We see it every day. Most of us walk or drive on it every day. It’s such a common part of our lives, but so many people don’t know very much about it.
Very few parts of your home are more misunderstood than concrete.
It’s so simple, so plain, that we automatically imagine that we understand all there is to know about it from a glance. Even many seniors don’t know it’s true nature.
The Good Bad and Ugly of Concrete
Most homes in our retirement communities are built on a concrete slab floor. Some people refer to this as slab on grade, others call them patio homes. Basically, they’re a house without a basement or crawl space.
There is no other contractor in Utah that puts as much attention to keeping a home stair free as Leisure Villas. Because of this, we are intimately aware of how concrete is going to act, since we deal with it as your main floor living space so often.
You already know that concrete is hard. You might even know that there are many different applications for it, each with their own specific mixtures and processes. Here are a few things you might not know:
- Concrete is like a sponge. It’s true. Have you ever watched water on concrete? Maybe you’ve noticed that it doesn’t bead like it would on top of your car—it blotches. Your concrete is actually soaking up the water.
- Concrete continues to harden for years, even decades after it’s poured.
- All concrete cracks. Small sections might not, but anything over nine feet will. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone say, “well my concrete never cracked.” My guess, is that they either didn’t notice the crack, or the contractor who poured it, did a good job of controlling where it would crack.
This is why you see control joints in sidewalks. The contractor is trying to control where the crack will happen.
Other methods can be used to control floor cracking, such as extra reinforcement or spring tensioning. Most of these methods are actually keeping the cracks from moving, not preventing them from happening, and they all come with a cost.
Concrete is a great building material and despite some of its weaknesses, if laid and maintained properly, your home can continue looking great for years down the road.
Since concrete is like a sponge, and because it does not flex, there are some inherent problems with it. One of the weaknesses is on exterior concrete, such as driveways. Especially around Utah, this is a big problem.
Perhaps you’ve seen pock-marked driveways? Driveways where the concrete is chipping up. This is called spalling.
What happens is that water gets on your concrete, then like the sponge it is, it soaks down into it. Keep in mind that all concrete has some water in it. It’s part of its make up. When winter comes, this water freezes.
We all know that water expands when it freezes. If concrete is hard and inflexible, what do you think is going to happen? Think of freezing a glass jar full of water. Same idea. It’s going to shatter.
Concrete isn’t as brittle as glass, and its hardness can hold it together pretty good, but places like here in Utah, where we could go all winter freezing and thawing our driveways multiple times throughout the day—eventually that concrete is going to weaken and chips are going to pop up.
Well how do I stop it then?
The biggest, number one, highly disputed but true method to prevent spalling, is not something you’ll like. DON’T use ice-melt or salt (especially salt) on your driveway to clear off ice. Their product labels may claim not to hurt concrete, and while they might be chemically formulated to not hurt concrete like salt will, they still cause more of those freezing/thawing cycles that cause the water to damage your concrete.
The best thing you can do is to keep your driveway free and clear of snow and ice. This means starting in your gutters, if you have ice damming, run some heat tape to keep the water running down your gutters, not over them.
It also means shoveling your snow and not driving on it, so that it doesn’t have a chance to form hard-to-get-rid-of ice sheets that keep melting and freezing day after day.
Even doing all of this, and this might be the most frustrating part, you are still going to track salt onto your driveway from the city streets. The cities use various ice-melts, but mostly salt to keep the asphalt safe. Inevitably, you are going to track that home with you. Sorry.
Sometimes you’ll need to use a little ice-melt, for safety. After all else you can do, just be frugal with how much you use. As soon as the ice starts to break up, get out your shovel and get it off that concrete.
Things like acrylic sealers can sometimes help also. They can add a waterproof layer on the surface of your concrete. But they too will wear down and if you’re not careful, can trap too much water into your concrete. Make sure you wait several months after your concrete is poured before you actually put one of those sealers down.
It can be a lot of work, but you could apply a concrete sealer once every year or every other year to keep your concrete capped. But if you just try to keep the snow and ice off to start with, you’ve already solved most of the problem.
Living in a retirement community like those built by Leisure Villas, we have HOA’s maintain our properties. During the winter, they will hire snow removal companies to take care of the snow and ice for us.
These companies can do a great job at protecting your concrete, however, some of them can also be reckless. If you’re already living in one of our great 55+ communities, make sure that your board actually meets with your snow removal contractors at the beginning of each year. Let them know your expectations.
You do not want to hire a cheap company that is just going to show up, shoot a bunch of ice-melt and salt all over the place, then run. You want someone who actually has people with shovels, clearing all your concrete with as little chemicals as possible.
Leisure Villas only warranties the installation of the concrete for two years. We don’t fix spalling, because we are careful to install it right, and we try to only hire quality snow removal contractors. Still, sometimes we get homeowners who are used to throwing down ice-melt, or parking where the snow removal companies can’t get to, or they forget to turn on their heat tape so they build up ice skating rinks on their driveways.
Any patches done to chipped up concrete will look worse than the chip itself.
We put plenty of gravel and rebar in our concrete, plus we cut control joints everywhere that makes sense, but since cracks will happen, and since we can’t always control where they happen, we will not replace concrete just because of a crack.
The only time that concrete justifies a replacement or fix, is if it has separated more than ¼ of an inch, either vertically or horizontally.
Many people worry that a crack under their carpet will allow water or bugs to come up. This is not the case. With all the other holes in your concrete to accommodate plumbing or electrical, there are a lot of easier ways for water and bugs to find their way up. However, all of our homes, since they are built above ground level, will not have ground water intruding. Bugs will never start coming up from a crack, though they might come in your house from outside, then find a crack or plumbing access hole and move in. The crack is not what invites them, and if they want to stay, they’ll find a place, whether it’s under your carpet, behind your baseboards, or somewhere else.
This has turned into a long post, but I hope it helps you understand a little more about concrete, it’s nature, and how to care for it. At Leisure Villas, we are very conscious about our concrete. Not only is it the literal foundation of our projects, but by installing it right, and teaching you how best to maintain it, it can keep your retirement communities looking great for years to come.
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