Whether installing pavement, building a new home, store, or warehouse, or taking on a remodeling project, the construction materials you choose will often depend on your budget. Today’s construction industry is facing unprecedented and ongoing supply chain disruptions that are causing steep increases in the costs of building materials. Fortunately, concrete has not been significantly impacted.
Lumber and plywood prices have been on the rise because timber harvesting and mills are having a hard time catching up to the increased demand generated during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is an ongoing problem due to the continuing high-demand nature of pandemic recovery. This not only impacts the cost of wood-frame construction projects, but also flooring projects and any work that includes installing or replacing trim, molding, cabinetry, and wall paneling.
While the steel market has recently cooled, with increased U.S. production helping to bring price tags down from the record levels of 2021, steel and iron prices remain high. Aside from pandemic-recovery demand, factors contributing to steel’s high price include a fabrication process hampered by labor shortages and transportation costs.
For asphalt pavement, the rising price of oil has caused asphalt costs to rise. (See the Paving section in this article for details.)
When compared with other popular building materials, ready-mix concrete has not seen steep price increases, depending on region. Here in the Midwest, we’ve seen very little fluctuation in the cost of concrete, other than typical inflationary increases.
When taking into consideration initial cost and long-term investment, concrete is the easy choice. Let’s explore further.
HOW THE PRICE OF CONCRETE IS DETERMINED
Concrete is made from locally sourced ingredients: water, aggregates (sand and stone), and portland-limestone cement. The very nature of how concrete and cement are made and where the raw materials come from help to keep transportation and labor costs down. Beyond that, determining the cost of concrete depends on the project type and installation methods. When concrete mixes are designed to meet varying project specifications, prices can vary from one mix to another.
Factors that can impact the initial cost of concrete per square foot include:
• How much cement is in the mix.
• The type of concrete you choose.
• The strength of the concrete.
• Decorative options (colors and techniques used).
Concrete is made of a mixture of hard, durable aggregates and portland cement bonded with water. These ingredients make concrete highly versatile, malleable, and easy-to-form yet strong and durable. A typical mix is about 10 to 15 percent cement, 60 to 75 percent aggregate and 15 to 20 percent water. Exterior concrete mixtures also have 5 to 8 percent air content for freeze-thaw durability.
Project requirements will often dictate the concrete cost per square foot. For example, if an application requires a concrete mix with higher amounts of portland cement for increased strength, the concrete cost per square foot will rise. Conversely, supplementary cementitious materials (SCMs, i.e., slag cement, fly ash, etc.) can be added to reduce the amount of cement needed in the mix, potentially decreasing cost without decreasing quality and strength. Some admixtures can be added to the mix to strengthen the concrete without increasing the amount of cement, which can help keep the price of concrete from rising.
Winter concrete construction may cost more than summer construction because the contractor must take additional steps to protect the concrete mix and the fresh concrete from freezing while it is curing. Special additives may be added to the concrete mix to ensure concrete doesn’t set too fast during the heat of summer or too slow during the winter.
Pro Tip: Expect to pay between $4 and $8 per square foot to have a plain concrete slab poured, according to Home Advisor. To better understand how much your project will cost, get quotes from local contractors who can visit the site.
RESIDENTIAL AND COMMERCIAL BUILDINGS
More homeowners and businesses are finding that poured-in-place concrete, and especially insulated concrete forms (ICFs), provide a cost-effective, sustainable option for constructing residential homes or commercial buildings. ICFs also help to lower utility bills and are a key design feature needed to attain a net-zero energy efficient home or building.
ICFs are double-insulated, flame-resistant forms that stay in place after the concrete is poured to provide insulation. The installation process is fast and simple, which saves money on construction and labor costs. The forms are stacked together like Legos, all reinforcement is placed (or already built into the forms), and the concrete is poured.
With ICF construction, you can typically save 20% or more in heating and cooling costs. This is because the insulated walls have a high level of airtightness that blocks outside temperatures from seeping inside. Plus, concrete has high thermal mass—the ability to absorb heat from sunlight during the day and slowly release that heat into the interior space when it gets cooler at night. During the summer, the concrete walls will absorb the warmth from inside the building, making it cooler.
