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A DIY Guide to Types of Concrete

Fast-Setting, Fiber-Reinforced, and More

© 2008 by Kelly R. Smith

Photo of Kelly R. Smith

Pouring concrete from a rental cement mixer

Pouring concrete from a rental cement mixer

This article was updated on 07/13/21.

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Deciding which premixed concrete blend to use? There are differences between general purpose premixed, fiber-reinforced, counter top concrete, and fast-setting concrete and this DIY guide to types of concrete is here to help you to decide which is best for your project.

Concrete is one of the building materials that revolutionized the construction industry, yet it’s so common that it often doesn’t get the respect it deserves. This is understandable — it’s everywhere!

It’s underfoot in homes and offices; it permits vast, reliable freeway and highway systems. Even concrete counter tops are showing up in upscale homes. What most people don’t realize is how many types of concrete formulations there are for the homeowner to choose from today. This article will examine some of the most common ones.

Concrete VS Cement

First, let's banish a common misconception. Many people confuse the two terms “concrete” and “cement”. The two terms, like drywall and Sheetrock®, are used interchangeably. The fact is that cement is an ingredient of concrete. Most commonly, concrete is a mixture of Portland cement, water, and the aggregates: sand and gravel. For decorative purposes, dye can be added into the blend; this is popular for flooring. The exact blend of ingredients varies depending on your intended purpose.

Fortunately for the DIY types out there, manufacturers have mixed and bagged formulations of concrete (minus the water) for specific types of home improvement projects.

Concrete is available for larger projects by renting portable cement mixers from home improvement stores and tool rental outlets. DIY projects such as porches and patios are good candidates for portable concrete mixers. The wet concrete is poured into a concrete form and then finished.

A Concrete Driveway Form
A concrete home driveway form, ready to be poured

Which Type of Concrete to Use for which DIY Project?

A DIY homeowner isn’t going to use a concrete contractor for small projects so it’s important to know which type of concrete to use. The following list will explain which type is right for your weekend project.

  • General purpose premixed concrete — This mix of Portland cement, gravel, and sand is generally rated at 4000 psi for compressive strength. This premixed concrete is ideal for building curbs, floors, sidewalks, patios, setting posts, and steps.

  • Fiber-reinforced concrete mix — This blend adds reinforcing fibers to the sand and gravel aggregates in addition to any rebar or mesh you will be using in the form. Where is this handy? In places where impact is expected.

    Places such as steps, walkways, and concrete garage or shed floors are good examples of areas to use this concrete blend.

  • Counter top concrete mix — This concrete mix is made especially for pouring concrete counter tops for kitchen counters.A Concrete CountertopThe concrete counter top has been rising in popularity and makes a fine DIY kitchen project. They are durable, come in a variety of colors and styles, and add greatly to your home equity.

    Since counter top concrete is a low moisture mix, a special proprietary additive has been added to it. It is also formulated to reduce shrinkage to minimize surface cracking while the concrete dries. It finishes off at about 5000 psi after a month. That's a lot of kitchen appliances and groceries.

  • Fast-setting concrete mix — As the name implies, this product is quick to set! Does that mean working like a maniac? Absolutely not. This is for DIY projects that don’t require a form, such as setting posts for decks, fence posts, mailboxes, and building swing sets.

    Simply dig the hole in the ground, pour in the concrete, fill it with water, and poke it around a bit. This is certainly an improvement over back-breaking wheelbarrow-mixing. It sets in about half an hour. It’s a good choice when the weather is questionable.

These are some of the excellent choices of concrete mixes available to the DIY world. Manufacturers have responded to consumer needs. The concrete counter top, as mentioned above, is a great example of this. DIY concrete projects are not only fun, they’re easier than ever!

A note of caution: if you choose to hire a concrete contractor for your project, follow the same vetting and hiring advice when hiring a roofing contractor.

A Short History of Concrete

The earliest recorded large-scale users of concrete happen to be the ancient Romans. Concrete was commonly and widely used in the Roman Empire. The famous (or notorious, if you prefer) Colosseum located in Rome was constructed largely of concrete. Additionally, the concrete dome of the Pantheon is the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. One can only imagine what a huge undertaking by manual labor this endeavor was.

Today, large commercial concrete structures such as dams and multi-storey car parks are usually constructed with reinforced concrete. Your local mall or office park might be built using tilt-form concrete construction. Following the collapse of the Roman Empire, the use of concrete became quite rare until concrete technology was redeveloped. This occurred in the mid-18th century. Throughout the world, concrete has overtaken steel in tonnage of material used.

Concrete construction has focused on being more sustainable. For example, insulated concrete forms streamline the construction flow and incorporate the energy saving property of insulation with the strength and durability of concrete.

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About the author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation and financial and energy trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at Considered Opinions Blog where he muses on many different topics.

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