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Beginner's Guide to Ready-Mixed Concrete

Updated: May 31



A beginner's guide to ready mixed concrete

If you are a DIY-er, then you've experienced the satisfaction of completing projects around your house or business.


But have you ever thought about attempting a project that involves concrete?

Of course, some projects are best left to the experts, and you may think that concrete projects fall into this category. But if you have a knack for handy projects, you might be interested in learning more skills so that you can do things like small concrete projects on your own!


At Gra-Rock, we provide ready-mixed concrete delivered directly to your job site. Working with ready-mixed concrete is achievable if you have the right information!


So, we wrote this guide to teach you everything a beginner should know about ready-mixed concrete.

Are you ready to get to work? Let’s go!



WHAT IS READY-MIXED CONCRETE?

Before we go too far, let’s make sure we know what ready-mixed concrete is and also why timing is essential when working with concrete.

Ready-mixed concrete consists of specific amounts of rock, sand, water, and cement. The exact amounts of these elements depend on the use of the product, the area’s climate, and other factors.

Ready-mixed concrete is popular because the local concrete supplier can create batches of concrete that are specific to the job and precise in measurement, texture, and materials.

Ready-mixed concrete starts at the local batch plant. Here, the materials are gathered and mixed to create the proper texture.

Ready-Mix concrete process

Commercial batch plants produce both dry mixes and wet mixes, but most local batch plants only create wet ready-mixed concrete.

You can normally pick up dry mixes at local hardware stores. They are nice for small concrete jobs since you only need to add water to the mix.

Wet mixes, also known as "ready-mixed concrete," have the water added at the plant and are delivered by a cement truck.

Because water has already been added and the cement is activated, ready-mixed concrete cannot be stored in warehouses or bags like dry concrete mixes but must be delivered when you're ready to pour. Ready-mixed concrete also requires continual agitation and mixing while it is transported from the batch plant to the job site.

That's why local ready-mix concrete suppliers are so important and common.

When water is added to ready-mixed concrete, a race against the clock begins. If a cement truck has to travel too far or wait too long, the concrete begins to harden and lose effectiveness.



WHERE IS READY-MIXED CONCRETE USED?

You can use ready-mix concrete for many purposes.

where to use ready-mix concrete

Foundations are a common use for ready-mix concrete. Homes and small commercial buildings will often have poured concrete walls as the foundation of their structure.

Larger buildings that use a steel or pole frame will often have ready-mixed concrete for the base or floor of the building.

Due to its versatility and ease of installation, concrete is also a common material for sidewalks, small walkways, and other places where it's difficult to install pavement.

Because it can be poured, ready-mixed concrete is also commonly used in bridge supports, retaining walls, tunnels, and piled foundations.

Asphalt is sometimes used as an alternative to concrete. Many smaller roads and driveways are paved with asphalt because it is cheaper and faster to install than concrete.

However, ready-mixed concrete can handle more weight and lasts longer, and therefore it is more common in heavy industrial areas such as airports, areas with heavy trucks and equipment, or elevated roads and highways.



WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES OF READY-MIXED CONCRETE OVER DRY CEMENT?

Advantages of ready-mix concrete

If you have done small DIY concrete jobs, you may be familiar with dry cement. After all, it doesn’t get much easier than simply adding water. Quikrete and Sakrete are two familiar brands of dry cement.

These dry cement products work well if you have a very small cement job, but they don’t scale well for larger or customized jobs.

Having a local ready-mix concrete supplier is a huge advantage, as it gives you more customizing options and often helps you save money.

When does it make sense to buy ready-mixed concrete?

1. When a customized product is important.

Because ready-mixed concrete is made at a batch plant when needed, the mix of cement with the other ingredients can be customized.

Dry concrete often will have several options as well, but you still won’t find the level of customization that a local ready-mixed concrete supplier can offer.

2. When you have volume.

Dry concrete works great when you have a very small project, but if you need a yard or more of concrete, it's worth making some price comparisons between dry and ready-mixed.

If you compare the price of dry and ready-mixed concrete from your local concrete supplier, you can quickly determine which method will save you money.

3. When time is important.

Mixing your concrete on-site takes time and energy. You need to open the bags, add water, and mix. Using ready-mixed concrete saves you time by eliminating these steps.

Although preparing the base is the same regardless of which method you use, you will find yourself saving time if you don’t need to mix the concrete yourself. If the ready-mixed concrete is a fair price, you may find the time savings quickly off-setting any price difference.


(If you run into weather issues, see our guide to pouring concrete in any weather.)

4. When consistency is important.

Because dry cement requires you to add water for every batch (most likely a wheelbarrow load), it can sometimes be difficult to get consistent batches when you do the concrete work yourself.

If your project is calling for a specific concrete texture (sometimes referred to as the concrete "slump"), or if you know you will need several batches of the same consistency, then ready-mixed concrete is the best option.

