Most people are able to recognize concrete when they see it or interact with it, but few people have an accurate conception of what concrete is, exactly, and why it’s so durable and effective. They may see it as a type of rock, or a mixture that “dries” over time when setting, or they may take it for granted as a naturally occurring element in our everyday lives. The truth is, concrete is something of a modern-day miracle, and understanding how it works and why it’s effective can not only help you find a better appreciation for it, but can also improve the value of your home.
What Is Concrete?
First, let’s work on defining what concrete actually is. As a general term, “concrete” refers to any aggregate mixture of cement and both fine and coarse materials. The cement component is made from various materials that have the capacity to react with water and harden over time. Other materials include crushed stones, gravel, and sand, ranging from coarse to fine, to help the bonding agent remain more durable.
The real magic with concrete happens when water is added. The ordinarily dry mixture becomes fluid and easy to mold, and over time, the mixture hardens to the state the average person would typically call “concrete.” The misconception here is that the hardening process is a kind of drying—that the water evaporates away and leave behind a strong mixture. In reality, the hardening process is a chemical reaction; water molecules combine with cement molecules, forming nodes that gradually expand and attract other nodes. These nodes bond together over time, strengthening the bonded connections and ultimately producing a more durable, resistant material.
The Practical Advantages of Concrete
Concrete has a number of advantages over other construction materials that make it a unique and intelligent choice for a number of applications:
- Durability. The strength of the crystalline bonds formed between cement molecules are responsible for concrete’s amazing durability. Concrete structures can withstand weight of thousands of tons, and are frequently used for heavy-duty applications (like bridges and buildings) as well as smaller ones (like parking garages and walkways). Concrete can withstand inclement weather and external damage, and is capable of remaining effective for decades—in fact, because the process of chemical hydration continues indefinitely, most forms of concrete get even stronger over time.
- Malleability. As you might have guessed, another major advantage offered by concrete is its near-fluid malleability. Once water is added, concrete becomes somewhat formless, capable of being poured, molded, or filled into almost any application you can imagine. This makes it easy to work with on almost any project; as long as you have the right framing materials in place, you can easily shape concrete into whatever form you wish, with no need for cutting or other forms of modification once it’s set.
- Cost Efficiency. Another major advantage of concrete is its sheer cost efficiency. The materials that go into concrete are in no way expensive—in fact, most of them are taken directly from the earth. A bag of consumer-grade concrete runs less than $10 in most areas, making even the largest-scale projects affordable. Compared to other building materials, its strength and durability more than make up for its trivial cost, making it one of the most efficient materials you can buy.
- Safety. Concrete is a highly familiar building material to architects and contractors, and its capabilities are well understood. This means it’s almost always used correctly, in proper contexts, and is rarely used for applications beyond its original design. It’s an inert material that offers no chemical or physical hazards, both in the pouring process and once it’s completely set, plus its structure makes it naturally resistant to many types of outside forces, such as insects, fire, and weather conditions.
- Sustainability. In the realm of building materials, concrete offers one of the smallest environmental footprints. The core materials for concrete are readily abundant, and are in no danger of being depleted. Plus, much of the aggregate matter can come from recycled materials, such as broken down structures from other applications.
Overall, concrete is advantageous because it’s cheap, safe, responsible, strong, and capable of being used for so many different applications. Technological and chemical advancements have allowed us to build better forms of concrete, but the basic structure is what keeps this building material relevant today.
How Concrete Works for Homeowners
Though many of concrete’s popular uses are in commercial applications, concrete is also valuable for residential applications. Usually used for projects like walkways and driveways, concrete offers several benefits to homeowners:
- Aesthetics. This is a bit of a subjective benefit, but for many homeowners, concrete is aesthetically pleasing. It appears nicer, more precise, and cleaner than many alternatives, such as brick or stone. It’s also an easy material to clean, so it remains looking nice indefinitely
- Function. Concrete is easier to manage when it comes to handling wheeled vehicles like cars and bikes. It also doesn’t require any kind of ongoing maintenance. Depending on the style of concrete you choose and the weather conditions in your area, it may eventually crack, but these instances generally do not interfere with the overall ROI and function of the material.
- ROI. Concrete is fairly inexpensive, even for bigger jobs, and especially when compared to other building materials. Yet, because it’s so universally appealing, functional, and long-lasting, it tends to yield a tremendous ROI. Upgrading your walkways, driveways, or other outdoor areas with concrete can significantly increase the value of your home for the long term.
As you’ve seen, concrete is a powerful and cost-effective substance that can increase both the aesthetic and material value of your home. If you’re interested in constructing a new driveway or walkway, or if you’re interested in renovating a structure that’s already in place, contact R&M Concrete for a free quote or consultation.