concrete crumbling

Why Your Concrete is Crumbling (How to Fix It)

Did you know that despite its durability and versatility, concrete can deteriorate over time? Yes, ageing is normal for concrete, as, with time, it can start crumbling and cracking, which, if left unchecked, can lead to safety hazards. However, different factors, like the weather, shifting foundations, and moisture, can quicken this process.  Do you want to maintain the structural integrity of your property? Is your concrete foundation deteriorating, and are you wondering if you should fix it or replace it? If yes, keep reading.  This article will discuss the hazards of crumbling concrete, common causes, preventive measures, and effective repair procedures. So, let’s get right to it.

The Risks of Crumbling Concrete

While crumbling concrete can distort your property's aesthetics, it also poses a few safety hazards for anyone on your property. For one, anyone is at risk of tripping while walking on the surface, which can lead to preventable accidents. The crumbling concrete surface can also create rough patches or potholes, which can damage your vehicles when you drive over them. Plus, there are health risks involved with prolonged exposure to the airborne debris of the crumbling concrete, especially for people with respiratory problems like asthma and allergies.

Why Your Concrete is Crumbling

Even though concrete deterioration over time is normal, there are several reasons why your concrete may be crumbling, and most of the time, it may not be because of ageing.
  • Moisture Ingress: Moisture is a significant factor in concrete degradation. Regular damp surveys can help identify and mitigate moisture problems before they cause extensive damage.
  • Soil Movement: If the soil beneath your foundation shifts, erodes, or settles, the concrete above will be affected. The effect will be crumbling, cracking, or complete deterioration.
  • Fluctuating Temperature: If you live in an area with fluctuating temperatures, your concrete will be subjected to freeze-thaw cycles. During winter seasons, when the water in the concrete freezes, the expansion and internal pressure can cause cracks in the concrete. Over time, the constant freeze-thaw cycle will weaken the concrete, resulting in its cracking and crumbling.
  • Chemical Exposure: Chemicals, like de-icing salts, industrial chemicals, and acids, cause chemical reactions when they encounter concrete, weakening its structure. For example, de-icing salts can corrode the steel reinforcement within the concrete foundation, leading to crumbling.
  • Poor Concrete Quality: The quality of the concrete mix is vital to its durability over time. If the mix contains an incorrect ratio of water, cement, and aggregate, this can result in weak concrete susceptible to crumbling. For example, too much water in the concrete mix can reduce the strength of the concrete, leading to shrinkage and cracking.
  • Improper Curing: Curing ensures that the concrete maintains sufficient moisture, temperature, and time to achieve the best results. However, inadequate curing can result in brittle, weak concrete that is predisposed to crumbling.
  • Minerals in the Concrete: If your concrete contains minerals, this may be why it crumbles. This crumbling occurs because the minerals contract and expand over time, leading to cracking.
  • Overloading: Most concrete structures, like foundations, are designed to bear limited loads. If they are overloaded beyond the design limits, this can cause stress, cracking, and crumbling.
  • Alkali-Silica Reaction: This reaction occurs when the alkaline within the cement reacts with the silica in the aggregates, forming a gel. This gel expands and contracts, causing internal pressure, which can lead to cracking and eventual crumbling of the concrete.

How to Prevent Your Concrete from Crumbling

Prevention is key to maintaining the structural integrity of your concrete. Regardless of the type of structure, there are several steps you can take to extend its life. By being proactive, you can avoid the need for extensive repairs in the future.
  • Conduct Regular Damp Surveys: Scheduling regular damp surveys is crucial. These surveys can detect moisture issues early, helping you take preventative measures before the moisture leads to serious damage.
  • Regular Maintenance: By regularly maintaining your property, you can take control of the situation and detect early signs of concrete deterioration. This proactive approach allows you to promptly address minor issues, preventing them from escalating into major repairs.
  • Sealants Application: Since chemical exposure and water penetration are detrimental to concrete structures, you need to protect them by applying penetrative concrete sealants. Penetrative sealants go beneath the concrete surface and provide deeper protection than surface sealants.
  • Design Considerations: Ensure that your concrete structures are designed to accommodate potential environmental and high-stress conditions, such as temperature fluctuations and load-bearing ability.
  • Appropriate Curing: You need to follow the proper curing procedures by ensuring that your concrete stays moist and at the proper temperature for the required duration. This way, your concrete will be able to achieve its maximum durability and strength. 
  • Use High-Quality Concrete Materials: To ensure the strength and durability of the concrete, it is essential to use high-quality aggregates, cements, and water. Also, make sure that you use the correct water-cement ratio.
  • Improve Grading: You need to ensure that your grading is working well to prevent water from pooling around your concrete foundation and causing the soil underneath to erode. Proper grading will also prevent cracks from appearing on your concrete foundation.