Pro Tip: Decorative concrete is a great option when you want a high-end look without having to pay a high-end price. Read “How to Upgrade Your Home with Concrete.”
The upfront cost of concrete paving has traditionally been higher than asphalt. Over the past few years, however, the rising price of oil has caused the price of asphalt to rise. Today, the costs of asphalt and concrete are comparable, even on an initial cost basis.
Even if the price of asphalt falls again, it’s the long-term costs that make concrete the better purchase. A concrete pavement can last twice as long as asphalt with very minimal maintenance.
A good mix of large and fine aggregates (well graded aggregates) allow the cement to bind the mix more tightly, making it more impervious to rain, ice and other external forces. Concrete’s durability means less surface spalling or pitting, which can cause trip hazards or costly damage to vehicles. And that durability advantage also means less maintenance, fewer repairs, and an end to the expensive reconstruction cycle.
THE RISING COST OF ASPHALT
While oil price fluctuations are a daily occurrence, the general trend now and in the future is a growing demand for oil that is outpacing supply growth. Asphalt is a byproduct of oil, and it is created when companies make gasoline and diesel fuel from crude oil. When oil prices rise, so does the price of asphalt.
Another factor that impacts the cost and availability of asphalt is the oil-refining process. Refineries are getting increasingly better at extracting value from a barrel of oil, which means fewer low-grade materials, such as asphalt, are being extracted from a barrel of oil. This foreshadows a short supply of asphalt materials in the future. In contrast, concrete is made from naturally occurring and locally available ingredients (water, rocks, portland cement).
Not only is the price of the base material higher (and growing) for asphalt pavements, but there also are inherent costs to consider. We already know that asphalt has to be repaired and replaced far more frequently than concrete. In addition to increased maintenance and repair costs, this also equates to higher energy costs: the gasoline, diesel fuel and other oil-based products required to heat asphalt as well as to operate construction vehicles used to do the work.
While placing concrete pavement also includes some of these costs, it does not require fossil fuel energy to heat the product, nor does it require as much energy to install it.
THE COST OF CONCRETE MAINTENANCE
In the past, homeowners and businesses have typically paid more upfront for a concrete driveway or parking area, but they saved as much as 75% in maintenance costs. This savings has not changed. In fact, some studies have shown that asphalt can cost twice as much as concrete over its life cycle.
Over the years, weathering will cause asphalt to oxidize, change color and its structure to weaken. To avoid cracks and holes that could endanger those who walk or drive on it, asphalt requires sealcoating every couple of years and should be completely recoated with new layers every 5 to 10 years.
Concrete, on the other hand, only needs to be cleaned every so often and, depending on the weather where you live, might need to be sealed in sections every five years or so. Cleaning and sealing are much more affordable options than completely resurfacing every few years.
Pro Tip: Consult with your contractor about a cleaning and maintenance schedule. With proper materials, construction, curing and long-term care, your new concrete pavement could last close to a lifetime.
PAVING PROJECT COSTS: WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN BIDS
Once you’ve decided to install a new concrete driveway or patio at home or a parking lot for your business, you’ll need to reach out to local contractors and request bids.
While every contractor’s bid will look a little bit different, each proposal should contain enough information to help you make an informed decision. At minimum, all bids should include the following:
- How much the project will cost.
- How long the job will take.
- The type of work that will be done and methods used.
However, more details are needed to fully understand each contractor’s price. Contractors should include information on where their price comes from:
- The cost of materials.
- The cost of each portion of the job.
- The cost of labor.
The bid also should include a detailed breakdown of the work being done and a timeline for each portion of the work. The timeline will tell you how long it will take to complete each phase or section of the job and when the entire project will be complete.
Finally, bids should include the following specifics:
- Square yardage or footage, or linear footage of each section of the job.
- When applicable, the number of patch locations and depth of patch repairs or sidewalk/curb and gutter sections.
- Information regarding curing compounds and/or surface sealers to be used.
- Paving details (including the thickness).
- Warranty information.
- The planned process to notify residents of project dates, times, and contact information (for multifamily residential or commercial projects).
- Whether or not pavement marking is included for parking lots.
Pro Tip: Use this handy list of questions to ask your concrete contractor before accepting the bid. At minimum, ask for photographs, qualifications and references.
Learn more about the cost of concrete in our Resources section.