Repair Chronicles #1: Stained Concrete Floors

February 20, 2008 at 10:03 pm 7 comments

Originally uploaded by thenelsonproject

This is an ongoing series of homeowner insight & advice on repairs, upgrades, & add-ons, sometimes do-it-yourself (DIY), sometimes not, chronicling what went well, what did not go so well and advice for the rest of us. Please feel free to submit your repair chronicle to the … we would love to hear your stories and advice. If you wish to submit, please follow this format: (Oh, and we reserve the right to edit and publish or not publish as we see fit. By submitting to the TNPBlog Repair Chronicles, you agree that we can edit or publish and/or not publish as we see fit.)

Patti P – Shady Hollow / Austin, TX – submitted 02/08

Q1. What was the scope of your project? [fix a leaky faucet, add a 2nd story]
The entire main floor of Casa Przybylinski (other than kitchen & bathroom) was carpeted with allergen hugging Berber loops when we purchased the home in 2004. By 2006, having mustered my way through 3 sinus surgeries, my husband & I knew the Berber had to go.

Q2. What was the general budget (initial)? [do not have to disclose]
After paying over $20,000 out of pocket for medical bills that our insurance carrier chalked up to deductibles, our general budget was merely a piggy bank. Piggy squealed when we peeked at wood, laminate or tile floors. Even getting a contractor to do the staining job was out of our reach: we received average quotes of $4000.

To get the job done, and silence the squealer, we figured that if we researched staining pre-carpeted concrete floors on the web, we could pull up the Berber carpet and stain our dining room, bedroom, hallways, and living room by ourselves for about $500.

Q3. How close did you land on budget? [nailed it, doubled it, refused to add up the receipts, in denial]
We stayed under budget by doing all the work ourselves and returning any unused (unopened) product to respective stores (we hung on to those receipts like a ribbon won at field days). Examples of product that we were able to return; initially we were quoted needing 5 gallons of stain to adequately cover 1000 sqft. Quality (fresh) stain runs $60 a gallon, so right out of the starting gate we plunked down $360 for stain. {I added on one more gallon as I graduated from the school of “More is Better.”} But, by preparing the floors well, and mixing the stain as directed 1 to 1 with water, we were able to return 4 gallons of stain unused and recouped $240.

Q4. $ for $, what was the best money spent?
The money on the stain was the best money spent—it was fresh, and absolutely the right brew of penetrating reactive stain that beautifully combined with our freshly cleaned concrete. We used BAS-14 “Cordovan Leather” from Butterfield Color. It’s available to the public by a great concrete firm (super personable & helpful employees) on St. Elmo across from the City Hazardous Waste Center. How convenient.

Q5. $ for $, what was money not well spent?
A paint sprayer that we purchased at a local hardware store was a clunker—because you can’t use metal when working with acid stain, we searched high and low for a sprayer that did not have a metal wand. We finally found a sprayer with a vinyl hose, hurrah! But when we got it home, a clunk sounded in the box and we instantly realized the uptake section of the hose was metal. Worthless for this project, and the store would not take it back.

We didn’t waste time with haggling—we were on a compressed time schedule—it was Memorial Day weekend, monsoon humid rains were coming and our 2 dogs were raking up the meter at the kennel and surely shaking with each thunder boom while we transformed the floors. Just knowing how uncomfortable Mr. Dooley & Dusty (our family hounds) must have been with storms over furry heads and unfamiliar grounds under furry paws made us work feverishly with our own furry paws to get the job done and get them home.

We went back to several home improvement stores looking for a proper sprayer without success, so we pulled a MacGyver and bought two wooden mop poles (without metal screws) and duct-taped (Garrison Keeler would love us) lambs wool window cleaning thingies to the poles, dipped the contraptions into a commercial rolling bucket and proceeded to stain our floors in great sweeps of color. Hint: you know that you have prepared your floors correctly if the stain turns a shocking fluorescent chartreuse foamy color as soon as connects with the concrete. The stain mellows in a few hours to the chosen color—again, in our case, Cordovan Leather.

Q6. If you had it to do over, what would you do differently?
I would have whispered incantations over the piggy bank (and/or put my hair in a pony, jumped out of a bottle and blinked for extra cash) in order to hire a crew to come in and help with the initial floor preparations.

When pulling up carpet in an 18 year old home that was built in the crazy “build ‘em fast” housing boom in Austin, there was no hint of what we might find underneath in terms of the shape of the concrete.

Thankfully, the concrete was smooth as our piggies flank, but the project was almost doomed from the start due to the plethora of paint, compound, and swiggly glue from the rug in staging areas in each room (including an apparent spilled can of varnish that a contractor walked through…I know his shoe size and have memorized the tread of his boot.)

