How Long Does Concrete Overlay Last?

A concrete overlay is a method of resurfacing old and worn concrete to refurbish it and make it look decorative and new again. A concrete overlay takes time to apply and can be expensive, so it is vital to know a typical concrete overlay lifespan and the factors that impact how long it lasts.

Concrete overlays typically last 10-15 years but can last up to 25+ years if well-applied and maintained. The overlay material quality, the amount of prep work done to the concrete, and the amount of regular maintenance can impact the lifespan of a concrete overlay.

You can give old concrete a new life by applying a concrete overlay, but some risks are involved when undertaking this project. Let’s find out how long a concrete overlay lasts, whether you can repair them, how expensive it is, and how to apply an overlay well.

Will a Concrete Overlay Last?

A concrete overlay can completely rejuvenate the aesthetics of a concrete surface and can drastically alter the appearance of a home or building. Installing a concrete overlay can be a time-consuming process, but is it worth it? Will concrete overlay last?

A concrete overlay can last for many years. Some concrete overlays last as long as 25+ years. The longevity of the concrete overlay depends on the concrete’s condition, the amount of prep work done to the concrete beforehand, the overlays’ quality, and how well the overlay is applied.

Applying concrete overlay to an old concrete area is a great way to breathe new life into old concrete or stamp your style onto an area of fresh concrete. Regardless of the use, the concrete overlay must last long enough to be worthwhile.

A concrete overlay will last for several years, depending on a few factors. How long and how well the overlay will last depends entirely on the quality of the product use, the prep work done before applying the overlay, how well the overlay is installed, and the condition of the concrete that the overlay is applied to. 

Here are some of the main factors that influence how long a concrete overlay lasts:

  • The overalay material quality
  • The quality and amount of prep work done
  • The expertise and care put into applying the overlay
  • Regular maintenance and re-sealing

If the concrete beneath the overlay is already damaged, cracked, or shifting due to shifting ground, the overlay will not last very long. The same causes for the broken concrete will cause the concrete overlay to crack as well. Any existing flakes and cracks will cause the overlay to lift over time. Pre-existing issues mean it will not last very long.

If the overlay material is of poor quality, the overlay is unlikely to last very long. This short lifespan is especially true for outdoor concrete overlay and overlay that experiences a lot of heavy use, such as concrete overlay used on a driveway. 

Poor-quality concrete overlay is unlikely to last because the inferior materials in the overlay are prone to cracks, chips, flaking and generally wear down more quickly than high-quality material.

Before applying concrete overlay material, you must prepare the concrete surface. Make sure to clean, repair all cracks, remove damaged concrete, and resurface any damaged areas before applying your overlay.

Without adequately preparing the concrete, the overlay is likely to delaminate fairly quickly, drastically shortening the lifespan of the overlay.

The application process of concrete overlay can yield very eye-catching results. The process can look beautiful when completed correctly, but if the application is poorly executed, the overlay will not look as good as it could, and it will not last very long at all.

Good quality concrete overlay applied correctly to prepared concrete will last 10 to 25 years. Still, it must be re-sealed every 5 to 7 years depending on the environmental conditions experienced by the overlay, the type of materials used, and the type of finish used on the overlay.

How Strong Is a Concrete Overlay?

Concrete overlay is a cheaper alternative to entirely removing and replacing an area of unsightly concrete, but how durable is it?

Concrete overlay is very durable. Modern concrete resurfacers have a higher tensile strength than concrete, especially the overlay varieties that include epoxy. The overlay itself is very durable, but poor application techniques and lack of correct preparation cause the overlay to be susceptible to damage.

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Modern concrete overlay is incredibly durable. The overlay itself is tough enough to withstand even more battering than concrete, but unfortunately, bonding the overlay to the base concrete is not a perfect process.

It is almost impossible to ensure that concrete overlay will not crack, break, or be damaged somehow, as it is nearly impossible to ensure perfect adhesion to the concrete base.

Even if near-perfect adhesion between the two concrete layers is achieved, they are still two separate layers. Nothing can meld them together, and so if one layer shifts independent of the other, or if the temperatures between the two layers change too much, the layers will delaminate.

