Polished Concrete Floors: Your Complete Guide to Design, Installation & Costs

Polished concrete floors are an attractive option for self builders and renovators looking to add a sleek, contemporary feel to their home. But what do you need to know about specifying this type of flooring? We take a look at the key considerations 
Ifeoluwa Adedeji
by Ifeoluwa Adedeji
6th April 2024

Polished concrete floors are a versatile flooring option that can add a sleek, contemporary feel to any renovation or self build project. Their smooth, seamless look and texture will add an industrial style to a home, enhancing both modern interiors and traditional, period schemes.

Polished concrete floors were originally found in factories for their low-maintenance and durable qualities, but have become a popular solution for those looking to create a wow-factor interior. This is because they offer a flat appearance with no grout lines, which helps to maximise the feeling of space.

Polished concrete is made through combining concrete (which consists of cement, sand, water and gravel) with a chemical that increases its density. This ensures that when the concrete is poured and sanded down, it’ll eventually reveal a striking sheen that is the look we know and love as polished concrete floors.

But how can you achieve a polished concrete floor in your home and what are the key considerations for a smooth installation? From where a polished concrete floor works best to the expected costs and alternative options, this is your complete guide.

What Are the Benefits of Polished Concrete Floors?

Polished concrete floors make a durable, cost-effective and safe flooring option for your home. Some see polished concrete floors and are alarmed by their slippery-looking surface. However the majority of floors are finished to ensure a non-slip texture that’s still comfortable on bare feet.

Polished concrete floors can also create a similar look to luxury materials such as granite and marble, while potentially saving you money on the hefty price tag.  Polished concrete floors will cost you around £130 to £160 per m². This puts it in the same bracket as high-end stone tile floorings. But you won’t have to worry about the cost of screeding the floor first. If you already have a concrete floor, this can be sanded down to create a polished concrete floor for around £50 per m².

Polished Concrete Floors: Your Complete Guide to Design, Installation & Costs

Clay Retreat by PAD Studio features polished concrete floors stretching throughout the whole open-plan downstairs. The natural, dappled look was key to the design of the home, harmonising with the exposed plaster and timber clad walls. Photo: Jim Stephenson

The material also works well with underfloor heating (UFH). This is because polished concrete floors are a good conductor and have a high thermal mass, so will retain the heat evenly produced without any cold spots.

It even stores warmth acquired from solar gain (heat from the sun that comes into your home through windows and glazed doors) and recycles it as internal temperatures cool – helping to maintain an even climate. You can also choose from a range of colours and textures to complement your interior scheme. Most will opt for the neutral grey shade as this has an understated, contemporary feel that won’t overwhelm other features in your home.

More Advice: Interior Fit-Outs for House Extensions: How to Choose Internal Finishes

Where Do Polished Concrete Floors Work Best?

Polished concrete floors are ideal for creating a seamless link between inside and out, especially when connecting a kitchen-diner with the garden through glazed sliding doors or bifold foors. The light-reflective and robust material holds up well in high traffic areas, which is why you’ll find it on many shop floors, too.

Depending on its condition, it may be possible to polish an existing concrete floor, if it’s in good enough condition. This is common in basement conversions or when transforming warehouses and industrial structures into residential properties.

Polished Concrete Floors: Your Complete Guide to Design, Installation & Costs

Oliver Leech Architects have transformed this Victorian house, set within a conservation area in Herne Hill. As part of the home’s extension and interior redesign, the architects specified polished concrete flooring from Steyson Concrete Flooring, which is carried from the kitchen-diner out to the patio for a seamless look that connects the indoor and outdoor spaces. Photo: Jim Stephenson

It’s generally easiest to install polished concrete flooring in a new build project or brand-new extension. This is because you can easily plan for an arrangement that supports the weight of the concrete and ensure you’re getting a level pour.

However, a retrofitting scenario is also possible. When applying concrete retrospectively you will need to consider whether the floor structure can take the extra weight (around 200kg per m²). You should also allow for the fact that the ceiling height within an existing property will be reduced by a least 100mm.

How Do I Install Polished Concrete Floors?

Polished concrete floors look great, how how are they made? It starts with concrete, which is made by combining cement, gravel, sand and water. The mixture is then usually poured onto a steel and fibre-reinforced mesh, which minimises the risk of cracking.

If you’re fitting underfloor heating, the concrete should be installed on top of the pipes. Either way, it will then be levelled and compacted using internal or external vibration. This will remove any air pockets and surface voids, which could otherwise reduce the strength and durability of the material.

Depending on your desired finish, a plain or coloured hardener (known as a dry shaker) is added to the concrete’s surface. This is smoothed using a power float machine featuring a large, round flat disc for rough grinding the concrete. The job can be repeated between four to eight times to achieve the desired effect until you have perfect polished concrete floors.

Read More: Choosing Heating Systems: Radiators or Underfloor Heating?

