Why Can’t I Buy Cement and Make My Own Driveway?

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A concrete driveway can easily last 30 years or more if the cement mix is right, the workmanship on the money and routine maintenance carried out. You are thinking of a concrete driveway for your home and thinking about how to get the best possible price. After checking around you are wondering, “Why can’t I buy cement and make my own driveway?” Can you do this? How much work is it? What could go wrong? Wouldn’t you end up with the same result? The answer is, no. Basic concrete driveways require careful and exact preparations, the right concrete mix, and enough workers to do the job. Each worker has to know their job and correctly finishing the driveway surface makes the difference between a driveway that looks great for 30 years and one that spends that last 29 years with chips and pockmarks. And, if you are interested in a decorative concrete surface, like exposed aggregate or stamped concrete, these require skills that are acquired over many years.

What Is Involved in Creating a Concrete Driveway?

If you believe that concrete work for a driveway looks easy, guess again! You need to know how to prepare the area, set up the forms, and even level the ground as needed. Once the cement truck arrives and it comes time to pour the cement, every step needs to be done properly and on time. Skill and experience are critical if you want to reliably get the best job done every time. And, correct finishing results in the most attractive and durable surface while mistakes will be visible for decades.

Concrete Flatwork Process

Concrete driveway, sidewalks, patios, and floors are “flatwork.” There are more than a dozen steps and most of them happen after the ready-mix truck comes and delivers the wet concrete. So, you can take your time preparing the area, setting up forms, and deciding how much concrete you need, but everything else is equal parts experience and performance art! Here are the basic steps we carry out at Patriarch Construction when creating driveways that look great and last for decades,

  • Remove the old driveway by jack-hammering it to pieces and cart the pieces away
  • Check out the soil base, determining concrete slab length, width, and thickness
  • Get a permit from the City of Calgary (if needed)
  • Demolition: jack-hammer and remove the old driveway, as applicable
  • Excavating the site down to solid soil or to make space for a base of gravel
  • Build forms and slope them so that water will run off the finished driveway
  • Lay a gravel base and tamp as needed (or tamp the existing soil base)
  • Add a metal slab reinforcement and plastic barrier for moisture as needed

Note: All of this happens before you need to pour the cement. It is critical that these steps are done correctly because mistakes like large areas of concrete Calgary that are laid on soft or un-tamped soil or gravel will sag and leave the concrete slab at risk of cracking and sinking.

Now things speed up as the cement truck arrives and starts pouring.

Pouring a Concrete Driveway

For a driveway-sized project, the cement is delivered by truck (ready-mix). It poured down a trough to fill the forms. Enough workers need to be present to spread the concrete with rakes and shovels and level it.

Screeding the Concrete

To screed is to level the wet concrete using a long, straight board. This commonly takes at least three people, depending on the size of the concrete driveway. This is done as soon as the concrete is in the forms.

Initial Edging of the Concrete

A cement mason shapes the edges of the slab using a concrete edger (tool).

Floating the Concrete Surface

This is the smoothing that takes place after screeding. It can be done with a small hand float, a long-handled bull float, or even a power float (power trowel). While screeding can be done by novices, floating is done by a more-experienced cement mason.

Joint Control Creation

Eventually, your concrete driveway will have cracks. It makes no difference how good your base supports the concrete, how good the cement mix is, or how good the workmanship is. Warm summers, cold Alberta winters, and years of use will cause cracks in the concrete surface. Creating control joints helps control where cracks will occur. This is done by cutting into the concrete slab to one-fourth of its thickness.

Hand-troweling the Concrete

A cement mason will kneel on a board laid over the slab and smooth it even more with a trowel or hand float. This is done during the pour and can be done later as touch ups.

Final Edging of the Concrete

This is the last time that the mason will shape the edges of the concrete and along the control joints as the concrete is now setting.

Brooming the Concrete

This is just like it sounds. The mason uses a broom to add texture to the concrete surface. This is also when other finishes or surface textures are introduced, such as with decorative concrete.

Curing the Concrete

The cement mason sprays the slab with a curing agent and a sealer to finish off the job.

Specific Skills Required for Finishing a Concrete Driveway Surface

If these lists of steps have not answered your question, “Why can’t I buy cement and make my own driveway,” there is more.

When you are pouring a driveway is not the time to learn how to pour and finish concrete. If you really want to buy the cement and do the job yourself, start with a concrete slab next to your tool shed. When you have gotten that right after a few tries, you might consider a slightly larger project. Unfortunately, when you get up to large “flatwork” projects like driveways, you need to train a crew as well.

Finishing cement correctly is an art. When the cement mason uses floats and trowels, it is not just to smooth the surface. The idea is to push the gravel in the concrete just below the surface to leave a top layer of “cream” composed of sand, cement, and water.

How to Pour a Concrete Driveway

There is a skill in doing this part in that the mason needs to work the surface just enough and then stop. Finishing too soon often results in a weak top surface that will flake or “spall.” Waiting too long to start means the surface will not smooth out easily and you will end up overworking it and also getting a weak top surface that flakes.

The concrete driveway will last for thirty years. You would rather that it did not start out with areas flaked off the first year! For more information about concrete driveways, decorative concrete driveway surfaces, or pricing, contact us at Patriarch Construction.

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