This delamination will cause weak spots in the overlay, and these weak points are likely to be damaged relatively easily.

However, in most instances, this type of damage occurs over a long time and can be kept at bay by using proper installation techniques and good-quality materials.

Well-applied, the good-quality concrete overlay is strong enough to be used for heavy-use driveways so long as it is properly maintained and regularly re-sealed.

Will a Concrete Overlay Crack?

Applying concrete overlay can be an excellent improvement to old or damaged concrete, but it can be expensive to install, and the project can take a long time to complete. Is it worthwhile going through this process and spending the money on a concrete overlay, or will it crack and need to be removed sooner than alternative options?

Cracks in concrete overlay occur due to thermal expansion, impact damage, sun damage, and shifting earth beneath the base layer of concrete.

A concrete overlay will crack over time. The length of time varies depending on several factors, but the overlay will eventually need replacing. Some overlay applications can last for more than 20 years, but poorly applied overlay or incorrectly prepared overlay may not even last through the next winter season.

Thermal expansion is one of the most common causes of concrete overlay cracks. The concrete below the overlay has different thermal properties compared to the overlay. The temperature differences mean that the concrete overlay will expand and contract at a different rate than the base concrete.

This difference in the expansion will cause the overlay to delaminate and crack above the surface of the concrete base. Cracks like this are especially prevalent in areas that experience frigid winters and warm summers.

There are generally two types of cracks in concrete: moving cracks and static cracks. Moving cracks typically run through the entire concrete slab. They are caused by shifting earth beneath the concrete from a lack of proper soil compaction before pouring the original concrete.

Static cracks are more cosmetic and are not a big issue. If you plan a little, you can even incorporate static cracks into a design on your concrete overlay. For moving cracks, however, you must repair them before applying the concrete overlay.

Even so, these cracks are highly likely to cause the overlay to crack in the same places due to the base concrete moving and shifting minutely under the overlay layer.

The sun is another cause of cracked concrete overlay, along with pressure and impact damage. These cracks occur in an overlay that has been poorly applied or overlay material that is low-quality. 

All cracks in the concrete overlay are irreparable. If cracks appear in the overlay, address the underlying problem before replacing the overlay. Alternatively, consider another concrete finish rather than a concrete overlay.

Cracks can be prevented by ensuring that all cracks in the base concrete layer are adequately repaired. The concrete must be thoroughly cleaned and prepared, and adequately profiled to help the overlay make a cohesive bond, all before the concrete overlay is applied.

Can You Repair a Cracked Concrete Overlay?

Even if you use the best quality overlay materials and the most skilled contractor to apply the overlay, cracks can form in concrete overlay anyway. If this happens, can they be repaired?

You can repair a concrete overlay, but it is challenging, and the overlay will never be the same as before the crack or damage occurred. The process involved widening and deepening larger cracks before filling them or filling in more minor cracks before becoming larger ones.

There are several ways to repair concrete overlay, but none of the options will ultimately prevent the crack from worsening or more cracks from appearing. 

It is possible to patch broken sections of concrete overlay, and cracks can be filled, but if the underlying problem that causes the cracks is not resolved, there will be more cracks to deal with soon.

If cracks appear, it is best to seek the advice of a professional who can advise on whether to repair the cracks or replace the overlay.

Impact damage, however, is correctable, as there is no underlying cause for the damage that is likely to continue causing damage from within.

A concrete patch can repair impact damage with another layer of overlay, or the break can be sawn out and replaced with a decorative overlay tile.

Regardless of how this damage is repaired, it must be done by a professional for the best results. Very particular joins and resins must be used to prevent the patch from damaging and cracking the surrounding overlay.

If there is extensive damage in the overlay or severe cracks from within, there is, unfortunately, no way to repair the overlay. Replacing a concrete overlay is the only way to restore it.

Is Concrete Overlay Expensive?

A concrete overlay can look great, and it is an excellent way to rejuvenate old and damaged concrete without entirely replacing the concrete, but is this process expensive?

Applying the concrete overlay is far less expensive than laying new concrete. The cost of the overlay depends on the complexity of the design, the overlay finish, the prep work done to the concrete, and the amount of overlay applied. A concrete overlay can cost $5 – $20 per square foot. 

