Concrete is one of the most versatile and widely used materials around the world, especially in the construction industry. It is not only durable, but its flexibility when mixed early on makes it the ideal choice for building projects, both big and small. Most people would assume that due to its high demand and use, concrete should be relatively inexpensive; however, the opposite is often the case.
Why is concrete and concrete work so expensive? There are many factors that affect the cost of concrete and concrete jobs, including the type and amount of concrete used, the extent of concrete work needed, and project duration.
Though these are the main factors that affect the final price of concrete and concrete work, there are other specifics to consider, such as the ingredients used for concrete, and labor costs that are involved in concrete placement.
What is the Average Cost of Concrete & Concrete Work?
In 2008, concrete was as low as $75 per yard. However, many builders and contractors have noticed the significant leap in cost as its demand has grown.
The average price of concrete will mostly depend on the type of concrete you need, how much of it you plan on using, and your location. According to the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association (NRMCA), concrete costs range around $108 to $113 per cubic yard today, or $8 to $18 per square foot.
The actual pricing for concrete will also differ according to your region. To get a more accurate estimate of the average cost of ready-mix concrete delivery in your area, this concrete cost calculator can help. Based on your zip code, the calculator can determine what the typical range in pricing is for cement and its delivery.
The average price of concrete work will vary greatly, especially since there are many types of projects of different sizes that will affect the final cost. However, traditionally, many people have used the $113 per cubic yard figure to include installation costs.
Why is Concrete Expensive?
Besides having an expensive ingredient, cement, there are a number of other factors that make concrete expensive, such as specific types of concrete and the amount you ultimately want to purchase.
However, before diving into the things that drive up the cost of concrete, it is essential to understand what it is, as its basic features contribute to how it is finally priced.
Aggregates and Paste
When these elements are mixed together, the paste begins to harden as the aggregates stick to it, creating the hard, rock-like structure we know as concrete.
Concrete Characteristics in Relation to Price
How does all this relate to price? The fact that newly mixed concrete is malleable and easy to form, while its hardened form is strong and durable, makes it a highly sought-after material. As more areas become industrialized—and as there grows a greater need for durable building materials to withstand severe weather and long-term wear—the demand for concrete has significantly increased. This alone has affected the price of concrete over the years.
In addition, the cement commonly used to create concrete is often the most expensive ingredient it has; the more cement included in a concrete mix, the more expensive it becomes (source).
Types of Concrete
Another factor that can influence the price of concrete is the type of concrete it is. There are quite a few different varieties of concrete and concrete mixes that can be purchased for different types of projects, but the following are some of the most popular:
Ready-mixed concrete is the most popular form of concrete used. The concrete is usually mixed at a local plant before it is poured into a revolving drum on the back of a cement truck to keep it from hardening. The truck then delivers the mix to its intended site. (Some also choose to hire smaller companies to prepare ready-mix concrete on-site for smaller projects.) As previously mentioned, the cost of ready-mix concrete can average as high as $113 per cubic yard but can be more once delivery fees are included.
Also known as permeable concrete, porous concrete is designed to allow water to pass through it. It is created through a unique mixing process and application.
Pervious concrete is often found in pavement and driveway construction, where it is necessary for allowing rainwater to drain and eventually reunite with the groundwater underneath. The average cost for pervious concrete ranges around $4 to $7 per square foot.
High-strength concrete is considered “high-strength” when it has a compressive strength greater than 40 megapascals (MPa). This is due to the concrete’s low water-to-cement ratio (often below .35). Because of its high strength and durability, many high-strength and high-performance concretes are commonly used for large-scale projects, such as high-rise buildings.
Of course, with more strength and durability comes a much higher price point, maxing out around $2,000 per cubic yard for ultra-high-performance concrete.
Reinforced concrete is essentially concrete with added reinforcement, usually in the form of steel rods, bars, or meshes. Reinforced concrete is typically high in cost because the steel used alone is quite expensive. The cost of adding reinforcement can start at $.18 per square foot (source).
Precast concrete is concrete that is pre-mixed and poured to fit a specific cast within a factory before being brought to the project site. Some of the most common examples of precast concrete include concrete blocks, paving stones, and other structural components.
The main benefit that comes from precast concrete is that construction happens faster since assembly is only required for these structures, although the price reflects this convenience. On average, precast concrete can range between $20 to $30 per square foot.
Amount of Concrete
Another critical factor that affects the cost of concrete is the amount, and whether you plan on purchasing pre-mixed concrete to be delivered in a truck, or in bags.
Calculating Concrete Needs
Whether you plan on purchasing bags of concrete that only require water to activate, or ordering pre-mixed concrete from a supplier, use this concrete calculator to help you determine how much you need for your project. If you plan on creating a slab, you will only need to know the width, length, and thickness of your desired slab; for concrete footings, you need width, length, and depth, and for columns, you need diameter and height.
The calculator will tell you how many square yards you will need to cover for concrete if you need to order premixed concrete, in addition to an estimate of the number of bags you will need if purchasing individually. The below table shows an example of the calculations for a concrete slab six inches in thickness, and 10 by 10 feet in width and length:
|Dimensions (Slab)||Total Square Yards||Number of Pre-Mix Bags|
|Width = 10 feetLength = 10 feetThickness = 6 inches||1.85 square yards||40lb Bags||60lb Bags||80lb Bags|
(Source: Concrete Network)
Why is Concrete Work Expensive?
