In today’s growing hardscape designs, we find so many alternatives to applying standard grey concrete to landscapes and interior finishes.

We continue to see a growth in decorative concrete both inside and out. With this in mind, we look for different ways to change the look of this grey finish to enhance and beautify the finished product.

There are several options available to disguise the fact that you have a concrete finish based on the type of installation, and the look that you are trying to obtain.

The option you choose will depend on the use of the finished installation from warehouse floor to decorative walls.

I will try to explain how the different types of Concrete beautification process’ and when they should be used. Your choices are Concrete Colour Hardeners, Concrete Integrated or Integral Colours, Dyes and Stains, and Epoxies.

Since, we at Concreation Canada Inc. specialize in Colour Hardeners I will start there.

What Is a Colour Hardener

Colour Hardeners are dry shake powders that are applied and blended into the surface of freshly applied concrete to add colour, strength, and abrasion resistance.

It does this through a blend of pozzolans (admixtures), cement, pigments and sand. The sand and cement are just used as a delivery method to apply the pigments and pozzolans to the surface and aid in the blending of these products into the freshly poured concrete installations.

While the pigments, a mixture of synthetic and natural oxides, supply the colour, the pozzolans are used to perform tasks like densifying the surface, making it more resistant to abrasion.

These pozzolans or polymer admixtures react with unreacted Calcium Hydrate in the curing cement to add more Calcium Silicate Hydrates. The Calcium Silicate Hydrates create stronger bonds between the sand and other aggregates in the cement mixture to strengthen and densify the surface while still allowing the cement to breath and cure properly.

Why Use Colour Hardeners

Colour hardeners are used in several different circumstances.

The most used purpose is in the Stamped Concrete Industry. Stamping a concrete surface allows you to change the look and feel of a concrete installation. In today’s industry a skilled stamp concrete installer can achieve the look of Natural Stones, Paving Stones or even Wood Flooring.

Colour Hardeners are also used to finish interior polished floors from Warehouses, Stores or residential basements. Leaving a strong and resilient surface for not only light, but heavy traffic areas as well.

Colour Hardeners can and are also used on sidewalks, driveways and porches where an exterior broom finish will be applied. Again, strengthening and densifying the surface for improved wear resistance as well as beautifying the overall appearance of the concrete installation.

What Can Go Wrong

As with any additive, there are always things that can detract from the finished product.

This Dry Shake material uses the bleed water from green (fresh) concrete to activate the product to allow it to penetrate anywhere from 6 to 12 mm (1/4 to ½ inch) based on the ability of the installer and the product that they have decided to use. Due to this fact, the type of cement mixture used can affect the ability of this product to bond. In colder climates when Cold Weather Concrete is used, there is not enough moisture in the concrete for the Hardener to properly blend into the surface resulting in the creation of a SKIN like toping which could scale, flake, and pop off.

When using Colour Hardeners on Curbing, Walkways, or driveways, there is a potential for damage to the concrete installation. When this happens the GREY cement base will be visible through the damaged area. This brings us to our next topic.

What is Integrated (Integral) Colour

Integrated or Integral Colours are Synthetic or Natural Oxides that are added to the cement prior to the installation. These products are available in either liquid or powder form and are added to the Concrete, Sand, and Stone mixture. These products are used to coat the admixture in colour and disguise the grey cement base.

Why Use Integral Colour

The use of Integral Colour is to tint the entire installation. This is beneficial when pouring walls, support pillars or any other type of installation where forms are in use and you cannot apply colour using Colour Hardeners. It is important to remember that using Integral Colour does not affect the properties of the Concrete Mix. It does not perform any type of Hardening or densifying.

Integral Colour admixtures can only amount to no more than 5% of the total weight of the cement in the concrete mix. This is typically advertised as the Load Percentage.

Using Integral Colour in conjunction with a colour hardener will give you the benefits of both worlds. The integral colour will colour the concrete installation through and through while the Colour Hardener will strengthen and densify the surface. This is ideal for Walkways, Driveways, Curbing, and Heavy Traffic Floors where the potential for surface damage can occur.

