Our Dyed Concrete Hearth & Lessons Learned

When it came to a wood stove hearth in our new living room we knew we wanted something that would hold up but was also sleek. Oh, and it had to be affordable and easy. We simply didn’t have the money for a big slab of granite, slate, or anything similar. We also really didn’t want tile. We had been eying dyed concrete for a while for the kitchen counters but decided to give this a go first. Though Andy had poured huge slabs before, we had never poured a small slab…in our house…dyed…in winter.

I’m going to be up front when I say ours didn’t turn out perfectly. We had a dusting issue, which admittedly kind of stinks but things happen, you know? I’ll explain more below. This issue had to do with after it’s poured though, and not how we mixed it. All said, this was a good “test run” so to say about what we can do better if we do concrete counters.

The first thing Andy did was mark out where we wanted the hearth on the floor so we could assess if it fit our needs. We always prop our winter boots next to the stove, and like to stand next to it too on the hearth, so we knew it had to be big enough for more than just the stove.

DSC_2094-01Once we had a general idea of the layout, Andy cut the wood a little longer than we drew out just to make sure we liked it. We decided we really didn’t want it any longer so he cut the wood to length and adhered a construction grade plastic to one side of the wood to make a concrete form. The plastic would allow the form to release later on, instead of have the concrete adhere to it during curing.

DSC_2125-01DSC_2127-01Once we had the form in place we put some painters tape in a level line to the form. Side note here: You will want to keep a wet cloth on hand. As you pour the mix, it may splatter. We had no issues with it dying our wall which was pretty great. Score one for the Sherwin-Williams eggshell paint, it was super easy to clean. If however you are concerned, I would recommend taping up some thin plastic above your pour line to minimize splatters on the wall. No matter what, you should expect some bleeding up the wall. You may be able to wash this right off, you may have to touch up that area of your wall with paint.

DSC_2139-01When it comes to concrete you need to follow the directions for mixing, and curing to ensure it turns out properly.

DSC_2073-01For our dye we decided to go with a black from Direct Colors, Inc. in hopes it would turn out dark gray.

DSC_2090-01We used a scale for weight, versus a measuring cup because it’s important to ensure each batch has the same ratios to have a uniform color. To get our ratios we just followed the directions that came with the dye for how much per pound of cement, and measured it out in a container that I tared to zero before each weighing.

DSC_2136-01After mostly mixing the cement and aggregate you want to slowly sprinkle in the color while you finish mixing. It was hard to get photos, but the mixing/dying process looked something like this (one of the mixing photos is after we poured a few batches already, ignore that).

DSC_2172-01 DSC_2176-01 DSC_2132-01 DSC_2138-01 DSC_2217-01 DSC_2218-01 DSC_2219-01 DSC_2145-01Once you have everything mixed pour slowly. We didn’t put a protective plastic sheet up so instead once we realized there were splatters we improvised. As Andy poured I held the cardboard at a few inches back from the tip of the wheelbarrow and a few inches off the ground. Success.

DSC_2220-01To make the slab itself we poured a few batches, followed by re-bar, followed by a few more batches.

DSC_2179-01 DSC_2189-01 DSC_2192-01 DSC_2195-01 DSC_2199-01 DSC_2207-01 DSC_2213-01Then came smoothing everything out and running a level over the top to get the water off the top while ensuring a level surface to the slab. Once everything was level we took a sander, minus sandpaper, and vibrated the form and the floor to release any air pockets throughout. This process will also bring water to the surface.

DSC_2226-01 DSC_2234-01This is where we may have hit our snag. Once we finished vibrating we troweled the surface smooth. The only thing we can think of to cause the dusting was we troweled the water back into the surface layer. There are a few reasons dusting can occur, but the only one that made sense in our setting was excess water being worked back into the surface. Lesson learned.

As the slab cured (concrete is cured through a chemical reaction, not drying the water out) it wasn’t just dark gray, it was black. I mean really, really, black. It sort of grew on us and we really liked it with the flooring we would be putting down.

DSC_2239-01As it kept curing over the next 48 hours it started getting lighter and lighter. Eventually it cured to a medium gray. While not the dark gray we intended, or the black that we ended up really liking, the medium gray was still darker than a natural concrete slab and will still be nice against the reclaimed pine floors we’ll be laying.

DSC_2348-01It was about this time we started seeing an issue. When we ran our finger across the top it came up with a dust (hence the name, dusting). Once the dust was blown away we were left with a patch of rough material. Womp womp.

DSC_2369-01We put some spray sealer on but realized this wasn’t going to fix the rest of it from dusting. So that said, we’ve come up with a solution. We are going to take a concrete grinder and grind it down. Instead of looking like a slate slab, it will have smooth exposed aggregate which will give it a salt and pepper look. Overall it should still look nice when done, and I’ll definitely blog about it once we do it. In other words, we’re still turning it into something still nice—and we’ve learned something valuable for our kitchen counters if we decide to go with concrete.

When your cake comes out broken, mash that cake in with frosting, roll them in balls, put them in chocolate, put a stick in them and call them cake pops. Just like you intended.

Who wanted a smooth slab anyway?



It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s A Porch!