With modern scales and equipment, your local concrete supplier can make large batches of ready-mixed concrete that will have an almost identical consistency for your project.




HOW MUCH READY-MIXED CONCRETE WILL YOU NEED?

It's always critical to know how much concrete you'll need, but with ready-mixed concrete, it's even more important.

If you order too little, you may run out of concrete before you finish your project, which is frustrating. But if you order too much, you risk wasting money.


So how do you get the right amount?


We need to start by understanding how concrete measurement works. Ready-mixed concrete is sold by the cubic yard, often referred to as simply a “yard.”

The average concrete truck can hold 9 to 11 cubic yards of ready-mixed concrete. A cubic yard of concrete will give you around nine wheelbarrows of concrete.

There are three main measurements needed to determine the volume:

  • Thickness. If you measure this in inches, make sure you convert it to yards. For example, 3 inches thick is 0.25 yards.

  • Width in yards

  • Length in yards

When you have these 3 measurements in yards, multiply them together to find the number of cubic yards you need. You can also use this handy calculator to calculate the amount you need.

Make sure you are generous in your calculation. Remember, it's always better to have a little extra than not enough!


Many experts agree that you should order 5-10% more than you calculate since there will sometimes be spillage, over-excavation, or a calculation error.

Calculating how much ready-mix concrete you need



HOW DO I PREPARE BEFORE THE CONCRETE ARRIVES?

We now come to one of the most important steps in the concrete process: preparing the base.

This is particularly important if you are pouring a slab that will have vehicles or small yard equipment driven on it because this requires extra strength!

Even if the texture, measurements, and finish are all perfect on your ready-mixed concrete project, you'll quickly see cracks, damage, and other issues on your newly poured concrete project if the base is not well done.

There are many guides developed that give in-depth analysis of preparing the base. In this guide, we will point out several of the most critical points:

Preparing for concrete arrival

1. Make sure you have a good solid base

A good base is everything for your project, particularly if you are pouring a slab that will have significant weight on it at times.

In general, you want a 4-6 inch solid base of compacted stone. This depth will vary on your soil condition and climate, so you may want to check with a local contractor or concrete supplier for your specific situation.

Compacting the stone is important, but don’t do it all at once. You want to compact the stone every time you add 2 inches. This keeps cracks that come from the base settling to a minimum.

(If you want to know more about stone and its use in concrete, read our blog post on crushed stone and gravel.)

2. Secure and strengthen your forms

The concrete will go wherever your forms are, so it is important to make sure your forms are securely set.

If your area has straight sides, use a string line to make sure your forms are straight. On most slabs, you will want a slope of ⅛ to ¼ inch per foot for proper drainage.

Place stakes about every 3 feet on your form to keep them in line when the concrete is poured. Make sure the stakes are placed flush with the forms to keep the forms from “bubbling out.”

It is best to use screws to fasten the stakes to the forms. While nails will also keep it in place, the hammering motion can cause movement on the forms, and the nails make it harder to remove the forms.

3. Reinforce with rebar

Rebar is critical in concrete since it helps absorb and distribute tension on the concrete. This, in turn, makes the concrete stronger and lasts longer.

Rebar should be installed in a 2 ft. grid pattern in the area you are concreting.

Use rebar chairs to keep it off the stones, and tie the cross sections together with rebar tie wire.



TIPS AND TRICKS TO MAKE YOUR CONCRETE PROJECT LAST


As any DIYer knows, experts in the field can teach you handy tips and tricks of the trade.

So where should you go for concrete project advice?


The two best places to get good advice are local concrete contractors and your local ready-mix concrete supplier. They will be able to advise you on the best concrete blends and base preparation, and they'll be able to give area-specific advice. After all, different climates have different issues when it comes to pouring concrete.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you begin your ready-mixed concrete project:

  • Apply a sealant to your concrete after it is dried and cured. This helps extend the life of your concrete.

  • Ask your concrete supplier about adding color to bring some pop to your project.

  • Have the correct tools to trowel and finish your job so that it looks professional.

  • Don’t make your concrete perfectly smooth. Keeping some texture in your concrete will make it look nicer and keep it from becoming too slick.

  • Keep freshly poured concrete from freezing during the first several days.


CONCLUSION

If you enjoy DIY projects but have always been worried about concrete projects, you now have some of the basic knowledge to start developing your own ready-mixed concrete project.

Even if you don’t end up doing all the base preparation or actually pouring it yourself, projects are always more enjoyable when you have a better understanding of what is happening.

And if you hit a speed bump, don’t be afraid to ask your local concrete supplier for more information.

At Gra-Rock, we provide ready-mix concrete to Miami County, Indiana, and the surrounding area, and we'd love to help you with all your concrete needs!


We also offer:

As well as educational resources:




Contact us today--we look forward to hearing from you!


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