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Polished Concrete Floors In the Two Flat Den!

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.

Polished and epoxy coated flooring in a remodeled basement apartment. via Yellow Brick Home

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.

Basement flooring showing where old concrete meets up with new concrete. via Yellow Brick Home
New concrete slab (left) meets old concrete slab (right).

The Process

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!

A machine polishing concrete flooring in a remodeled basement apartment | via Yellow Brick Home
A machine polishing concrete flooring in a remodeled basement apartment | via Yellow Brick Home

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!

Unpolished concrete floors with imperfections | via Yellow Brick Home
Small cracks were filled in with a mixture of sand and epoxy before sealer was applied.

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!

Black boots on unpolished concrete floors with imperfections | via Yellow Brick Home

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.

Polished concrete flooring in a remodeled basement apartment.

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:

Polished concrete flooring in a remodeled basement apartment. via Yellow Brick Home

After Filling + Epoxy:

Polished and epoxy coated flooring in a remodeled basement apartment. via Yellow Brick Home

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!

Polished and epoxy coated flooring in a remodeled basement apartment. via Yellow Brick Home
Looking into the den hallway
Polished and epoxy coated flooring in a remodeled basement apartment. via Yellow Brick Home
One of the den’s bedrooms

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.

Polished and epoxy coated flooring in a the bathroom of a remodeled basement apartment. via Yellow Brick Home

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!

Polished and epoxy coated flooring in a remodeled basement apartment. via Yellow Brick Home
Polished and epoxy coated flooring in a remodeled basement apartment. via Yellow Brick Home

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.

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  • Guylaine2.27.20 - 6:45 AM

    I think it’s great and coming from a homeowner who has been flooded twice! this is a great long term solution.   Can’t wait to see it with beautiful rugs…ReplyCancel

  • Laura2.27.20 - 9:16 AM

    Love this!! This has been my dream flooring for my basement for ages, but I’ve had some trouble finding someone to do it (some people only do it in commercial spaces, I guess??), so I’ve been waffling between concrete and a cheaper solution such as VCT tile. What search terms do you recommend using, and what would you look for in someone to take on this kind of job?ReplyCancel

    • Kim2.27.20 - 9:26 AM

      WE FEEL YOU. We initially considered this for our garden unit renovation but ran into the same problem – everyone was commercial or said our job was ‘too small’! I’m not sure how much I can help, since we found our guy through our architect. We were at a loss on Yelp and word of mouth. Is there a Facebook group or community of local home livers you bc tap into?ReplyCancel

  • Amanda2.27.20 - 9:44 AM

    LOVE! Very reminisent of the terazzo floors in our 1962 Florida home. Thank you for including the pricing, it is always interesting to read! We have been considering having our floors refinished, but have heard it is cost prohibitive. 
    I actually quite like the stark contrast in the bathroom with the new and old concrete. It almost has a…river like vibe? ReplyCancel

    • Kim2.27.20 - 9:45 AM

      Yes, totally! There’s a fluid motion between the concrete and the leveling compound. We are learning to embrace it!ReplyCancel

      • Claire2.27.20 - 11:44 AM

        It looks great and adds interest. I feel like it tells a story.ReplyCancel

    • Henry’s Perfection2.27.20 - 2:21 PM

      Hi, What part of Florida do you reside in? We specialize in Epoxy floors. Please email me if your interested. 
      Henrys .perfection@gmail.comReplyCancel

  • Michelle2.27.20 - 10:37 AM

    Looks great! Is this the entire downstairs or just the den? ReplyCancel

    • Kim2.27.20 - 10:48 AM

      the whole downstairs! Both bedrooms, bathroom, laundry… everything!ReplyCancel

  • Amy2.27.20 - 10:46 AM

    I’m actually so anxious to see this with rugs and furnished as this was an option we have long been considering for our basement … but I’m terrible at picturing it finished, haha.  So far, I do like what I see with yours! :) ReplyCancel

