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HomeAdvisor's Guide to Hiring a Concrete Contractor

You’ve probably seen it many times on TV: a homeowner pours some mix and water into a bucket, stirs it up, and suddenly they’re pouring a perfect patio. Maybe you’ve seen a neighbor’s elegant stonework and wondered how they were able to afford it. Or maybe there’s a large crack in your driveway that’s more than just ugly, it’s a dangerous tripping hazard.

There are concrete products that are designed for the average homeowner to be able to whip up something for quick patchwork or for a small project. However, larger projects or projects where safety is a concern are best left to professionals. A professional will have certain advantages over a DIYer:

  • They will know how to lay the substrate.
  • They will know what sort of grading is necessary.
  • Due to experience, they will better know how much material is needed.
  • With projects where safety is a concern, such as crumbling stairs or cracked walkways, you will have some protection against flaws in workmanship.
  • They will have the skills necessary to make sure the end result looks exactly like the elegant stonework you thought your neighbor spent a small fortune on.

Tips on Hiring a Concrete Professional

As with any contractor for any job, there’s more to hiring a professional than flipping open the phone book and picking someone. You want to make sure you’ve hired the right person for the job. Here are some considerations before you pick a contractor:

  • References – Family, friends, and coworkers are a great source of references. Especially if the work they’ve had done was recent, ask them how satisfied they were with their contractor. Were they on time and professional? Did they stick to the budget? What trouble spots occurred and how were they handled? Would they hire them again? If possible, ask to see the contractor’s work.
  • Estimates – You should be able to come up with a list of about three or four contractors. Any more than that and details can get confused. Have them come out to your site for an estimate. Be sure to ask questions about things like weather conditions that you may need to keep in mind. For example, Cincinnati, Ohio has snow and ice in the winter followed by very warm summers. Finally, don’t be tempted by the lowest bid. Often, the lowest bidder is the guy who’s going to cut the most corners and could mean shoddy workmanship, no guarantees, and other trouble that you don’t need.
  • See To Your Own Protection – Your contractor should be licensed, bonded, and insured. An uninsured contractor can hold you responsible for any injuries or damage on the job, and an unlicensed contractor could mean that you have to tear everything out and start all over again. Check with your municipality and your contractor to see what permits are needed before any work begins. Once you have them, keep them in a secure place so that if you need to show them, you know right where they are and can get to them.
  • Get Everything In Writing – Once you have decided to hire a contractor, get your contract in writing. Read the contract and make sure you agree to the terms before signing, and be sure that any changes to the job are also in writing. This is the most important piece of protection you can have in resolving any disputes.
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Questions to Ask Your Concrete Contractor

Before the job starts, there are some questions you should ask a prospective contractor. Asking these questions will help keep you informed and allow you to make an educated decision on who to use:

  • Are you licensed, bonded, and insured? Some work is only allowed to be done by licensed contractors. That way you can expect that things will be done to code. Bonding and insurance help protect you in the event of damages or injuries both to the crew and equipment as well as you, your family, and your property.
  • What’s included in the estimate? Your estimate should include everything necessary to do the job, but if you are replacing existing concrete, ask about clean up and hauling away of debris.
  • What certifications do you have? Mixing and pouring concrete for certain uses requires specific knowledge. A small slab outside of your back door is a lot different than a long driveway that you will be parking three cars on.
  • What warranty do you offer? If no warranty is offered, walk away. However, if a multi-year warranty is offered, read it carefully. Many long warranties exclude common but important repairs and maintenance that are expected to happen over the time period.
  • What if it rains on the new concrete? A contractor should have a plan in place for damage caused by the weather. However, you should also be ready to work with the contractor and have the work rescheduled if such conditions are imminent.
  • How long should the job take? A concrete pour for most average jobs can take about three days. To get an idea of what an acceptable answer should be, ask people who have had similar projects done how long it took for their contractor.
  • Can you provide pictures and references? A good contractor will have photographs to show you of his previous work. He will also be able to provide you with contact to his customers.
  • How will my yard look after you’re finished? A good contractor will take due care not to destroy your yard, though you should expect some effect depending on the project. Dodgy answers are a red flag, but you could also check with references about how they felt about the conditions of their yards after the job.
  • How thick will you be pouring the concrete? If you’re having a driveway poured, you’ll want at least 4 inches to handle the weight of the vehicle. Every additional inch increases the weight capacity by 50%. A walkway can be thinner, but you don’t want it so thin that it will crack within the first few months.
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What Type of Concrete Project Are You Doing?

