Years ago, concrete was relegated to the garage and basement. Frustrated homeowners would paint over its drab gray surface in an attempt to add warmth to a space. But times have changed. Concrete is no longer a cold industrial material unworthy of a place in the home - it is now an in-demand flooring material. Here’s what you need to know about concrete floors.

The Pros

There’s a reason industrial buildings and factories have concrete floors - the material is incredibly durable. If sealed annually, your concrete floor can last a lifetime. And you’ll never need to worry about water damage or scratches; unlike hardwood, concrete floors can take whatever your family throws at it, from juice boxes to hockey skates.

Many environmentalists install concrete floors in their own homes for the passive heating effect. Concrete holds heat; on a sunny winter day, the concrete floor absorbs heat from the sun. It releases that heat at night when the thermometer drops, reducing a homeowner’s dependence on his furnace. Allergy sufferers should also appreciate concrete, as dust mites cannot live on the smooth surface.

Concrete is a versatile material. In the hands of an expert, concrete can look like stone or tile. It can be colored with dozens of different hues - but make sure you choose a color you love, because concrete is impossible to re-stain. If you ever tire of your concrete floor, you can use it as a sub-floor - just lay your new flooring of choice directly on top of the concrete layer.

The Cons

The Victorians never installed concrete floors in their homes; if you live in a traditional home, concrete floors will look out of place. Since concrete is not a traditional flooring material, some home buyers might see your polished smooth floors as a drawback, not a selling feature. The hard surface can put a strain on backs and feet. It’s also rough on crawling babies’ knees and toddlers’ wobbly legs. Concrete floors can also create echos in living spaces - not ideal when you’re trying to watch television.

Concrete floors are expensive, especially when you factor in installation. It takes skill to pour a level concrete floor, and it’s a job best left to professionals. Concrete can also get quite cold, especially on winter mornings. If you don’t want to freeze your feet off first thing in the morning, you’ll need to install in-floor heating, an additional expense.

Lastly, concrete has a huge carbon footprint. The components of concrete are mined from the earth, a process that releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. If you are concerned about the environmental impact of your floor, have your contractor look into recycled concrete.

Where to Install

Concrete looks best in modern spaces. Nothing imparts a city loft feel like a slate-gray concrete floor. If you live in a condo or a contemporary-style house, you can install concrete in every room. If, however, you live in a classic Victorian or Georgian, consider installing a more traditional floor.

Concrete works in most rooms in a house - bedrooms, living rooms, and dining rooms. Mold can’t live on concrete, making it the flooring of choice for bathrooms. You might want to install a different floor - cork, for instance - in your kitchen, since concrete can be hard to stand on. To cut back on echos in your living space, lay area rugs on top of your concrete floors.

How to Install

There is only one way to install a concrete floor - call a professional. Pouring concrete floors is not a job for amateurs. Call several concrete installers for quotes, and ask them for references. The installer you choose should have experience installing residential concrete floors.

Concrete floors are durable, versatile, and - thanks to modern design - more fashionable now than ever before. Concrete is expensive, and the finished surface will never be as soft and comfortable as carpet. Still, many homeowners are warming up to the cool sleek surface. Concrete makes a design statement, no matter where it is installed - let it make an impact in your own home.