Concrete has been used as a building material since the dawn of civilisation. The ancient Egyptians used concrete to build their pyramids, while the Mesopotamians used it to build their temples and ziggurats. Many of these structures have survived to this day, serving as a testament to concrete’s sheer strength and durability – and its many uses!
Precast concrete is a subset of concrete. It’s produced in a factory or off-site location, then transported to a construction site for installation. Thanks to its strength and longevity, it’s a common component in countless architectural projects.
Mexboro have been supplying premium-quality precast concrete units for over five decades. Below, we explore everything you need to know about precast concrete, from how it’s made and used to how much you can expect to pay for it.
Jump to a specific answer:
- What is precast concrete?
- What is precast concrete used for?
- What are the benefits of precast concrete?
- What is precast concrete made from?
- Is precast concrete the same as cast stone?
- Is precast concrete expensive?
- How long does precast concrete last?
- Does precast concrete crack?
- Can you drill into precast concrete?
- Is precast concrete sustainable?
What is Precast Concrete?
Unlike cast-in-situ concrete, which is cast at the construction site using a formwork, precast concrete is manufactured in a controlled environment away from the site. It’s produced by pouring concrete into moulds or forms, then allowing it to cure and harden. Once ready, the precast elements are transported to the construction site for installation.
What is Precast Concrete Used For?
Precast concrete is used for a wide range of applications in both residential and commercial construction, including:
- Flooring planks, blocks, and beams
- Window sills, heads and surrounds
- Steps and stairs
- Pier caps and wall copings
It’s also used in landscaping elements such as garden walls, pavers, and decorative panels.
What Are the Benefits of Precast Concrete?
Precast concrete offers many advantages over cast-in-situ concrete. These include:
Fast Construction Times
Precast concrete is produced off-site, meaning you won’t have to dedicate time in your workday to set up a formwork and wait for the concrete to harden. This cuts down on construction time, labour costs, and the risk of accidents.
Precast concrete is produced in a controlled environment with strict quality standards. This reduces the risk of errors and inconsistencies that can occur with on-site casting and guarantees consistent quality across the board.
Precast concrete can be designed in a wide range of sizes, shapes, and finishes. This allows for greater flexibility and can help architects and designers achieve their vision more easily.
Precast concrete is highly durable and can withstand harsh weather conditions, impact and fire better than many other building materials. This makes it ideal for use in high-traffic areas or areas that are prone to natural disasters.
Precast concrete is an environmentally friendly building material that’s made from natural materials and is 100% recyclable.
What Is Precast Concrete Made From?
Generally speaking, precast concrete is made from a mixture of:
- Portland cement
- Aggregates such as sand, gravel, or crushed stone
- Admixtures (chemicals that are added to the mix to modify its properties)
The exact proportions of the mix will depend on the specific application and desired properties of the precast concrete element. For example, a mix used for structural elements may have a higher strength and lower water content than one used for decorative elements.
The aggregates used in the mix are typically sourced locally, which helps to reduce the environmental impact of transportation. The water used in the mix should be clean and free from impurities that can affect the strength and durability of the finished product.
Admixtures may be added to the mix to modify the properties of the concrete, such as accelerating or slowing down the curing time, improving workability, or increasing the durability and resistance to weathering. These admixtures can be organic or synthetic and can be added in liquid, powder, or granular form.
Is Precast Concrete the Same as Cast Stone?
Precast concrete and cast stone are similar in many ways but differ in the materials used to make them. While both are composed of cement, aggregates, water and additives, cast stone typically uses finer aggregates, resulting in a smoother and more consistent appearance without the presence of bug holes or air voids.
Cast stone is specifically designed to emulate the look and texture of natural stone, with colour and surface variations that resemble the type of stone it is intended to imitate. In contrast, standard concrete is typically plainer and more utilitarian in appearance.
Want to know more? Check out our complete guide to cast stone!
Is Precast Concrete Expensive?
The cost of precast concrete depends on several factors, including the type of project, the complexity of the design, the size and shape of the elements, and the location of the construction site.
While precast concrete may cost slightly more than traditional cast-in-situ concrete, it offers several cost-saving benefits when compared to other building materials. For starters, precast concrete is manufactured off-site, which reduces on-site labour costs and speeds up the construction process. It’s also produced in a controlled environment, which means less waste material and more consistent quality. Even better? It only requires minimal maintenance, so you save more money in the long run too.
How Long Does Precast Concrete Last?
Precast concrete is an exceptionally durable material. When installed properly, it’s resistant enough to withstand centuries (or even millennia) worth of wear and tear – just look at the ancient precast structures still around today!
The exact lifespan of a precast concrete component depends on the quality of the materials used, the design of the structure, and the environmental conditions it’s exposed to. Generally speaking, most last at least 50 to 100 years.
Precast concrete can also be reinforced with steel bars or fibres to increase its strength, durability, and lifespan even further.
Does Precast Concrete Crack?
Like any concrete material, precast concrete can develop cracks over time. This is usually caused by settling, temperature changes, or heavy traffic. This risk can be minimised through proper design, manufacturing, and installation, as well as the addition of steel bar or fibre reinforcements. Joints can also be incorporated into the design to accommodate movement and prevent cracking.
As precast concrete is manufactured under controlled conditions, the mix design can be optimised for the specific application and the curing process can be closely monitored. This can help guarantee that the concrete reaches its maximum strength and is less prone to cracking.
Can You Drill into Precast Concrete?
It’s possible to drill into precast concrete, but it can be more challenging than drilling into cast-in-situ concrete due to precast concrete’s density and strength.
To drill into precast concrete, a diamond-tipped drill bit is typically used. This type of bit is able to cut through the hard surface of the concrete without getting damaged. It’s important to use a drill bit that is specifically designed for use on concrete, and to use the appropriate size and type of anchor for the intended application.
Is Precast Concrete Sustainable?
Precast concrete is made from natural materials without the use of adhesives, making it an incredibly sustainable product. Its production creates far fewer greenhouse gases than traditional building materials like steel and aluminium, and it can be recycled and reused at the end of its lifespan, further reducing its environmental impact.
Why Choose Mexboro for Your Precast Concrete Products?
For over 50 years, Mexboro have been a leading supplier of precast concrete and cast stone pieces in the UK. Our precast concrete products have been used by a diverse range of organisations, including English Heritage, the National Trust, the PSA, and the Ministry of Defence. We take pride in producing high-quality pieces suitable for any project, whether for commercial or residential use, new construction or restoration, or for anything else.
If you’re interested in our products, you can easily get a quote online or call us on 01803 558025. Our team is always happy to discuss your options and answer any questions you may have, so don’t hesitate to get in touch with us today!