Concrete Curbs and Gutters: Their Benefits and Construction Process
Concrete curbs and gutters serve multiple roles on commercial properties. They are vital for pavement support, promote efficient drainage, protect pedestrian and motorist safety, expand space for roadside elements, and improve the property’s appearance.
If you are developing, or have developed, a commercial property, it’s not complete until the concrete curbs and gutters are in place.
What Types of Properties Need Concrete Curbs and Gutters?
Curb and gutter systems are fundamental to property maintenance, so they are appropriate for nearly any residential or commercial space, including:
- Residential streets and neighborhoods
- Municipal streets and “feeder” roads
- Private access roads
- Parking lots
- Loading areas
For most property types, there are no downsides to installing curbs and gutters, other than their upfront cost. However, this cost is best thought of as an investment into the property’s long-term value.
Why Do Properties Need a Concrete Curb and Gutter System?
Curbs have been part of urban construction since ancient Rome, providing a 2,000-year endorsement. In America, curb and gutter systems have been part of road construction since the 1700s. Clearly, curbs and gutters are a foundational part of development and construction.
There are several advantages to investing in quality curb and gutter construction, including:
- Better pavement support – Curbs provide robust edge support for paved surfaces, whether it’s a road, a parking lot, or another large piece of concrete construction. Curbs add strength and prevent the pavement’s edge from succumbing to tensile stresses.
- Improved drainage efficiency – Curb and gutter systems are purpose built for capturing runoff and funneling it into the city’s drainage network. In areas where heavy rainfall events are common (like Houston), curb and gutter systems prevent water from collecting on the property, which can cause soils to swell, shift, and place damaging stress on pavement or foundations.
- Better pedestrian and motorist safety – Curbs place a visual and physical barrier between the street and pedestrians. This helps prevent traffic accidents involving pedestrians and ensures people don’t accidentally wander in front of motorists.
- Additional city planning advantages – Curbs mark the boundary between walkable areas and non-walkable areas. With these areas defined, municipalities can take steps to augment pedestrian areas with additional elements. Expanded walkways, benches, trash receptacles and streetlights are a few examples.
- Improved “curb” appeal – Curbs improve the look of pavement and prevent vegetation from taking over. The result is a far more professional finish that people respond to positively and can therefore boost the property’s value.
Why Concrete is the Material of Choice for Curb and Gutter Construction
Concrete is a wonder material for pavement contractors, providing an ideal mix of strength, versatility, cost effectiveness, and near all-weather resistance.
For curbs and gutters, there is no alternative to concrete construction. Why? Here is a quick summary:
- Concrete can take a punch – Concrete only consists of a few ingredients – water, rock, and cement – but the recipe produces an extremely strong material. Compared to all other pavement options, concrete offers superior durability, especially where compression is concerned. On average, concrete will last for 30 years or more with proper installation techniques and routine maintenance. No other material lasts nearly as long (though asphalt can also last for decades with consistent maintenance).
- Concrete (with additives) is water resistant – With waterproofing additives (acrylics, polyurethanes, etc.), concrete’s water resistance can be improved to the point where it can be used in drainage elements. Further, concrete offers superior hydraulic efficiency, so it can handle extreme fluid volumes without losing its shape.
- Concrete requires minimal maintenance – Concrete curbs and gutters need regular sweeping and the occasional power wash, but other than that, maintenance is minimal. Your new concrete curb should require minimal maintenance for the first several years after installation.
- Concrete can be textured and striped – Concrete can be textured before it cures, and it can be striped after it cures. Both can add to the curb’s function, by providing better traction for pedestrians and for providing visual cues for motorists. Curb striping may be used to point out parking (or no parking) areas, fire lanes, addresses, crosswalks and other important traffic marks.
No other material can provide these advantages at the price point that concrete offers.
How Contractors Install Concrete Curbs and Gutters
It takes skill and resources to properly install curb and gutter systems. This is not a job for inexperienced or careless contractors, even if they’re willing to offer a dirt-cheap quote. Without the right processes in place, your curb and gutter system is likely to fail early – potentially doubling what you’ll pay for one project.
There are a couple of general approaches to laying down curbs and gutters. The first is pouring concrete straight into the formwork. This is what the process includes:
- Stringing out the project site – Once the project is drawn up, the first step is to tie up the guide string. This string is attached to metal dowels installed in the ground and is used to mark the formwork’s dimensions and the depth of the pour.
- Installing the wooden formwork – Wooden formwork is used to frame the pour and ensure the concrete is precisely shaped. The formwork may be made with a special finish or sprayed with oil to prevent concrete from sticking to it.
- Pouring the concrete – With the frame in place, the concrete can now be poured. The lower the height the concrete is poured from, the better. This will help prevent air from becoming trapped in the concrete and will ensure even pour distribution. The concrete may be vibrated after pouring to release any air that does become trapped.
- Finishing and texturing the concrete – Before the concrete cures, it is finished and textured by hand. During finishing, the concrete team will use a combination of floats, edgers and screeds to level out the curb and smooth over any cracks or gaps. Following this, the crew will run a broom over the concrete to add texture to its surface. This texture will provide additional wet traction for pedestrians, improving safety.
- Cutting the concrete – Within 24 hours of pouring, the concrete will be ready for jointing. Joint cuts are placed at set lengths and give the curb additional room to thermally expand when temperatures soar (like they do in Houston). Expansion joints are placed using sawcutters.
Alternatively, concrete curbs may be installed using a linear curb machine. These machines are large vehicles with a hopper for pouring concrete into. Concrete fed into the hopper is directed to an extruder-like element that deposits a continuous, linear stretch of concrete curb. These machines require guidance and finishing work must still be done by hand, but the process is usually faster.
The gutters are integrated into the curb and feed into storm drains, which themselves are attached to catch basins. The storm drain is the surface-level element of the drainage system, while the catch basin is the subsurface element responsible for capturing and discharging water through underground outlets.
To install commercial catch basins, which may measure several feet on one side, the concrete team will first need to excavate the area. The soil is either hauled away or repurposed elsewhere for the project. Once excavated, a level pad is prepared in the excavated area and compacted to ensure stability. Additional stabilizer sand will likely be added to provide additional support and prevent the basin from shifting.
Hire an Experienced Houston Contractor for Quality Concrete Curbs and Gutters
Concrete curbs and gutters may seem like basic pieces of concrete construction. For an experienced Houston contractor, they are, because experienced Houston contractors are consistent in their approach. This consistency is what gives expertly installed curbs their uniform appearance and function.
If your organization is ready to invest in new or improved pavement, it will likely need a curb and gutter system to finish it off. And that means you’ll need a proven concrete contractor – one with a history of detail-oriented work and customer satisfaction.