Polished Concrete Floors: Your Complete Guide

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
8th July 2023

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.

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.

But how can you achieve a polished concrete floor in your home and what are the key considerations for a smooth installation? We take a look.

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. According to Checkatrade.com, a polished concrete floor will cost you around £120 to £150 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 square metre.

Read More: Build It’s Complete Guide to Flooring for your Home

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 that self build staple, underfloor heating (UFH). This is because it is a good conductor and will retain the heat produced without any cold spots.

It even stores warmth acquired from solar gain (through windows etc) 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.

Considering wood floors for your new home? Read more: Wood Flooring: Your Complete Guide to Choosing & Installing Timber Floors

Where Can Polished Concrete Be Used?

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

Depending on its condition, it may be possible to polish existing concrete. This is common in basement conversions or when transforming warehouses and industrial structures.

It’s generally easiest to install polished concrete flooring in a new build project. This is because you can more easily plan for an arrangement that supports the weight of the material.

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.

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

Open plan kitchen dining

This couple wanted a concrete floor, but quickly realised that it was not within their budget. Instead, they opted for a poured resin concrete-like floor that was slightly more affordable

How Do I Install Polished Concrete Floors?

Concrete 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.

Renovation and extension of a Victorian home

“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 appearance.

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.

What to 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 floors. Laying a reinforcing mesh before the concrete pour will help minimise this.

In addition, control joints are usually cut into the concrete surface at predetermined locations. 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. The joints should be added with a neat saw within 24 hours of installing the concrete.

This article was originally published in February 2020 but has been updated in July 2023

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