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.

Need insurance? We can help! Give us a call today or fill out our quote form and we’ll get you a free quote on your home insurance, auto insurance, renters’ insurance, life insurance, or even business insurance. 

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

Learn how to avoid the common mistakes homeowners make when choosing a concrete contractor to repair their driveway.

If you have a cracked or sinking driveway and you’re looking for someone to fix it for you, then this article will be useful. We interviewed Matt Cook of Complete Concrete and Masonry in Woodstock, GA.

Matt started to work for his cousin 15 years ago doing sales and estimating for concrete work and repairs, but 11 years ago he took the plunge and started working for himself. Matt’s company specializes in residential driveway repairs, patios, and masonry. He said there are two things that influence his work ethic: his love for the Golden Rule in business—treating others the way he would want to be treated—and that his father was a hard worker who taught him to be particular in his work.

We asked Matt what you should know before choosing a driveway repair company.

Matt advised that you always research the company. He suggested that you find out:

  • How long their crew has been with the company.
  • What kind of warranty the company provides.
  • How long they’ve been in business.
  • Whether or not they have insurance.
  • What’s included and excluded in the concrete work.

Always research the concrete company.

Matt suggested using websites that filter out the reputable concrete companies from those that don’t care about customer service. You can use websites like Kudzu or Angie’s List to do this very easily. Read the reviews and focus on how the company provides customer service.

Here’s a tip: Look at how recent the referrals are. Sometimes you’ll see a concrete company that had reviews 4 or 5 years ago, but nothing since then. Why should you care about this? Management and supervising personnel—and their attitudes—change over the years. The awesome people that were bragged about on Angie’s List 4 years ago may now work for another concrete company.

Here’s another tip: Ask how long the concrete installers that will be working at your home have been with the company. There’s a high turnover with crews at many driveway replacement companies. You want the best crew to work on your driveway, don’t you?

We appreciated what Matt had to say about his own crew. “I’ve had the same bunch of guys working for me for the last 10 years,” he explained. “They’re reliable, dependable and trustworthy. Each of them has at least 20 years of concrete experience. There’s no need to micromanage them because they know how I want the job done.” There probably aren’t too many business owners who can say that!

What kind of concrete warranty does the company provide?

Many driveway installers don’t offer a warranty. Perhaps they imply that they’ll guarantee their work, but that’s not enough. Remember, if it’s not in writing it’s not enforceable.

Tip: Make sure the warranty is part of the written contract, and make sure it spells out what it does and does not cover. Matt said, “If there’s no written warranty, that should be a huge red flag about working with them.”

Complete Concrete and Masonry includes its warranty as part of each and every contract. Matt offers a five-year warranty against major cracking (cracks over 3/16″), major scaling, water holding, and improper sloping away from the house.

The lesson? Always get a written warranty as part of your contract.

How long have they been in business?

This goes hand-in-hand with having a 5-year warranty. Companies open and go belly-up every day. You probably want a company that’s been around long enough to service a 5-year warranty on its work. Choose a company that has a five-year track record of happy clients.

Are they insured?

There are lots of people that like to “play” concrete contractor – without insurance. Matt told us, “The industry standard is a $1,000,000 general liability insurance policy for residential concrete work. With regards to workers’ compensation, the state of Georgia requires all concrete companies to carry workers’ comp if they have more than three employees.”

Matt suggested that you request the contractor to have their insurance company send you a certificate with you listed as the certificate holder. Why is insurance important? What if the workers accidentally splash cement all over your new car’s paint? What if they back the cement truck up and dent your car or fence? Who will pay for these things to be repaired? Thus, you should always ask for proof of insurance.

Will they contact the Georgia Utilities Protection Center before starting work?

Did you know that if a concrete crew starts to break up your existing concrete or dig in your yard it could mean thousands of dollars in fines for you? “Your front yard may contain water pipes, natural gas lines, phone company cables, cable TV conduits, and electrical power lines,” Matt said. “It’s important to contact the UPC before starting any work. They’ll identify all underground utilities so that they aren’t damaged by accident. Failure to do so may result in thousands of dollars in fines to repair the damaged pipes and wires.”

So, make sure your contractor calls UPC before beginning any work on your property.

Matt shared a tip that will help you prepare for the future.

Matt shared, “We always recommend installing a PVC pipe under the sidewalk and driveway for future access. This will allow you to, later on, add low voltage lifting, outdoor speakers, cable or phone lines, or wiring for a sprinkler system.” This is a small investment to future-proof your yard!

What does the concrete work include and, more importantly, exclude?

“Having a driveway contractor provide you a contract that says they will install a new concrete driveway for you is not enough,” Matt said. “You must insist on getting a scope of work with your contract. Without a scope of work, there are too many unknown surprises for the homeowner later. It must be clearly defined and not vague at all.”

Matt continued, “Some people just want a bottom dollar price. They don’t care about quality or the concrete lasting for many years. As a result, many concrete installers will look to do it as cheaply as possible and want to get in and out as quickly as possible. In the end, [the homeowner] gets what they pay for. A lot of the time I get called in to repair bad concrete jobs.” So, how long do you want your concrete to last? If you want the job done right, you’re going to have to look at the scope of the work.

That, of course, begs the question of what the scope of work should include. We’ll cover that, plus other driveway-related things that you might never have thought about, in Part Two of this article. Our goal is to educate you so that you can make an informed decision about what to ask for and what to look for when you’re having work done on your driveway. You can check out Complete Concrete and Masonry’s website here

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