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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between cement and concrete?

Although the terms cement and concrete often are used interchangeably, cement is actually an ingredient of concrete. Concrete is basically a mixture of aggregates and paste. The aggregates are sand and gravel or crushed stone; the paste is water and portland cement. Concrete gets stronger as it gets older. Portland cement is not a brand name, but the generic term for the type of cement used in virtually all concrete, just as stainless is a type of steel and sterling a type of silver. Cement comprises from 10 to 15 percent of the concrete mix, by volume. Through a process called hydration, the cement and water harden and bind the aggregates into a rocklike mass. This hardening process continues for years meaning that concrete gets stronger as it gets older.

So, there is no such thing as a cement sidewalk or a cement mixer; the proper terms are concrete sidewalk and concrete mixer.

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What does it mean to “cure” concrete?
Curing is one of the most important steps in concrete construction, because proper curing greatly increases concrete strength and durability. Concrete hardens as a result of hydration: the chemical reaction between cement and water. However, hydration occurs only if water is available and if the concrete’s temperature stays within a suitable range. During the curing period-from five to seven days after placement for conventional concrete-the concrete surface needs to be kept moist to permit the hydration process. new concrete can be wet with soaking hoses, sprinklers or covered with wet burlap, or can be coated with commercially available curing compounds, which seal in moisture.

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Can it be too hot or too cold to place new concrete?
Temperature extremes make it difficult to properly cure concrete. On hot days, too much water is lost by evaporation from newly placed concrete. If the temperature drops too close to freezing, hydration slows to nearly a standstill. Under these conditions, concrete ceases to gain strength and other desirable properties. In general, the temperature of new concrete should not be allowed to fall below 50 Fahrenheit during the curing process.

Why does concrete crack?
Concrete, like all other materials, will slightly change in volume when it dries out. In typical concrete this change amounts to about 500 millionths. Translated into dimensions-this is about 1/16 of an inch in 10 feet (.4 cm in 3 meters). The reason that contractors put joints in concrete pavements and floors is to allow the concrete to crack in a neat, straight line at the joint when the volume of the concrete changes due to shrinkage.

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How can you tell if you’re getting what you paid for?
The real indicator is the yield, or the actual volume produced based on the actual batch quantities of cement, water and aggregates. The unit weight test can be used to determine the yield of a sample of the ready mixed concrete as delivered. It’s a simple calculation that requires the unit weight of all materials batched. The total weight information may be shown on the delivery ticket or it can be provided by the producer. Many concrete producers actually over yield by about 1/2 percent to make sure they aren’t short-changing their customers. But other producers may not even realize that a mix designed for one cubic yard might only produce 26.5 cubic feet or 98 percent of what they actually designed.

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What are the decorative finishes you can apply to concrete?
Color may be added to concrete by adding pigments-before or after concrete is place-and using white cement rather than conventional gray cement, by using chemical stains, or by exposing colorful aggregates at the surface. Textured finishes can vary from a smooth polish to the roughness of gravel. Geometric patterns can be scored, stamped, rolled, or inlaid into the concrete to resemble stone, brick or tile paving. Other interesting patterns are obtained by using divider strips (commonly redwood) to form panels of various sizes and shapes ­ rectangular, square, circular or diamond. Special techniques are also available to make concrete slip-resistant and sparkling.

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