Everyone's Guide To Pouring Concrete In Any Weather
Concrete is one of the most versatile and widely used construction materials on earth. It’s strong, durable, low maintenance, fire resistant, simple to use, and can be made to fit any size or shape from unfathomably massive structures to humble stepping stones.
Yet, whether you're a concrete contractor or a homeowner wanting to pour your own concrete slab, you know that getting concrete poured, set, and cured can be a more difficult process than many think.
The weather. While concrete is fairly simple to pour, it’s durability and longevity is dependent largely on the care that was taken during the concrete pour, especially in regard to the weather.
There’s a good chance you’ve had to cancel a concrete pour because of an impending rain storm, but did you know that cold and warm weather as well as humidity and wind speeds affect the durability of concrete?
If you are planning a concrete pour, or have experienced unsatisfactory results from other concrete pours, this is the place to be. In this article we’ll be laying out tips and tricks for pouring concrete in any weather, as well understanding how concrete works so you can become the expert on pouring concrete.
Ready to dive in? Let’s get started!
How Concrete Sets and Cures
Before we get into practical tips for pouring concrete in any weather, let’s make sure we have a clear understanding of what concrete is and how it works.
First of all, concrete is not cement! Cement, which is virtually crushed limestone, and clay heated to high temperatures in a kiln is just one of the key ingredients in concrete. To make concrete you need a combination of:
Sand (fine aggregate)
If you’ve ever used a bag of ready-mix concrete, you’ve received the first three ingredients already measured and mixed, and your job is simply to add the last ingredient - water. When you do that, voila - you have concrete that can be used in a myriad of applications.
Understanding concrete’s relationship with water is extremely important in mastering the art of pouring concrete in inclement weather.
Concrete does not actually “dry” as the water evaporates as many mistakenly think. Instead, concrete sets and cures through a chemical reaction called hydration. The water actually becomes an essential part of the cured concrete.
But wait - what’s actually happening in the chemical reaction of hydration?
What is Hydration?
When the chemical properties of cement interact with water, compounds like Tobermite Gel and calcium hydroxide begin forming on the outside of the cement particles. The growth on the outside of the cement particles results in a strong, interlocking, rod structure.
Although the primary work of hydration happens within 5 hours of contact with water, the process of hydration will continue slowly for a very long time.
This is why you shouldn’t let concrete dry out while it's curing. Lack of water can prematurely stop the hydration process keeping the concrete from reaching its full strength. In fact, as long as you avoid washing out the cement, concrete can be placed and cured completely under water!
How the Weather Affects Concrete
This sheds some light on why weather can affect the strength of concrete. If the concrete sets and cures too quickly due to heat, low humidity, wind, or cold, the strength of the concrete is compromised.
This doesn’t mean that more water is always better in pouring concrete. Extra water often causes even bigger problems than a water deficit.
When there is too much water in your concrete mix, the chemical bonds will be separated from each other by large areas of water. This reduces the strength of cured concrete.
More water results in increased porosity, meaning that the hardened concrete will have many canals, which can affect any color or finish that may be applied to the surface.
Once cured, concrete with too much water will also have a much greater risk of shrinkage and cracks, especially in freeze and thaw climates, meaning that it will be particularly weak.
Here’s an extra pro tip: If you want to ensure that your concrete has the proper ratio of cement, aggregate, and water ratio contact your local ready mix concrete supplier.
It’s likely they have many proven mixes and designs that fit your needs, and the concrete will be delivered straight to you. You’re almost guaranteed to enjoy your finished project more this way than mixing the concrete yourself.
If you are pouring concrete in Northern or Central Indiana, then the team at Gra-Rock would love to help you!
Of course, this still doesn’t solve the predicament of pouring concrete in weather that could affect the water ratio needed to create strong cement. That’s why we’re here. Keep reading for practical tips and tricks to pour concrete in any weather!
Pouring Concrete in Cold Weather
The first question to ask about pouring concrete in cold weather is, “How cold is too cold?”
The American Concrete Institute defines that concrete will be exposed to cold weather when the following conditions exist:
The average daily temperature is less than 40 degrees Fahrenheit (5 Celsius)
The air temperature is not greater than 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 Celsius) for more than 12 of the 24 day hours.
If you are pouring concrete in conditions cooler than those listed above, you should take extra precautions to make sure your concrete will set and cure properly.
Here are a few tips to ensure you have a successful pour:
Prepare the pour site by removing any snow or ice, ice or standing from the work area. Never pour concrete over frozen ground!
Start your pour in the early morning so the concrete can soak up the full effect of the afternoon sun while it is still setting.
