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Concrete FAQ

What's the different between concrete and cement?

Obviously, if you’re browsing this site then you already know the answer to this, but it’s one of those areas where the English language has got so mangled over the years, to the layman it can be hard to understand.

You see, what many people would call a “cement mixer” is actually a “concrete mixer” due to cement being just one of the ingredients that goes into concrete.

Cement is a dry powder that is mixed with sand, stone and water to create concrete.

So is concrete a rock?

No, concrete is made up of a number of ingredients, so it’s essentially a man-made composite material made up of water, a cement of some kind and an aggregate such as stones.

However, it has a resemblance to stone, and “Portland cement concrete” is so named because of its resemblance to Portland stone.

There are other cements that can be used to create concrete, as it’s essentially used to bind an aggregate, depending on the usage and requirements, different materials can be used. For example, asphalt concrete uses bitumen for use on road surfaces.

How does concrete set?

Water is the key here.

Essentially, water mixes with the cement to create a paste. This then binds the aggregate together but when initially mixed, it’s a fluid that can be poured.

A chemical reaction then occurs called hydration where the major compounds in the cement form chemical bonds with water molecules and become hydrates.

This is where the amount of water becomes a critical factor because too much, and the eventual concrete will have reduced strength, too little, and it becomes difficult to work with.

What are the aggregates used in concrete?

Aggregates are solid bodies such as sand and rocks and they’re held together by the cement.

They’re the cheapest part of any concrete mix and they therefore make up to 80% of the volume of the concrete.

What you eventually used as an aggregate really comes down to what your intended use is, but in general, the harder the aggregate, the more resilient the final concrete will be.

Aggregates need to be clean, so it’s usual to wash them to remove any dust or organic matter that could affect the hardening process and affect the final concrete.

Is concrete waterproof?

As concrete hardens, it actually becomes porous and therefore no, it’s not waterproof in its standard form.

There are a number of cements that purport to be waterproof, but they might not be as effective as they suggest.

However, a number of external treatments exist to seal and make concrete waterproof, and these are used in foundations for example.

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