TACOMA, Wash. — The visual warmth of a spectacular sunburst and slender crescent moon emanates from the entryway floor in Bonnie Wyatt's home in Seattle.
The design is carved into a rock-hard canvas awash in golden browns and amber hues. Yet the material of the flooring is as much a stunner as the design.
"People who come to the door go, 'Oh, I love that,' " Wyatt said of the design work by concrete artisan Douglas Palmer of Fox Island, Wash. "They're surprised it's concrete."
Concrete is becoming far more than the stuff of building foundations and driveways.
The battleship-gray surface can be ground down, shined and stained to achieve a lustrous finish akin to polished stone.
For years, it has appeared in swanky Las Vegas casinos, restaurants, auto showrooms and other commercial venues.
Now homeowners are ripping up carpet to have the concrete slab hiding below polished or stained. Some are building houses from the get-go with polished concrete embedded with radiant heating systems.
"Concrete polishing is an ever-expanding part of our business," said Dale Hoyt, whose floor installation and maintenance company in Puyallup, Wash., added concrete polishing to its services two years ago. Though the bulk of the decorative work is commercial, residential jobs are growing for the Diamond Polishing Systems division.
People are discovering, he said, "it's a very green floor, a very natural and pretty floor."
• It's more durable than hardwood, vinyl or carpet. If properly installed and finished, concrete never needs to be replaced.
• It's environmentally friendly. Making slab foundations do double duty as flooring allows homeowners to skip buying glue, wood or other materials to cover the concrete. That saves resources, according to Ed Begley Jr.'s Guide to Sustainable Living.
Plus, concrete's main ingredient, limestone, is so abundant that people need not worry about using a disappearing resource. Consumers can look for concrete mixes with a high rate of recycled materials such as fly ash, a by-product of coal-burning plants, actor and environmentalist Begley writes in his 2009 book.
• It's a healthy option for allergy sufferers. Wall-to-wall carpet can harbor dust mites, grime and mold, and emit harmful gases called volatile organic compounds. Dirt, pet dander and the like can be easily removed from concrete floors through damp mopping with water or a neutral pH cleaner.
Yet it's not for everyone.
The Concrete Network, which describes itself as the "independent voice of concrete," concedes on its Web site that decorative concrete floors can be hard, loud to walk on, and cold without radiant heating systems. Area rugs can address those concerns. Moisture vapor seeping through the concrete can be a more intractable problem, if the slab wasn't correctly insulated or was built atop a poorly drained area.
And cost can be a downside for some homeowners. The initial investment can be higher than low- to mid-priced flooring, such as carpeting, vinyl tile or wood laminates, according to the Concrete Network.
But concrete artisans also can achieve the look of higher-end ceramic tile, slate and marble, making the long-lasting floors an economical alternative.
Polishing concrete generally involves using heavy-duty polishing machines to grind down a rough surface multiple times using a series of diamond-embedded metal disks with progressively finer grits, Hoyt explained. Once the surface is smooth, diamond-embedded resin discs with ever-finer grits are used to polish the floor to a high sheen. The final look varies greatly, depending on stains and designs, and the natural variability of the concrete itself.
Wyatt is elated with her radiant-heated entryway.
Palmer carved the sunburst design, added stain and polished the concrete flooring.
"I wanted something really special and that's what we came up with," she said of the entryway. "We'll definitely do the heated, poured concrete floor again."