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Vertical decorative concrete takes center stage in this wine grotto.

The Concrete Comeback

Concrete in the home? No, it's nothing new -- concrete has found its way into our homes by way of countertops, floors and other surfaces. But that's just the beginning. Vertical Decorative Concrete is the latest application of the medium, bumping elbows with the likes of natural stones like marble and granite.

In the Vertical Decorative Concrete Magazine readers can have their eyes opened to the beauty that can be concrete in the home. Applied by trained installers, the lightweight mixes get applied to vertical surfaces to create a myriad of styles and effects. Upon drying the concrete undergoes a coloring process which renders it anything but cold, heartless and uninviting. The results can be spectacular, to say the least.

The sky is the limit. Or the ceiling is, indoors at least. But in both indoor and outdoor application the material lends itself to a bold, natural and customized look, easily complemented by any number of metals, natural woods or finishes.

Intrigued? Check out the Vertical Artisans website to see more examples of this growing trend. While you're there take a peek at the latest issue of the Vertical Decorative Concrete Magazine, where finished project are featured for the eyes to feast upon.

Cheng-inspired home features like this concrete fireplace are now only an online search away. Photo by Matthew Millman

Designer Concrete at the Push of a Button

If there's one thing designer Fu-Tung Cheng has taught us, it's that concrete isn't just for foundations. With his work appearing in home improvement magazines across the world, Cheng's mastery of the medium for just about any application is second to none. From countertop to fireplaces to water features and more, Cheng has made us all warm up to this once cold and passionless material.

For those who want a touch of Cheng in the home but can't afford to hire the designer personally, there is now a "Find-a-Contractor" feature on CHENG Concrete's website. Searches will turn up Cheng-certified contractors--called CHENG Members--in your area. These are professionals who have been trained in the art of Cheng concrete manipulation. Think of them as a first generation of students, taught by the master. Like Cheng himself, many CHENG members have gone on to win awards for their design and work.

Take a moment to check out the finder tool to see if there are Cheng-trained concrete professionals in your area. Maybe you can turn that dream of a designer concrete countertop into a reality.

Do you have any Cheng in your home?

Homes built using concrete may last even longer with new research from MIT. Photo courtesy of Concrete Forms.

Making Concrete..Stronger?

A researcher at MIT has devised something that may have a profound impact on the building industry - concrete that can last up to 16,000 years. The so-called "ultra-high-density" concrete is the result of 20 years of research that included examining the material on a nano-scale. By studying the forces that gradually cause concrete to deform (called "concrete creep"), researcher Franz-Josef Ulm identified a new manufacturing process that packs the components of concrete more closely together, resulting in a stronger, more tightly bound and durable material. This discovery could have profound implications on the environment. Concrete is the most widely produced material on earth at over 20 billion tons manufactured annually. According to Ulm, "The thinner the structure, the more sensitive it is to creep, so up until now, we have been unable to build large-scale lightweight, durable concrete structures [but] with this new understanding of concrete, we could produce...light, elegant, strong structures that will require far less material."

Photo courtesy of Granite Gold.

Granite Countertops and Radon

This Old House does a good job of summarizing the controversy behind the granite-countertops-emit-radon argument. This radioactive gas can cause lung cancer, so any radon is a very real danger, however, the EPA issued a statement saying there isn't enough evidence to suggest granite countertops are a source of radon. And if you're still worried, pick up a home testing kit for $25. If you'd like to ditch your granite altogether, check out the myriad of countertop options you have here.

Landscaping Inspiration

With spring around the corner, I'm looking for new landscaping ideas. I'm sure I'm not alone. The Patio Town web site has a nice-looking gallery of patios, walls, walkways, planters and more to serve as inspiration for your next project. My favorite is the walkway simulating a dry stream bed with natural rock (pictured at left). Patio Town has been in business for the past 40 years in the Twin Cities area and carries a full line of retaining wall systems. Check out their web site to gear up for the upcoming landscaping season.

Action photo of Mike building a stone patio Action photo of Mike building a stone patio

A Deck that Will Last

When you think of building a deck, you don't generally think of using stone. That is, unless you are Mike Copenhaver, a self-declared "brick and stone guy" and operator of the Brick and Stone Guy blog. As you might imagine, the man has a passion for all things brick and stone. It was Mike's home video of his construction of a stone deck that impressed me. The deck is made up of stone tiles that are laid and clipped to the wood joists. The deck itself serves as a walkway that spans a ravine leading to a grand entrance to a magnificent home. Beautiful. I had no idea stone was an option when building a deck.

Besides this project, Mike's blog has lots of photos and discussions of interesting stonework, including this installment of artistic stonework. Give it a look when you get a chance.

The Concrete Mixing Bag makes it possible to mix cement while wearing a shirt and tie The Concrete Mixing Bag makes it possible to mix cement while wearing a shirt and tie

Quick Cement Mixing

Engineers know that if you want a system to work efficiently, you must simplify, simplify, simplify. Well, I don't think you can get much more simple than the Cement Solution Concrete Mixing Bag. To use the Mixing Bag, dump the ready-mix concrete into the bag, add the recommended amount of water, secure the bag with the tie strap, mix on the ground for about a minute, and Voila(!)- ready to pour cement. No additional tools necessary. Mixing cement can be a messy, laborious process, but the guy in the Concrete Mixing Bag instructional video demonstrates it while wearing a shirt and tie. The bag is reusable so you can use it for your one-off cement jobs or larger projects. One customer informed the company he used it for a project involving 20 bags of ready mix concrete. A chart is printed on the side of the Mixing Bag detailing the recommended amount of water to add to achieve the ideal mix. Since the bag can become heavy with poured concrete, it is recommended customers mix the concrete close the pouring site. The Cement Solution website has an online store and a store locater so customers can find a local distributor.

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