There are three tiers of concrete overlay pricing. Basic overlay costs about $5 per square foot. Some contractors may charge as little as $3 per square foot, depending on the circumstances. 

This basic overlay application will only include minimal preparation and cleaning before the overlay application. Once the overlay is applied, it will only include one basic stain color and little or no surface finish.

 The next tier is the mid-range concrete overlay. This process will include more comprehensive surface preparation before overlay application and allows for multiple stain colors, simple design elements such as scoring, and a polished surface finish. This tier will cost $7 – $12 per square foot.

The third and final tier of the concrete overlay will cost as much as $20 per square foot or more, depending on the project’s complexity. This price range will include extensive surface preparation and cleaning before applying the overlay, design styles, and stain colors.

This tier also includes more involved design aspects and techniques such as decorative stamping, elaborate designs patterns, stencils, dividers, embedded design pieces. The overlay can be finished with a high-quality terrazzo epoxy finish that will last for a long time. 

This information means that a 100 square foot area of concrete overlay may cost anywhere from $300 to $2000.

The overall cost of completing a concrete overlay depends on various factors, including the application method and where the overlay is applied. Applying concrete overlay on a wall may cost more as the process is more challenging.

In the end, it is best to choose the correct concrete overlay for your purposes and your budget. Be sure to select the best quality overlay you can afford and the contractor with the best workmanship for your overlay project. 

Pricing TiersCost Per Square FootFeaturesEstimated LifespanDrawbacks
Basic$3-$5Single basic stain color and finish with minimal surface prep and cleaningHas an expected lifespan of 10 years with consistent maintenanceNot ideal for outdoor surfaces
Mid-Range$7-$12More stain color, finish, and design element options such as scoring, saw cuts, and basic patternsAn average lifespan of 10+ years with property maintenanceNot much different from the basic tier overlays but costs more and takes longer to apply
High-End$12-$20+High-quality surface finish options and more extensive design options such as stamping, patterns, and stencilsMay last 25+ years or more, depending on application and maintenanceIt costs a considerable amount, and maintenance, while not needed often, can be difficult

How Thick Does a Concrete Overlay Have to Be?

A concrete overlay can be made to various thicknesses, depending on the type of overlay and the base concrete slab, but what is the minimum thickness that concrete overlay is required to be?

According to the Portland Concrete Association, the best concrete overlay thickness is 1-2 (25-50mm) inches thick. This thickness only applies to overlay applied to concrete in good condition with no cracks. Other circumstances require thicker or thinner layers of the overlay.

The recommended thickness is a minimum of 1 inch, as anything thinner than this is likely to result in the overlay delaminating from the base concrete, which will cause cracks, peels, and flakes. 

You can apply thinner layers of concrete overlay to restore the wearing surface of an existing overlay, but this will not add any structural strength to any of the concrete layers.

Apply thicker layers of concrete overlay for more heavy-duty flooring purposes. Still, these overlays are more likely to break and crack due to differing thermal expansion between the overlay and the concrete base.

For most applications, 1-2 inches of concrete overlay is sufficient, including all design elements and various application and finishing techniques.

Conclusion

Concrete overlay repairs the surface layer of concrete by placing a cap of new material over the existing base slab. This overlay can be made into decorative designs and can be quite beautiful when applied well.

However, a concrete overlay is in no way structural. This cap will not last forever. It is necessary to redo all concrete overlays eventually.

A properly applied and good quality concrete overlay may last for as long as 25 years in the right conditions and if the overlay is regularly re-sealed and maintained.

Only a good quality overlay will stand the test of time, and it must be well applied and well maintained to do so. You can repair this type of concrete resurfacing in some instances, but typically it must be replaced if it sustains damage.

Look after your concrete overlay, and it will last for many years! Make sure to use a contractor with a good reputation for doing concrete overlay to do the work, or you may risk having to redo the overlay before the end of next winter.

Sources

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Hubert Miles

I've been conducting home inspections for 17 years. I'm a licensed Home Inspector, Certified Master Inspector (CMI), and FHA 203k Consultant. I started HomeInspectionInsider.com to help people better understand the home inspection process and answer questions about homeownership and home maintenance.

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