Steamboat Pilot

Monday, June 26, 2006

Concrete is a composite building material made from the combination of aggregate and cement binder.

But in the right hands concrete can help set a home apart. It can be stamped, stenciled and etched. It can duplicate any popular surface, or be formed into a unique, one of a kind surface, that will give any home it’s own personality.

“It’s one of the most versatile building materials available,” said James Welch of Ergo Construction. Inc. “It can be stamped to look like sandstone, bricks, and stone. It can be formed to look like just about anything.”

Concrete has long been used for sidewalks, building structures and foundations. But in today’s world of fast-moving trends it has started moving into main rooms as decorative floors, and into the kitchen and bathrooms where it is used for countertops.

Builders who specialize in concrete use three-dimensional patterns that are “stamped” or “pressed” into the surface. Stamping can make the surface look more like slate, cobblestone and tile. It is also common to use multiple patters and colors together with custom handwork, edges and centerpieces.

Another popular method to give any concrete surface a unique texture is stenciling. This is a process that utilizes a paper stencil to create a pattern in freshly placed concrete. The stencils are manufactured of heavy-duty paper, which has been cut into matrix pattern.

Soon after the fresh concrete has been poured in the traditional fashion, the precut paper stencil is laid across the surface and gently worked into the surface of the wet concrete. Once the surface water has evaporated, two coats of the color hardener are applied over the job and worked into the wet concrete with a trowel. Later the stencil is removed to reveal the chosen pattern and a sealer is applied.

Contractors can also add color to the concrete mix to complement the stamping and stenciling. Welch said the great thing about colored concrete is that the color goes clear through the finishes product. If a piece is chipped or the top surface wears off it does not impact the overall color o the finished product.

Acid stain can also be used to give new and old concrete a beautiful appearance.

It is not a paint or coating agent, but is a coloring process involving a chemical reaction within the cement. A solution made with water, acid and inorganic salts reacts with minerals already present in the concrete, resulting in a unique color appearance. The floor’s appearance is not controlled and can vary greatly depending on the chemical solution used and the concrete mixtures unique properties. It works well on new and old concrete surfaces, as well as polymer overlays.

But appearance isn’t the only reason people in Steamboat are turning to concrete. The efficiency of radiant heat, where hot water (or a type of antifreeze) is run through plastic tubing installed inside concrete, has also drawn many people to concrete.

Since concrete holds temperatures, both hot and cold, it can heat an entire room, or heat a driveway or walkway outside.

KJ Otterman, of Classic Homes, said the concrete trend in Steamboat Springs has been a little slow to develop, but that there is a demand for the product. His company does a lot of outdoor walks and drives, as well as countertops.

He recently built a concrete home in Silver Spur made entirely of concrete.

“It looks just like the other homes in the neighborhood,” Otterman said. “Part of it is stucco and part of it is sided, but just looking at it you would never know that it’s made out of concrete.”

Otterman said the home is more efficient (it’s easier to heat in the winter, and cool in the summer) and durable than homes made out of more traditional materials, but it is also more expensive.

But concrete’s practical side might outweigh its price tag. The material is very durable, and can withstand most of the challenged Mother Nature and mankind can throw at it.

However, contractors warn that concrete is not indestructible. It can crack when the ground underneath it shifts, and the salt and magnesium chloride we use on the road reacts with the surface and can deteriorate it. The material needs to be sealed and should not be exposed to salt or the chemical agents found in salt.