Use a low slump, and minimal water to cement ratio. This will reduce water bleeding and the set time which allows less time for the water in the concrete to freeze.
Use a product to speed up the set time of the concrete like SpeedSet or calcium chloride.
Use concrete curing blankets to prevent freezing and keep the concrete at an optimal curing temperature. Make sure to keep the concrete from freezing for a minimum of 3 days. You can use these same products to protect that ground from freezing that you will pour the concrete on.
The temperature of any items to be embedded in the concrete (rebar, wire mesh, etc.) needs to be above freezing before coming into contact with fresh concrete.
Do not begin final finishing operations while bleed water is present.
Request a heated mix from your concrete supplier.
Set up a heated enclosure. If combustion heaters are used remember to vent outside to prevent carbonation!
Use a waterproofing concrete sealer as a curing compound instead of water curing.
Once the concrete is hard, don’t use any de-icing salts. These corrode the surface and allow water to permeate, freeze, and eventually crack your fine work.
By following these tips when pouring concrete in cold weather, you will ensure a quality pour!
Pouring Concrete in Hot Weather
So, if you live in a climate that doesn’t experience cold, or freezing temperatures you can safely pour concrete all year long, right?
Remember, hydration is the most important aspect to achieving a strong, durable concrete. Hot temperatures causes concrete to have a deficit of water and not set correctly.
When the summer months get really hot, it can be a little too much of a good thing. In fact, concrete cures best in a range between 70° to 80° F. As your temperature approaches 90° F, however, you’ll start to run into problems.
“Hot weather” is more than just temperature. Days of low relative humidity as well as days with high wind speeds also are grouped into “hot weather.”
Remember that maintaining an appropriate level of moisture in the concrete is the highest priority. Warm temperatures, low humidity, and high wind speeds increase the rate of evaporation, making it more challenging to retain moisture in the concrete.
If outdoor temperatures are nearing 90 degrees Fahrenheit, or if the day is dry and windy, you should take precautions to ensure a good concrete pour.
Here are a few tips to ensure a good concrete pour in hot weather:
Use a large size and amount of coarse aggregate particles if hot weather is likely to occur during the concrete placement. Larger aggregates will minimize the probability of having concrete shrink due to environmental conditions.
If possible, avoid pouring concrete at noon or during the afternoon.
Consider using hot weather admixtures like recycled plastic additives. This will make your mix easier to work with and increase its setting time so it can cure to a greater strength.
Request chilled water from your concrete supplier, or if mixing your own concrete use an industrial chiller.
Use sunshades or windbreaks to reduce possible harsh conditions.
Once water has been added to the mix, reduce your mixing time. Over-mixing will create more water loss through evaporation.
All necessary equipment should remain covered until the last moment before using. Keep chutes, conveyors, and accessories under a roof if possible and spray some water over them regularly.
When placing concrete for a slab, first dampen the subgrade.
Use cool water to dampen side forms for slabs or walls.
Call for all hands on deck. Due to faster set times you will need as much manpower as possible to get the job done quickly.
Pouring concrete in the summer heat can be challenging both on our bodies and on the concrete! Using the tips and tricks listed above will help concrete set and cure properly, and ensure that you feel great about the job you did!
Pouring Concrete in Rainy Weather
Pouring concrete in rain may be the biggest challenge you face in regard to getting a great result.
If possible, simply avoid pouring concrete in the rain! You will definitely want to steer clear of torrential rain or prolonged periods of rain.
However, if you experience a long period of damp weather and you’re facing a project deadline, or if you just get stuck in an unexpected downpour, here are a few steps you can take to help your cause:
Make sure you have a great drainage system. This ensures that no rainwater will pool in trenches dug for footers, foundations, and slabs.
If possible, tent the pour with tarps to keep rain from mixing with the concrete. The more water that mixes with semi-solid concrete the more likely it is to fail.
Don’t work the rainwater into the concrete surface!
Don’t soak up rainwater with dry cement. This will impair the finish and further weaken the top layer of concrete.
Once the rain passes, use a float to push the water off the edge of the slab before you start finishing.
It doesn’t take long to realize getting the perfect concrete pour can be more difficult than expected!
We can’t control the weather, so we have to focus on the elements we can control. In addition to understanding the science behind concrete, and taking steps to ensure a good pour, it’s a good idea to find a ready mix supplier that you trust.
At Gra-Rock we are always working to help our clients find stability and reliability that they can count on. That’s why we deliver quality ready mix concrete in Indiana.
Whether it's our proven mixes and designs, our available tools and supplies, our guaranteed delivery, or our helpful team of truck drivers, we aim to ensure that you will be happy and confident in your concrete.
Contact us today to get the concrete you need and the customer service you deserve!