Stamped concrete adds appeal to outdoor patio
Jeff Satre of Leesburg, Va., wanted a backyard patio with character — something affordable and durable with the distinctive look of slate. He found his solution when he hired highly rated Salzano Custom Concrete in Centreville, Va., to install three stamped concrete patios and a decorative concrete wall that resembles stone. "I've done brick pavers before and didn't like the maintenance and cost," Satre says. "Stamped concrete seemed like the best alternative, as I didn't want a deck."
The Washington, D.C., Angie’s list member says he was impressed with the finished product, which cost a total of $14,000. "The coloring, texture and appearance are all top-notch," Satre says.
Owner CJ Salzano and other top-rated contractors interviewed across the country say more homeowners are opting for decorative concrete over traditionally smooth and gray concrete for outdoor patios, walkways, pool decks and similar projects. "People are seeing the flexibility, colors, patterns and textures available — the sky is the limit," says Bev Garnant, executive director of the American Society of Concrete Contractors.
While stamped concrete's been around since the 1950s, Garnant says the technique has come a long way. Stamped concrete contractors first pour a slab, often with a base color mixed in. As it dries, they apply highlight coloring and repeatedly push down a stamp to create a pattern that can mimic stone, brick, tile, or include custom designs, such as leaves. It's less labor-intensive and cheaper than brick pavers or tile, contractors say, and lasts for decades if properly maintained with sealer, although almost all concrete cracks over time.
Salzano says he charges $10 to $15 per square foot, depending on overall size of the job. "It's really getting popular," Salzano says. "When I got into this eight years ago, no one really knew what stamped concrete was."
Salzano and other specialty concrete companies also install decorative overlays on existing concrete that's in good condition. A coating is applied to resurface it to look like stone, wood, or whatever pattern and color customers choose. It can be stained, painted, or stamped to mimic any hard surface. "Stamped concrete is just one tool in the toolbox," Garnant says. "There's not too much you can't do with concrete now."
Salzano says resurfacing costs $6 to $9 per square foot, comparable to the cost of pouring a new plain slab of concrete.
Jeff Thompson, owner of highly rated T & H Foundations and Concrete Services in St. Charles, Mo., says the popularity has attracted new competition that doesn't necessarily have experience doing decorative finishes. "They see the need and are trying to learn on the customer's dollar," he warns.
Problems with stamping concrete
Nearly 15 percent of stamped and decorative concrete reports received a C, D or F grade in the past three years on Angie's List. Members AJ and Bobbie Paisley of Cave Creek, Ariz., hired Sharper Edge in June 2011 to install a stamped concrete slab, plus add a decorative concrete overlay over the existing pool deck. The Paisleys say their $7,000 bought them shoddy concrete work, costly pool damage and several job delays. "The edges are crooked, there are multiple cracks and uneven, chipped edges and holes," AJ says. "Paint and concrete got in our pool filter, pump and on the bottom. That damage cost us another $1,000."
Alan Norton, principal of Sharper Edge, based in Chandler, Ariz., says job delays and damage can be part of the construction process. "We've been in business 25 years and do more than 700 jobs a year," Norton says. "It's 2012 and we're still in business — that says way more than an F report." As for the patio, Norton says even his showroom samples show imperfections. "It's an upgrade for concrete, not a replacement for real stone."
Salzano agrees stamped concrete is an imperfect process and that's difficult for homeowners to understand, despite warnings in his contract that all concrete cracks and stamped portions often dry with dips and uneven coloring. "People aren't used to paying for something that isn't perfect," he says. To get the best provider possible, ask about experience, check the company's Angie's List ratings, as well as its state or local license, if applicable. "I tell people to ask for addresses of 20 reference jobs to go see — if they can't come up with that quickly, then something is wrong," Salzano says.
For more photos of stamped concrete and outdoor living spaces, visit the Stamped Concrete photo gallery.