Tips & Tricks

Designing for Polished Concrete

Polished concrete floors look great.

They’re a hard-wearing, durable and attractive floor finish that can add value to your home.

But not every concrete floor is suitable for polishing because cracks in polished concrete floors are hard to hide.

If you’re building or extending your home and you’d like to use polished concrete, then this is something your engineer needs to know during the design process so that the appropriate precautions can be built into the structural engineering drawings.

What is Polished Concrete?

Polished concrete is any of several decorative concrete surface finishes that leave the concrete surface exposed. Polished concrete used to be grey concrete that was coated with a wax product and then polished. These days, polished concrete includes burnished (glossy steel trowelled)finishes, honed (finely ground and polished ) finishes exposing coloured aggregates, chemical stains or dry-shake pigments.

How long does polished concrete last?

Polished concrete surfaces are easy to maintain and with regular cleaning should last a lifetime.

Regular cleaning of polished concrete floors ensures that the floor does not become slippery caused by surface contamination.

A surface warranty of between 10 and 20 years is not uncommon for residential polished concrete floors.

Five tips for Engineering Polished Concrete Floors

A good polished concrete slab finish starts with good engineering design. Here are our five tips for a great polished concrete slab.

1. Use a higher grade concrete

A higher grade of concrete strength is a great way to improve the finish of a polished concrete slab. A higher strength concrete has better curing characteristics, cracks less but is harder for the concreter to work and place.

If you normally use N20 for your slabs, consider using N32 or even N40 concrete for your polished concrete slabs. The difference in price is minor compared to the improved concrete characteristics.

2. Use a higher grade of mesh

Concrete cracks. You know that. A heavier slab reinforcing mesh in will help keep those cracks evenly distributed and will keep the cracks so fine that you can barely see them.

If you normally use SL72 mesh in your concrete slabs, use two layers of SL82 or better still SL81 mesh.

3. Concentrate on Curing

Concrete curing is THE most important aspect of a good polished concrete surface.

As the poured concrete dries out it shrinks. If the concrete shrinks before the concrete has gained strength it cracks.

Curing allows the concrete to dry out slowly enough that the cracks distribute evenly through the concrete as micro cracks.

I recommend curing your polished concrete slabs by covering it with plastic for seven days. Only lift the plastic in this time to moisten the surface more before replacing the plastic again.

4. Keep the Cover Consistent

The depth of the slab reinforcement in the slab is commonly known as reinforcement cover.

For a great polished concrete result, the reinforcement has to be not too deep and not too shallow.

The reinforcement has to be well supported on bar chairs and positioned according to the design engineer’s specification which will take into account the environment and the particular finish you are looking for.

For instance, bar chairs at 800 x 800 centres that support the mesh reinforcement about 35mm from the top of the concrete slab would be appropriate for most polished concrete slabs.

5. Vibrate Vertically

Compaction of concrete during placement is a must and polished concrete needs very careful vibration.

Insert the poker vibrator vertically and at a regular spacing to ensure the concrete is evenly consolidated and free from entrapped air.

Laying a vibrator down in a slab during concrete placement could cause uneven distribution of in the stones in a honed concrete surface so careful and consistent vertical vibration is a must.

Find Out More About Polished Concrete

Find out more about polished concrete floors with CCAA.

Check out this handy guide by BGC Concrete.