4 signs your concrete driveway installer is a true professional

A concrete driveway offers both curb appeal and durability, but it must be installed by a qualified professional to stand the test of time. Homeowners looking to repair an existing driveway or to start from scratch will quickly discover a host of contractors available in their city. Here are four signs of an installer who's also a true professional.

Look for a thorough assessment

Most driveway contractors can offer a basic quote over the phone, but a company's first step before beginning any project should be a thorough examination of your home, any existing driveway or the space you plan to use for the new concrete pad.

To determine if your prospective contractor is true professional, ask questions about your upcoming installation. He or she should be able to give a rough estimate of the time it will take to complete the job, as well as offer advice on how long you should wait before parking on new concrete. Four weeks allows concrete to achieve maximum strength, and most professionals will advise waiting at least two. If your prospect says a week or less, you may want to give him a pass.

Talk about cracks

Concrete driveways are known for cracking, and in many cases soon after they're poured. One sign of a professional installer is a thorough knowledge of what causes these cracks and how to prevent them. First, your installer should have a working understanding of water and how it affects concrete. Put simply, the more water in the mix, the weaker your concrete, because as this material dries, it shrinks. Using only the minimum amount of water means less shrinking and less chance of cracks.

It's also important for your contractor to understand the role of control joints in concrete to prevent cracks. These joints need to be the depth of the concrete pour, with their typical distance apart found by multiplying the thickness of concrete by a factor of two or three. A 5-inch pour, for example, needs joints every 10 or 15 feet. These joints allow the material to flex without breaking. Any long, unbroken stretch of concrete will crack during the first winter, if not before.

Ask about the installation process

Adding a driveway isn't as simple as pouring concrete and letting it dry. To make sure the driveway stands the test of time, your contractor needs to start by compacting the soil and then adding tightly packed crush material on top. Looser aggregate is often laid down as well, and compacted again to provide a stable base of uniform depth.

Some cities require steel rebar grids for strength, and many contractors recommend them for stability. The concrete pour itself should be planned out start to finish and take place on a dry, sunny day. No professional contractor will recommend doing a pour when it's raining or if the ground is frozen.

Don't be shy about problems

Ask your contractor what he or she will do in the event of a problem. Your prospective contractor should start by giving you good advice on how to avoid issues. For example, even concrete can't support infinite weight, and anything one ton or more will likely cause a crack.

A professional installer will often offer a guarantee of work for a specific amount of time, or by the width of any cracks that appear. Make sure to get a guarantee in writing and ask for references, and ask specifically for cases in which that contractor had to do follow-up work, because talking to other homeowners and hearing about their experiences is crucial. Don't hesistate to check Angie's List for accounts from other members. 

Installing a new driveway is a job that requires precision, patience and skill. By asking the right questions and thoroughly evaluating a contractor's knowledge, you can avoid amateurs and enjoy the benefits that come with hiring a true professional.

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Ask Angie: Is it normal for freshly poured concrete to have cracks?


Cracking in freshly poured concrete can be common within the first 30 days. (Photo courtesy of Paul Piontkowski)
Cracking in freshly poured concrete can be common within the first 30 days. (Photo courtesy of Paul Piontkowski)

Angie Hicks answers a member question about whether it's normal for cracks to form on a new concrete driveway.

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