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Concrete Resurfacing vs. Replacement, Repair, & Overlays

9 minutes read

Concrete-surfacing-vs-replacement - traffic lines on floor

Commercial concrete work has an average lifespan of 30 years. What could go wrong … right?

For starters, consider that well-designed, -mixed, and -placed concrete should easily last 50+ years. Every day, heavy traffic and other outside influences shorten the lifespan of commercial concrete structures everywhere. The NYC parking garage collapse – and the later discovery of 4,000 at-risk garages across the five boroughs – shows the importance of an annual structural evaluation.

As such, one of the most common debates among contractors is concrete repair (i.e. resurfacing or overlay) vs. replacement. The decision is a fine line, and it has an impact on the happiness of everyone involved – from subcontractor to property owner to end user.

This decision hinges on several factors – each impacting the project's cost, duration, and effectiveness. Below we’ll lay out each factor – and supply you the right questions to ask when weighing concrete surface repair vs. a full-on fix. 

Otherwise, a structure with your name on it might be next to fall.

4 Options for Repairing or Replacing Concrete

Once you recognize a slab of concrete has seen better days, the gears in your head should start turning before it turns into a safety issue. Should you renew or extend the life of the floor, deck, or other installation? Or start from scratch?

There are four options; each works best with different issues or degrees of damage:

  • Repairing
  • Resurfacing & Overlays
  • Raising
  • Replacing


Repairing concrete involves fixing specific issues such as cracks, chips, or small holes without redoing the entire surface. You can limit your work to repairs when the structural integrity of the concrete is largely intact, and the damage is localized. The process typically includes three steps:

  • RebarReplacing unsalvageable supports; coating or reinforcing partially deteriorated bars
  • Patching – Following the manufacturer’s instructions for mixing, getting air pockets out of the mixture, and applying product to the cracks
  • Finishing – Smoothing the surface with a trowel, letting the mixture set, and feathering edges or otherwise matching the repaired area to the existing concrete
  • Sealing – Uses polyester, epoxy, or another material to prevent leaking from the cracks

Resurfacing & Overlays

Concrete resurfacing involves applying a thin layer of cement on top of the existing surface. This method is chosen when:

  • The concrete still has structural integrity
  • Fading & imperfections are detracting from the appearance
  • Slight damage is present

Concrete resurfacing products rejuvenate the appearance and extend the life of concrete without the cost of full replacement.

Concrete overlay products are thicker and more robust materials. And there’s a whole lot of ‘em, from stamped to self-leveling to polymer-modified overlays.

Use these to:

  • Correct more substantial damage
  • Improve wear resistance
  • Add a decorative touch

Structural concrete overlays use more advanced technology than simple resurfacers, making them viable for protecting heavy-duty floors and other commercial surfaces.

Raising (or Slabjacking)

Raising, aka slabjacking or mudjacking, is a repair method that lifts and levels sunken or uneven concrete slabs. The process involves pumping a grout mixture or a polyurethane foam under the slab to raise it to its original position. 

Concrete raising is exclusive to slab-on-grade applications.

If you need a cheaper alternative to replacement for addressing unevenness or subsidence – without disturbing the structure – raising is an option. However, if the surface has sunk 8” or more, replacement will be necessary. 


Replacement – aka full-depth repair – involves removing the old concrete entirely and pouring anew. This method is necessary when the concrete has extensive damage or structural problems, or when repairs and resurfacing are no longer viable solutions. 

Replacement is the most invasive and typically most expensive option, but it might be the only solution for ensuring safety and functionality.

Factors that Influence Repairing Cracks in Concrete

Each concrete repair job is different. Look closely at each factor that might influence the cost, length, and long-term outcome of your work:

  1. Level of structural damage
  2. Budget
  3. Age
  4. Future use & load requirements
  5. Regulations & certifications
  6. Aesthetics
  7. Schedule

1. Level of Structural Damage 

Typically, one of two scenarios leads you to the point of discussing concrete replacement or resurfacing:

  1. Trigger event: If a user loses money or suffers an inconvenience, you’ll hear about it. An example: the manager of a commercial garage receives a complaint after a falling chunk of concrete damages a user’s car. The manager contacts a contractor, who employs stopgap measures until an evaluation is complete and it’s ready to tackle a full fix. 