The dumpster and lumber for our addition showed up in the driveway today, so excuse me while I squeal with delight but also because I know it’s catch up time on the blog. There are going to be a lot of different projects going on at once so I’ll be updating them as they get worked on. I am absolutely positive tomorrow is going to be crazy. Why? Andy told his brother to go to bed because he has to be up early tomorrow. Before the mayhem happens let’s play catch up!

Last weekend while Casey and I were ripping boards off the walls in the living room I happened to glance out the window, and I caught my husband standing in our dirt driveway and looking at the house. Except, I knew he wasn’t looking at the house, he was picturing the porch. Meanwhile, I was just excited our living room looked a little more like this.

The next morning Andy told me he needed the cement mixer from the farm to pour the footings for the porch, and before I knew it I heard the tractor coming down the street with a loud clacking noise behind it. The cement mixer is very old, and looks like it should be at a fair. In other words—it’s pretty cool.

Before anything could be mixed though, it was time to mark out the spots for the sonotubes which are used for the footers. Sonotubes are concrete forms used to make the footers. After the concrete is dry, the forms are removed.

After taking some careful measurements, Andy started stringing up his points just to make sure he dug in the correct spots.

There was some geometry involved in the measurements, and I didn’t want to forget what number he told me so I grabbed the nearest marker and wrote it down. On my hand. Paper? Over rated.

Once all of the measurements were taken, Andy placed the base to the sonotubes down and marked the dig line around them. I asked Andy if the bases were necessary and he said no, but that they helped a lot.

After he completed marking the footings, it was time to dig! You never know what you’ll find around here, including a rusty heavy duty cable.

Time for a test fit.

After spending a while measuring, digging, etc. he finally placing them all in. I didn’t get a photo of the sonotube bases in there before he back filled the holes with dirt. I know, I’m really on top of things. Sidebar: Can you spot the dogs? Can you also spot that they are sneakily eating the rest of the popcorn we left on the steps? Trouble makers.

If you look close in the photo above, you’ll notice there’s a gap in the center where there should be a fifth sonotube. After laying them out, Andy realized he needed another base and sonotube. Because the bases weren’t necessary we decided to use a large square piece of concrete we already had left over from another project. To make the sonotube, and I am not kidding, he cut the extra off the tops of all the other tubes (which I’ll show in a moment) and then adhered and braced them together. That might sound wonky, but I swear it will not compromise the structural integrity of our porch in anyway. Mainer ingenuity at work.

Guilty popcorn eating dog at work.

“Who, me?”

After we shooed the dogs inside, it was time to start mixing the cement into concrete.

Casey pulled out only his best for this activity, including his risky business sunglasses—hence his nickname of Tom Cruise.

The boys tried pouring the concrete from the mixer into the sonotubes, which should have worked. However, it didn’t. They just couldn’t tip it far enough to get all of the concrete out. Instead they put it in the wheel barrel and hand shoveled each tube.

Once they were all complete, Andy finally took a break after hours and hours of working straight. These might look all over the place in terms of height, but I promise they are exactly dead on and correct.

After a short break, Andy graded out around the sonotubes so everything was more or less flat again.

I’ll be back soon with another post on the progress of the actual addition itself, since you can tell in the post above part of the siding is missing!




Last weekend we decided it was time to remove and upgrade our old oil heating system and take care of a couple other issues in the basement. We primarily heat by wood, and the oil system was just too inefficient and old to keep. Part of this reno/upgrade included removing a portion of our concrete slab. We have two chimneys, one which is of no use. Around the unused chimney the concrete was at different elevations, so evening it out was a must.

The first step was a trip to home depot to get a hammer drill to get the concrete out. We could have rented a jackhammer, but that would have negated getting a cool new Makita. Said cool new tool also came with a free grinder – kind of hard to pass up. After we got home I started priming more of the living room while Mr. A got to work jacking out the old concrete he had marked off earlier in the day. At this point in the photo below a lot of the heating duct work has been removed. This is Mr. A’s wood workshop, so opening up the ceiling and taking the chimney out will give a lot more room to work around. It’s normally much cleaner than this, but demolition takes its toll.

Slowly but surely the concrete came out, piece by piece.

Eventually, after many hours and many photos looking almost the same, Mr. A finally got all of the concrete out. I  ran out to Sherwin Williams to finish up the livingroom and came home to the chim-chiminey gone-gonzerama.

From the roof it looked a little like this, and has since been patched up.

I was a little late getting home today and laughed when I saw the concrete mixer the boys borrowed from the neighbors to put the new slab patch in. This thing was old, but it got the job done and worked like a charm. He’s banging on the top of it with a shovel at this point just to help loosen everything up.

Side story, see that window above? It’s a hinged wall. When we first moved in we  scratched our heads and couldn’t figure it out.  It’s since been secured and weatherproofed.  However, it was one of the oddest finds of the house. I’d love to know the back story to how that came into being.

Back to the concrete. Once the boys put down the proper barriers, they were able to take the concrete and pour the slab back in. This is as far as I took with pictures, but it’s all smoothed out and curing.

That’s that. Now we have more room in the basement and a much more even floor around where the chimney was. We’ll be installing a different backup heat system, as required by insurance but we won’t be going back to oil.


Happy Renovations,

Kenny Bloggins (that’s for you Mr. A)