Getting cement selection right

Sandra Higginson of Tarmac Cement explains the importance of selecting the right cement products in order to reduce waste and costs.

For professional builders, saving time and money remains of paramount importance. However, as anyone with experience knows, opting for the cheapest materials and products could actually end up costing you more in the long run.

As build projects can vary enormously, where to save time and money will depend on a number of factors, not least the type of design and building materials required.

Thanks to its strong, durable and long-lasting properties, masonry construction remains the most common form of house construction in the UK. As such, the vast majority of builders are well educated on the specification of bricks and blocks.

However, this often isn’t the case with other associated materials, where time and cost savings benefits could be overlooked. In particular, cement and mortar are often seen as commodities thanks to their proven track record and availability. This means that some builders will make spontaneous purchases. However, doing your homework to specify the best product for the job can reap numerous rewards.

In many instances it’s often not one big thing that differentiates one type of cement or mortar from another. Rather, it is the sum of all the little things that can really make a big difference, including improved health and safety, reduced wastage, and a tighter control on spend.

Selecting the correct product for the job, based on its characteristics and benefits, is a given for professional builders. For example, a cement that has enhanced resistance to a freeze/thaw attack will not only protect the reputation of your work, but will also help avoid costly mistakes further down the line. Likewise, whether the cement has a low water demand or how it compacts, spreads and finishes will also be taken into consideration to ensure ease of use on the job. However, there are also other factors that shouldn’t be ignored.

Reducing waste and improving handling
While it may not seem like a deal breaker, the type of packaging and size of the product is also worth considering. The majority of cement available to buy as a packed product comes in 25 kg bags for builders to split open with a spade and load up the mixer with half of the bag.

On a larger site, where there are multiple mixes to be made in one day, this isn’t an issue. However, smaller projects, such as extensions or home improvements, may only require one mix at a time, which could result in the half opened bag potentially going to waste or being spoilt.

This is because of the other half of cement is often left lying around, meaning that cement dust gets into all sorts of unwanted places. Overall, the process is extremely wasteful.

In contrast, there are smaller handy packs available which are half the size of the traditional 25 kg bag. Importantly, these then have the exact amount for one mix of mortar, ultimately reducing waste, and meaning that money and cement can be saved as they can buy the exact size that they need.

As expected, a smaller bag is also lighter, which makes it easier to deal with onsite. It essentially makes the product easier to transport, whether that be up ladders or on to site through confined spaces such as passageways.

As well as handling, it’s also important to look at storage, especially as products can remain outdoors and onsite for a number of months. With the unpredictable British weather, something as simple as waterproof packaging can increase storage space for water-vulnerable products and eliminate wastage through accidental damage.

Ready-to-use mixes
Likewise, when looking for a high-quality mortar there are many qualities to look out for – from how it hangs on the trowel and spreads, to its workability, compressive strength, and appearance. For many builders a pre-packed, ready to use mortar is therefore a firm favourite.

The guaranteed mix proportions of a ready to use mortar also help overcome many potential problems relating to site mixing. These include the use of excess water and the addition of other inappropriate materials. This can result in reduced strength, increased permeability, and reduced durability of the hardened mortar.

A pre-mixed mortar is designed to eliminate all of these headaches. With improved quality and consistency, high quality products are made to exacting standards in a controlled factory setting. Ready to use, with the addition of water, the dry mix already includes selected sands, lime, cement and admixtures, which have been blended together. High quality products are also available in weatherproof, tear-resistant plastic bags, and for even smaller projects, re-sealable plastic tubs to reduce mess and wastage onsite.

Saving time and costs onsite is also possible, which is ideal for home improvements that may include the fixing of wooden, concrete and metal posts.

For example, fast-setting, ready-to-use products are available which require no mixing, and are developed to enable the fixing of posts in just 10 minutes.

For professional builders, products that make them feel confident about the task at hand are essential, and the onus is on manufacturers to equip them with the best quality products that can reduce waste and worries, while also saving costs.

Sandra Higginson is technical advisor at Tarmac Cement