Beginner's Guide to Ready-Mixed Concrete
Updated: Apr 13
If you are a DIY-er, then you know the satisfaction of doing projects on your own around your house or business.
However, if you don't know what you're doing, some projects are best left to the experts. With projects like electrical work, plumbing, or concrete work, the risk of something bad happening is not worth the cost!
But what if you would be prepared for your next concrete project? What if you were able to prepare the base for a batch of ready mixed concrete from your local concrete supplier?
Or what if you could reach the point where you could do a small concrete job on your own?
If you want to know more about ready mixed concrete, then this guide is for you!
Are you ready to get to work? Let’s go….
WHAT IS READY-MIX 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 being mixed together. The exact amounts of these elements depends 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 brought together and mixed to create the proper texture.
Commercial batch plants produce both dry mixes and wet mixes, but most local batch plants only create wet ready mixed concrete.
Dry mixes are usually available 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 ready to be delivered by 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. 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, it becomes a race against the clock. If a cement truck has to travel too far or wait too long, the concrete can begin to harden and lose effectiveness.
WHERE IS READY-MIXED CONCRETE USED?
The uses of ready mixed concrete are varied and widespread.
One of the most common places ready mixed concrete is used is in foundations. Homes and small commercial buildings will often use poured concrete walls as the foundation of their structure.
Larger buildings that use a steel or pole frame will often use ready mixed concrete for the base or floor of their building.
Due to its versatility and ease of installation, concrete is also commonly used for sidewalks, small walkways, and other places where pavement is difficult to install.
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, heavy truck and equipment areas, or elevated roads and highways.
WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES OF READY-MIXED CONCRETE OVER DRY CEMENT?
If you have done small DIY concrete jobs, you have probably used a dry cement at times. 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 for larger or customized jobs.
Having a local ready mix concrete supplier is a huge advantage, as it gives you more customized options and potentially helps you save money.
So when does it make sense to buy ready mixed concrete?
1. When customized product is important.
Because ready mixed concrete is made at a batch plant when needed, the mix of cement to 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 it may be worth doing some price comparison between dry and ready mixed concrete.
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 up valuable time and energy as you open the bags, add water, and mix. Using ready mixed concrete saves time by eliminating these steps.
Although preparing the base is the same no matter which method you use, if you find it is price advantageous to buy ready mixed concrete, you will quickly find yourself also saving time if you don’t need to mix the concrete yourself.
If you do run into weather issues, see our blog post on the 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 a concrete slump test), or if you know you will need several batches that need to be the same, then ready mixed concrete is the best option.
With modern scales and equipment, your local concrete supplier has the ability to make large batches of ready mixed concrete that will have almost identical consistency for your project.
HOW MUCH READY-MIXED CONCRETE WILL YOU NEED?
This is an important question whether you are using ready mixed concrete or dry cement, but it is more important with ready mixed concrete.
You don't want to order to little and run out of concrete before you finish your project. But if you order too much you risk wasting money.
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. Also, a cubic yard of concrete will give you around 9 wheelbarrows of concrete.
There are 3 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, then simply multiply them together to find your cubic yards that you need!
If doing the math scares you, you can use this handy calculator to do it for you.
Make sure you are generous in your calculation since it is 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 an error in calculation.
HOW DO I PREPARE BEFORE THE CONCRETE ARRIVES?
We now come to one of the most important parts of ready mixed concrete: preparing the base.
This is particularly important if you are pouring a slab that will have vehicles or small yard equipment driven on it.
You can get the texture, measurements, and finish all perfect on your ready-mixed concrete project; but if the base is not well done you will quickly see cracks, damage, and other issues on your newly poured concrete project.
There are many guides developed that give in-depth analysis on preparing the base. In this guide we will point out several of the most critical points:
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 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 DIY-er knows, there are always tips and tricks that can be learned from the experts in any field.
The two best places to get some tips are local concrete contractors and your local ready mix concrete supplier. They will be able to advise you on the best concrete blends, base preparation, and other hints that can be area-specific to your job.
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.
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 don’t be afraid to ask your local concrete supplier for more information when you hit a speed bump!
Contact us today—our proven designs and mixes will give you everything you need!