Questions & Answers

Concrete FAQ’s

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.

How is portland cement made?

Materials that contain appropriate amounts of calcium compounds, silica, alumina and iron oxide are crushed and screened and placed in a rotating cement kiln. Ingredients used in this process are typically materials such as limestone, marl, shale, iron ore, clay, and fly ash. For each ton of material that goes into the feed end of the kiln, two thirds of a ton the comes out the discharge end, called clinker. This clinker is in the form of marble sized pellets. The clinker is very finely ground to produce portland cement. A small amount of gypsum is added during the grinding process to control the cement's set or rate of hardening.

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.

What are recommended mix proportions for good concrete?

Good concrete can be obtained by using a wide variety of mix proportions if proper mix design procedures are used. A good general rule to use is the rule of 6's:

  • A minimum cement content of 6 bags per cubic yard of concrete
  • A maximum water content of 6 gallons per bag of cement
  • A curing period (keeping concrete moist) a minimum of 6 days
  • An air content of 6 percent (if concrete will be subject to freezing and thawing)

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.

Will concrete harden under water?

Portland cement is a hydraulic cement which means that it sets and hardens due to a chemical reaction with water. Consequently, it will harden under water.

How do you control the strength of concrete?

The easiest way to add strength is to add cement. The factor that most predominantly influences concrete strength is the ratio of water to cement in the cement paste that binds the aggregates together. The higher this ratio is, the weaker the concrete will be and vice versa. Every desirable physical property that you can measure will be adversely effected by adding more water.

How do you remove stains from concrete?

Stains can be removed from concrete with dry or mechanical methods, or by wet methods using chemical or water.

Common dry methods include sandblasting, flame cleaning and shotblasting, grinding, scabbing, planing and scouring. Steel-wire brushes should be used with care because they can leave metal particles on the surface that later may rust and stain the concrete.

Wet methods involve the application of water or specific chemicals according to the nature of the stain. The chemical treatment either dissolves the staining substance so it can be blotted up from the surface of the concrete or bleaches the staining substance so it will not show.

To remove blood stains, for example, wet the stains with water and cover them with a layer of sodium peroxide powder; let stand for a few minutes, rinse with water and scrub vigorously. Follow with the application of a 5 percent solution of vinegar to neutralize any remaining sodium peroxide.

What are the decorative finishes that can be applied to concrete surfaces?

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 available to make concrete slip-resistant and sparkling.

How do you protect a concrete surface from aggressive materials like acids?

Many materials have no effect on concrete. However, there are some aggressive materials, such as most acids, that can have a deteriorating effect on concrete. The first line of defense against chemical attack is to use quality concrete with maximum chemical resistance, followed by the application of protective treatments to keep corrosive substances from contacting the concrete. Principles and practices that improve the chemical resistance of concrete include using a low water-cement ratio, selecting a suitable cement type (such as sulfate-resistant cement to prevent sulfate attack), using suitable aggregates, water and air entrainment. A large number of chemical formulations are available as sealers and coatings to protect concrete from a variety of environments; detailed recommendations should be requested from manufacturers, formulators or material suppliers.

What is alkali-silica reactivity (ASR)?

Alkali-silica reactivity is an expansive reaction between reactive forms of silica in aggregates and potassium and sodium alkalis, mostly from cement, but also from aggregates, pozzolans, admixtures and mixing water. External sources of alkali from soil, deicers and industrial processes can also contribute to reactivity. The reaction forms an alkali-silica gel that swells as it draws water from the surrounding cement paste, thereby inducing pressure, expansion and cracking of the aggregate and surrounding paste. This often results in map-pattern cracks, sometimes referred to as alligator pattern cracking. ASR can be avoided through 1) proper aggregate selection, 2) use of blended cements, 3) use of proper pozzolanic materials and 4) contaminant-free mixing water.

If you have a question that was not answered in this section, please contact [email protected]

SOURCE: Portland Cement Association http://www.cement.org/basics/concretebasics_faqs.asp

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