The Complete Guide to Precast Concrete- What You Need to Know
The concept of precast concrete is not a new one. However, we have seen a huge cultural shift in the past few decades towards precast concrete. This shift includes products and processes becoming more streamlined, more eco-friendly, more efficient, and less expensive. It’s no wonder a product like those produced by Permacast Precast Concrete Fencing & Walls would find a happy home in this modern age. With rapid time-tables, a competitive market that seeks affordability and efficiency, and a desire for high quality finished products, the process of precast concrete has found its niche.
If you don’t fully understand the ins and outs of precast concrete construction, then take a walk with us through its historical significance, the types of buildings and structures that can be created, as well as the process of making precast concrete. We’ll also explain the many benefits of using it in any construction process. You’ll likely see the beauty and benefit of precast concrete.
History of Precast Concrete
In this day and age of advanced technology, when anything that can be conceived can usually be achieved, it seems reasonable to assume that precast concrete is a recent invention. However, the beginnings of this innovative process are believed to date back to Ancient Rome and definitely has its more modern beginnings in the middle of the 20th century.
The first permit for the process of creating a precast concrete building was acquired by Englishman John Alexander Brodie, though the first major structure using precast concrete was erected in the U.S. The Walnut Lane Memorial Bridge in Philadelphia was built in 1950 using precast concrete and is recognized as the beginning of the precast industry we know today in the United States. Designed by Belgian engineer Gustave Magnel and built by the City of Philadelphia, this three-span bridge took Walnut Lane over Lincoln Drive and Monoshone Creek. Soon after this major achievement, the Precast Concrete Institute was created. This would allow standards for production to be set as this emerging industry quickly began to grow.
Types of Structures Made with Precast Concrete
The types of buildings and structures that can be designed, cast, and created using precast concrete are truly unlimited. The process allows for so much flexibility and versatility, that it’s difficult to imagine a design that would require a more primitive process rather than the precast process. Here are just a few types of buildings and structures you’ll find using precast concrete these days.
Structures that withstand a significant amount of wear, weather, or use are excellent candidates for precast concrete. The durability of this type of design lends itself to bridges, parking garages, any kind of underground structure, as well as retaining walls or sound barriers. Being able to create a structure in a controlled environment not only ensures a precision on the production end; it also reduces the length of time spent on-site fitting the structure into place. This, in turn, reduces mistakes and miscalculations, allowing for accuracy and speed in the building process without sacrificing quality. Here are some common types of structures in which precast concrete is preferred over on-site pours:
Sound or Retaining Walls: Walls and fences are Permacast’s specialty, and we really get excited about what our products provide to a building site. Because our walls are can be customized, they will cut noise pollution from nearby highways or surrounding areas by up to 50%. Our molds can be customized, as well, to match the decor of the housing development, school, church, government building or public works facility our walls surround, giving them an aesthetically-pleasing look that only adds to their functionality.
Curb Inlets and Catch Basins: Aiding in storm-water and wastewater drainage, retention of rainwater, and stormwater runoff are all possible despite the different specifications that vary from state to state, and even in different municipalities. You can be sure your pieces reflect the exact manufacturing specifications when you choose precast concrete since these are customized to each specific project.
Culverts: Underground tunnels and wastewater drainage systems are no joke to construct. Imagine already having the major pieces completed before arriving at the site! Box and three-sided culverts can be manufactured in all different shapes and sizes to fit the specific project perfectly. Start with the end in mind when you design the perfect culverts for your underground construction and finish the project on time- or sooner!
Foundations: Even if your entire building won’t be created using precast concrete, laying a precast concrete foundation can be a huge advantage in the construction of new buildings. A precast basement will fit perfectly the first time, without rain delays or other environmental factors to sidestep. Plus, providing a moisture-free, energy-efficient basement for your new building will lead to huge savings in the future of your design.
Parking Garages: Many parking garage structures are created with precast concrete, and it’s easy to see why. From columns and paving slabs to stairs and traffic barriers, bringing each piece pre-designed from the factory aides in the economic construction of a durable, efficient parking structure. Whether single structure or multi-level, the sleek, modern look of precast concrete can enhance any urban area design or blend into the existing local decor. Plus, in growing metropolitan areas, completing a reliable, useful structure in a fraction of the time is a huge bonus.
Bridges: This is a great example of how to make precast concrete work with and for you. With molds that can be customized to match the local environment, your bridge can fulfill a historical context that will blend beautifully. Obviously the reliability of your bridge and the longevity of its construction are of utmost importance- so why take a chance with on-site poured concrete? Beams, arches, girders, deck slabs, caps and more can be created in a precast concrete facility then erected together on site efficiently. Restoration efforts and safety, durability and longevity come together to create a reliable structure your city can be proud of.
Buildings Made with Precast Concrete
Buildings made with precast concrete have so many features that make them a superior choice to on-site cast concrete. Besides the moisture-reducing qualities and energy-efficient nature of precast concrete, buildings made with this material are also fire-retardant and noise-canceling, allowing the building you design to be of higher quality and longer-lasting durability. They also tend to be less expensive over time since materials do not need to be replaced or repaired as frequently, and the buildings themselves are more insulated and energy-efficient. Here are some common types of buildings regularly using precast concrete:
Schools: Schools can be built in a timely and efficient manner, keeping the project schedule on track. Permacast Walls provide sound-proof security walls along the perimeters of schools, creating a safer environment for students and staff.
Hospitals: With so many codes and policies to adhere to, creating the foundation and other building materials in a factory before erecting the building is a sensible, efficient way to meet all coding requirements.
