Part 2: How to choose a concrete contractor to repair your driveway

In Part One of this series, Matt Cook of Complete Concrete & Masonry shared some great tips on what to look for in a driveway contractor in Atlanta. If you missed Part One, click here to read it.

We left off as we were discussing what you need to be aware of when it comes to signing a contract for your driveway work. We were just digging into why the scope of work section of the contract is so important, and we noted that it’s important for the scope of work to be as detailed as possible.

Make sure your scope of work answers these questions before you sign on the dotted line.

  • What PSI (Pounds Per Square Inch) will the concrete be?
  • What kind of mix will it be?
  • How thick will the concrete be?
  • What kind of sub-base will you use?
  • How many contraction joints will be installed?
  • How far apart will the contraction joints be?
  • How will the concrete be reinforced?
  • What kind of finish will be applied to the concrete when it is completed?
  • How high will my retaining wall be?
  • Are permit costs included?
  • Will it have the proper slope away from my house?
  • Does the contract include site prep work?
  • Does the contract include clean up?
  • What are the payment terms?
  • Will they contact the Georgia Utilities Protection Center before starting work?

Whoa, that’s a lot. Let’s talk about these one at a time, so Matt can give suggestions to help you.

Are prep work and clean up included in your Atlanta concrete driveway estimate?

Matt said that he loses some jobs because the other concrete company seems cheaper. The problem is that many times the prep work and clean-up work is excluded from the bid. This means that the homeowner has additional money to pay that they weren’t planning on. Other times the homeowner is stuck cleaning up the mess for themselves. Can you see how frustrating this would be for you? That’s why it’s so important to have this in the scope of work.

What are the payment terms?

Many scammers posing as concrete contractors have take advantage of trusting Atlanta homeowners. They will give a much cheaper price than the competition does. They might ask for a 50% deposit before the work is done…and then you never hear from them again. Of course, anyone can give you a cheap price if they never intend to actually do the work! That’s why it’s crucial that the company has a good reputation.

Other times, people feel pressured to pay in full before the clean-up work is completed to your satisfaction. The lesson? Make sure that the job is done and that you’re happy before making that final payment.

“This is why we rarely require a deposit before starting on a driveway for someone,” Matt said. “We only ask for payment after they are 100% satisfied. On occasion, if we have to lay out money for costly pavers we will ask for the payment of materials before work is done. But we don’t ask for a check until the material has been dropped off on the homeowner’s property.” This is a win-win for both the concrete company and the homeowner because both of your interests are protected.

What PSI (Pounds Per Square Inch) will the concrete be?

It’s tempting for a concrete company to install a lower PSI for your driveway to save money. This is how many can win your business with a lower price. “For example, many builders only use a 2500 PSI to do new sidewalks and driveways,” Matt explained. “On the other hand, we only use 4000 PSI concrete for our customers. This means your driveway will last longer.”

So, you might want to ask for 4000 PSI concrete and make sure it is written in your contract.

How will the concrete be reinforced?

Another way inexperienced concrete installers might look to save money is by ignoring the need to reinforce your concrete. Reinforcing the concrete structurally strengthens it and keeps it together by minimizing cracks when the earth settles.  “This is why we always install steel rebar in all of our concrete pours,” Matt said. “Many of my competitors choose to not use this. I view it as cheap insurance to prevent settling cracks and displacement. After all, I provide a five-year warranty for all of the driveways and sidewalks we install.”

How high will my retaining wall be?

How high does a retaining wall have to be? Matt said that it’s not up to you and me. Instead, an engineer must provide a letter to specify the required height. The contractor must bring this letter to the county for approval. Skipping this step will cost you a lot of headaches and money, as an inspector may require you to rip the wall out and pay to build it again. The moral of the story is to require an engineer’s letter to decide your retaining wall height and make sure this is in your contract.

Are concrete permit costs included?

Some cities require that you have a permit before any concrete work is started. The city of Atlanta and the city of Decatur both require concrete permits. What if your contractor forgot to secure the permit and starts work? Matt explained, “First, your job site will be shut down and no more work will be allowed until this is addressed. Second, there will be substantial fees to pay.” So, make sure your contract covers all permits and fees that are required in your city.

What kind of sub-base will you use on my concrete pour?

Sometimes a low area of your property must be filled before the concrete is poured to prevent an uneven pour or water sloping toward your home. To save money, some concrete companies will use dirt to do this.

But Matt warned, “You don’t want them to use dirt as a sub-base because dirt will settle. This means your concrete will crack later on.” What does Matt suggest instead? He tells us, “We will only use self-leveling gravel as a sub-base. Gravel is the best thing to ensure minimal settling later on.”

How many contraction joints will be installed in my concrete?

Since concrete is a very hard surface, many people are surprised that it expands and contracts with the weather. That can lead to cracking, but there’s a way to prevent that from happening. The answer is installing expansion joints, otherwise known as contraction joints. Matt shared the following advice: “Typically expansion joints are installed every 10-12 feet on center. Years ago, every 15-20 feet was normal, but we find you have more stability placing them every 10-12 feet.”

How deep will my expansion joints be?

“Many of our competitors install expansion joints that are a quarter of an inch deep,” Matt said. “The problem with that is that the crack can actually start out of the expansion joint.” What does Matt suggest? “We always come back the NEXT day to finish our expansion joints. We saw cut them to the proper depth of one inch deep. This minimizes cracks coming out of your contraction joint.”

How thick will my concrete pour be?

This is another trick used by some concrete installers to lower their costs and save money. Many will pour three-inch or three-and-a-half-inch thick driveways to save a few bucks on yards of concrete purchased. We asked Matt how he figured out that people were using this trick. He answered, “It’s simple. I get calls every day to replace driveways. When we break up the old concrete, it’s very clear that the concrete is only three inches deep at times. Yes, it might have saved the homeowner a few dollars up front, but costs double that when they have to pay me to come and fix someone else’s work.”

Therefore, make sure that your concrete slab is at least four inches thick.

A cracked sidewalk or driveway is a huge trip risk. While it’s true that your homeowner’s insurance is there for you, why risk having someone get hurt—not to mention the subsequent lawsuit? Getting those dangerous cracks repaired is part of being a responsible homeowner, and having the concrete installed properly in the first place is the way to go.

We hope you found this article on how to choose a concrete driveway contractor in Atlanta helpful. We believe that you deserve to know the facts before you sign on the dotted line. We’re grateful for Matt Cook of Complete Concrete and Masonry for all the valuable information he shared with us! If you would like to ask Matt a question about your driveway, he can be reached at his website.

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