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Laying Your Own Concrete – A stable, robust concrete slab is essential for creating a level exterior surface such as a driveway, as well as for safely erecting any type of structure, including barns, storage sheds and garages. If you don’t place the concrete correctly, you run the risk of damaging the structure you place on top of it and decreasing the quality and lifespan of your slab. To keep your property pristine and ensure everyone’s safety, here’s what you need to know about preparing land for a concrete slab on your property.
First of all, you must identify and prepare the place where you intend to place the slab. You must find out the dimensions of the slab, including its depth. If you want the slab to be flush with the surrounding earth, you will have to dig into the ground to compact the soil and establish a foundation before placing it.
Laying Your Own Concrete
The right depth depends on the height of the slab, the local climate, soil conditions and the intended use of the slab. Also, there may be rules governing not only base depth depending on where you live, but there may also be laws dictating new construction in your area. Be sure to follow these regulations and obtain any necessary permits or licenses before starting work.
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You will likely need to dig several inches and potentially up to half a foot. It’s worth talking to a professional in your area who can make recommendations based on your soil and is familiar with local laws.
Once you know how deep to go, you can start digging. Make sure you dig an area that is the correct dimensions and that the bottom of the hole is smooth. Use extra dirt or soil to fill in any cavities. This will make the ground as level as possible so it can support whatever structure you place on top of the slab.
Next you need to moisten the soil. Loose, dry dirt will not make a good base for a slab or the foundation that goes under it. You can use a garden hose with a nozzle attached to get an even, light spray on the dirt.
To test things out, gather a handful of dirt and squeeze it into a ball. When it retains its shape, the dirt is wet enough. If it falls apart in your hand, you need to add more water.
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Of course, the dirt can’t be too wet either. If water starts to pool above the ground, it’s probably too wet. You will have to wait for it to dry before proceeding with your project.
Before laying a concrete slab, you must lay a foundation. A solid foundation protects the concrete from settling dirt, water runoff and other natural hazards. While all outdoor fixtures are subject to natural wear and tear, concrete will crack and deteriorate more quickly without a foundation to support it.
That said, you don’t need steel, high-quality wood or anything particularly fancy for your base – just crushed stone or gravel. You’ll need gravel of various sizes to build a reliable foundation and further aid drainage. The exact amount of gravel you need, again, depends on soil conditions, climate and how you will be using the slab; be sure to use an amount that adequately matches your needs.
Once you have the gravel, simply place it, as evenly as possible, in the hole you dug. You’ll likely need to work on adding layers one at a time until you’ve completed your foundation. You can always work with a professional to make sure you do this correctly if you’re not familiar with the process.
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Starting with the soil itself, take the time to compact each layer of your foundation. Soil compaction reduces the amount of pore space that air and water can occupy in the earth, making it denser and more stable to build on.
Use a manual or mechanical compactor to compact the dirt itself. When your footprints are barely visible or you can’t drill into the ground with a pointed tool, the dirt is fully compacted.
Then start working on your gravel base. Generally, you shouldn’t place more than about two inches of gravel before compacting this layer. After each layer is smooth and fully compacted, you can add the next one. Repeat this process until you complete your base.
With the foundation complete, you can start preparing to pour the concrete. Create a secure formwork that indicates where and how deep the concrete needs to be poured. Form plates will help you delineate the appropriate area and keep the viscous concrete properly contained as it sets.
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Place stakes every few feet along the form boards for additional reinforcement. Attach them to the formwork boards using screws, not nails, to keep everything lined up properly. If they go over the top of the form, remove the tops of the stakes so they are flush with the rest of the form. In this way, they do not interfere with the concrete when pouring and even out the surface.
Don’t forget to coat the mold with some type of release agent, such as silicone rubber or even cooking oil. This will make the formwork significantly easier to remove once the concrete has been poured.
Even a well-constructed formwork needs to be reinforced to withstand the concrete. Place the rebar in a grid across the site. Use rebar ties to join the pieces together. To ensure it fits correctly, you can also use a saw on the rebar to create smaller pieces or a rebar bender to mold it into the proper shape.
You can also use chairs to lift the rebar above the foundation. This will ensure it stays level, but it might not work if you need to use wheelbarrows or bring other equipment to the site. Use additional caution if lifting rebar; it is very easy to trip.
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With all that taken care of, you can pour concrete. You can do this yourself as ready-mixed concrete can be found at many hardware stores or hire a professional. Self-sustainability is important, especially if you enjoy doing your own DIY projects, but don’t hesitate to ask for professional help with this part of the process.
If you use premixed concrete, follow the instructions provided as closely as possible. Pour your concrete into the space you prepared. Use a straight board to level or smooth the top of the concrete while it is still wet.
Again, be sure to follow the instructions closely while waiting for the concrete to cure. While concrete usually sets within two days, you’ll likely need to keep it damp or covered with plastic wrap for several weeks to reach full strength. Go ahead and remove the frame once the concrete is set and it’s safe to do so.
After enough time has passed, you can use the slab for its intended purpose. Whether it’s a driveway or the foundation of your outdoor living area, your job is done. If you plan to lay a structure on the slab – especially a living structure such as a small house or a condominium – then your work has just begun.
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Put as much care and energy into building your structure as you do into the slab itself. Working on these types of projects can be exhausting, but in the end it’s worth the effort. It’s easy to pour and build a backyard patio made out of concrete in this how-to article. On a small scale, concrete is fairly easy to work with, but installing an entire patio can be a challenge. It is possible to build an attractive concrete patio yourself, but careful planning and preparation is required. Be sure to place all the concrete at once; a large yard can be divided into smaller manageable sections using 2×4’s.
Once the concrete is in place, you’re stuck with it forever; Replacement is expensive and difficult. Planning is essential for a perfect DIY concrete patio.
Construct and install forms, making sure they are level and properly leveled for drainage. To prevent rain puddles from forming, design a 2% slope (every 10′ of length will drop 2.5″).
Place and level a 4″-6″ gravel bed; you need a gravel base in areas of poor drainage or freezing temperatures. Be sure to compact the gravel base and rent a compactor if needed.
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Check the gravel thickness with a homemade jig that extends from the top of the finished patio shapes 4″; when it just touches the top of the gravel, the base is thick enough.
A taller slab will be stronger – we recommend 4″ thick. Let the gravel extend under the edges of the forms.
If the patio adjoins an existing concrete patio or slab, install insulation joint strips. Attach the strips flush with the top of an existing slab using hardened concrete nails or construction adhesive.
Thoroughly wet the gravel. Start placing the concrete in