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A concrete contractor is a professional who places, colors, finishes, repairs, and maintains concrete, whether for interior, exterior, residential, or commercial use. Many homeowners use contractors for projects like driveways, pools, and patios.
Concrete is a durable, sustainable substance that can be colored, shaped, and stamped into almost any design. It's more energy efficient to produce and allows less heat and cold to escape than other materials. When working with a skilled contractor, homeowners can use concrete to significantly increase the value of their property.
Common Concrete Construction Projects
Concrete driveways are a popular choice because of their durability - they can last up to 30 years - and low maintenance requirements. A basic concrete driveway runs between $3 to $10 per square foot, while a customized or decorative driveway costs between $15 and $25 per square foot. While they're durable overall, concrete driveways are more susceptible to cracks, and harder to repair than asphalt or other alternatives. In addition, patch jobs and stains from gas and oil on concrete are more obvious.
Patching a concrete driveway costs between $6 and $10 per square foot, while resurfacing costs about $2.25 per square foot. Resurfacing is a nice middle ground between multiple patch jobs and a complete replacement. During the process, a contractor removes and replaces the top layer of concrete.
Concrete patios run anywhere from $6 to $17 per square foot, depending on customization and the intricacy of the design. Like driveways, they last for several years and require minimal maintenance, making them a nice alternative to wood. Homeowners don't have to deal with termites, splintering or wood rot. In addition, because concrete patios are a single, solid surface, there are no cracks through which weeds can grow. What's more, concrete patios can be made to fit any area, so owners don't have to worry about curves or hard corners. Many homeowners choose to stamp or stain their concrete patios to mimic brick or stone, getting the same look as these materials for a much cheaper price.
While concrete driveways and patios are cost efficient in the long term, concrete pools require frequent maintenance and expensive renovations. They need to be resurfaced and retiled every 10 to 20 years, which can set owners back $10,000 or more. In addition, it takes anywhere from two to four months to install a pool. That said, concrete pools are more flexible than any other option. Unlike fiberglass pools, they aren't built from a mold nor are they limited to shipping restrictions. In addition, concrete pools do not depreciate in value the way vinyl liner ones do.
Alternatively, concrete pool decks provide a safe, slip-resistant area that adds to the beauty and atmosphere of the pool area. They are faster and cheaper to install than other materials, costing about the same price per square foot as a concrete patio. When it comes to the coping, the material used to cap the edge of the pool, owners of a concrete deck can use stone, precast concrete or poured concrete. Stone is the most expensive option, while precast concrete is the cheapest and easiest to install. Poured concrete, meanwhile, provides the most even finish.
Concrete is the most popular material used to construct basements because of its versatility and moisture resistance. Additionally, poured concrete is resistant to fires and cave-ins. Masonry walls - where the walls are constructed with concrete blocks - have several joints that can undermine their structural integrity. These walls must be properly waterproofed to prevent seepage from soil outside. Homeowners can also choose precast panel basements, where the concrete walls are poured ahead of time and lifted into place with a crane. A single concrete wall costs about $5,000, most of which goes to labor.
Removing concrete costs about $1 to $3 per square foot, but there are several factors that push a demolition job into the thousands. The contractor might charge additional fees if the concrete is hard to access - for example, if it's surrounded by fences or large trees that block construction equipment. They might also charge extra for thicker concrete, complex installations, or if the homeowner wants to preserve part of the original design.
Concrete countertops are custom designed and handcrafted by a designer or architect. Most of their cost comes from the design process itself, but the material runs between $65 and $135 per square foot. Installation costs approximately $40 to $50 per hour. Traditionally, concrete countertops are viewed on the same level as luxurious materials like marble and granite. They provide a seamless, long-lasting surface and can take any form or edge design, making them more customizable than other options.
Costing between $10 and $20 per square foot, concrete floors add a modern, stylish element to interiors. They require minimal maintenance, are easy to clean, and resist scratches from pets. They're also odor resistant, so any spills or accidents won't leave long-lasting smells behind. Because concrete absorbs heat, the floors can even reduce heating bills. They're uncomfortable to stand on for long periods of time, however, and they can create an echo. While concrete floors last longer than carpet or laminate, areas with heavy traffic are known to develop hairline cracks.