    • Kim2.27.20 - 10:48 AM

      I am dying for the moment I can unroll the first rug!ReplyCancel

  • Sherry2.27.20 - 11:29 AM

    Love it, doing it myself, was the epoxy applied clear? ReplyCancel

  • Cam2.27.20 - 2:24 PM

    Looks awesome Kim! Do you have in floor heating? If not any concerns about how cold it might feel in the winter?ReplyCancel

    • Kim2.27.20 - 2:44 PM

      We considered it, but ultimately decided against it. Because this will be a rental, we had to draw the line somewhere! We’ll have lots of rugs down here to keep things cozy, and on the opposite side of the spectrum, it should stay cooler in the summer.😎ReplyCancel

  • AmandaKB2.27.20 - 3:16 PM

    I really like this!  I think it makes a lot of sense for the bottom floor, plus, yay for saving money over the cost of tile!  I can’t wait to see it with the rugs.  You both must be so excited with the progress of the Two Flat.  It’s really moving along.  As a reader, it’s fun to follow :)ReplyCancel

  • Logan Weaver2.27.20 - 6:43 PM

    Nothing about this project is polished concrete. Sealed concrete isn’t polishing concrete. ReplyCancel

    • Kim2.27.20 - 10:04 PM

      Perhaps we should have said: polished, sealed and then epoxied.ReplyCancel

  • Erin2.27.20 - 8:37 PM

    The self levelling concrete portion looks like gentle waves lapping the shore. So beautiful, especially in a bathroom 👏ReplyCancel

  • Webster Ryan2.27.20 - 8:49 PM

    Epoxy coating concrete is not at all the same as polished concrete, which is a very durable and significantly, scratch resistant, surface created by a multi-step mechanical process using progressively finer diamond tools.
    Unfortunately, an epoxy coating that does not also have a urethane topcoat will scratch quite easily and not wear well. You might have saved money initially but your satisfaction will almost certainly prove to be short lived. ReplyCancel

  • Kimberly2.27.20 - 8:52 PM

    That’s beautiful.  I know all about polishing concrete as my husband and I have been doing epoxy floors for 10 plus years. The contractor did an awesome job. ReplyCancel

  • Miruska2.28.20 - 9:03 AM

    Looks great. It’s durable, especially for the rental, flood resistant and looks very interesting. Great cost, not to mentioned that it looks like it took 2-3 days to finish. Tiling the whole basement would have taken much longer than that.ReplyCancel

  • Hannah Gokie2.28.20 - 11:23 AM

    Gah! It looks sooooo good. Husband and I have been considering doing this to our laundry room as right now it’s crumbling (probably asbestos) linoleum tiles, and I was wondering how much of an investment we were looking at. Thanks for the post and the motivation to research it more!ReplyCancel

  • IslandQueen2.28.20 - 12:54 PM

    Definitely affordable with a fantastic result but…why on earth wouldn’t you have installed radiant heat in a Chicago basement apartment where winters are long & dreadful?! It will be great in the summer but miserable the rest of the year for the poor tenants! Brrrr…..ReplyCancel

  • Barbara2.29.20 - 10:21 PM

    Love this look, would like to do this in my laundry area. Will your guys travel to Minneapolis? Love following all your improvements! Your dark bedroom inspired my dark bedroom. Now looking for an Interesting headboard.ReplyCancel

  • D Rollans3.1.20 - 10:44 PM

    Sorry, but I feel the same as Islandqueen…brrrr. I’ve stayed in many a basement rental with different types of floors. In the winter every concrete floor was freezing, even with vintage or non-vintage rugs. I feel sorry for whoever has to pay the heating bill.ReplyCancel

  • I-Lin6.24.20 - 9:18 AM

    This looks awesome! Would you be able to share the contact details of your concrete contractor? We’re thinking of doing the same thing in our basement!ReplyCancel

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