twenty-four to forty-eight hours depending on the prevailing conditions before walking on it.

More importantly, always remember to wear protective gear while pouting the concrete for safety purposes. For instance, use hand gloves rather than your bare hands while handling concrete. A mask, protective clothing, and safety glasses are also essential.

Below is a descriptive video on how best to pour concrete for efficient results;

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does it take to install concrete floors?

The time taken to install concrete floors is dependent on various factors and therefore differs from one project to another. If you install a concrete floor in a pre-existing building or room in your house, the project will last for about a week, depending on the room’s size.

On the other hand, installing concrete floors in a building’s foundation typically takes longer because it involves more steps, such as clearing the ground during preparation. Your decorative treatment of choice is also of paramount importance. Composite decorative treatments can include a mixture of graphics, borders, multiple colors, dyes, and stains. Therefore, such treatments require more work and time during installation, unlike basic decorative treatments.

The prevailing conditions in your area also play a significant role in determining the dry time you require in between coats. Also, revamping an old floor that’s full of cracks and holes will demand a lot of your time while pouring overlay.

  • How thick does a concrete floor need to be?

An ideal concrete slab should be about four to six inches thick. However, the thickness should be proportional to the amount of traffic you expect the floor to withstand. For instance, if you use your basement as a storage space for heavy materials or equipment, you should opt for a thicker slab. Utilitarian spaces such as the garage are bound to experience heavy traffic and support massive equipment, meaning the thicker the concrete slab, the longer your concrete floor will serve you.

  • How long does concrete take to set?

Newly installed concrete is safe to walk on after one or two days, depending on the environmental conditions. However, within this period, desist from dragging heavy equipment in the room. You may store heavy machinery or drive into your garage space after seven days to avoid damaging the floor before it sets. It is advisable to introduce heavy equipment after twenty-eight days following installation to allow the concrete to set and harden adequately.

However, curing is a continuous process for a concrete floor because it becomes even harder with time. More importantly, ensure you do not expose the concrete to excessive moisture, which will cause fast but improper curing and hardening of the base, leaving you with a weak concrete floor.

  • Should I wet concrete while it cures?

Yes, moist-curing your concrete floor is ideal for slowing down its curing process and strengthening it. However, too little or too much moisture will do your floor more harm than good. If you use inadequate or excess moisture, the floor will dry up faster before attaining its potential strength. Moist-curing the concrete using the right amount of moisture for a week or two guarantees you a stronger and more durable floor.

Conclusion

Ultimately, concrete floors have come a long way. Gone are the days concrete floors were only ideal for utilitarian spaces such as the garage or basements. Today, they are suitable for about any space, including the living room, thanks to the floors’ various decorative options.

Proper installation is a crucial factor that enhances your floor’s durability. Installation entails adequate ground preparation, decoration, and sealing the floor for best results. By heeding to the steps and tips above, you can enhance your concrete floor’s durability and get to enjoy its perks.

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