Stamped concrete is textured to replicate other materials, such as stone, slate, brick, tile, and even wood. In fact, stamping is generally preferable to using these other materials because it provides the same look as stone and brick at a much cheaper cost. In addition, stamped concrete is more durable than other options, especially wood. Prices range between $8 and $18 per square foot. More realistic designs require multiple patterns and colors, increasing the cost.
Acid-based stains mix a water-and-acid solution with inorganic metallic salts to create a chemical reaction that permanently alters the color of concrete. The result is a beautiful, marble-like look. Unlike tinted sealers or coatings, acid stains penetrate the concrete itself and leave no film behind. Although they provide the richest colors of any stain, they're limited to a handful of earth-toned options. Many manufacturers only offer acid stains in eight different colors.
Non-reactive stains offer unlimited color options but lack the depth of acid stains. These aren't exactly true stains - rather, they're coatings, dyes or sealers that sit on top of the concrete, filling the pores with pigment. These treatments are called non-reactive stains because they do not create a chemical reaction like acid stains.
Colored concrete is created by blending liquid, granular or powdered iron oxide pigments with natural concrete. These pigments are either mined directly from the earth or manufactured in a chemical plant. Iron oxide particles are about 10 times smaller than those of concrete. Therefore, when mixed together, the pigment masks some of the natural concrete color. Gray concrete is harder to color than white, so most manufacturers will only mix in dark pigments. White concrete accepts any color but is more expensive than gray.
Decorative, colored, stamped, and stained concrete must be cured to minimize efflorescence, a powdery, white substance that forms on concrete surfaces. This occurs as water in the concrete evaporates, carrying calcium hydroxide with it. When the calcium hydroxide mixes with the carbon dioxide in the air, it becomes calcium carbonate, which remains on top of the concrete. Efflorescence isn't visible on gray surfaces, nor is it damaging, but it ruins the look of color-treated designs. Wet curing is the best way to cure concrete and prevent efflorescence, but it's hard to do so evenly. As such, most people choose liquid curing compounds instead.
Wet concrete can irritate the skin or cause first-, second-, or third-degree chemical burns. Cement dust contains silica, which damages the lungs and can lead to cancer or silicosis. Many concrete mixtures contain cement, so homeowners should be careful if contractors create the concrete on site. Anyone who touches wet concrete or dust should wash their skin with soap and cold water.
Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Concrete Contractor
As with any home improvement project, it's best to shop around before hiring a professional. Homeowners should ask questions while vetting potential contractors to find one whose terms suit both need and budget.
- Are you licensed? It's always best to choose a licensed concrete contractor, regardless of a state or city's licensing laws. A licensed contractor must pass exams that test his or her knowledge of concrete mixing, construction, and safety. Licensing requirements vary between locations. Some have financial restrictions - for example, contractors in California must have a license if they want to work on a job with a total cost of more than $500. Homeowners can search the website of their state or local government for a list of licensed professionals.
- Are you insured? Generally, insurance covers damage to people or property during the construction process. It can, but doesn't always, cover the cost of a poor job. Get the specifics of a contractor's insurance policy before agreeing to construction.
- Are you bonded? A bond covers the performance gaps in insurance, ensuring the contractor fulfills the terms of his or her contract. Bonding protects consumers from poor work and certain financial obligations, like obtaining supplies and permits.
- What is your warranty? Ask for specific details about the warranties offered, including what types of damage and maintenance are covered and when. Some warranties contain complex or confusing clauses and don't cover common repairs such as pool resurfacing. Never work with a contractor who doesn't offer a warranty.
- How long will the job take? A detailed timeline will prevent any unexpected gaps in construction, weather permitting. Some contractors start a job, leave for a few days, and finish later.
Certification and National Associations
Homeowners should work with a concrete contractor who is either certified by or a member of one or more trade organizations for high-quality results. These individuals adhere to professional guidelines and are versed in industry and safety standards.
- American Concrete Institute: The ACI offers more than 20 certification courses in specialized areas of the concrete industry, including adhesive anchor installation, strength testing, and quality management.
- American Society of Concrete Contractors: The ASCC is a nonprofit made up of more than 600 member companies. It was created by and for concrete contractors to provide educational and networking opportunities, although it does not offer certification.
- National Ready Mixed Concrete Association: The NRMCA offers certification programs related to sustainability, green construction, concrete delivery, and more. Formed in 1930, it is the leading advocate for ready-mixed concrete.