What Can Go Wrong

When using Integral Colour you need to be wary of Load Percentage. Any amount over the 5% threshold will diminish the strength of the cured concrete. It is also to know what Load Percentage is required in order to achieve the finished Colour that you choose. A 1% load will leave the concrete colour looking washed out. Generally speaking, a 3% load is the ideal.

At Concreation Canada we have removed the guess work of Load Percentage away. When you order Concreation Canada CCI-200 Integracon we create a Water-Soluble bag of pigments for you that will generate the colour of your choice in 1 cubic meter of concrete.

All integral Colours are susceptible to the addition of water to the concrete mix in order to increase the flow time. Liquid Based Integral Colours are more susceptible to the addition of water to the concrete mix. The water will dilute and wash the pigments off the cement leaving you looking at the standard grey colour of the cement.

You can STAMP or Impress an installation of Integrally Colour Concrete, but you need to remember that you will not get any of the hardening advantages of using a Colour Hardener.

What are Epoxy Coatings

Epoxy Coatings are a thick layer of Epoxy Resin that is applied to the surface of the concrete installation. These resins are designed to create a Strong covering of the surface to guard against abrasion, corrosion and chemical spills. These coatings are generally painted or sprayed on and dry quickly to form a dense surface.

Why use Epoxy Coatings

Epoxy coatings create a strong durable moisture resistant surface for your concrete installation. They can withstand heavy traffic and will seldom fail. Chemical and oil spills are easily removed with this type of topical coating and are generally  applied to concrete floors in warehouse environments allowing for a simple, cost effective, clean appearance that will generally never fail.

Epoxy Coatings have a flexible design element. Colouring can be easily added to tint the coating to meet your needs or design choices. Aggregates can also be added to give shine a sparkle to the finish.

What Can Go Wrong

Epoxy Coatings are only as strong as their foundations. These coatings will not stabilize your concrete structure and if your concrete is compromised after the installation the coating will also chip, crack or peel off.

Be wary of your saw cuts and joints in your concrete surfaces. These joints are designed to relieve pressure on the concrete installation allowing the concrete to contract and expand. If there is a lot of motion at these locations, it will cause the coating to crack or peal.

What Are Concrete Dyes or Stains

Concrete Stains are Acids that use a chemical reaction with the minerals in the concrete to create different colours. There are two different types of chemical stains for concrete, Reactive and Non-Reactive.

Reactive Stains, Better known as Acid Stains. The acids force reactions with the minerals in the concrete to create colours. This process can take up to an hour and once complete the Concrete will need to be brought back to a PH neutral state using some type of neutralizer such as Baking Soda.

Non-Reactive Stains, also known as Water Based Stains or Dye’s, are more like paint that bonds and coats the surface like a paint.

Why Use Concrete Stains

Concrete Stains leave a translucent colour surface to the finish. They are used to decorate a concrete surface after the final set. This gives the ability to customize your concrete installation after the installation to suite the décor elements during finalization. Since Non-Reactive Stains are topical you can change the appearance by stripping the surface and applying a different stain.

What Can Go Wrong

Reactive Concrete Stains create the colours using the admixtures in the concrete. Due to the Batching process the way the stain will react to the concrete will change from pour to pour. Reactive stains will also react differently to the age of the concrete. This makes the final colour outcome very unpredictable.

Non-Reactive Concrete Stains will wear quickly. Epoxy based stains are not recommended for exterior use as the tend to have adverse reactions to the climate and will not last as long.

The Final Thought

Although there are several options to change the look of your concrete installation. The final choice of how to colour your concrete should be based on what you will be doing with it. Each option has merit and will leave a lasting impression on the outcome.

Colouring Concrete is not a simple process and should be left to a skilled professional. Applying the colouring solution requires training and experience, baring this in mind, with proper workmanship it will increase the longevity of your installation. Concrete is meant to last forever.

Being a little biased I feel that using a mix of Integral and Colour Hardeners is the best way to permanently colour your concrete and leave a strong, durable, scratch resistant surface that will stand the test of time.