Concrete forms the backbone of commercial infrastructure, from the expansive parking lots we maneuver daily to the towering skyscrapers that punctuate urban landscapes. Its inherent strength, adaptability, and cost-effectiveness have made it an irreplaceable asset in modern construction.
Yet, beneath its seemingly invulnerable facade lies a material that, without the right care, can succumb to the elements—and human use. Commercial concrete structures are exposed to a myriad of challenges, including the persistent thrum of traffic and the relentless extremities of weather.
Over time, even the most meticulously laid out concrete can display signs of wear, cracks, or even structural weaknesses. Read on to learn more about commercial concrete maintenance and how you can keep your concrete infrastructure both functional and aesthetically pleasing for years to come.
Why Does Concrete Deteriorate?
Despite its solid appearance, concrete is far from invulnerable. Here are some of the most common reasons you might start to notice some cracks in your infrastructure.
Mechanical Stress and Load
In areas like parking lots, driveways, and loading zones, the constant vehicular movement and pressure become a significant stressor on concrete. The sheer weight, combined with the wear and tear from tires and movement, applies the mechanical stress that the concrete must endure.
This persistent pressure can cause surface cracks and abrasions, with the risk of structural weakening, especially evident in cases of repeated overloading or frequent movement of heavy machinery.
Excessive Moisture and Water Damage
Water is concrete’s silent adversary. Long-term exposure to moisture, whether from rainfall, groundwater, or otherwise, can degrade concrete. It can lead to issues like efflorescence, a condition where water brings soluble salts to the concrete surface, leaving behind a white powdery residue when it evaporates. Eventually, the seeping water can also corrode the steel reinforcements inside the concrete.
Corrosion of Reinforcing Steel
Many concrete structures are reinforced with steel bars or mesh. When exposed to consistent moisture, this steel can corrode. As it corrodes, the steel expands, putting internal stress on the concrete. This can manifest as cracks, spalling, or, in severe cases, total structural failure.
Commercial areas are often exposed to harmful chemicals. De-icing salts, for example, can lead to surface scaling in concrete, a phenomenon where the surface deteriorates due to a chemical reaction with the salt.
Acid rain can introduce acids to concrete surfaces. These acids react with concrete’s calcium hydroxide, accelerating its degradation. A less-known but equally damaging chemical process known as the Alkali-Aggregate Reaction (AAR) can form a gel that absorbs moisture and expands, causing internal pressures and cracks.
How to Perform Maintenance on Commercial Concrete Structures
Ensuring commercial concrete spaces remain in optimal condition requires periodic maintenance. Here’s how to approach maintenance for maximum results.
1. Understand the Basics
Commercial concrete maintenance isn’t just about fixing visible damages—it’s about prolonging the concrete’s lifespan, retaining its aesthetic appeal, and making sure it provides a safe surface for all users. It involves a combination of preventive and corrective actions.
2. Initiate the Maintenance Process
The first step in any maintenance regimen is a comprehensive assessment. In the world of commercial concrete, it requires a meticulous inspection for any signs of degradation or damage. Issues, such as cracks, whether they are hairline fractures or more pronounced, are common.
Another prevalent issue is spalling, a phenomenon where the concrete’s top layer starts chipping away or pitting. This typically results from the freeze-thaw cycles, especially in regions that experience colder climates. Discoloration is an indicator that the concrete may have been exposed to various contaminants or a symptom of underlying water damage.
Be on the lookout for uneven surfaces. Over time, ground movements, tree roots, or even flawed installation can result in an irregular surface that could pose tripping hazards. A practical approach might be to mark these problematic areas for the subsequent repair process.
3. Clean Before You Repair
Before undertaking any repair tasks, ensure that the concrete surface is pristine. Dirt, debris, or any foreign contaminants can impede the repair process and reduce the effectiveness of adhesives and sealants.
Power washing is a commonly-adopted method for cleaning large commercial surfaces. By subjecting the concrete to high-pressure water, you can get rid of most surface contaminants. If stubborn stains or significant dirt accumulation are present, however, introducing suitable cleaning agents into the power washing process may be necessary.
4. The Repair Phase
Repairing is the heart of maintenance. The identified problems from the assessment phase now need systematic resolution.
- Tackling Cracks: The nature of the crack determines the repair method. For thinner cracks, using a liquid filler or concrete caulk can effectively bridge the gap. More substantial cracks may require a more robust solution, like a concrete patch mix.
- Addressing Spalling: Repairing spalled areas requires a bit of preparation. The damaged area should be chiseled out to ensure that the repair material has a solid base to adhere to. Once prepped, a commercial-grade concrete resurfacer can be applied to even out the surface.
- Leveling the Surface: Uneven surfaces or bumps are best addressed using concrete grinding. This process involves shaving off the raised areas to render the surface smooth and even. It requires specialized equipment, namely a concrete grinder, which can either be operated manually or, for larger areas, machinery-based grinders might be more apt.
5. The Sealing Phase
Once the surface is repaired, the next step is safeguarding it from future damage. This is where sealers come into play. Sealers create a protective layer on the concrete, shielding it from moisture penetration, UV radiation, and even chemical spills.
There are several types of sealers available, including acrylic, epoxy, and polyurethane, each having its unique properties. The choice of sealer largely depends on the specific requirements of the commercial space. For instance, spaces that handle chemicals might benefit from a sealer that offers superior chemical resistance.
Regular Checks—The Key to Longevity
The maintenance process doesn’t end with sealing—it’s an ongoing commitment. Regularly inspecting the concrete surface helps in identifying potential issues before they escalate into more significant problems. Some areas might require resealing or minor touch-ups, especially if they experience high traffic.
In Need of Commercial Concrete Services?
Keeping up with regular maintenance is a difficult but necessary part of owning concrete infrastructure. Thankfully, you don’t have to go at it alone. With areas of specialty ranging from structural concrete work to general construction, MegaKC’s concrete services aim to take the stress out of maintenance and keep your infrastructure functional and looking great.
Get in touch with us today to learn more about our concrete work and see how we can help with your maintenance needs!