Housing: Multi-unit housing developments are excellent candidates for precast concrete. These structures can be incredibly fire-resistant and soundproof, creating an ideal living situation for multiple occupants in buildings such as apartments, dormitories, hotels, and senior living facilities.
Office Buildings: In buildings that need to be both functional and attractive, precast concrete can be made using unique molds that sets a business apart, without compromising any of the benefits, security, and efficiency of the structure itself.
Retail Shopping Centers: This includes a broad spectrum of construction situations, including the size of parking lots, single or multi-level buildings, large land area or tight urban quarters. Regardless of the specifications for a shopping center or mall, using precast concrete will make accommodating the physical surroundings much easier.
How Precast Concrete Is Made
The main difference between precast concrete and site-cast concrete is that precast concrete is poured off-site, usually at a plant, using a mold. Site cast concrete, in comparison, is poured on the construction site itself, subjecting it to environmental factors, weather, unstable schedules, and much wasted excess material. When concrete is precast in a plant, on the other hand, the entire process in controlled before bringing the cured concrete to the construction site. Weather is no longer a factor, nor are other environmental factors that can be huge obstacles with on-site concrete pours. In precast concrete, the mold often includes a pre-stressed cable. While this is not always necessary or included, the process of curing the concrete releases a tension that transfers strength to the concrete itself, making it even more durable.
Benefits of Precast Concrete
By now it’s clear there are plenty of benefits to choosing precast concrete over site-cast concrete for any construction project. Here is a breakdown of the specific ways precast concrete makes the job easier, less expensive, and longer-lasting.
Control: Since precast concrete is cast and cured in a controlled environment like a plant, the chances of error are greatly reduced. Environmental factors like weather are no longer pertinent to the production of pieces. The most ideal conditions are used each time, building confidence that each piece will be poured and cured precisely as required. This minimizes wasted excess materials, since the process is so predictable, and allows for construction timelines and schedules to be met more readily each time.
Versatility: While it may seem that creating a product in a factory setting leads to a homogenous replica of identical designs, the opposite is actually true. Product molds can be created in any shape, size or design. Concrete mixes can be blended to match colors precisely. Specific textures can be achieved using aggregates mixed into the concrete. All of these factors allow precast concrete to be a perfect choice in a variety of industries, uses, and projects.
Efficiency: Due to the controlled nature of the precast concrete process, projects become predictable and easily scheduled. Gone are the days of waiting for the perfect, meager time frame for pouring concrete on site, only to have inclement weather postpone the pour and delay the entire project further. Precast concrete can be made anytime in any weather since it’s being made in a plant. Materials can even be made in advance and stored until needed, helping any construction project move along like clockwork. And we all know a timely construction schedule makes for happy clients.
Durability: Thanks to the framing process that uses steel bars and wire mesh to mold precast concrete, the strength of the final product is the best around. Concrete is made to last and will sustain weather conditions, wear and tear, fire, and moisture better than concrete poured on site. Thanks to the admixtures we include in precast concrete, the amount of air and moisture in the concrete mix is reduced, too. All of this means that precast concrete is made more durable from the very beginning, and will last longer than traditional pours, giving clients a peace of mind knowing their investment is secure for the long haul.
Sustainability: The use of precast concrete is so much better for the environment, the people who work with it, and the concrete itself, it’s clear that this process is not going anywhere anytime soon. With precast concrete, natural materials like sand, gravel, rock, and water are used as aggregates, and the water used is often recycled. These natural materials are typically harvested locally, cutting down on hauling trips that are expensive and environmentally unfriendly. Individual workers are able to work under safer conditions, since the air quality, noise pollution, and safety hazards are controlled in a factory environment. Casting concrete in a plant greatly reduces the amount of waste from packaging, excessive concrete, bracing and form work, and other debris that builds up on a construction site. Also, less raw material is used leaving the environment in and around the construction site untouched and less polluted. Finally, once precast concrete is produced, the material’s thermal mass absorbs and releases heat much more slowly, creating energy savings for the life of the product.
Is There a Downside to Precast Concrete?
To be fair, we took a look at what makes a builder or contractor choose to continue using site cast concrete. Truly, the only real downside to choosing precast concrete is that the pieces must be transported from the plant to the construction site for installation. However, we find that the ease and efficiency of the precasting process, along with the reliability and predictability of the finished products are benefits that far outweigh any nuisance created by delivering pre-made concrete pieces to the construction site. Beyond this one and only hangup, we realize that change can be a difficult thing to face.
If a company has been doing things a certain way for a number of years, changing course can seem daunting. We assure you, you’ll find the entire process, from beginning to end, to be worth-while. It’s also worth noting that the demand for precast concrete is on the rise, steadily climbing 6.4% each year as an industry. Take a look for yourself and discover what many are already finding- making the switch to precast concrete will save you and your business time, money, and long-term frustration.
To us, the choice is clear. The benefits of precast concrete far outweigh the downsides (are there any, really?). At Permacast, we create durable, efficient and affordable concrete walls and fences because we believe in this process. We pride ourselves on working closely with architects and engineers to give them what they need to make the best choices for each project. We seek to make the production and installation process as seamless as possible. We also know how important security is to our communities. Our products provide the best security possible for public works facilities, government buildings, housing developments, and schools, to name a few. We protect what you hold most dear. Plus, we love providing a variety of options for our communities, which makes us the go-to provider for developers and HOAs looking for top quality in reliability and affordability.
Since 2006, we have made it our mission to provide an excellent product and excellent service at an affordable cost. Our philosophy simply states, “Simplicity is the concept. Affordability is the result.” Talk to the experts at Permacast Precast Concrete Fencing and Walls to learn more about how our products and services can make your next project easier, more affordable, and more efficient.