How to boost your LEED score using decorative concrete

| by Guest Blogger
How to boost your LEED score using decorative concrete

Design by: Concrete Stone Industries Victoria, Australia

Learn about five ways you can use decorative concrete to improve both the beauty and sustainability of your next building project.

By Anne Balogh

Concrete is widely known as a sustainable building material that contributes toward achieving credits under the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification system. But did you know that dressing up plain gray concrete with a decorative finish, such as a stain or coating, can also boost your LEED score?

The growth in the popularity of sustainable building has driven the decorative concrete industry to develop products that are not only more environmentally friendly, but also offer designers, architects, and homeowners more ways to incorporate colorful and artistic elements into their designs while earning LEED credits. Here are five ways you can use decorative concrete to add points to your LEED scorecard.

1. Reduce the Urban Heat Island Effect

Heat generation and light reflectance are two of the biggest environmental pollutants when buildings and pavements are constructed. Under LEED, surfaces with a solar reflective index (SRI) of 29 or greater must be used for at least 50% of the hardscape surfaces on a project, such as driveways, parking areas, courtyards, and sidewalks. The use of colored concrete, either with integral color or a topical color hardener in light shades, is the best way to ensure an SRI of 29 or greater. The color can be used in standard concrete, stamped concrete, or pervious concrete to meet the requirement. In the case of renovation projects, light-colored microtoppings or stampable overlays can be used to provide a decorative finish that has an SRI of 29 or above.

Potential LEED points: 1

2. Improve Indoor Air Quality

Most interior concrete, whether decorative or plain, is sealed to protect and enhance it. In the past, concrete sealers contained large amounts of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, acrid substances that give off fumes that can be harmful or irritating to both building occupants and installers. This has spurred the development of a new generation of architectural coatings and sealers for concrete that meet the stringent low-VOC requirements of LEED. The use of these sealers and coatings to protect and maintain concrete floors, walls, precast panels, and countertops is a safe and effective to bring out the beauty of concrete. Today, almost all water-based stains and dyes and low-VOC emitting sealer systems will meet LEED requirements. This includes acid stains, concrete dyes, water-based tints, acrylic stains, tinted sealer systems, and the new generation of eco-friendly stains made from renewable resources such as soybean oil. Water-based dyes, tints, and sealers offer the added benefits of an expanded color palette and fast cure times.

Potential LEED points: 2

3. Recycle and Conserve Materials

Using recycled aggregates or supplementary cementitious materials, such as fly ash, silica fume, and slag cement, in plain or decorative concrete, is a great strategy for obtaining LEED points for recycled content. When used as an interior flooring system, decorative concrete can also conserve resources and contribute to LEED because the concrete functions as the finished flooring surface and doesn’t require additional layers of floor covering. This greatly reduces material consumption, transportation costs (if the concrete is manufactured locally), and flooring installation time and cost.

Potential LEED points: 4

4. Reduce Stormwater Runoff

The use of pervious concrete or concrete pavers to help direct stormwater runoff back into the environment without the use of large artificial collection areas is an effective method of meeting LEED requirements for rainwater management. Like conventional concrete, pervious concrete is made from a mixture of cement, coarse aggregates, and water. However, it contains little or no sand, which results in a porous open-cell structure that water passes through readily, at a rate as high as 5 gallons per minute per square foot. Pervious concrete can be made decorative with the addition of integral color, which helps to minimize the artificial look of large expanses of gray concrete flatwork. Pervious concrete pavers are also available in variety of decorative profiles, including running-bond, basketweave, and herringbone patterns.

Potential LEED points: 2

5. Reduce Construction and Demolition Waste

Decorative concrete finishes have become very popular in retrofit or renovation applications, allowing existing concrete walls, floors, and pavements to be reused during building renovation projects. The most popular types of decorative finishes include microtoppings to refurbish existing floors or pavements, stampable overlays to add pattern and texture to existing concrete, and vertical stampable overlays to give concrete walls the look of stone or tile.

Potential LEED points: 1

To learn more about green building with concrete, visit Concrete

Anne Balogh is a former editor of Concrete Construction magazine, and a regular contributor to, a website for educating homeowners, contractors, builders, and designers on popular techniques and applications for decorative concrete.

Topics: Certification / LEED, Flooring, Foundations, Healthy Homes, Home Design & Plans, Indoor Air Quality, Insulated Concrete Forms - ICF, Sustainable Products

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These columns are the work of our guest bloggers who want to share their expert green opinions on a range of topics.

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