What is a Decorative Overlay?

Mary McMahon

A decorative overlay is a feature which can be applied to concrete to change the surface appearance and texture. Decorative overlays are used to make concrete installations look like stone, tile, and other materials. Contracting firms which specialize in decorative overlays can install them by request, or people who are skilled at such tasks can do it on their own.

A decorative overlay can be used to cover up old concrete.
A decorative overlay can be used to cover up old concrete.

One advantage to a decorative overlay is that it can be applied to new or old concrete. With older concrete, the surface can be scrubbed and checked for defects before being prepared, with issues such as cracks being filled in. Once the concrete is ready, a polymer adhesive can be applied before a stencil is laid down and the overlay material is carefully troweled into place.

The overlay materials may be dyed before being installed, or after, with the goal usually being to create a variegated look which makes the decorative overlay appear realistic. After the overlay is fully in place, a sealer can be applied to keep the material looking good; the sealer may periodically need to be stripped and reapplied to maintain a crisp appearance.

One reason to use a decorative overlay is to refurbish an existing concrete installation with a more aesthetically pleasing surface material. Using an overlay can save money, as the floor does not need to be removed, and the overlay is cheaper than installing actual stone, tile, and other flooring finishes. The overlay can also be more durable, which can be a concern on high-traffic flooring which might otherwise be damaged by regular use.

Companies which handle decorative overlays for clients should be able to provide interested people with a portfolio of their work, showing numerous examples in different settings, including later photographs which demonstrate how well the overlay has aged. They should also guarantee or back their products, so that if there is a problem with the installation, they will pay to remedy it.

People who are interested in doing their own decorative overlays can find decorative overlay systems at some home supply stores, or order them directly through suppliers. It is advisable to practice first on a test patch of concrete to grow accustomed to the procedure before tackling an entire floor, patio, or similar concrete installation. It may also be possible to attend a class to learn about how to install overlays, which can be a good way to pick up tips and tricks while practicing skills.

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