How to save hundreds of dollars on a home improvement concrete project

Many homeowners do not realize that their concrete foundation and/or driveway is one of the most expensive costs to their home. A driveway can costs several thousand dollars to replace and homeowners are wise to take precautions to preserve that investment. As a concrete contractor I always assured the customer that eventually every concrete job will crack. Most homeowners usually have to add or replace concrete on their property and there are little known ways to limit that cost.
Every person realizes that a good way to save money is to eliminate the middleman. While many homeowners may have carpentry or other skills to do their own self improvement, many are not aware of how to remove and/or replace concrete. Most people simply call a concrete contractor to handle the whole project without considering ways to cut costs with do-it-yourself methods. If you have a big job of tear out and replace concrete, you should probably hire a professional concrete contractor. However, if you want to add a driveway extension, sidewalk or patio, there are steps you can take to reduce the cost of this new concrete addition.
The first thing every homeowner should do before planning any home improvements that require digging, is to call your local utility companies or the “Call Before You Dig” phone number. This could affect your whole project because every property has wires, pipes and cables underground. After they mark these lines on your property, you can decide where you want to make home improvements or how big. Although building codes require some wires to be buried a minimum of 18” underground, these wires can sometimes be found just a few inches under ground.
Homeowners often make their decisions of how big they want to make their patio according to their budget. Many customers who have built a new patio have also stated, “I should have made the patio bigger.” Homeowners should put their lawn chairs, BBQ grill and other items on the grass area where they plan to build their new patio to help decide how much more patio they really need or want. You can also use the utility lines that are marked in your yard in your decision of what length and width dimensions you decide to use for the new patio. It is best to measure your dimensions for the patio in square feet for accurate measurements for the delivered concrete.
A homeowner can call a concrete company listed in the phone book and ask the dispatch how much the concrete is going to cost. Concrete is sold by the yard. Explain the dimensions of how deep along with the length and width of your concrete project and they will inform you how many yards of concrete you will need and how much the delivered concrete will cost. This can help you decide how large you want to make your new patio. The phrase “bring the whole nine yards” refers to concrete trucks because most concrete trucks can only carry nine yards of concrete. You should call the local government to inquire about easements to ensure your project does not violate building codes.
For every concrete job you will normally have a concrete contractor, laborers who dig the dirt and help deliver the concrete from the concrete truck to the job site and a concrete finisher. The amount of laborers you need will be determined by how close the concrete truck can get to the job site. The less laborers you have, the cheaper your concrete project will cost. If you have an alley behind your house where the concrete truck can back up into your yard to the job site, this will help eliminate labor charges of paying several laborers to use wheelbarrows to transfer the concrete from the concrete truck in the front of your house to the back yard. You can save money on your concrete job by temporarily removing a fence in the back yard so the concrete truck can back up into your yard.
Although a homeowner can eliminate the cost of a concrete contractor and laborers, you will have to hire a concrete finisher. A homeowner is rarely in contact with a concrete finisher and can eliminate costs of a concrete contractor by hiring a concrete finisher. A concrete finisher will cost about $150.00 per job. Look in the phone book and try to find a listing for a concrete finisher. If there is no phone book listing for a concrete finisher, call the dispatcher of a concrete company and ask them for a recommendation of a concrete finisher and get his name and phone number. Call the concrete finisher and describe the size of your concrete job and ask him how much he would charge to pour and finish the concrete job. A concrete finisher is skilled labor with tools of the trade and they do not normally dig the area. A concrete finisher is called to pour and finish the concrete after the area is dug out and formed with a 2 x 4′ frame. If they are required to dig they would want to be paid their standard pay, which is expensive labor charges. A homeowner can dig out and form the area for their concrete project themselves to save money or hire local teenagers to help them, to lower labor costs. Inform the concrete finisher if the concrete truck can reach the job site and ask him how many laborers he would need to help him for the size of this job describing the square footage and yards of concrete required for this job. Ask the concrete finisher if he has his own laborers and how much it would cost you total for labor for the concrete finishers and laborers to pour and finish the size of your project. You can also inquire about what it would cost to dig up and form the area to help you decide if you want to do this job yourself.
