The Different Uses of Concrete in Construction

Concrete is the world’s most versatile building material, its earliest forms finding use since the time of Romans. While most people easily associate concrete with home foundations and sidewalks, some people are often surprised to find concrete used in places they wouldn’t expect.

Why is concrete used in so many different projects? The answer to this question lies in concrete’s versatility and many benefits for construction applications.

Benefits of Using Concrete

Man Walking on Concrete

Concrete offers several unique advantages over other building materials—even bricks and other types of masonry.

Low Cost

Compared to many other materials used for load-bearing construction (such as steel), concrete and concrete-based cement are both inexpensive and economical. This benefit is due not only to the lower cost of materials but also the lower cost of labor involved; pouring and forming concrete, while still a skill best left to professionals, is typically far less labor-intensive than welding steel.

Highly Customizable

Since concrete starts as a liquid, it can take the form of almost any mold or container. As a result, concrete is easy to mold into almost any shape, making it the perfect application for intricate facades or custom designs. This capability also lowers costs even further, where reproducing the same shapes through other materials (such as stone) would be costly and labor-intensive.

Low Maintenance

Once it’s set, concrete requires little to no maintenance over its lifetime, nor does it require any protective coating or finishing. Typically, concrete only ever needs maintenance in areas worn down over time, such as the corners of concrete steps. Even then, concrete can still keep its form for many decades—if not centuries!

Fire Resistance and Durability

Both wood and metal are easily damaged by fire; wood burns and metal can weaken under heat, both of which can lead to structural failure. By contrast, concrete is almost completely fire- and heat-proof, being capable of withstanding temperatures over 1600 degrees Fahrenheit.

Concrete stands up to the other elements, too: Where wood and metal easily corrode when exposed to water, concrete does not. As a result, concrete has become a favorite material for many marine applications, also having the benefit of being resistant to high winds.

Uses of Concrete in Construction

Concrete Building

Thanks to its many benefits, concrete has become a favorite material for many construction projects. Here are just a few of the construction applications that can benefit from the durability and low cost of concrete:

Driveways and Patios

Concrete is quickly becoming a favorite material for home patios and driveways.

For patios, concrete offers the benefit of a single, smooth surface requiring little labor, whereas a backyard patio built with traditional masonry would otherwise require extensive masonry and leveling. Plus, concrete patios can still achieve the custom-masonry look through the clever use of stone veneers.

Concrete also offers unique advantages for driveways. Most driveways through the United States are paved with either asphalt or gravel, but these materials are slowly falling out of favor; asphalt driveways need replacement about every decade or so, while gravel driveways need annual (if not semi-annual) releveling.

Concrete driveways, on the other hand, offer long-term durability and increased wear resistance compared to asphalt and gravel.

Fences

While the white picket fence might remain the favorite of suburban America, urban areas tend to prefer sturdier materials. As a result, concrete has become a popular fencing material for many larger projects, especially for projects already using concrete in other areas.

Fencing also benefits from concrete’s design flexibility, especially where large-scale, urban fencing projects might include sculptures or other geometric features.

Foundations

Concrete is the most common material for home foundations in the United States, and for good reason: Its durability, water resistance, and load-bearing capabilities make it the ideal solution for (literally) supporting any house.

However, concrete is also used for larger foundations, such as those of skyscrapers and other massive structures. In these cases, concrete is usually reinforced with steel wire to improve longevity and flexibility under stress.

Sidewalks and Streets

Think of the last sidewalk you walked on: There’s a good chance it was made out of concrete. While concrete has long been the favorite material for paving city sidewalks, many cities are starting to use concrete to pave roads as well.

Concrete benefits roads just as it does driveways; where asphalt roads need relatively frequent replacement and are less environmentally friendly, concrete roads offer both longer lifespans and increased durability. These benefits are compounded in warmer climates, where consistent temperatures help minimize wear caused by season changes.

Parking Lots

Parking lots receive a lot of wear over their lifespan, especially when compared to other paving applications; where roads and driveways benefit from cars (usually) going in just one direction, parking lots have the added stress of frequent turns, changing speeds, constant braking, and pedestrian traffic.

As a result, parking lots might stand to benefit the most from concrete than other paving applications, especially if frequent asphalt replacement temporarily displaces business.

Buildings

Concrete’s easy forming, high durability, and low cost have also made it a favorite building material for low- to mid-rise construction projects. Where many mixed-material buildings require specialized construction and extended labor, concrete buildings are built quickly and easily. Plus, concrete buildings are far more resistant to fire and other damage than buildings made from mixed materials.

Dams

Dams require a combination of high strength and water resistance over large areas—these requirements make concrete perfect for the job, especially considering concrete’s comparatively lower cost.

Concrete is the preferred material for the vast majority of dams and hydroelectric facilities throughout the world (perhaps except for beaver dams). One famous example is the Hoover Dam, which used 3,250,000 cubic yards of concrete—enough to pave a two-lane highway from New York to San Francisco!

Bridges

While bridge surfaces need to remain flexible, their support structures—such as pillars—need to remain sturdy and rigid. As a result, bridges both large and small utilize concrete for numerous support applications, including support pillars, surrounding structures, and foundations.

Sewers

While not the most glamorous example, modern sewer systems are among the most common applications of concrete. Where older sewers often required complex, labor-intensive masonry, modern sewers benefit from the flexibility and durability of concrete.

Concrete also allows sewer systems to be built modularly, allowing for increased construction and design flexibility.

Docks

Docks and other marine applications utilize concrete for its durability and corrosion resistance. Concrete is also frequently used as an underwater anchoring material for moorings, oil rigs, and other non-concrete marine structures.

Ancient Rome

Contractors Paving Concrete

While maybe not the most practical example, the Ancient Romans used concrete extensively in their buildings; in fact, the Ancient Romans are often credited for inventing concrete, with “Roman concrete” still being studied for its incredible durability. One of the most famous concrete structures in Ancient Rome is the Pantheon, which has a 2,000-year-old unsupported concrete dome that still stands as both the largest and oldest today.

Finding a Concrete Contractor

Concrete may not be as labor-intensive as other materials, but it still requires a professional team to pour and shape properly. Improperly set, concrete is easily prone to cracking and crumbling, which can quickly lead to structural failure and expensive damages.

Thankfully, we’re here to help! To learn more about how concrete can benefit your project, call Cross Construction Services at 713-254-1703.

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