  2. Annual evaluation: Regular examination of the structure shows cracks or other signs of structural issues.

Repair works well for small holes, but the presence of large holes or a large number of holes means a short-sighted fix wont’ last long. The rule of thumb is that replacement is necessary if cracks will require more than 2” of material to fix, or if it’s sunk more than 8”.

Below are a few more questions to help with your concrete repair and replacement decisions: 

Damage Concern

If Yes, Then …

Can you return the concrete to its original integrity?

Repair it

Is there spalling

Replace it

Is delamination the main concern?

Repair it

Is there a lot of material missing?

Replace it

Is the subbase eroded?

Replace it

If the subbase is solid, your choice may come down to pricing. If there’s too much material missing, you’ve got a structural issue that probably merits replacement.

Safety for those who are handling the repairs and those who are regular visitors should be the first priority.

2. Budget 

From a cost standpoint, repairing concrete is often less expensive than replacing it. However, if the damage is extensive or the area is prone to recurring issues, replacement might be more cost-effective in the long run.

There's a widely accepted threshold in commercial concrete replacement. While not necessarily an official standard, the best practice is that a repair requiring more than two inches of material means the more cost-effective choice is to replace the concrete pad.

Consider the total cost of ownership when deciding between repair and replacement. From an owner's standpoint, it makes more sense to find a way to fully replace it. This typically provides the longest break between investments in repairing cracks in concrete. However, it is not always the most effective choice at the moment. 

3. Age of Concrete 

Concrete is super tough and lasts a lot longer than most materials, but it doesn't last forever. If you've had a concrete surface for about 20-25 years, it's time to plan for repair or replacement.

Remember, exterior concrete gets hit by weather a lot more than inside materials do. Outdoor concrete almost always has a shorter life span. Make plans for replacement accordingly if the concrete has been exposed to extreme weather conditions for an extended period. 

4. Future Use & Load Requirements 

Concrete that’s withstood run-of-the-mill traffic for years might be a candidate for repair – provided the issues aren’t extensive. However, if the usage intensity or load requirements are expected to increase, replacement might be more beneficial than repairing the existing structure.

One example of this is a garage floor where previously it only had to support a car or two. However, future plans include the installation of a lift, and manufacturers recommend 4” of 3,000 lb. concrete to support the heavy machinery. 

(Pro Tip: Verify the structure will still have enough clearance if you add a layer.)

5. Regulations & Certifications 

In some cases, choosing replacement vs. repair might be the only way to meet current building codes and standards. This will be location-specific.

An inspection typically triggers repair work, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing on its own. When you’re having an inspection because something already collapsed or suffered serious damage, that’s a bad thing.

Taking the LEED

Repairing concrete is more sustainable than replacement, as it generally uses fewer resources and generates less waste. This may carry weight in situations where you’re focusing on sustainable building and attempting to earn LEED credits

6. Aesthetics 

For some projects, the appearance of the concrete is as important as its structural integrity. While repairs can often blend with the existing concrete, they might still appear patchy and inconsistent. In the event you have a very ornate design in the concrete, replacement might be the best route. 

Visual considerations include:

  • Curb appeal’s impact on property’s value
  • Historic significance of the “look”
  • Whether advances in color matching & texturing can sufficiently limit discrepancies

7. Schedule 

Obviously, repairing concrete is typically faster than replacing it, which is crucial when the project schedule is tight. If that’s your case, repairing might be the preferable option – just don’t compromise on structural integrity in the process.

What’s your estimated amount of time the structure would be inaccessible in the case of replacement? What about for simpler repairs? All involved parties should discuss the downtime associated with each choice.

Concrete Replacement vs. Resurfacing: One More Thing to Remember

Repairing vs. replacing concrete involves different levels of effort, cost, and downtime. Only you and the property owner know how much you can stomach.

Repairing and resurfacing are less invasive methods that take aim at minor to moderate issues. Raising is specialized work that addresses settlement or unevenness. Replacing concrete is the last (yet common) resort when other methods can’t restore the concrete's structural condition or when aesthetics are key.

Each method has its place in maintaining and extending the life of concrete structures. Don’t make a hasty decision – plan a thorough assessment of the concrete's condition and the project's goals.

Looking for more information on extending the life of your concrete installation? Engaging with structural engineers or concrete product specialists can provide valuable insights on safety and cost. Or, keep learning on your own at our growing blog library: