How to Hire a Solid Concrete Driveway Contractor
Be sure you hire a qualified contractor to install your concrete driveway so it will stand the test of time.
A concrete driveway offers both curb appeal and durability, but it must be installed by a qualified, professional concrete contractor to stand the test of time. Homeowners looking to repair an existing concrete driveway or to start from scratch will quickly discover a host of driveway contractors available in their area. Here are four signs you found a true professional to install your concrete driveway.
Get a detailed bid
Most driveway contractors can offer a basic quote over the phone, but a concrete 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 driveway contractor is a true professional, ask detailed 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 potential driveway contractor says a week or less, you may want to give him a pass.
Talk about concrete cracks
Concrete driveways are known for cracking, and in many cases, soon after they're poured. Professional driveway installer have a thorough understanding of what causes these cracks, and can also advise on how to prevent them. First, your contractor should have a working understanding of water and how it affects concrete. 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 concrete driveway installation
Adding a driveway isn't as simple as pouring concrete and letting it dry. To make sure the concrete 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.
Discuss potential driveway problems
Ask your driveway contractor what he or she will do in the event of a problem. Your prospective installer 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 driveway contractor will often guarantee 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. 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. Always check Angie's List for accounts from other members before you hire.
Installing a new concrete 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.
Editor's note: This is an updated version of an article originally posted on April 9, 2013.