The concrete floor saga

This is a post several months in the making. I’m only able to write about it now because it’s officially resolved and I’m satisfied with who I should name, who I shouldn’t name, and what the costs have been to me as a homeowner. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I’m very careful about naming subcontractors on this site because Google search results have the ability to make or break someone’s business, depending on what is written about them.

I have three categories I put subcontractors in:

  • Did a great job, would recommend. So far, almost everyone has fit into this category. If you do a great job, charge me a reasonable fee, and are someone I’d recommend to others, I write about you here and link to your site if you have one. Hopefully this leads to more business for you. My landscape person, Alex at Alexandria’s Creations, recently told me she’s gotten a several new clients from this site, and I haven’t even written the final glowing post on the landscaping yet.
  • Things didn’t go well for one reason or another, but the person was honest and tried to make it right. In this situation, I write about the process but keep the contractor’s name out of it. Only a few subcontractors so far have fit into this category. If I wrote about the entire process and named the company, it would have the effect of casting the company/person in a negative light, and I do not wish to do this. If you are honest and tried to make things right, you shouldn’t be subject to a full writeup about everything you did wrong.
  • Things were a disaster and I want to publicly warn readers to stay away. Nobody has fit into this category yet, but there have been a couple of situations where the final resolution saved someone from this group and put them in the previous group.

I don’t tell any workers about this system and I’ve never used it as an overt incentive/threat in order to get anything done. Not a single time. If you’re working on my house and you happen to find out about this site, you can draw your own conclusions as to how you may show up on it, but in most cases, people don’t even know about it until they get referrals weeks or months later.

Ok, now that that’s out of the way, on to the concrete floors…

In planning the “grand entrance” for the house, we had a lot of choices: bamboo to match the floors, concrete to tie in with the steel, slate to keep things affordable, and linoleum to completely ruin the entire project if we so desired.

We liked the idea of concrete the best, but because of the existing subfloor elevations and some weight issues, we couldn’t do a full, thick poured concrete floor. We were turned onto a product, however, that’s been around for quite awhile now called a “concrete terrazzo overlay” or “decorative concrete overlay” floor. It’s essentially a poured floor made of concrete and aggregate but is only an inch and a half or so thick. It was about the most expensive option available at about $9,500 for 400 square feet. This cost included in-floor heat, but it was still probably twice the cost of something like slate. Nevertheless, it was a very public part of the house, so we went for it.

Around the beginning of February, work started on pouring the floor. It was only supposed to take a week or so, including the 7-step polishing process, but it ended up taking about 2.5 weeks. A loud, dusty 2.5 weeks. When the grinding and polishing was almost done, I noticed several cracks across the floor, some of them pretty major. Concrete workers always warn you that you should expect a few cracks when you choose concrete as a floor option, but given the fact that the thing wasn’t even fully installed yet, I freaked out a little. The company tried to fix one of the cracks and it seemed to make things worse.

I wasn’t feeling very good about things at this point, but we couldn’t hold up the rest of the construction and needed to cover up the floor with protection for the next few months as other work continued. Given the fact that the company needed to come back towards the end of the project anyway to do the final polishing, the decision was made to just deal with it then (incidentally, I don’t recommend doing this… deal with everything at the time, if you can).

Well, a few months went by, we completed most of the rest of the house, and it was time to uncover the floor and bring it up to snuff. To our surprise and dismay, there were now over 20 cracks in the floor. Mind you, none of these cracks were concerning from a structural standpoint as they were all hairline in size, but to have your brand new concrete floor dominated by very visible and ugly cracks is disappointing to say the least. We called the owner of the company in to have a look and were a bit worried he’d say this was “completely normal”, but even he agreed this was out of ordinary and not something he anticipated.

One of the approximately 20 cracks. This was the worst one.

We had two options: try to fill the cracks with color-matched grout or grind the whole thing down and do something else on top of it (like more of this product or maybe ultra-thin slate tile). The decision was made to try the grout option first as it had the least project/cost impact. Unfortunately the grout ended up making the cracks even more conspicuous.

At this point, we called the company back and expressed our disappointment with the grout fix. The company did not immediately return our e-mails so we prepared ourselves for a situation where they would walk away from the project (I had paid them about $8000 so far and still owed about $1500).

Build recommended we call a company they’d used before called Cirvell that uses a product called Milestone, which is essentially hybridized portland cement. The product has a “hand-troweled” look and isn’t as “shiny and pristine” looking as the concrete terrazzo overlay, but at only a sixteenth of an inch in thickness, it could be troweled on top of the existing floor with no grinding whatsoever.

We informed the original concrete floor company that we were proceeding with the Milestone option and that we felt a refund of half of the fees paid so far was a fair arrangement for both parties. This would leave me paying $4000 for a heated concrete subfloor, plus $2500 for the Milestone coat. To his credit, the owner of the original concrete company sent us a check for $4000 and we’ve now parted ways, sadly but amicably.