In order for the stain to permeate the concrete, we had to clean every speck of paint/glue/compound from the flooring. At first inspection, we were ready to throw in the towel. Instead, we got on our hands & knees and many towels for 5 days and tried every cleaner (starting with less toxic) and kept fans circulating and windows opened. Simple Green worked the best. Oh, slide back on one of those towels for a minute—it must be like childbirth, how fast we forget the pain—before cleaning could start, all the tacking strips that held the carpet down into the concrete had to be removed.

My husband & I tried screwdrivers hammered under sections of strip, but that method was way too arduous (though it did create some awesome sparks!) Julie Nelson graciously lent us a floor scrapper on a pole (for leverage) and I admit I took great pleasure in whamming that scrapper under the tacking strips. It pulled up a few satisfying lengths, but still too slow. So we bought a new sharp edged shovel (I had cracked the handle on our previous one), and by using my considerable weight and force, the tack strips finally started flying up—complete with chunks of concrete. I figured we would deal with those concrete holes later—I would not look up until I completed an entire room wall, and then my husband would take a turn. Such focus!

Q7. Advice for the rest of us?
Wear a baseball hat during this project. Not just to protect your hair, but to act somewhat like horse-blinders. Keeping your head down and working on one section of floor at a time (completing that section before moving to another) was our saving grace in completing the job. If we had popped our heads up and fully realized the “miles of work” ahead of us, I think our floors would still be left undone.

Have a clean place to rest each evening during the project. Thankfully, we have a 2 story home and were able to climb the stairs into a warm shower and clean sheets each night.

Make sure that you don’t stain yourself out of the house; e.g. if the cold beverages are in kitchen fridge—make sure that entrance way is clear and unlocked. I can’t tell you how many times we’d forget and lock the door and find ourselves biding our time parched on the front porch while the May rains pounded down.

Q8. Was there a contractor, plumber, electrician, innocent bystander [fill in the blank] who deserves an oscar for best performance?
Best performance in a documentary probably goes to the next door neighbor’s kids faces when they poked their little noggins into the garage to see what we were up to for the long weekend. We were suited in gas-like respirator masks, full length plastic gloves, professional wrap around eye goggles, and baby boomer mutant ninja turtle kneepads. As I was not in the mood to whip off my gear to give a lovely lecture on why Mrs Przybylinski was looking like a transformer, needless to say, those kids skedaddled but quickly.

Q9. What’s next on your list?
Replacing the gold frames around sliding mirror doors in master bath—perhaps with sleek wood; putting some film on the acres of mirror, and figuring out a way to inexpensively replace our gold framed shower stall with a sleek frameless one—like an epoxied terrarium. (Not that I want plants to grow in my shower—nothing green or black there, please!) How hard could that be? Perhaps we could use some auto glass from the salvage yard… And also plan on painting the 80’s gold sink fixtures with some spiffy stainless steel (ok, brushed nickel-ish) paint. No concrete sinks for this chickie.

Q10. Your name or alias? Your neighborhood?
Patti P. Shady Hollow. SW before there was a SWE.


© Julie Nelson and The Nelson Project at Keller Williams Reatly, 2008-2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Julie Nelson and The Nelson Project at Keller Williams Realty with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Blue Ridge Mountains Cabins For Sale  |  February 21, 2008 at 3:49 pm

    I think there is a little DIY in all of us. There are classes at those large box stores to assist on installation projects but the real creativity is doing it in a creative mannor and using items already out there. My dad had this garage when I was a kid and a pile of junk on the side of it and we made and fixed just about anything. Of course he was a saver all those baby food jars were used to house every nut and bolt and screw and rubber grammit. He was definately the mister wizard of the garage and do it yourself projects with a little McGiver ingenuity.

  • 2. pattiprz  |  June 12, 2008 at 10:29 pm

    A reader just asked a GREAT question about how to fill the divot holes–resulting from pulling up carpet nail strips–in the concrete prior to staining.

    Here’s the Patti P. answer:

    We filled the divot holes in the concrete floor with cement patch. You can buy cement patch in a little tub/container at a local DIY store. Apply the patch with a trowel as smoothly as you can. Same technique as if you were patching holes in the wall with spackle. But apply sparingly because you won’t be able to remove extra cement like you can spackle. When the cement dried, we used a little hand held sander to smooth out the grit in the patch best we could.

    NOTE: You’ll never get the patch to exactly match the color or texture of the existing concrete, so when you stain the floor, you will see the patches. When preparing our floor prior to staining, I was a little frisky pulling up carpet strips around the ceramic tile surrounding our fireplace, so the divots were large and resulting patches really stood out (in a distracting way) after staining. So we ordered some 4 x 12 bullnose tiles to cover the patches around the fireplace and tiled entry–it gives a finished look to the job.

