Update: Painting a concrete floor to look like tile

It has been two years since we painted the basement concrete floor with some concrete sealer and a single coat of Valspar Porch Floor and Patio paint.  We did not put any type of sealer over the paint. Just doing that much improved the look of the unsealed and stained concrete a lot!

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The basement floor before we did anything with it.

The floor has received light use over the last two years. The paint held up okay without any kind of sealer. It looked a bit dirty and worn in the areas of highest use but that was because the paint wore off rough texture of the concrete. It had a few scrapes, too. I think if it had a lot of foot traffic it would have looked much worse. In retrospect, it would have been a very good idea to prime the floors before painting them in the first place.

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This pretty bad photo shows some of the scrapes and scuffs the floor had after two years without sealer. It needs scrubbing but most of the grunge is from the paint wearing off from walking on it.

We finally decided it was time to finish painting the floor with our original plan of a grid of light and dark colored tiles. Nothing like dragging a project out for years! I am very glad that I had some time to live with the idea of painting faux tiles because we tweaked our original plans and improved them.

 

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We drew a mock-up of the tile design on the computer and experimented with tile size. We decided that instead of our original plan for 24 inch tiles we would do a smaller grid of 15 inch tiles for a better overall appearance. We fit the grid to the dimension of the floors to create half square triangles down both sides of the hallway (the area of highest visibility) and allowed the design to wrap into the larger room from there.  It was a good idea to compare the mock-up by reversing the placement of the light and dark tiles in the narrow hall area, and we picked the arrangement that was most visually pleasing with the doorways and light sources.

We started the job by cleaning the floor really well, rinsing it clean, and letting it dry for a day.  The floor still had divots where carpet nails were removed and we again decided against filling them with any kind of concrete patch. (Bad idea – we should have filled them.) I vacuumed off the dust and hair.

Next, we taped off the baseboards with painter’s tape to keep them clean.

We painted the entire family room and hall floor with a fresh coat of the medium brown color we had previously used, and let it dry for a day. It took about a gallon of paint for this second coat.

We used a carpenter’s square and a straight edge and marked off the grid on the floor with a pencil. It is important to be accurate during marking. For part of the floor my husband used a blue pencil and for the rest he used a regular graphite pencil. The black graphite was a better choice, it went on lighter and created a thinner line. We used this tutorial to help with the initial layout. Marking the grid was done over parts of two days.

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Taping off the tile design.

 

When you are ready to tape and paint the grid, you will want to complete the project as quickly as possible so that the tape is in contact with the base paint for the shortest amount of time. This way it will be less likely to pull off the base paint when it is removed. We completed the hall half of the floor (taping, painting, and removing the grid of tape) the first day. The next day we taped and painted the family room. It took about 4 hours to tape the design each time, and took the two of us about 5 hours to paint the larger half. My husband wore knee pads and I used a small piece of foam mat to kneel on and moved it around the room. I only dropped the pad in the paint a few times!

We laid out the grid design using blue painters tape and a sharp edge putty knife. The brand of tape we liked best was Duck or the True Value store brand (they were very similar). The 3M ScotchBlue tape was a thinner material and it was more difficult to lay it down in nice straight lines. I decided not to use Frog tape because of the cost.

It was better to lay the tape along the outside of the line marking the square to be painted with the contrasting color, rather than just covering the pencil line. This meant that when paint was applied it mostly covered over the pencil lines. We marked the squares that were to remain the base color with a piece of tape in the center. I used the sharp edge putty knife to tear the tape cleanly so that I had crisp corners, then pressed the tape down firmly by sliding the putty knife along it. You will want the corners of each square to meet as precisely as possible. Taping the squares took several hours.

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In this photo you can see the base color cut in around the squares that I am painting over with the contrast color. This helped reduce bleeding under the tape.

To minimize bleeding of the contrasting color under the tape on the rough surface of the concrete floor, using a foam brush, we first cut in along just the edges of the tape outlining the contrast tiles with the base color of medium brown paint. Be sure to use enough paint for this process! In some areas I was skimpy and the cream color (applied later) still bled a lot under the edge of the tape. We were able to immediately begin painting the squares with the contrasting cream colored paint after initially cutting in with the base color.

