It’s what you don’t know about cement and concrete that causes problems.
Done right, concrete and cement excel at everything from foundations, building blocks, and exterior cladding to polished interior floors and amazing kitchen counter tops.
The “done right” part means that when you hire a contractor for an addition, a renovation, or a new build, their commitment to “getting concrete right” will determine how your love-hate relationships with water and maintenance play out.
“Done right” means no leaks, no function-destroying cracks, sustainable longevity, and composition that creates the properties that your project needs and that you paid for. All concrete cracks, even if its just micro-cracks which are common in new construction and young concrete. Water, aningredient in concrete, can also cause problems; adding too much water can result in shrinkage and cracking, which may cause leaks.
What matters is that you hire contractors who understand that deciding to cut construction and concrete costs by working to minimum building codes may undermine your construction priorities and result in functional compromises and trade-offs for the building.
Owners and developers often decide to build to minimum building codes to save on cost. This may lead to unforeseen problems and to structures without longevity. For instance, modern glass-wall, high-rise condominiums are frequently built to minimum-allowable local construction standards to cut costs. This tight budgeting can result in low-thermal-comfort buildings where construction inefficiency must be offset with high-efficiency heating-cooling, or HVAC, systems. Owners of these massive-window condominium units soon discover their living space is too hot in summer and too cold in winter. The over-worked HVAC system will eventually fail to offset temperature deficiencies and condominium owners will incur additional maintenance or replacement costs on top of discomfort.
What’s the difference between cement and concrete?
I recently spent a fascinating day at Informa’s 30th-annual The Buildings Show talking about both with exhibitors, speakers, and attendees from across North America. I noticed that the two terms were not always used consistently and often seemed interchangeable, so if you’re confused don’t be surprised. Variations also occur in different industries, locations, applications, and just the way people talk. This sometimes distracting word usage is in marked contrast to concrete technology which must be dead-on precise to obtain desired results.
“Concrete is the foundation of modern construction,” says Rick Yelton, editor at large for World of Concrete, the annual trade show attended by more than 50,000 concrete professionals.
“In its simplest form, concrete is a mixture of a paste of Portland cement and water that coats the surface of the fine and coarse aggregates. The mixing action takes place in the concrete trucks seen lined up at construction sites. In about 2 hours [after pouring], the fresh concrete hardens to hold a shape. Then, over the next few days, the concrete gains strength through a chemical process called hydration.”
Concrete is not just one construction material with just one application, but a versatile building “tool” which exists in many forms from ready mixed to precast. Concrete exhibits as wide a range of properties as the uses that this versatile building material is put to.
At The Buildings Show, Concrete Experts from BASF, which “creates chemistry for advanced construction,” shared valuable insight into technical advances in concrete. Advancement for construction concentrates on improvements to the performance of Portland Cement and other additives like macrofibers.
The BASF Experts agreed: “Concrete must be of good design” and this includes attention to water, as an ingredient and a destructive force. The following concrete details reveal the range of considerations involved in using concrete and cement:
• Concrete on the exterior of buildings is designed to keep water out, which, in turn, prevents mold – often a significant health hazard – from forming. Membranes and sealants may be added to reinforce waterproofing, a common approach with building foundations.
• Variations in admixture produce specific properties of waterproofing, strength, temperature flexibility, shrinkage, and other characteristics. For instance, improper admixture may result in foundation shrinkage and cracks, which means water will eventually enter the home.
• Technological advances have created “ultra-high-performance concrete,” which is high-strength concrete that does not require steel reinforcement. This concrete offers great application flexibility when strength is required but weight is an issue like in bridge or wind turbine repairs.
• Read about an amazing specialty-concrete application: “This House Can Be 3D-Printed For $4,000“
• On a smaller scale…When choosing an under-floor heating system look for those designed to use more thin set cement – a better heat conductor than plastic – to fill spaces between heating wires. The extra cost of this additional cement is negligible measured against improved heat efficiency, comfort, and heating savings.
“A surprising statistic was shared with me recently at The ACI Concrete Convention and Exposition,” posted American Concrete Institute (ACI) President David A. Lange. “There are now over 15,000 ACI student members. That is such a huge number! ACI had less than 1000 student members as recently as 2005…. The rapid growth of student membership speaks to the value that ACI offers the next generation of professionals who will lead ACI and the concrete industry over the coming decades…. At ACI, we often say that our students are our future. I can assure you that our future is in good hands.“
Ultimately, consumers drive the quality of construction. The more residential owners and condominium buyers understand about construction priorities, materials, pitfalls, and objectives, the easier it is for them to ignore marketing hype and make decisions based on facts and genuine value.