CASE STUDY Modern Renovation & Extension of a Victorian Home

In order to achieve the contemporary look they were after, Stephen and Laura specified polished concrete flooring – and they’re delighted with the result. “We could have gone for a slightly cheaper covering, but we didn’t want to compromise on materials in this area of the house,” says Stephen.

Polished Concrete Floors: Your Complete Guide to Design, Installation & Costs

“It’s not so much the concrete we love, but the absence of joints. You just wouldn’t get the same look with tiles, so I’m pleased with our decision.” As well as the striking aesthetic this seamless surface creates, the flooring is an excellent partner for the underfloor heating that has been laid throughout the house. It’s highly-efficient in terms of its thermal mass.

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Treatment should start when the concrete is hard enough to hold the weight of the machine and operator. However, it should not be so dry that the power floater cannot trim the high spots or fill the lows effectively.

Most polished concrete floors are cast in one section, temporarily covered and left to cure. This process will be much faster in the warmer months. After a month the concrete is uncovered, cleaned, mopped and burnished to remove any inconsistencies or footprints. At this point some companies will simply apply a matt, satin or gloss sealant to achieve the desired polished concrete floor appearance.

Polished Concrete Floors: Your Complete Guide to Design, Installation & Costs

Paul Archer Design devised an impressive multi-storey addition and complete refurbishment of this family home in Hackney. The house has been extended at the side and rear with three distinctive, cubic volumes. On the lower ground floor, the spacious kitchen has been completely opened up to the sunken garden with slimline sliding doors and a polished concrete floor that fuses seamlessly with the large patio tiles beyond. Photo: Jonathan Gooch

Technically true polished concrete floors are created and finished using a diamond grinding machine that evens out the surface. The floor is then treated with a chemical densifier to reveal a blemish-free shine. It is not considered polished concrete until a level of 400 grits is reached to achieve a glossy finish.

More Inspiration: Open Plan Living Ideas & Advice for Kitchen, Living & Dining Rooms

What Should I Consider When Installing a Polished Concrete Floor?

At least 28 days must pass before freshly poured concrete can be polished. However, works such as kitchen installations can continue. It will be 6-12 months before the concrete reaches full strength, but the floor will be usable much sooner.

Sudden temperature change is the biggest reason for cracks in polished concrete floors. Laying a reinforcing mesh before the concrete pour will help minimise this.

Polished Concrete Floors: Your Complete Guide to Design, Installation & Costs

Nestled into Highgate Woods, Fraher & Findlay Architects modified this large Edwardian terraced house with a pair of striking, peaked external additions – housing space for cooking, reading, relaxing and more. A strong palette of materials has been specified internally, with bespoke timber joinery, white plaster walls, polished concrete floors and heritage-style glazing. Photo: Chris Wharton

In addition, control joints are usually cut into the concrete surface at predetermined locations, which appear as thin straight lines or grooves. This creates a deliberate weak spot so the polished concrete will shrink (crack) in a neat straight line to look like tiles and avoid breaks elsewhere down the line. The joints should be added with a neat saw within 24 hours of installing the concrete.

Can I Achieve the Look of Polished Concrete Floors with Other Materials?

If you’re working with a budget that just won’t stretch to accommodate polished concrete floors or have found that for the floorspace, it won’t be a cost-effective option, you can replicate the look fairly easily with other materials. For example, large-format tiles, vinyl flooring or similar materials such as micro cement will offer a similar appearance.

Hardwearing and fuss-free, tiles add instant appeal and are great in bathrooms or kitchens, as they cope well in direct contact with water. Porcelain and non-slip ceramic tiles are dense and non-porous, so work well in high-traffic areas, too. Tile prices will vary as there’s so many sizes and shapes to choose from but you can expect to pay from £18 per m² up to £100+ for larger, high-end tiles.

Polished Concrete Floors: Your Complete Guide to Design, Installation & Costs

Build It readers Harry and Sara Montatt, chose microcement for the flooring in their extension, and as an alternative to plaster in the upper two bathrooms for a pared back, contemporary feel. Creating an effect similar to polished concrete, microcement offers a seamless, waterproof finish that does away with the need for grout.

Luxury vinyl tiles (LVT), lino and cushioned vinyl are all extremely easy to clean and maintain, plus the covering is warm and comfortable underfoot, and less slippery than ceramics. This type of surface offers fantastic versatility when it comes to appearance, whether that means mimicking the intricate textures of other covering options or offering a vibrant pop of colour. Luxury vinyl tiles are most commonly designed to give the appearance of stone or wood flooring but are available in a whole host of colourful patterns to suit any interior scheme.

Luxury vinyl tiles can be affordable but be aware that the price will vary dramatically depending on the style, thickness and intricacy of the pattern or design. Costs range from approximately £20 to £70 per m². You can expect lino and cushioned vinyl to come in much cheaper.

This article was originally published in February 2020 and has been updated in April 2024

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