By Debbie Rodgers
Many new homes have outdoor spaces-patios or balconies - made of plain concrete floors. There are several ways of turning a boring concrete slab into a work of beauty. Techniques that involve painting will benefit from "curing" over the winter months before next summer's foot traffic begins. You may also be able to find materials for other treatments at end-of-season prices.
Tiled, sealed, delivered
Slate and ceramic tiles for outdoor use are available in a variety of colours and styles. Installation is best left to a professional and should always take into consideration any weight-bearing restrictions. Poured terrazzo floors, though not strictly tile, provide the look of a stone finish and have great slip resistance. They can be installed over an existing slab by a professional.
In select areas, Ecopavers offer an environmentally friendly alternative to interlocking bricks that are suitable for balconies and rooftops. Made of recycled rubber and available in several colours, Ecopavers are weather resistant and resilient to foot traffic.
Painting faux tiles is an easy three-weekend project. On the first weekend, prepare your concrete surface by scraping off any loose paint and dirt and washing the floor thoroughly. After the surface has dried, apply a layer of high-quality floor paint primer. Once the primer has dried, paint the floor with the base colour of your tile, this is the colour that will show between the tiles to look like grouting. For best results, let the base coat set for a week.
On the second weekend, choose three shades of paint from the family of colours you'd like for your tiles, for example, terracotta, clay, or grey. There should be a fairly large range of intensity between the lightest and darkest shades. Cut a thick square of cushion foam in the size you want your tiles to be nine to 12 inch squares work nicely. Lay out a garbage bag and pour some of the middle paint colour on it, then add smaller amounts of the remaining two colours. Swirl around lightly with a paint stick. Lay the foam piece in the paint and push down firmly. Lift the foam up and press carefully onto the floor. Repeat with the same mixture of paint two to three times, then add more paint onto the garbage bag and continue the process.
As you go along, some tiles will have more swirls than others and some will have lighter or darker colours. This is good since it gives the floor a natural look, especially as it starts to wear.
On the third weekend, apply a coat or two of clear Varathane to protect the surface from the elements, especially rain and snow.
Colour me beautiful
If you like the idea of colour but don't want the look of tile, you'll be pleased to know that according to HGTV, (Home and Garden Television) one of the hottest and most versatile trends today is concrete floor painting. While you can paint your floor in a solid colour, extra oomph can be added to the expanse with alternating stripes of colour, random blocks, or a free-form expression of your creative self. For additional interest, consider painting a weatherproof "rug" that never needs to be shaken out! Floor stencils are available in many patterns. For a simple design that requires no pattern, measure out the space you'd like to cover and tape off the edges of the "rug." Paint between the pieces of tape. Once that has dried, paint some tassels around the edges of the "carpeted" area.
Be aware that high-gloss floor paints can be very slippery when wet, so it's a good idea to add a non-skid ingredient such as sand to your wet paint. Specially formulated pre-mixed paints that give a pebbly surface are also available.
All decked out
Ready-made decking squares are another great solution, especially on balconies, and they add a classic look to your outdoor living space. Many deck pieces are hardwood slats, and some have PVC frames that the slats fit into and click together for easy installation. You can design a combination of patterns, from single blocks at right angles to parquet and herringbone designs.
If you prefer to make your own 18-inch decking squares, cut three 18-inch lengths of 11⁄4 by 11⁄4-inch lumber, and three 18-inch lengths of 6- by 3⁄4-inch wood. Paint the sides and edges of the wood pieces with an exterior paint or stain. Turn the three large (6 by 3⁄4-inch) flat pieces upside down and place side by side. Lay the thin (11⁄4 by 11⁄4-inch) pieces along two of the edges and in the middle. Since the three large pieces will form an 18-inch square when they are laid side by side, it doesn't matter which edges you use, as long as they're opposite each other. Drill six holes in each of the thin 11⁄4 by 11⁄4-inch pieces. Place the holes so that two are over each of the three larger flat pieces. Screw the pieces together through the thin pieces, which will be the underside of the decking. Repeat to create as many squares as you need for the size of the portable deck youd like to create.
Whether ready-made, or hand-crafted, portable decks are easy to remove and store over the cold winter months.
Red carpet treatment
Indoor and outdoor carpeting no longer looks like Astroturf on green food colouring supplements. As outdoor living gains in popularity, retailers are offering many outdoor floor covering solutions from bamboo rugs and brightly patterned jute to flooring that can be rolled up for storage. If using a fabric rug, remember not to abut it directly against a building or other solid structure as you may cut off air circulation, which causes the flooring to produce mildew and rot.
Since the floor in your outdoor space is a strong design element, paying attention to your balcony or patio décor from the ground up makes sense. Consider one of these solutions to provide a great foundation for many years of warm weather living!