The term “set in concrete” or as we know it "concrete installation" implies permanence, so installing concrete has to be done right the first time. Most homeowners choose concrete installation for sidewalks, driveways, patios, and foundations because it’s inexpensive, quick, and the final results require little maintenance. Plus, if you don’t like its dull-grey color, it can also be stamped and decorated to make it more attractive. Often people hire a licensed concrete contractor for the project since they posses the appropriate equipment and specific knowledge: they know which kind of material is needed, how much is required, how it should be prepared, and they’re responsible for delivery, application, and final finishes.
Warning to Do-It-Yourselfers
You could choose to do this project yourself, but installing concrete is a tricky chore. You have to do all your own prep work and calculations, which is half the struggle. Plus, you’ll still want the pre-made cement to arrive directly to your home via a delivery company in order to make the job go quicker. And quicker is essential. Once poured, concrete has a time limit before it dries, so make sure you’re completely prepared when the cement trucks arrive. Concrete delivery companies may schedule several pours in a row and will charge extra if the driver has to wait on a site because it is not ready.
Before installing concrete, the site needs proper preparation. Laying the groundwork is the most important step to concrete installation, so it should be done by a professional who has experience with the pre-planning stage.
First, the soil must be compacted and tamped. It must also be graded and sloped for drainage purposes. Next, the soil must be the right consistency: not too wet (or it won’t set) and not too dry (or it’ll dry too fast). Then, wooden forms should be constructed and set into place for the pour.
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Since cement structures are known for their toughness; they often receive a lot of abuse from vehicles and foot traffic. Therefore, get cement that is air-entrained, which means it contains air bubbles that will contract and expand in order to absorb shock and adapt to extreme weather changes. Also, you’ll probably want to reinforce the forms with steel rebar grids in order to increase the strength of the sub-structure. These metal bars are suspended above the soil so the cement can be poured above and below the grid itself.
Concrete is a mixture consisting of sand, gravel, and Portland cement powder (this powder, once wet, turns into a glue that holds it all together). It’s important to have a cement delivery company prepare the mixture, so that when it arrives it is the correct thickness: enough water should be added to the mixture (this substance is called slump) so that it pours easily without being too wet. Laying concrete is a grueling job. It’s heavy, messy, and can start drying fast, so make sure you make a space available for truck to park that is closest to the site as possible. If it’s a driveway or sidewalk, it may be able to be poured directly into the forms without hauling, but if it’s a back patio, it must be carried via wheelbarrows. So try installing concrete on a cooler, cloudier day: not only does it make the work less strenuous, it also prevents the cement from drying too fast.
After laying concrete, it’ll need to be leveled. A board is dragged across the top to make it even with the forms (called screeding). Then it’s smoothed with a wood float: not only does this improve its appearance, it also makes it stronger by driving the larger stones into the cement while bringing the finer particles (sand and grit) to the top. Then the cement is separated from the form and joints are created: cement shrinks as it hardens, so joints prevent it from it cracking. At this point, you could broom the surface to create a decorative brushed texture. Lastly it should be left alone to dry. However, cement doesn’t really dry—it cures. The slower it cures, the stronger the results. So once the contractors leave, you’ll need to wet down the surface for a few days and always cover it with moist burlap or a tarp to slow the process. You could also apply a finish that’ll seal in moisture.
Every year, you go through the garage and chuck out the old, rusted bicycle parts and the broken garden tools. But if you really want to clean up that space, concrete cleaning is a great way to make your garage or driveway look like new.
How Deep is Your Clean?
The first thing to determine when you’re taking on a concrete cleaning project is how big of a job you have on your hands. Will a light once-over do the trick, or will you need to call in the pros for some of those really tough stains? There are three basic levels of concrete cleaning:
Light, General Cleaning: A good scrubbing with a metallic brush and mild detergent soap might get out the dirt that’s on the surface. For tougher grime, try a stronger soap, or soap plus ammonia.
Power Washing: A power washer will make the job go quicker. If you buy a washer, experts say that a model with 3,000 psi of pressure and four gallons per minute flow rate will take care of most household needs. Hot water washers are quicker and more thorough, but they’re also a good deal more expensive. For most residential jobs, cold water washers will suffice.
Chemical Concrete Cleaning: You can buy these at your local home improvement store. Just be sure to specify that you’re using it for general cleaning, not for stripping the concrete. If you do use one of these cleaners, be sure to get enough to cover the whole area for a nice, even look.
Concrete Cleaning for Sealing Purposes
If your concrete surface has been previously sealed, you might need only a light cleaning using one of the methods above, and a touch-up or reapplication in highly trafficked areas. But if the surface has ground-in grime, tire tracks, oil or grease, then you should remove these stains before sealing. In order to do this, you have to penetrate the surface. Try one of the following:
Degreasers: Several brands of concrete degreasers are on the market. They work by softening and lifting hard-to-remove, oil-based substances. You can buy them at contractor supply houses—be sure to specify that you need it for cleaning and stripping concrete. Also, be sure to follow all safety instructions on the package.
Acid Etching: To clean deeper stains in your concrete, you can hire a professional to clean with diluted muriatic acid. This will take care of even your toughest stains, but it may alter the texture of your concrete surface.
If you do use these chemicals, pay attention to the disposal requirements in your area. Many places won’t allow you to drain chemicals into storm drains, which means you’ll have to make special arrangements, or hire a professional to do the job for you.
Colored Concrete Cleaning
If your floor or driveway is made from colored concrete, be sure to check the manufacturer’s recommendations to be sure what will work best without causing any damage.
Concrete Overlay Prep
If you are preparing to add a decorative overlay to your existing concrete surface, the concrete has to be free of any sealers, coatings, cures or other materials, which could keep the overlay from bonding properly to the surface. The best way to remove these contaminants completely is a process called shot blasting, in which small steel pellets are fired along the surface. This will remove many substances very quickly. For a job of this magnitude, you will need to call in a concrete-cleaning specialist.
Most of the time, dirt builds up slowly and gradually on concrete surfaces, but scheduling periodic cleaning is an effective way of keeping your home exterior looking as good as new.