Ordering Concrete

It may not be sexy, but concrete is a key ingredient in almost any remodeling or building project. Getting that ingredient right is crucial and not all that easy.

Think about the last time you ordered ready-mixed concrete for a construction job. Did the truck arrive on time, or did the crew sit idle, waiting for the delivery to show up? Once the concrete did arrive, was the amount of material you ordered enough for the job, or were you on a cell phone frantically trying to get another truckload? And most important, did the concrete mix you received meet your performance and budget requirements?

Ordering concrete, even for small projects such as a patio or pool deck, isn't just a simple matter of calling up a ready-mix supplier the day before the pour. To receive the quantity and quality of concrete you need, delivered at the right time and for a fair price, take the following pre-emptive measures:

Determine how much you need. This step may seem like a no-brainer, at least until you're humbled by your first inaccurate estimate. Order too much concrete, and you waste money and face disposal problems. Order too little, and you hold up the job. Even worse, the concrete already in place will begin to harden while you wait for an emergency order to save the day.

Ready-mixed concrete is sold by the cubic yard. Determining how many yards you need for square or rectangular slabs is fairly straightforward, and you can find concrete calculators online to help you do the math. Figuring out how much concrete you need for irregular shapes is trickier. Consult with your ready-mix supplier.

Tip: To allow for possible errors in your estimate, as well as spillage or over-excavation, the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association recommends adding an extra 4 percent to 10 percent to your total.

Shop around. Call several ready-mix suppliers in your area to get price quotes based on the type and quantity of concrete you want. The cost will vary depending on the distance the concrete must be hauled, the size of the order, the complexity of the mix, and the timing of delivery. Don’t make a final decision based on price alone. Ask each supplier to provide references for jobs similar in size to yours. Or ask local building supply stores or other contractors to recommend reputable concrete suppliers.

Tip: To save on hauling costs, choose a supplier with a plant location close to your job site.

Communicate your needs. Once you find a reliable ready-mix company, explain what you need the concrete for and get recommendations for the best mix to order to obtain the desired results. The supplier can tell you how strong the concrete should be for different applications (such as a foundation vs. a sidewalk) and advise you on admixtures to enhance concrete performance. Most suppliers are willing to send a representative out to the job site to assess placement conditions and help you estimate the quantity of material needed.

Tip: A concrete mix that works well in one situation may not be suitable for another, so don’t count on using the same generic formula for each job.

Plan ahead. To ensure timely delivery of the concrete, ask your supplier how many days of lead time are necessary for an order and whether the concrete can be delivered at the time of day you need it. For jobs requiring several truckloads of concrete, don't forget to discuss the best time sequence for truck arrival. Fresh concrete is perishable and can suffer a loss in quality if it sits in the truck too long.

Tip: Avoid scheduling deliveries during rush hour, and plan alternate routes in case of road construction or traffic gridlock.

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