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What Customers Want From Hardscapes

By Cindy Rizzo, director of
marketing support, L.M. Scofield Company

The Loeb Fountain at Purdue University was restored using imprinted concrete to replace worn granite sets.

Hardscape is a versatile element in today's landscape designs. Exterior hard surfaces extend usable space outdoors in civic, commercial and residential projects. A diversity of materials and techniques are available to add visual interest all year round.

So what do customers want from hardscape features? The same things that they want from any landscape plan-a beautiful, inviting place. They want choices: a selection of colors, patterns and styles that can offer a unique, personal look. They want reasonable materials cost, low maintenance and longevity. So how can landscape contractors give their customers beauty, versatility and affordability? High-quality architectural concrete delivers all three and allows the introduction of an unlimited selection of colors and patterns that harmonize with the natural surroundings and built environment.

Landscape architects, designers and contractors are well aware of decorative concrete, but their customers may not understand the scope of possibilities and performance benefits. Colored, textured and stained or antiqued architectural concrete is an attractive alternative to marble, slate, bluestone, granite or other more costly natural materials. Not only is the material typically less expensive, it is more durable and often easier to install and maintain. Concrete saves money on construction because it conforms easily to curves and changes in grade. And because concrete is readily available almost everywhere, it eliminates costly construction delays.

One of the most popular and attractive techniques for finishing architectural concrete today is texturing. Concrete can be finished with an incredible variety of appearances to suit almost any landscape scheme. These range from the simplest exposed aggregate or sandblasted surfaces to the most ornate imprinted patterns.

Imprinting, also known as stamping, brings depth and dimension that capture and reflect light. The easiest imprinting tools to use are embossing skins that provide continuous patterns. These create a random, natural looking texture that replicates the look of slate, limestone, bluestone or other natural materials. Alternately, the rigid interlocking imprinting tools can be used to create the look of cobblestones, tile, or even wood planks. The interlocking patterns take more skill and time to master. L. M. Scofield Company offers professional grade LITHOTEX(R) Pavecrafters(R) embossing skins and imprinting tools for use on freshly placed concrete or cementitious "stamp grade" toppings.

The old world look of this landscaping project comes about through extensive use of imprinted concrete. Random interlocking platform tools in the Ashler stone pattern were used on freshly placed concrete with a base color of oyster-white color hardener worked into the surface. The weathered, antiqued appearance is created by platinum gray antiquing release, used as a bond-breaking barrier.

Another way to add texture and interest is to use stencils to create surface patterns or borders. Although these do not have the depth and realism of imprinting, stenciling with plastic-coated paper stencils is an economical method popular in resurfacing and renovation. Stenciling creates the surface appearance of paving, brick or other patterns when a sprayed-on knock-down technique is used. A topping can be desirable to camouflage an area where new and old concrete meet, such as in a renovation or expansion project.

ScofieldTM TexturetopTM is applied in a thin, tough layer over new or existing concrete. It is used for resurfacing old concrete that is structurally sound but needs updating. Unlike other toppings, this requires no weighing of components on the jobsite. A contractor simply adds the prepackaged color pack and the premeasured Texturetop base and mixes with water. Scofield Texturetop stencil grade can be applied 1/32 of an inch (0.8 mm) to 1/8 inch (3 mm) thick. This thickness is suitable for stenciling or applying a broom or float finish. Stamp grade applied in depths from one-eighth inch (3 mm) to three-quarters of an inch (19 mm) is suitable for imprinting. Unlike other toppings, this has a durable wear surface that reaches a compressive strength of 4,000 psi when fully cured and has excellent moisture resistance and greater resistance to damage from freeze/thaw cycles and abrasion. It can be used for driveways and other high traffic areas.

Coloring concrete before texturing expands the design options. A variety of coloring techniques means an almost limitless palette, from subtle, organic-looking shades to bright, whimsical hues to subtle, variegated dappled effects. Colorful concrete can blend into a landscape, harmonize with surrounding architecture or stand alone as a unique design feature. Colored concrete complements plants better than dull gray concrete and works well to accent vegetation.

Concrete can be colored by various methods that are ideal for pedestrian or vehicular traffic. One is adding an integral coloring admixture. Scofield's CHROMIX(R) admixtures for Color-ConditionedTM Concrete has been tested and proven for over 65 years for use in structural vertical and horizontal construction. Unlike raw pigments, the dispersing agents in CHROMIX admixtures assure that the color is evenly and consistently distributed throughout the ready-mix concrete batch. Alternatively, the surface of freshly poured concrete can be colored at the job site by applying a dry-shake color hardener. LITHOCHROME(R) color hardener imparts opaque, uniform color in vibrant or subtle shades to long-wearing horizontal surfaces. Both CHROMIX admixtures and LITHOCHROME color hardener increase the concrete's performance. Both types of colored substrates can be imprinted or textured.

Another interesting method for coloring concrete is acid-etch staining with LITHOCHROME(R) ChemstainTM Classic. It can be used on cured freshly poured concrete or to enhance the appearance of old concrete to add a beautiful translucent color. The variegated patina is ideal for horizontal surfaces or artificial rock and water features. Because stains penetrate and react with the components of the concrete, the effect is unique for each application. This is not a surface coating as it penetrates and permanently colors new or existing concrete and cementitious toppings and wears only as the surface wears.

As with any element of a landscape, concrete looks and performs best when it is finished properly. Colors and textures are most durable when concrete is correctly cured and sealed. Many curing products are available to help control the rate at which moisture is released from concrete so it can cure consistently. Sealers protect colored or textured surfaces from staining or yellowing and give the finished product the desired gloss or matte finish.

Besides using the right products to color, texture, cure and seal concrete, proper installation techniques are critical. Planning the installation is important, so that expansion joints to control cracking are incorporated into the design so they are part of the pattern. Landscape designers should select concrete contractors who have substantial experience and training.

Contractors can attend hands-on workshops at the Scofield Institute near Atlanta, or, starting this year, at other locations around the country. Scofield can assist landscape contractors in finding qualified concrete installers in their local areas.

Hardscape that incorporates colored, textured architectural concrete is a long-lasting way to give customers what they want--beauty, versatility and affordability. Creative contractors take concrete far beyond the ordinary. "We have seen a tremendous increase in the popular use of decorative concrete in the past few years due to the evolution in concrete technology and expertise," says Scott Thome, director of product services and training for Scofield. "Concrete is an environmentally sustainable, affordable material, and texturing and coloring it make it beautiful too."

Building Blocks

5.7% - Percentage of American households that reported streets within 300 feet of their homes needing major repairs.

28.8% - Percentage of American households that reported streets within 300 feet of their homes needing minor repairs.

61.6% - Percentage of American households that reported no streets within 300 feet of their homes needing repair.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau American Housing Survey 2001


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February 26, 2020, 9:11 am PDT

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