If you have a concrete driveway or sidewalk, you should take a few basic precautions to protect it from cracking. When properly installed, concrete typically lasts for decades, offering you and your family countless years of use. There are times, however, when it may develop hairline fractures or cracks. And when left unchecked, these otherwise small cracks can develop into larger cracks that jeopardize the structure integrity of the driveway or sidewalk. So, if you have a concrete driveway or sidewalk, you should familiarize yourself with the following tips to protect it from cracking.
First, it’s important to understand what causes concrete driveways and sidewalks to crack. While cracking can occur from any number of issues, one of the most common causes is an improper ratio of water to concrete. When too much water is added, the moisture will evaporate as the concrete sits, causing to shrink and, eventually, crack. It’s not uncommon for concrete slabs to shrink by as much as 0.5 inches per 100 feet. Therefore, it’s important that homeowners, builders and general contractors alike use the proper mixture of concrete and water.
Grade and Compact the Soil
In addition to using an appropriate ratio of water to concrete, you should also grade and compact the soil when installing a concrete driveway or sidewalk. When concrete is poured on uneven or loose soil, it increases the risk of cracking. Over time, the soil will shift and place stress on the concrete. As this stress increases, it can literally pull apart the concrete, leaving large cracks or fractures behind. By properly grading and compacting the soil, however, you can prevent this from happening. Again, this is why it’s important that all homeowners, builders and general contractors invest the necessary time and energy to prepare for proper installation.
Use a Sealer
Once you’ve installed concrete, you should use a sealant product to protect it from moisture. Freeze-thaw damage often creates cracks in concrete sidewalks and driveways. This phenomenology occurs when water seeps into the porous holes of the concrete and turns into ice. This creates pressure that loosens the concrete, causing it to crack. A simple solution to protect concrete from freeze-thaw damage is to use a sealer. Available at most home improvement stores, a sealer will create an invisible waterproof barrier over your concrete, protecting it from the intrusion of moisture and subsequent cracks that may develop from the freeze-thaw cycle.
There are many different types of concrete sealant products available for sale. While they all serve the same basic purpose of sealing concrete, there are subtle nuances between them that shouldn’t be ignored. See below for a list of the three main types of concrete sealers and how they differ:
- Penetrating Sealer: As the name suggests, penetrating sealers are designed to penetrate deep into concrete to create a superior level of protection from moisture and debris. They are often preferred in harsh environments where there’s a high risk of damage. Penetrating sealers are an excellent choice for protecting your concrete driveway or sidewalk from freeze-thaw damage.
- Decorative Sealer: Available in a wide variety of sheens and tones, decorative sealers offer an exceptional level aesthetics when compared to other concrete sealant products. They also dry and set more quickly than other sealers. The downside to decorative sealers, however, is that the lack the protection offered by penetrating sealers. Therefore, they should only be used in applications where there’s low risk of cracking of structural damage to the concrete.
- Durable Sealer: The third type of concrete sealer, durable sealer, offers a longer lifespan the aforementioned types. It’s designed to create a strong, long-lasting barrier of protection over the concrete. Durable sealers are also available in a variety of sheens and tones, and they are usually resistant to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays.
Ensure Proper Drainage
While there’s no substitution for a high-quality sealant, you can further protect your concrete driveway or sidewalk from cracking by ensuring the surrounding landscape has proper drainage. Poor drainage is a common cause of cracking in concrete. When water collects on or around a concrete driveway or sidewalk, the excess moisture will seep under the concrete, causing the land to shift, thus stressing the concrete. This usually doesn’t happen overnight, but rather it takes months or even years for cracks to develop.
You can reduce the risk of cracking in your concrete driveway or sidewalk by ensuring it has proper drainage. Check your downspouts to ensure they are directed away from your home and towards a nearby storm drain. And the next time it rains, pay attention to your landscape to see where the water flows. If it’s pooling up in certain areas, you need a new drainage solution to keep the moisture away from your driveway or sidewalk.
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