Painting technique for the contrasting squares: We cut in from the edges of the tape toward the center of the squares with a 3-inch sponge brush to help minimize bleeding and get good crisp lines and corners, then rolled the center of each square with a small foam roller. I think a roller with a bit of nap would have made it easier to get a more even coat of paint in less time. The foam roller smeared the paint around and wiped thinner in spots. The grid masking tape was removed from the floor about 30 minutes later. My husband worked ahead of me, cutting in the squares with cream colored paint, and then going back and removing the tape as the paint began to dry, while I rolled the centers of each square. With both of us working it took about 5 hours to paint the 12×20 room.

 

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In the center of the room you can see the worst areas where the paint came off with the tape. The texture of the floor is clearly visible.

The tape pulled off the base color from the floor in some areas. I believe this is mostly because we should have used a primer with good adhesion first!

The next day after all the contrasting squares were dry, I went back over the stray or thick pencil lines and any areas of the cream color bleeding with a small sponge brush. The chisel edge of the sponge brush made it easy to keep the lines neat and straight. I didn’t care that the pencil lines showed faintly in some areas, because they looked like shadows between the tiles. I also painted over the areas where the base color had pulled off with the tape.

We allowed the floor to dry for three days, then I did my best to dust off any dirt or hairs. We missed some stray hairs as we applied sealer to the floor and this shows! You want to keep a sharp eye out for any stray fuzz or hairs with each coat of sealer.

We used a clear polyurethane water-based sealer in a semi-gloss finish. I wish I had used a satin finish because the semi gloss is VERY shiny. We followed the manufacturer directions and applied three thin coats of sealer by pouring out lines of sealer and spreading it over the floor with a pad applicator on an extension pole. We stayed within the 6 hour window of time for repeat applications so that we would not have to sand the floor in between. It took 2 gallons to apply three coats of polyurethane. The sealer darkened the paint color ever so slightly but it does not appear yellowed. The sealer didn’t cover nearly the area that the manufacturer said it would. However, the concrete was rough and it may have taken a lot more sealer more because of the texture. The pad applicator cleaned up easily in between coats of sealer. The manufacturer recommended stirring the container of sealer often during application. If it is not stirred often enough the sealer forms a little skin that pours out in a clump and has to be wiped off the floor with a paper towel. Floor boogers are not good.

We removed the tape from the baseboards after the floor was dry. My husband had to use a razor knife in some areas to keep the tape from pulling up the sealer and the paint, and this still happened in a couple of small areas. I don’t know how we would have prevented this other than using more care.

Overall, the floor turned out far better than we could ever have imagined! Now, it is not perfect. You can see the texture where the paint lifted in a few areas, and the lighter colored squares do not have perfect coverage. But I really do not think much of the oopsies will show. The room will have furniture and an area rug and it is a basement with not so great lighting.

 

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Three coats of semi-gloss water-based polyurethane applied. Shiny!

We allowed the floor to cure for 30 days before moving anything onto it. We allowed a full 30 days dry/cure time because it was winter and the temperature of the room was around 62 degrees, so we assumed it would take longer to harden. Because the concrete has a bit of texture I was still a little nervous that a couch would dig up the finish with being slid around, so we used felt pads under the legs.

Project Supplies:

  • Valspar Porch and Patio paint in two contrasting colors – 3 gallons of base color and 1 gallon of contrast (with some of both left over) – $120.00
  • 2 gallons Rust-Oleum Parks water based polyurethane sealer for floors – $80
  • 4 rolls blue painter tape for marking and protecting – $16
  • sponge brushes
  • mini paint roller and tray
  • paint roller and extension pole
  • deck pad stain applicator for applying sealer – $6
  • carpenter square – $12
  • 5 foot straight edge – on hand
  • pencils for marking
  • sharp edge putty knife

TOTAL COST OF PROJECT: $234

Compare that to the cost of tile, laminate, or vinyl!  We were able to paint about 320 square feet of floor for approximately $1.37 a square foot.

THINGS WE LEARNED:

  • Take time to patch any holes around the perimeter of the concrete. These really do detract from the appearance of the floor and would have been simple to repair in the first place. I’m not sure a patch product will adhere to the polyurethane sealer now.
  • USE A GOOD PRIMER. I think that was our biggest error! I take comfort that this room is not heavily used and will have some area rugs. I hope that with some care the finish will stay intact for a long time.
  • Watch very carefully for hairs and fuzz during the sealer application. Hairs can hide in the glare of the wet sealer.
  • I just needed to shop around to find the colors that I really wanted for the tile pattern. While I don’t hate the color, it wasn’t my first choice. But it looks good and I am not dissatisfied.
  • You don’t need to use expensive tape. Save a few dollars and go with store brand.

This project was so much fun that I want to paint all the floors in my house!

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