Although I was obviously not happy with the concrete terrazzo floor, the way the company owner handled the refund showed me he was an honest guy and someone who cared about the quality of the product and service he was providing. He could have easily just walked away and stuck me with the bill, but making things as close to “right” as possible was important to him, and that is why I’m not interested in steering readers away from his product. He’s no doubt done hundreds of successful floors… just not mine, and for we know, there was something about the construction, or temperature, or humidity in this job which conspired to not let the product cure correctly.

Thankfully, the folks at Cirvell were able to give us an end result which we’re quite happy with. They completed their work in only a few days, for a reasonable cost, and have graciously offered to come in and fine-tune the tint of the floor after we move in, if we desire. I do not hesitate to recommend them if you’re looking at Milestone as an option in your own home.

Here’s what the finished product looks like now. Plus one for Milestone.

… and with that, the concrete saga is thankfully resolved. For more photos of the floor, please visit the photo gallery.

10 Responses to “The concrete floor saga”

  1. Cali Says:

    Well, what a crying damn shame about the concrete floor. Still, I’m glad it worked out well enough in the end. So, when’s move in day?

  2. Jan Says:

    We had a similar if not worse experience with concrete. They filled a large crack with material that made it white and very evident. Epoxy on top made trowel marks even more evident and the floor needed to be reground. We had delays of 6 weeks as we worked through the problems with the concrete floor–trowel marks, white spots, and many scratches the exact configuration of the grinding discs.

    Though in the end, it is acceptable, we wish we had put in hardwoods.

  3. archaalto Says:

    the milestone sounds like an impressive product, and is definitely very attractive by the looks of your photos.

    were there any control joints that were needed for the milestone product? I understand you only had 400 sq ft of it [is that correct?], so there was probably none needed for such a small area. i couldn’t imagine what a control joint would look like on a product that only was 1/16th of an inch thick, but just curious.

    also-did you specify any particular color additive, or was the final color just the base mix they offer? very nice texture and color, and it matches the neighboring wood and steel very nicely!

    thanks for sharing

  4. Mike D. Says:

    Cali: It’s looking like this week!

    Archaalto: The original concrete floor had control joints (three of them, I believe), but no, nothing for the Milestone. And yeah, that’s just the base color with some black fleck in it.

  5. Viki Says:

    Sounds to me, at least in terms of my own home-building and remodeling experience, that you got really lucky. Someone gave you money back? Ha! My parents once had a guy building an addition on their home who skipped town with all of his company’s money, some random woman half his age, and a rumored cocaine problem, leaving an unfinished edition, unroofed, before a Chicago winter. And that’s our least crappy home improvement story!

    The floor looks really nice. You were probably better off in the long run to let it lie covered up and then find the issues before the sub was finished with the project. It probably would have been a lot harder to get him to refund your money had the project been finished (and you’d paid the balance!).

    I had some slate installed last fall on a sunporch of my new house that is on a slab. It was previously covered with a horrid-smelling carpet. I probably should have been smart and realized that this would have been a problem–when we have a humid day here in Chicago, the whole floor sweats. Argh. I also should have installed a floor-heating system, as the floor is ice-cold in the winter. If it were heated, I’d be able to leave it open to the house in the winter, but now I think it would be unfeasible to run a duct into the room to heat it, as the icy floor would defeat it.

    I’m going to be poking around your blog here! And when I come to Seattle in August, I would love a tour!

  6. brankulo Says:

    i actually like troweled finish much better. we have also concrete floor in our house and also have cracks all over. i am so tempted now to finish mine same way you did yours.

  7. jennifer Says:

    I too put a milestone overlay throughout my house. The upstairs which was put over plywood is gorgeous. The downstairs which was put over a cement subfloor has hairline cracks. We just sold this house in bellevue and are moving to san diego. I really wanted to put in the same milestone floors in there, but am worried about those cracks again. It is new construction, so there is that cement subfloor again.
    Have any new cracks appeared? Iam going to call the company you recommended.

  8. Mike D. Says:

    Jennifer: There are a few tiny cracks, yes, but the idea with the Milestone is that it looks like it’s part of the finish. The idea of the Milestone is to just make the whole thing look rough and weathered so imperfections aren’t noticeable.

  9. Juli Says:


    You have already helped me tremendously with so many answers, and here’s another question for you: What kind of finish did you do on your walls? Did you go with perfectly smooth, or did you do a slight texture? I know modern homes usually go with perfectly smooth, but also I worry about if you need to do any touch-ups and how that would work on a perfectly smooth wall.

    What is your white color called?

    Thank you so much. I have the drywall guys ready and waiting my decision, and I just don’t know what to do.


  10. Mike D. Says:

    Juli: I don’t recall asking for a texture, so I guess I would call the walls smooth. They do have the texture of a standard nap from a paint roller, but nothing like knockdown or orange peel or anything like that. You don’t want to do that… its mainly used to hide bad drywall jobs these days.

    Also, can’t remember what out white is called. It was something like “brilliant white”. I recall not being able to tell any difference between the hundreds of choices. Didn’t end up caring much.