Concrete work can easily become expensive because there are many factors that go into it besides the cost of concrete and labor. Other things considered in the final price include the type of concrete job and project elements that could result in additional work and materials required to complete it.
Types of Concrete Work
Similarly to the concrete itself, the cost of a concrete project will depend on the kind of work that needs to be done. The following is a list of common concrete projects, both for residential and industrial sites:
Concrete Job Components
Within each type of concrete project, there are specific elements involved that can add to a job’s price.
Concrete Type Needed & Amount
If you do not plan on purchasing concrete separately to work on a job on your own, the business or contractor you hire will provide the materials for you. Most of the time, the price of the concrete mix and other materials will be included in your final cost.
Similarly to purchasing concrete individually, this price will differ depending on the type of concrete and amount needed for the job.
Some exterior concrete jobs require dirt removal or movement to create an even surface to pour the foundation on. For extensive grading, businesses and contractors may charge hourly for the use of a tractor as well as to cover compensation for the equipment operator. The average cost for grading can range between $50 to $70 per hour.
For large projects, such as industrial work, a subbase may be required. The subbase consists of gravel or sand that is delivered to the site to serve as an even foundation for concrete slabs. A project that needs a subbase will add $12 to $18 per cubic yard to the final cost.
Forms & Finishing
Larger concrete jobs usually require forms to be set up. The concrete forms are used to prevent wet concrete from flowing beyond the project site and helps mold its final foundation once it has hardened and dried. The process of setting up concrete forms usually adds to a job’s final labor costs more than the supplies used for it. The overall cost of concrete forms can range between $1.50 to $2.00 per square foot.
Added Concrete Reinforcement
Some concrete jobs, such as driveways, require a level of reinforcement to prevent cracking. If you need additional steel bars (rebar), mesh, or fiber added to the concrete mix to make the hardened form more stable, the cost will run you an additional $.15 to $.30 per square foot.
If you want stamping, staining, or any other type of special finishes done (e.g., polishing) to the concrete (typical for interior jobs), there is usually a significant rise in cost. Ultimately, the final price you end up paying will depend on the project size as well as decorative complexity, but here are a few features to keep in mind that will influence the cost:
A Note on Decorative Finishes & Price
Decorative finishes are additional features you can add to poured concrete for a unique look. The most commonly used finishes include stamping and staining.
Ready-Mix Concrete Delivery
If you plan on having ready-mix concrete delivered to your site via a cement truck, be prepared to pay additional delivery fees. The expense here is used to cover the distance the truck has to travel to deliver the concrete, in addition to any loading fees.
For example, some providers charge a “short load” fee if the amount they order is not enough to fill a truck (usually under 10 cubic feet). The average for this fee is often around $17 per cubic yard. If you want to have concrete delivered over the weekend or on a holiday, you may get charged a premium.
Finally, the costs of labor can add to the final price of completing a concrete project. As evidenced by the number of elements needed to finish different types of concrete jobs above, there is certainly a lot that goes into concrete work. However, more goes into the actual preparation and pouring of concrete:
- Site Preparation – During site preparation, the area receiving the concrete is cleaned or cleared. In certain projects, this is the time when a subbase is created. How the site is prepared will affect how evenly the concrete will eventually set.
- Concrete Forming – After the area or subbase is ready, forms are set using wood, metal, or plastic materials.
- Concrete Placement – A mixing truck or a crew/crewmember with buckets or wheelbarrows will begin to dispense wet concrete into the forms created. While the concrete is being placed, the crew may use shovels, rakes, or other tools to move the concrete around to ensure air pockets do not form.
- Early Finishing – After the concrete is poured, it is “screed” using a large metal or wood board: the process helps smooth and level the top of the concrete. Next, the concrete is floated using a special trowel tool: floating helps compact the concrete and create a smooth finish.
- Troweling – Then, a trowel is used to create a hard, even finish on the concrete surface as it dries (only used for concrete work that will not have a rough finish).
- Final Finish – After floating and troweling, a final “broom” finish may be used to create a rough-textured surface. In some cases, this is done to prepare the concrete for the application of epoxy. Other finishes may include stamping or texturing.
- Curing – After finishing is complete, the concrete can then rest and begin the process of curing. Some accelerants or retardants may be added at this time to adjust the concrete’s setting time. Following curing, a sealant may be applied for added protection.
Ultimately, once you have added up the amount of work required to create a quality concrete project, it makes sense why labor costs can make up a significant amount of the final price.
Although both concrete and concrete work can be on the pricy side, there are ways you can reduce costs for future projects.
Saving Money on Concrete
Concrete can get expensive fast, but you can easily lower the amount you have to pay for it by following these tips:
Saving Money on Concrete Work
If you are looking for a contractor or business to help you with a concrete project, there are a few things you can do to ensure you get the best deal on a job:
There is no denying that concrete and concrete work can be very expensive, regardless of how commonly it is used in projects. For concrete, its type and amount needed can drive up its cost, while the work that is done with it can be even more pricy once you consider the various elements that go into each job.
Although the price of concrete and concrete work can add up quickly, there are many ways to reduce your costs. However, when searching for inexpensive options, it is important to keep in mind the level of quality you want to maintain. High-quality concrete and work can last you years, so it may be worth spending a little more now than paying even more for repairs later.