Consider the type of soil in your yard and if you want to get exercise and save money by digging out the area yourself. If your yard is sand or dirt it will be much easier to dig than a clay soil. Take a walk around your yard looking for any low spots that could use some soil to make your yard more level. Also walk around the perimeter of your home to ensure that the soil slants away from your home which helps eliminate moisture problems to your foundation. If your yard can be improved with soil, consider digging out the area yourself so you can decide where you want the soil to go. If you hire a contractor to dig out the area, they are going to haul the dirt off. Homeowners are often disturbed by the effects concrete contractors cause on their yard. Contractors sometimes use tractor equipment to dig up and haul off soil and it can cause damage to your yard, your driveway, sidewalk and even the road. Also be aware if you decide to have a heavy concrete truck drive into your yard, you will have tire tracks that will need to be filled after they are gone. You want to avoid having a concrete truck driving into your yard when the soil is still moist from rain. A homeowner should expect a certain amount of damage to their yard if they are going to have concrete poured, but you can eliminate some of those problems by digging out the area yourself.
The first step to any construction project is to form a string line around the perimeter of the job site which requires wooden stakes, a heavy hammer and string. A hardware store has 2 x 2 x 12” wooden stakes that are sold in bundles. You can also haggle with the hardware store to buy warped 2 x 4’s” that most people do not want to buy and cut them into 12” wooden stakes by putting 45 degree angles on the bottom to form a point to drive into the ground. Put a wooden stake into the ground at every corner and tie a string line around the perimeter. You can use a square to ensure you have a 90 degree angle on every corner. You will need to dig out the area within the string line 3.5 inches deep, and it is wise to dig an additional 4 x 4” trench around the perimeter. This helps to prevent water from getting underneath your concrete patio eroding the soil which can cause the concrete to crack.
Most concrete contractors never dig this trench around the perimeter of small concrete jobs although building codes require them to dig a trench around every concrete foundation for a building. In every concrete job there is metal rebar or chicken wire placed inside to make it stronger to prevent cracking. Although concrete contractors use rocks to support this wire about 2” above the ground, so it stays in the middle of the concrete, the weight of the concrete and laborers almost always pushes some of this metal wire to the ground. When water gets under the concrete it causes the metal to rust and oxidize and this chemical reaction causes the concrete to weaken and crack. So it is well worth the extra effort to dig a trench around the perimeter of every concrete job to limit water from getting underneath the concrete. It is ironic that the same metal material used to make concrete stronger is what causes the concrete to crack. Most homeowners and even concrete contractors are not aware of this problem.
After the area is dug out it will always have an uneven surface and contractors put sand down to make the surface somewhat level. You will need to buy 2 x 4” treated lumber to frame the perimeter of the job. Buy #8 duplex nails to drive nails thru the wooden stakes into the 2 x 4” frame which are easier to remove when the concrete is dry. You place a wooden stake on every corner and every area where two 2 x 4’s” are joined. Use a level to ensure the wooden 2 x 4” frame is level if you are going to build a structure on top. If you are making a patio you may want to give your wooden frame a slight slope away from your home to eliminate water drainage problems. After you have built the frame you want to use a saw to cut every wooden stake so it is level with the 2 x 4” wooden frame. The concrete finisher and laborers will use a long 2 x 4” to form and level the concrete by running this 2 x 4” along the wooden frame. A homeowner should hire the concrete finisher to install any metal rebar that is required. If you are joining new concrete to existing concrete you are supposed to drill 1/2” holes into the existing concrete every 18 inches and place 3/8” rebar which sticks out about 6” into the new concrete pour area. This helps keep the joined concrete jobs level so it doesn’t cause ledges by settling. This can be dangerous work and homeowners should hire professionals to handle this task. You can also buy iron mesh concrete which has metal fibers built into the concrete making it more durable, to eliminate putting wire into the concrete. Ask the concrete dispatcher and concrete finisher about this option and the extra costs.
Using these tips can cut costs off of labor and materials for your next concrete job and ensure the job is done correctly to extend the life of the concrete. I can guarantee that all concrete will eventually crack, but there are ways to limit this problem. An engineer told me about the only way to ensure concrete will not crack is to dig 8′ below ground level to treat the sub layers of soil which would make any concrete job cost prohibitive. Due to the many variables of every concrete job, including the weather, which are too lengthy to explain in this article, a homeowner should consider hiring a concrete contractor and use these tips to ensure good communication and a smooth business transaction.