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Three Common Problems Experienced By Do-It-Yourself Concrete Installers

Construction & Contractors Articles

Concrete is a durable, relatively cheap, material suitable for a countless number of projects around the house. It is easy to work, even for inexperienced individuals, and it can be customized in appearance for a much more expensive look should that need arise. However, there are a few pitfalls that can occur if concrete isn't properly installed or if the process is rushed. While not always dangerous, the following flaws are all, at the least, unattractive in appearance. Below are three common flaws that can be introduced by do-it-yourself installers as well as information on how to prevent them from occurring:

Blistering

Concrete blistering occurs when air bubbles cause the top layer of the concrete to become lumpy. Beneath the thin layer of concrete that lies on top of the blister, an air pocket creates a weak spot that is subject to crumbling. Though blisters are mostly a cosmetic problem, this issue can still be troubling in installations where looks are important such as stained interior floors.

Blistering is caused by one of several possible problems including:

  • Overly "sticky" concrete caused by excessive sand content
  • Failure to properly use vibratory compaction methods during drying
  • Finishing the concrete surface too quickly after pouring

Plastic shrinkage cracking

Concrete can crack for all kinds of reason, but a newly-finished concrete surface should not be cracked. However, concrete that is allowed to dry too quickly or exposed to arid and windy conditions is subject to plastic shrinkage. Cracks that form from plastic shrinkage are usually quite visible and may run several inches deep. The root cause of plastic shrinkage is the rapid loss of water from the surface layer of drying concrete.

These cracks are not only unsightly, they can create a structurally-unsound installation that might not be adequate to support buildings or provide a durable transportation surface. That's why plastic shrinkage cracks require concrete repair in many situations before further work can proceed.

Crazing

Thin cracks that appear shortly after a concrete installation are called crazing. These cracks usually appear in an "alligator skinned" pattern and can be nearly imperceptible except when the surface is wet. Fortunately, they are not a threat to structural stability, but their appearance is a problem for projects where cosmetics are a significant concern.

Crazing is caused by rapid shifts in temperature and moisture in the ambient environment. Going from wet to dry conditions, or dry to wet, in quick fashion can introduce crazing.

Prevention of the flaws

All of the three flaws can be prevented by do-it-yourselfers, as long as they use the right materials and techniques. Below are several good practices that will keep your concrete from blistering, cracking and crazing:

  • Prepare and appropriate subgrade – Concrete slabs are best poured on subgrades that are not only stable, but also warm and allow for gas permeability. In cold conditions, it is best to heat the subgrade using forced-air heating or other appropriate techniques. In addition, don't pour concrete on top of plastic sheeting or other materials that inhibit air movement.
  • Utilize proper working techniques – Excessive working of wet concrete can remove too much water from the material; when using a vibrator or hand-working techniques, wait until the concrete has dried enough for working.
  • Keep moisture levels from dropping too quickly – While you don't want concrete to stay wet for excessive periods of time, it is preferable to drying it too quickly. You can spray the surface of concrete with a mist of water if the humidity is low or if the ambient temperature is high. In addition, special drying blankets and covers can be used to trap moisture inside the concrete for an extended amount of time.
  • Use additives as necessary – Certain chemicals can be applied to concrete during mixing to keep the drying rate at an even level, and other additives can serve to bind the concrete together and prevent cracking.
  • Avoid pouring during periods of rapidly changing weather – if possible, try to pour concrete during times of the year when the weather patterns are stable. For example, pouring during spring and summer can be risky if rapid cooling and warming, as well as sudden rainfall, is a strong possibility. You want the concrete to be kept stable while drying, and avoiding these environmental influences is ideal.

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19 March 2015