In this series, we are collaborating with Francis Rzegocki from Excel General Contractor. Prior to joining Excel General Contractor, Francis had extensive experience working in the concrete industry with both heavy civil and residential projects. In addition to his construction industry experience, Francis holds a mechanical engineering degree from Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
Francis shared with me that prior to entering the concrete construction trades, he was actually nervous and uncomfortable with the idea of taking on a concrete pour. He decided to embrace that fear and go learn everything he could about the craft, turning it into a strength for him when he returned to the remodeling business.
In Part 1 of this series, Francis covered site prep and form work, the required tools and materials, and a few tips to make your work easier and more productive. In Part 2, he covered the many decisions to consider when placing your concrete order. In this article, Francis will be sharing some best practices for the day of the pour, as well as some final thoughts. Take it away, Francis.
Last-Minute Prep Items
One of the first things you will want to do before a pour is double-check your form board and panel connections to avoid having a form blow out in the middle of your pour. You will also want to confirm they are level and straight. Mark your relief joint locations on the top edge of your forms at this time so you don’t have to take time to do it later when your concrete is starting to set up. This is also the time to set up your wash station. The truck driver will likely utilize this and it will allow you a place to soak items that need to be cleaned up at the end of the day. An inexpensive plastic “kiddie pool” works pretty well for this. It is a good idea to set it up on top of a larger tarp to keep control of any unexpected overflow.
When it comes to footwear for the day, durable rubber boots are hard to beat, and having a pair of chemical-resistant gloves that extend up your forearm will help protect your skin. Dress for the expected forecast, and consider layering your clothing to maximize comfort throughout the day. Eye protection should be strongly considered, as getting concrete mix in your eye is no fun. If you happen to be mixing bagged concrete mix as part of your project, you will want to use dust masks or respirators as needed.
Placing Your Concrete
Typically, you will start placing the concrete at the furthest point from the delivery truck, especially if you are using a pump truck. The hose from the pump truck is very heavy, so you may choose to remove sections of hose as you work your way back toward the truck. Keeping track of the location of your reinforcing steel is very important. For walls, the steel will likely be tied firmly in place and not need much attention. For slabs, you may need to “pull” the bar or mesh upwards so it ends up in the bottom ⅓ of your slab. Once you start placing the concrete for a slab, you will need to start screeding. There are lots of methods out there for working with concrete and most of them are acceptable. Typically, it will consist of three separate passes, with the screed board tilted at a slight angle—be careful not to start in the same spot with each pass so you don’t create unwanted pockets in your surface. The screed board is usually a piece of two-by-four lumber. Most of the time it is made from Douglas fir or SPF, but some tradespersons prefer western red cedar. The key is that it is very straight.
Roles of the Team
The most experienced “concrete person” on site should be the one that directs the tasks of the crew members and adjusts the plan according to weather and the “stage” of the concrete at any given time. Working and communicating with the truck drivers should be a focus for all team members. There is too much noise on the job site to communicate verbally once the drum is “spun up,” so learning the universal language of hand signals for directions can be a huge benefit.
If your goal is to end up with a broom finish, make sure you have a long enough handle on your broom so you can broom the entire distance with one steady pass. When it comes to expansion and relief joints, the rule of thumb is the depth of the joint should be ¼ of the thickness of your pour. (i.e., a 4” slab equals a 1” relief joint). For flatwork (driveways), try not to have any individual panel or section be larger than 100 square feet.
As you have learned over the course of this series, there are many best practices to keep in mind. When it comes to common errors, there are two big mistakes to avoid:
- Being understaffed for the size or complexity of the project
- Not ordering enough concrete for the project
When it comes to concrete work, being conservative in your planning is highly recommended. Gambling with Mother Nature can be very costly if you end up on the losing end.