Concrete is synonymous with strength and durability – but even the most durable material isn’t immune to damage or wear. Maintenance and prompt repairs are a proven way to maximize the return on any concrete investment.
Concrete professionals divide concrete’s lifecycle into three segments, including:
- Maintenance – For the first couple decades following installation, the focus is on preventative maintenance. Fortunately, concrete requires very little – mostly just cleaning and sealing. Sticking to this cleaning and sealing routine can extend the pavement’s lifespan by many years.
- Repairs – Eventually, wear and weather will cause noticeable damage, discoloration, or deterioration to the pavement. Cracks, spalls, and aggregate loss all demand prompt repairs to prevent the kind of damage that leads to early replacement.
- Replacement – With proper maintenance and repair, your pavement won’t enter the replacement phase until 40 or more years following installation. At this point, though, widespread pavement deterioration means repair costs may be as much, or more, than replacing the concrete.
If maintenance – and eventually repair – practices are in place, then it’s common for property owners to get 50 years or more from their pavement.
Five Signs That Concrete Pavement Requires Attention
For large-scale commercial projects, it’s common for minor issues like fine cracks to emerge long before repairs are recommended. Not every crack or blemish is a sign that repairs are imminent. However, there are several signs that property owners should act on as soon as they emerge, as early intervention is critical to maintaining the pavement’s condition.
Some of those signs include:
- Spreading or widening cracks – Cracks are a problem for pavement because they allow water to intrude into the pavement’s deeper layers. That leads to a host of issues. Not all cracks merit attention, but if the cracks appear to be spreading in a web-like pattern or widening, they’ll eventually threaten the concrete’s integrity.
- The pavement’s surface is uneven – Uneven pavement is more common in areas with significant freeze/thaw cycles, as this can cause the underlying base to shift. Poor installation techniques or poor soil compaction can also lead to uneven pavement.
- The pavement is shedding aggregate or chunks of concrete – Impact, a lack of maintenance, a poor concrete mix, overloading, and corrosion of steel reinforcement can all cause concrete to fracture and shed large pieces. This can also expose the pavement to additional moisture-caused problems and may result in structural issues.
- Water is gathering in spots – If water is pooling in areas, this is typically a sign of base failures. If these failures aren’t remedied, water intruding into the pavement is inevitable.
- The concrete appears discolored or aged – Wear and weather will eventually take its toll on the pavement, causing it to fade or lose its texture. While this process can’t be delayed forever, preventative maintenance will slow the pavement’s rate of wear.
The Importance of Regular Concrete Sealing and Weatherproofing
People think of concrete as a solid piece of material, and the aggregate inside the mix certainly is. The rest of the mix, though, is porous like a sponge. It’s this porosity that exposes concrete surfaces to damage via water or chemical intrusion.
Concrete sealing is designed to fortify the pavement in this area. Though sealing isn’t appropriate for noticeably damaged concrete, it can protect from several environmental threats. They include:
- Chlorides (found in saltwater and de-icing salts)
- Carbonation (more common in carbon dioxide-rich environments, such as industrial facilities)
- Dust (which can cause abrasion with loading)
- UV (which interferes with the concrete’s chemistry and reduces strength)
The Professional Concrete Repair Process – a High-Level Understanding
The cost of a botched concrete repair can be staggering. Property owners first pay for the repair services. If that repair fails, the property owner has to pay a second time to address the issue. It’s also likely that the pavement’s condition has worsened during this time, too, increasing the chances that deeper repairs or replacement – both expensive – will be required.
That’s why reputable contractors invest a lot of time in assessing the pavement and planning repairs. While every contractor has their own approach to the job, the project typically progresses like this:
- Assess the nature of the damage and its extent
- Determine whether repair is necessary
- Choose the appropriate repair process
- Prepare the project site
- Perform the specified repairs
- Give the repair time to cure
This general process is critical to guiding repairs. Fixing the mess left behind by a botched repair is expensive, and there’s little room for error once repairs begin. As such, it’s up to the contractor to develop a comprehensive plan before beginning maintenance.
A Few Common Concrete Repair and Maintenance Methods
If the concrete is no longer in the maintenance phase, and if repairs are recommended, the pavement team has several methods to choose from. Some of them include:
- Crack sealing – There are several approaches to crack repair, and the ideal method depends on the size of the crack, its width and depth, what’s causing it, whether the crack is “working” (spreading), and if water is leaking from the crack. In some cases, the cracks may be routed first, as this creates a uniform surface for the crack sealer.
Quality crack sealers are designed to flex with the pavement during thermal stresses, so they provide longer-lasting protection.
- Resin injections – For extensive cracking, pavement contractors can inject resins, epoxies, polyurethanes, acrylics or other compounds into the concrete. Prior to injection, the pavement team will seal the crack at the surface, then drill access ports near the crack for the injection.
As the compound is injected, it’s forced into the pavement’s cavities and creates a screen against moisture and corrosion-causing substances. Resin and epoxy injections can even restore a measure of structural integrity to the concrete, though it shouldn’t be relied on as a frontline structural repair. It’s unlikely that a resin or epoxy injection alone is capable of restoring pavement back to its original loading capacity.
- Cement and epoxy patching – For thin repairs that involve replacing chunks of concrete, the pavement team may patch the area using a special concrete mix. Such a mix may include sand or polymers. Polymer concrete is particularly effective in applications where the pavement is constantly exposed to water, as it possesses low permeability.
When patching, the goal is to properly bond old and new concrete. This can be done mechanically or chemically with the use of a bonding agent. For concrete contractors, epoxy-bonded concrete is the frontline choice.
Concrete Pavement is Designed for Longevity, and Regular Maintenance Can Extend This Durability Further
It’s difficult to capture everything pavement contractors face during a concrete repair project. Every job poses its own challenges, so bringing in a concrete expert is recommended. An experienced pavement contractor will have the insight they need to thoroughly assess the concrete’s condition. Once they’ve done that, experienced contractors can determine the ideal repair method – from a cost efficiency and performance standpoint.
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