Ask any concrete flatworker (the guys who pour horizontal concrete) for a guarantee and 9 times out of 10 he’ll say, “I guarantee it will crack!”  Why?  Concrete is a heavy, solid, and extremely rigid substrate typically placed over a constantly moving earth.  Even though it is hard as a rock, concrete also scales, spalls, flakes, chips, stains, heaves, settles, buckles and breaks.  The earth beneath heaves when the moisture content freezes, washes away and hollows out if drainage issues exist, swells if the makeup of the soils doesn’t allow for drainage, settles if compaction was inadequate, etc., etc.  Moisture and chemicals are easily absorbed into untreated concrete causing all kinds of potential problems.

Concrete is a mixture of sand, rock, water, and cement.  Other ingredients may be added depending on the specifications and performance requirements.  Your driveway, sidewalks, porches, patios, etc. are concrete … not cement.  Cement is to concrete as flour is to bread.

There are certain things that can be done to improve the strength and durability of concrete, most basic of which are proper installation practices and the use of quality materials.  Fiber and metal reinforcing can improve the strength, and additional mixing techniques can improve the durability, such as the introduction of air entrainment which is a must in climates subject to freeze/thaw cycles.  It remains a given, however, that concrete will suffer from one or more of the maladies previously mentioned.

What can be done to protect this investment?  Concrete is a coating and, as such, requires maintenance.  All concrete should be sealed to help prevent moisture and chemicals (de-icing salts, magnesium chloride, etc.) from penetrating the concrete and subjecting it to ever increasing damage from corrosion, freeze/thaw cycles, etc.  Penetrating sealers, caulking and filling of cracks when they occur and periodic cleaning are the minimum requirements for maintaining the integrity of your concrete.

What if the integrity of the concrete has been compromised?  All is not lost!  If addressed in a timely enough manner, the concrete does not have to be torn out and replaced, and most concrete problems can be solved.  Concrete overlays are a very viable option, and if high quality materials are used and installed properly, the result can be a more durable, long lasting finish than the original, often with great enhancements to the aesthetics and value of a property.


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