Concrete is used for many projects around your home. The cost is affected by the scope of your project, but here are some rough ideas of what some of them cost:

  • Steps – Concrete stairs are often used to replace worn out wooden exterior steps. Not only are they easier to maintain, their solid construction makes them safer overall. The cost is about $45.00 per tread.
  • Safe Rooms – In tornado-prone areas, some newer homes are built around a concrete safe room. Older homes may need to be retrofitted for one. The cost of the safe room will vary with size and other features, but an 8’x8’x8’ safe room costs around $10,000.00 if added into an existing home.
  • An Entire House – Building a home out of concrete costs a little more than a comparable wood-frame house by $0.25 to $3.35 per square foot. The savings come in lower heating and cooling bills, the ability to use a smaller HVAC unit, and reduced home insurance costs due to their resistance to fire. A concrete home can save you hundreds, or even thousands, per year.
  • Concrete Driveway – A typical driveway pour takes about three days. After that, your contractor will tell you how long you have to wait before you can start parking on it. Generally, you should wait 7 days before driving on it (such as getting your car into the garage) and 28 days before parking on it (which places a sustained weight on it). The average cost is around $3,700.00.
  • Sidewalk – 120 square feet of concrete sidewalk can be poured in about 6 hours. Your contractor will probably advise you not to walk on it until 24 to 48 hours have passed. The average cost is around $600.00 for 120 square feet.
  • Concrete Patio – Like the sidewalk, you should wait 24 to 48 hours before walking on it, but a patio might have to wait 7 days before heavy items, like grills and furniture, get set on it. Most typical patios cost between $1,000.00 and $2,000.00 depending on the size. Features such as built-in gas and electrical lines can add to the cost as can stairs and unusual shapes, colors, etc.
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Common Concrete Repairs

When it comes to concrete repairs there are three common problems that are encountered, cracking, scaling (or “spalling”), and dusting.

  • Cracking is caused by numerous conditions, most often temperature fluctuations. It’s mostly a cosmetic issue (unless part of the concrete has become raised up, in which case it is now a safety issue as well as a structural issue). When you notice cracks in your concrete, it’s best to patch them immediately before they let moisture and other destructive elements in. If you catch the cracks early enough, this can cost as low as $300.00. Waiting too long, however, can send this cost to around $3,000.00 on average.
  • Scaling or spalling refers to when parts of your concrete start flaking off. It happens when a poor sealer is used or when too much water is used in the mix. In colder climates, deicing chemicals can also cause scaling. Repairing it involves resurfacing the affected structure (driveway, patio, etc.) and laying down a waterproof sealer. The average cost to resurface a driveway is about $2.25 per square foot for a basic resurfacing. Resealing a driveway costs about $329.00 for a typical driveway.
  • Dusting is usually caused by having too much water in the concrete mix. The concrete isn’t able to bond with itself and begins to dry and turn to dust. Often, the only solution to this is to replace the feature altogether, as the entire mix used in your project is faulty. If your project is still under warranty, the contractor should pay for the replacement. The cost should be comparable to what you paid for the original.
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Concrete Terms to Know

  • Admixture – A material added to the concrete mix to produce a desired modification, such as an accelerated curing time.
  • Aggregate – A mixture of sand, rock, crushed stone, and other materials that help increase the concrete’s strength.
  • Ballast – A layer of gravel, coarse stone, etc. over which the concrete is poured. It serves as a buffer between the constantly expanding and contracting ground and the rigid concrete.
  • Chair – A small metal support used to hold reinforcing steel bars in place during the pour.
  • Control Joint – A tooled groove designed to control where the concrete cracks (which will happen over time).
  • Curing – The controlling of moisture in the concrete as it hardens.
  • Dry Shake – An element added to the surface of the concrete before it sets to provide an effect such as color or anti-skid properties.
  • Grade – The surface or ground. Also, the degree of sloping to the surface expressed as a percent.
  • Rebar – Steel, ribbed reinforcing bars used to provide strength to poured concrete.
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