Hard numbers on the decorative concrete segment are not yet available, but professionals say the market is growing rapidly. (Photo courtesy of World of Concrete)

A small, yet rapidly growing segment of the concrete construction industry is in decorative methods and materials for residential and commercial applications. According to those involved in concrete aesthetics, the market is gaining rapid attention from owners, contractors and designers who want to transform traditional concrete surfaces into more beautiful-looking materials--such as marble or granite--for a price two-thirds less than the real thing.

As far as artists are concerned, a concrete slab is a blank canvas. "In a former life, I was an interior designer," said Kelly Burnham of Clayton, Calif., at the World of Concrete show Feb. 4-7 in Las Vegas. A concrete artist of four years, Burnham, along with her collaborative group The Concretist, has worked on both residential and commercial projects on the West Coast. Commenting on concrete's rising popularity as an artistic craft, Burnham said that she finds it to be a "natural material" with endless options.

"We can simulate real stone and brick, with better insulative properties," said artist Andy Yoder, president of Yoder & Sons LLC of Tryon, N.C. David Witbeck, a decorative concrete contractor who works with Yoder, said that his business opportunities have been "growing exponentially." Yoder added that owners save as much as 80% on material costs and 65% on labor costs by employing decorative concrete methods.

Tom Cindric, show director for World of Concrete, mentioned that a first-time artistry and decorative concrete demonstration, where Burnham, Yoder and eight other artisans performed decorative techniques, gained a successful turnout, along with the show's total attendance of more than 72,000 attendees. "Decorative concrete has drawn some of the biggest interest at the show," he said.

"Concrete is not just gray matter anymore. This is the only segment of the industry that seems to be growing," said Terry Frahmann, president of general contractor Echo Construction of Muskego, Wis.

Commenting that many of the new products on the market "look impressive," Frahmann said that he has seen more methods and materials available today than in recent years. This was evidenced by the more than 100 decorative concrete exhibitors displaying finishing products, such as dyes, stains, stencils, stampers, acid-etchers and formwork, at the World on Concrete show.

Ed Nicasio, president of Elite Crete Products, a distributor of architectural concrete finishing products, said that the decorative concrete industry has been increasing "every year, regardless of the rest of the construction market," and that commercial projects have been a main source of business.

Hal Payne, market and field services manager at Chattanooga, Tenn.-based SI Concrete Systems, a manufacturer of fiber-reinforcement systems, said that 2% of concrete sold today has decorative coloration. "This gives people a good alternative to other types of flooring," he said.

Richard Murphy, project executive for Clark Construction Corp., commented that he was not aware of decorative concrete methods until five years ago. Nowadays, he said, "We are always seeing new ideas."

Mark A. Justman, director of market research for the Portland Cement Association, Skokie, Ill., said that decorative concrete represents between 1 and 2% of total concrete-mix activity. Justman, along with sources at the American Society of Concrete Contractors Decorative Concrete Council, said that preliminary studies are underway to determine the total dollar amount of this market segment.