    Since we used a leather colored stain, I think of the patches along the remaining edges of the floors as classy brass tacks that you see on good quality leather furniture. The leather stain has some red & yellow tones which help to blend the “scars” in the concrete (some of the swiggly glue marks will show if you had carpet on floor previous to staining–we even have a few marked dimensions from the builder peeking through the stain…I think it adds to the charm).

    Here’s another “disguise the divots” option for you: the pros who sold me the stain said that some concrete stain DIY’ers tape off a border around the room(s) and stain that border with a darker color (black/brown) which seems to “mask” the patched divots. Our home already has so many angles that if we added a border to halls and rooms it would look like a confusing abstract painting…

    Ideally, to have super smooth stained concrete floors without any dings (that I personally find give charm/depth to the finish) you’ll have to work with a professional (and have money to hire them). Professionals will grind down your existing concrete floor which will create a heck of a lot of cement dust–it’ll get all over the house…we removed our carpet to GET RID OF DUST, not add more dust in the process.

    After the floor is grinded down, the pros will then “float” a layer of new cement over your entire floor. Once this floated layer is dried, then staining can begin. The stain will most likely “take” better on this new cement due to absence of prior finishes which can block the stain and the percentage of lime in floor will probably be ideal to accept the stain.

    When deciding whether to stain the floor yourself or hire a pro you’ll have to consider:
    1. Can you afford the $4,000-$6,000+ that a professional contractor will charge (depending on size of floor(s)?
    2. Do you have an alternative place to live for a week or so while work is being done?
    3. Can you tolerate the dust that is created from the grinding process? (My neighbor had her existing concrete floors stained by pros, and a year later she was still finding thick layers of concrete dust on ledges, nooks & crannies…). I have asthma, so we couldn’t risk the dust.
    4. Please realize that after all the professional prep, grinding & refloating of the floor, you may still have imperfections in the finish…and if you have dogs with nails, then imperfections are inevitable as your wear your floor–professionally finished or not.

    I love our DIO “Did It Ourselves” stained floors with all the imPERFECTIONS. I touch it up every once in a while with a finish called “Future”. (You can make your own “green” finish using oils but I don’t want our dogs to think our floor is a salad.) I find the Future finish further blends wear marks and gives a great sheen to the floor that gently reflects the light. It looks like a mellow used leather wallet. And we didn’t have to empty the wallet to achieve our new floor.

    Good luck with your project and please drop us a line if you have more questions. Thanks for reading. Patti P.

  • 3. Addam  |  February 16, 2009 at 7:38 pm

    How long did you wait between filling the holes
    and staining your floors

    • 4. nelsonproject  |  February 17, 2009 at 2:37 am

      we used a little tub of “quick crete”—several different types of concrete are available at DIY stores. Waiting time is 24 hours (min) then sanding with little hand held sander and also by hand. (Using commercial floor sanders can leave unattractive whirls in the floor). If we had to do it again, we would try to find a smoother concrete patch mixture (less grit/sand). While it’s impossible to meet the grade of existing concrete, a little less grainy would have blended better.

      We’ve been keeping the floor looking spiffy by applying “Future” finish by hand every 6 mos or so—the dogs nails have added a lot of character (yeah)—we find the “Future” application helps blend the pits and nail bits and protects from future (pun not intended but certainly works) scratches.

  • 5. rebecca  |  June 4, 2009 at 2:48 pm

    what did you use to repair the damaged concrete caused by pulling up the tack stips from the carpet We are about to tackle the staining job ourselves but want to know what to use to fix the pieces that broke off.

  • 6. OutremontCarpet Cleaning  |  January 4, 2010 at 11:48 am

    Great post , You hit the
    nail on the head, I just don’t think that people quite get it.
    I’m not for sure how many people I’ve talked to concerning this very
    thing in the past week, and they just don’t grasp it.

    I too am employed with Carpets and it is
    wonderful to see fellows associated this business with the same mentalities and thoughts
    , Excellent post!

  • 7. Eric Hamlin  |  June 24, 2010 at 7:25 pm

    Next time you have a stain or Decorative project come into our store we have two locations on in central Austin and one in San Antonio we sell Kemiko stain and we cater to contractors and DIY. We are a specialty store strictly for decorative concrete and we will walk you threw every step.our site is or call us at (512)323-5550


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© Julie Nelson and The Nelson Project at Keller Williams Reatly, 2016-2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Julie Nelson and The Nelson Project at Keller Williams Realty with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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