If you’re looking to update and refresh the look of your concrete floors, decorative overlays are a low-cost option. Rather than removal or replacement, overlays allow you to easily and effectively hide surface imperfections like stains and cracks.
What is a concrete overlay?
Overlays are a type of resurfacing finish that you apply over existing concrete surfaces. They can revitalize the look of your concrete floor while also mimicking other types of stone, brick, wood, and slate.
An “overlay” creates a layer over the concrete. This coating can update the look of floors while keeping the sub-floor intact and strong. Think of it like re-souling your favorite pair of shoes as opposed to buying a new (expensive) pair.
If you’re pouring fresh concrete, you should instead consider a stamped concrete process.
When can you use a concrete overlay?
You can use a decorative concrete overlay on any type of concrete surface, as long as the concrete is sound and solid. The sub-base of the concrete can’t be cracked, spalling (broken off), or on unstable soil.
You also want to ensure that the concrete doesn’t have a high level of moisture, as this can seep into the overlay to cause cracking and breakage.
However, you can use a concrete overlay over minor concrete imperfections like stains or cracks. Overlays are a great way to hide these imperfections for a fresh, revitalized look.
Overlays are also a great option to turn sub-floor concrete into the main flooring. For example, you have removed tile from the concrete base. You can then apply an overlay to update the look of concrete to use for the space.
What types of overlays can I choose from?
Most overlays today are made from a blend of polymer resins. These are a blend of cement, sand, and other additives to create a more durable and attractive overlay. This blend also adheres well to the existing concrete without ruining the natural beauty of the stone.
Polymer-modified overlays are also highly versatile. They can be as thin as a credit card or up to several inches thick. They also come in a variety of colors, patterns, and textures. Polymer overlays are usually highly resistant to wear-and-tear, salt, chemicals, UV exposure, temperature changes, abrasion, and more.
There is a wide array of decorative finishes and touches with overlays. You want to choose the overlay based on texture, appearance, gloss, durability, and cost.
There are four main types of decorative overlays: stampable overlays, microtoppings, self-leveling overlays, and multipurpose overlays.
Stampable overlays are the most common option, because they can give your concrete the look of other types of stone, wood, tile, or brick. They are similar to conventional stamped concrete. They’re applied in thickness ranging from ¼ to ¾ inch, so they are thin but durable.
These are usually cement-based, so they take staining and coloring well. These can be stamped or sprayed on, depending on the desired texture and appearance. They come in a variety of color options and pigments with powders, stains, dyes, and sealers.
Basically, you will apply a thin layer of polymer resin over the concrete and “stamp” or imprint it with the texture that you want. This revitalizes the look of the floor without hiding or damaging the sub-base.
Stampable overlays generally come in two forms. Texturing skins are thinner and lighter, producing a seamless, no-grout texture. Overlay mats produce a deeper pattern with well-defined lines and texture. A texturing skin will create a subtle look while mats can mimic the look of other types of natural flooring.
Stamped overlays are the easiest overlay to apply and can highly versatile depending on the look you want for your floor.
Microtops are often used to revitalize old or worn concrete. These overlays usually come in white or gray, and they are usually a thin application up to 1/8 inch. These are applied thin, which allows them to flex and create unique accenting styles. They’re great for a marbleized appearance on your floors.
They can be coarse to fine grade, but coarse-grade is more common to fill in damaged spots on the concrete. This creates a “blank canvas” that helps get rid of cracks and dents in the concrete floor. The fine grade microtop can then smooth out the surface. This preps the floor for staining, designs, and more. You can use a microtop to create a level floor and a stampable to design the concrete.
Self-leveling overlays are slightly thicker, up to 1 inch, and they’re used to structurally restore worn or damaged concrete. These overlays flatten out on their own to create a smooth, level surface. They are often used as an underlayment for other flooring products like stains and seals. These can be highly temperamental and need to be followed to the letter of the data sheet.
Think of multipurpose overlays as the creative outlet of concrete. These overlays are made up primarily of sand, making them highly moldable to your needs. You can texture and design these as you please using a trowel, hopper gun, or even a broom. If you have an artist on your flooring team, they’ll enjoy using multipurpose overlays to create a unique look to the floor. However, this is only recommended for professionals who understand the intricacies of working with concrete.
How do you install an overlay system?
The general process for installing an overlay system is as follows:
- Clean and prepare the concrete surface.
- Prime and repair concrete cracks.
- Repair holes with an epoxy filler if need be.
- Reinforce with fabric or underlayment.
- Patch over with the polymer resin concrete overlay.
- Smooth the area with the surrounding concrete surface.
- Spray the polymer concrete on the surface using a hopper gun.
- Trowel over the texture coat to finish.
- Add color, if changing base color of concrete.
- Stamp the concrete with a stampable mat or skin, if applicable.
- Let sit.
- Stain, if re-staining. (We recommend re-staining after all concrete updates)
However, this is only a brief overview of what the process looks like. Each installation will be unique to your specific concrete type and overlay.
You want to make sure that you follow the installation of your particular overlay to the letter. Manufacturers will give a data sheet with specific instructions for preparation, installation, and curing to ensure that your floors come out appropriately.
The Bottom Line
Concrete overlays are popular for anyone who wants to revitalize the look of their concrete without expensive removal or replacement processes. Overlays can create smooth or textured floors with a variety of patterns, consistencies, and appearances.
It’s important to note that not all concrete works with overlays. You need a solid, secure, clean sub-floor before an overlay will work. This starts with a strong maintenance, cleaning, and repair process for your concrete.
You want a gorgeous concrete flooring with natural beauty, high resistance, and strong durability. A properly installed overlay is the best way to maintain the look and longevity of your floors for years to come.
All Stone Restoration can restore your concrete floor or add in a new, sparkling one. Whether you need help deciding on the finish or decorative style. We have over 47 years of hands-on experience in all phases of stone and concrete restoration. Contact us today to get your free on-site estimate.