Ask most in the construction industry and they will tell you that when it comes to concrete, you buy it from a concrete production company; it is trucked into the jobsite and put into place by the builder or contractor working on the job. This has been the method of doing business in construction for a very long time, and considering the expertise to operate and overall cost of buying and operating a concrete plant, this arrangement made sense.Ask those on the cutting edge of the construction industry, the ones that set the trends the masses will eventually follow, and they will tell you, that is not necessarily the case anymore. With the advent of automatic controls, highly portable plants, and assembly line type construction methods the dynamic of producing concrete has changed.Concrete plants have traditionally been large structures, sometimes containing mixers, water heating and cooling systems, admixture systems, and other accessories. They have traditionally taken up a lot of space, and required concrete pier or slab foundations. The expense to disassemble, transport, and erect a concrete plant, even those that have been considered portable is usually substantial enough that it hasn’t made economic sense to consider any other methods of getting concrete other than trucking it in from a concrete producer.Companies like Peak Innovations are changing this model of doing business. Their product line includes innovative concrete plants that are designed to be transported behind a pickup truck, and erect on stable soil, while maintaining a production rate and product quality comparable with any standard traditional concrete plant. In fact, Peak Innovations concrete plants comply with specifications required by most state and DOT agencies, or can be modified for compliance if necessary.Ultra portable plants like the Peak Max have been designed to transport easily and set up in a couple of hours with no major site excavation and preparation. Plug and Play technology allows a plant operator to simply tow each modular component into position using a pickup truck, then connect the components together and into the automatic control as simply as plugging an extension cord into an outlet or attaching a garden hose to a spicket. And by offering complete “turnkey” systems including admixture systems, hot and/or cold water systems, automatic control, batch office, and power generation and more assembled and offered by one company, they have removed the blame factor often used by other companies when a concrete plant breaks down.Additionally, Peak Innovations has simplified the use and production of concrete by providing complete operation and plant setup training with every plant sold. Some of the new plant owners are trained on setup and operation at the factory as their plant nears completion, while other are trained at the jobsite using their own plant. The actual operation of the plant using the automatic control enables the plant to deliver recipe specific concrete, accurately and consistently over and over again with the ease of pushing a button.Both concrete producers and contractors are beginning to move toward the use of ultra portable concrete plants like the Peak Max. Producing concrete onsite offers benefits to all involved including the concrete producer, contractor, and ultimately the final project owner. By stationing an affordable and easy to transport concrete plant at a job site a concrete producer is able to supply large amounts of concrete to job site without the expense of paying truck driver and fleet expenses of moving concrete back and forth long distances. It also allows them to bid on projects that might otherwise be out of their service territory due to distance, remote locations, or other obstacles.Contractors might benefit the most. Having a concrete plant on a jobsite, they are able to eliminating bad loads, delivery delays, and inability to get concrete when a crew requires it. Contractors are also able to bid on remote projects where the logistics of concrete delivery can prove a problem. Some contractors are even electing to purchase and operate their own small portable concrete plants to provide a competitive edge in concrete price without reducing their profit margin on the project.Finally, the ultimate job owner benefits because of the overall lower cost of the project. Simply put, contractors bidding jobs with a concrete plant onsite are frequently able to bid the job at a lower cost than a competitor trucking the concrete in from another location.Of course, there will always be a need for large stationary concrete plants, and not every project makes sense to locate a concrete plant onsite, but as the construction industry becomes more competitive; innovators in the industry are looking for any way possible to edge out the competition, and considering a concrete plant onsite is becoming a popular solution.
Though I normally espouse the wonders and joys of decorative concrete applications, I feel I should also inform about the other side of the coin: no matter what the color or stamp design reflects, it is still concrete. Your new patio may look like a gorgeous slate, but it is not. It is concrete. What does this mean? Well, it means that although concrete has limitless design options and can me formed into almost any design, mimicking many other building materials; it does have minor limitations. A seasoned decorative concrete contractor knows this, and will install the concrete according to industry standards in order to best prevent cracks or color mishaps.That said, these issues do arise on occasion. Let us begin with cracks in your brand new stamped concrete pool deck. Firstly, expansion joints are cut into the concrete to prevent cracks from occurring. However, everything from heavy loads travelling on the stamped concrete to land settlement underneath the concrete can cause a crack regardless of expansion joints. Proper cutting of the joints should alleviate this issue, and more often than not, it will. Secondly, when concrete cures it shrinks. This can cause cracks as well and even the most experienced concrete contractor cutting the best expansion joints in the world will not always win that battle. Lastly, a somewhat common “side effect” of stamped concrete is hairline cracks forming around the lines made by the stamping tools once the surface begins to harden. This is called “crusting” and typically will occur due to sun and wind. Obviously, sun and wind will quicken the hardening of the concrete surface. Another reason crusting occurs is due to the color of the concrete. Darker colors, as we all know, draw the sun’s rays and absorb the heat. Stamping tools with deeper grout lines for creating designs like random stone or slate patterns often aggravate the crusting. Many people feel that these hairline cracks add to the look of the stamped concrete design, giving it an “Old World” look. This aged appearance typically lends to the overall design. These imperfections are generally thought of as appealing. Although cracks can be repaired, the end result of the repair tends to be much more obvious than the unrepaired crack.Now let us move on to coloring mishaps. Actually, “mishaps” is not the correct word here. A “mishap” would occur via accident. What I am referring to here is customer acceptance of the finished color on their new concrete. Depending on the method of coloring concrete (and there are quite a few) different factors come in to play in order for the concrete contractor to mix up the color chosen by the customer. However, as the customer there are a few things required of you in order to be sure you are receiving the color you want. A good practice would be to find photos of finished colored concrete patios, et. al. that show the color that you are striving to achieve, and submit to your contractor. However, understanding that there are variables involved with coloring or staining concrete that can affect the color outcome is key. Sometimes, the stars align and the concrete color turns out exactly as envisioned. And then there are times when this simply is not the case.For instance, here are a few conditions that can, and most times will, cause color variations:
Customer is not available during color mixing. This will be a problem because if the customer is not present to approve color prior to installation, he/she may end up with a beautiful new colored concrete patio in a shade too dark or too light, or just not right. It is important for the customer to be present during color mixing to ensure happiness with the color.
Concrete job requires more than one truck load of concrete. Color will vary slightly from one batch to the next. This is to be expected and should be understood from the beginning.
Finished concrete color does not match sample chip or color chart. Never expect the final outcome to completely match up to the sample chip or color chart. Samples are just that: samples. Sample chips and color charts are meant to be more of a guide to the color. Mixing concrete color is not an exact science and should not be thought of as so. After all, even the best decorative concrete contractor in the area is only human!
Placing concrete at different ages. Placement of concrete at different ages will cause a slight color variation. This should be kept in mind during larger concrete projects, though it should not be more than a slight variation.Keeping all of the above in mind, as well as understanding that job site conditions and seasonal weather issues can affect the final outcome, should have a happy customer in the end. However a homeowner not aware of such things, but has a definite idea of what he/she wants in terms of color, can end up disappointed. The contractor doesn’t want that, and certainly the homeowner doesn’t want that. An understanding from the get-go that color variation is a normal occurrence should keep the customer happy through to the end.Obviously, nobody wants to spend their hard earned cash on a concrete job that they feel is imperfect. As with any significant home improvement purchase, proper research on decorative concrete applications will school you on what to expect in terms of installation, appearance, design, maintenance, and repair. The most important aspect of this article is the desire to make the customer happy by keeping the lines of communication open between you, the homeowner, and your concrete contractor; as well as preparing you with important knowledge to consider when designing your concrete project.