The polished concrete floors in the Two Flat are done, but it was quite the journey! Today, we’re sharing the ups, downs and investment.
The original plan for Unit 1’s 630 sq-ft of den flooring was to use wood-look tile, similar to what we used in the garden unit of our Chicago home. When we were hit with a few financial surprises (hello, unplanned new roof!), we went on the hunt for flooring options that we’d love just as much, but would offer some savings over the tile. After a meeting at our architect’s office, we found ourselves admiring their beautiful polished concrete floors, and we started investigating the process as a potential option. Our architect gave us the name of the contractor that did the work in the office, and we set an appointment for a walkthrough at the Two Flat! Here’s how the raw flooring looked like before we started.
There were multiple areas throughout our den (which is actually at ground level) that had been repaired or replaced in the past, so we knew that the finish would never be 100% consistent. From our perspective, though, that was part of the appeal! We were shown a few samples and talked through finish options – everything from different stains, sheens and levels of aggregate – but we preferred a look that was more simple and somewhat raw. Originally, we decided on a surface ground down with 120 grit and finished with a sealer as opposed to an epoxy finish. It was a great middle ground that would get the floors to a point of being smooth, but not glassy. The team got to work the next day, and we were shocked at how quickly they worked!
Once things were ground down smooth, we were left with thin cracks along the areas where the old and new concrete met. These were filled with a mixture of sand and epoxy before the sealer was applied. It took just two days to go from sanding to sealing!
The (First) Finish
The next day, we got a call that one coat of sealer had been applied and the flooring was ready to be inspected. When we arrived, the floor looked much like it had the day before. Initially, we were working off of the understanding that the sealer would deepen the tone of the concrete and highlight the color variation, but we were not overwhelmed with the results. I mean, it looked great – but also kind of the same, ha!
On top of the misunderstanding of the sealer and the color tones we should expect, there were some rough spots in the finish in the bathroom. In the photo below, the back half of the bathroom had been finished with self-leveling concrete to repair an area that originally held a drain for the basement’s utility sink. This was all necessary to provide a level surface, but the transition between the different flooring types was rough and jagged. Our contractor was under the impression that we’d be laying tile in the entire bathroom, which isn’t the case (we’d like to keep it concrete), so he agreed to add some additional leveler and touch up with the grinders again.
Not to worry, though! He was absolutely committed to ensuring that we were thrilled with the final result. At this time, we also decided collectively that the right move would be to move forward with an epoxy finish at a small additional cost over the originally planned sealer. This would deepen the tone of the flooring and provide the finish we were looking for. The guys got right back to work and called us the next day when the epoxy was ready to be walked on.
The (Second) Finish
I immediately loved the new finish as it was exactly what I expected, but Kim was still not entirely convinced. The floors had darkened a lot and were very shiny. However, the more she gave the finish time to sink in she came around to loving it as much as I did.
Before Filling + Epoxy:
After Filling + Epoxy:
As we posted to our Stories, we were flooded with messages reminding us that people perceive shiny to equal clean. Especially in a rental unit! This is a good thing! We were also told that over time, some of the initial shine may knock down a bit and that we might find ourselves wishing for that shine to come back. Looking at the before and after above, it’s clear to us that epoxy was definitely the right choice. There’s so much more depth and warmth to the tone of the floors. Imagine how things will look with big vintage rugs all over the place!
Where the concrete meets up to the leveler in the bathroom is quite a contrast, and that actually scared us quite a bit at first. The back half of that room will be a shower, so it will have tile, but you’ll still be able to see some of the leveler in the front half of the room. It’s really tough to say how we’ll handle this odd transition, especially because it all looks rough with the bare drywall and cement board! I feel confident that we’ll come up with a plan though.
How Much Does It Cost?
Now that the floors have been complete for a week, we can confidently say that we are so happy with our decision to go with polished concrete! The basement is 633 square feet and polishing with one coat of sealer was $2.75/sq ft for a total cost of $1,740. We needed around 8 bags of self leveling concrete installed to level out the bathroom, which brought the cost to around $2,300. The the epoxy coating was an additional $1.00 per sq ft, so the grand total of the project came to $2,933 for the entire basement. In our experience, this is around 1/3 the installed cost of high quality porcelain tile, and we’re equally happy with the results!
The end result has a bit of a terrazzo feel to it, and the variation and imperfections that are now sealed under the epoxy is one of our favorite things. The next stop in our Two Flat flooring adventure is the big reveal of the refinished original hardwood, which we’re hoping to share next week!
PS: We loved working with our concrete contractor and are happy to recommend him to anyone in the Chicagoland area – just send us an email.