How to Fix Your Crumbling Concrete

Repairing crumbling concrete is a process that requires careful assessment and execution. Before you start, it's important to conduct a comprehensive assessment to determine the extent of the damage. This will help you decide whether it's a job you can handle or if you need to call in a professional for a complete replacement. Here are the steps involved in the repair process.
  • Surface Preparation
The first step when fixing crumbling concrete is to prepare the surface. This usually involves cleaning the damaged area to remove debris or loose concrete. You can use a chisel or hammer to remove any fragile pieces, and for large areas, a pressure washer is good.
  • Prime Reinforcing Steel and Apply Bonding Agent
You need to prime the reinforcing steel to ensure that the concrete adheres to it. Then, you can apply a bonding agent to the cleaned surface to ensure that the old and new concrete stick. Follow the instructions on the packaging for usage and drying times. 
  • Repair Cracks and Holes
If your concrete has cracks or holes, you need to repair it before proceeding to the remaining repairs. Fill the cracks with a concrete patch by combining water and pure cement. Fill the holes with a cement slurry mixture. Allow the filled cracks or holes to dry before continuing with the rest of the repairs.
  • Mix and Apply Substrate Repair
Substrate repairs help patch the concrete and strengthen it. Choose a high-quality one that matches the colour and strength of the existing concrete. Apply using a putty knife or trowel. For deeper repairs, you must allow each layer to dry before adding another. Then, you can smooth and level the surface to match the old concrete.
  • Cure the Repair
Before the substrate repair dries, apply a cure to extend its durability. Ensure that the area is moist and covered for this curing to enable the repair material to achieve its maximum strength.
  • Seal the Surface
Once the repair is completely cured, apply a concrete sealer to protect the concrete from chemicals and moisture. Alternatively, you can decide to paint or stain the concrete after sealing it to protect the repair further.

Advanced Concrete Repair Methods

Sometimes, you need to bring out the big guns, especially if the effect of the concrete crumbling is extensive. A professional usually uses these techniques to give your concrete structures a new life.
  1. Concrete Resurfacing: For large, crumbling areas, concrete resurfacing is ideal. It is a great way to get a fresh, durable surface without completely replacing the old concrete. It entails applying a new thin layer of concrete over the existing surface.
  2. Epoxy Injection: If your concrete has cracks or voids, epoxy injection may be a lifesaver. This method restores the strength of the concrete by injecting epoxy resin into the cracks.
  3. Shotcrete: This process, also known as sprayed concrete, involves spraying concrete onto a surface at high velocity to repair vertical concrete surfaces. It helps give existing structures extra stability and strength. 
  4. Fiber-Reinforced Polymers (FRP): If you need to boost the strength of your concrete, a professional can apply FRP materials to the surface to increase the concrete's tensile strength and reduce cracking.
  5. Cathodic Protection: If your concrete has steel reinforcement inside, preventing corrosion is a major way to stop the crumbling. Cathodic protection involves applying a small electrical current to the steel to help protect it from the elements and corrosion.

When You Should Call a Professional or Replace Your Concrete

While you can easily repair your crumbling concrete, there are certain situations where you may need to call a professional or completely replace the concrete. You should call a professional if:
  • The damage affects the structural integrity of your property.
  • You are not sure about what is causing the crumbling.
  • The repair costs more than the replacement.
  • You want to add a new feature, like a concrete ramp.
  • You have repaired the existing concrete multiple times.
  • Specialized or advanced repair techniques are needed.

Wrapping It Up

Crumbling concrete is a common issue that can affect the aesthetics and safety of your property. By understanding the causes of crumbling concrete, you can take preventive measures that will help you maintain the strength and durability of your concrete surfaces. Besides, if the concrete damage is extensive, you should not hesitate to get the opinion of a professional because if the damage is not promptly taken care of, it can lead to safety hazards.
One crucial preventive measure is conducting regular damp surveys. Damp Surveyors Ltd offers comprehensive damp surveys to detect and measure moisture levels in your building. Moisture ingress is a major contributor to concrete degradation. By identifying and addressing dampness early, you can prevent the conditions that lead to crumbling concrete.

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Sam Fitzgerald – CSRT Damp Surveyor

Author – CSRT Damp Surveyor
Sam is a highly qualified and seasoned damp surveyor with over ten years of specialised experience. With a strong academic foundation in building surveying and numerous professional certifications, Sam has established himself as an authority in the field of damp diagnosis and remediation.

At Damp Surveyors Ltd, Sam applies his extensive knowledge to help homeowners across the UK address and solve their damp issues effectively. His approach combines cutting-edge techniques with a commitment to honest, client-focused service, ensuring that every survey and recommendation is tailored to the specific needs of the property.

As a thought leader, Sam’s insights into damp prevention and treatment have been featured in industry publications, underscoring his role as a trusted expert dedicated to maintaining the integrity and comfort of your home.

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