Concrete flooring is one of the most environmentally friendly building materials available today. Made from readily abundant natural materials, it can help to improve air quality, reduce waste, and even cut down on your heating bills. Best of all, a concrete floor is often already installed in your home, just beneath existing floor coverings, waiting to be revealed and treated.
The Two Types of Concrete Flooring
- New Slab: Concrete is primarily made from cement mixed with aggregates and water. The main ingredient in cement is Limestone, which is one of the most abundant materials on Earth. Most of the other ingredients such as fly ash, slag, and silica, can be obtained as waste from various manufacturing processes. Because of this, the material impact of concrete on the overall environment is minimal. However, the production of concrete does require thorough mixing of very heavy materials. This means that large machines have to work for several hours on each batch, spewing CO2 emissions into the air with each passing moment. At the same time, many manufacturers will add chemicals to the mix to help the cement dry faster. In some cases, these can release harmful emissions into the air after installation.
- Foundation Slab: Almost all building are designed by digging down into the ground soil, and then pouring a solid concrete slab that acts as the foundation of the entire structure. Generally, floor coverings are then installed over top of this. However, once those floor coverings wear down, they can be removed to reveal that same solid concrete surface that was the original base of your home. The advantage of using this surface as the floor is that no extra resources or energy need to be spent in order to produce material. The only cost will be any design or prep work that you have done to prepare the surface for walking. The exception to this will be when you need to install either a vapor barrier sheet or a radiant heating system. In those cases, it will be necessary to pour a micro-topping layer over the surface of the floor.
Concrete’s Conservation Properties
- Durability: Concrete is such a strong and durable material that if properly cared for it can last a lifetime, and will outlive any other floor surface material that you may consider installing. That means that a concrete floor almost never has to be replaced, saving the waste of materials, resources, and energy that would be put into manufacturing new flooring covers.
- Low Maintenance: Once sealed concrete generally will not stain or discolor. That means that you will not have to use a variety of soaps or harsh chemical cleaners in order to maintain it’s appearance. That keeps the waste from those chemicals out of the environment.
- Recyclable: When a concrete floor is demolished, the resultant pieces do not necessarily have to go to a landfill. Rather there is a process of grinding and breaking down those materials, which allows them to be used in a variety of commercial grade ground installations. Smaller pieces can be reused in residential construction products or as the sub-base for gravel roads. Larger pieces can be used to help combat the erosion of shores.
You are also able to incorporate a variety of recycled materials into concrete. When it is setting, pieces of decorative glass, shell, beads, or other small recycled knick-knacks can be embedded in the surface, to create a floor that has a distinctly quirky personality.
- Heating and Cooling: Concrete is a great conductor of heat, so it gets hot, and cold, very fast when exposed to different levels of thermal energy. Because of this, concrete is generally cold to the touch of skin, because the heat flees from it so rapidly. This can be a great benefit in the summer, by making your home naturally feel cooler.
At the same time, you can use the conductive properties of a concrete floor in order to support a passive solar heating strategy. If you have control over the design of the house, windows can be placed in strategic positions, that will allow sunlight to stream down to the floor. This will heat the concrete, making it warm and cozy all winter long. Then all you have to do is draw the blinds once more to return to that icy chill in the heat of summer. Another temperature control option that you have is to install a radiant heating system in the concrete floor. This will cause waves of warmth to spread throughout the material, warming your toes, and then rising naturally into the air to heat the room. In most cases, radiant heating is both more energy efficient, and better for the air quality of a room, than ventilation based systems.
Concrete Floors and Air Quality
Unlike carpet and many other staticky materials, concrete does not naturally retain dust, debris, or small dirt particles. While they can accumulate on the surface, the surface is so hard and solid that all they can do is float atop it, just waiting for you to swipe them up. Because of this, you don’t have to worry about harmful dust blowing into the air every time you take a step.
On the other hand, some of the chemical treatments that are used to color concrete floors can occasionally release harmful vapors. Acid staining is one procedure that requires the use of fairly volatile chemical elements, and it should only be undertaken by professionals in a well-ventilated area, with quality breathing masks.