We’ve Said it Before, and We’ll Keep on Saying it: the Best Way to Fight Frost Heaving is Insulating your Concrete.

It’s like I’m a broken record: insulate your concrete. No no, don’t just put a giant blanket down on top of your parking lot. Stop that. Don’t make a customized quilt for your sidewalk. That’s not going to help and it’s probably going to get all mildewed and gross before the season is over.

Let’s think about this for a second.

You’ve got a parking lot, entryway or a sidewalk that’s just coming apart. It’s heaved and split so many times that you’re saying it’s about time to get it replaced. We can help you, but we will do one better. We’ll help keep it from happening again.

There is no good way to stop frost heaving once it’s happened.

Sorry, wish I had better news on that front, but the only thing you can do is lay some radiant heating from a hydronic heating unit on top (it’s essentially just hot water being pumped through a vinyl hose that we put on top of the ground and run until the ground warms up) and hope it can get that ice lens, the cause of the frost heaving, to melt.

Now, unless you’re going to run that hydronic heating all the time, which isn’t feasible, you’re going to see that ice lens form again and once again the heaving will appear.

It’s frustrating. I know. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

If you want to mitigate those problems, and if you’re getting your driveway or sidewalk re-done anyway, you want to have a contractor like Goodmanson Construction, because what we can offer you is a better way: quality concrete construction featuring insulated concrete.

Goodmanson Construction installs insulated concrete for an underground parking lot entrance.
This is how you beat winter!

Insulated construction isn’t a tough concept to grasp. People insulate all kinds of things. They insulate their hot water pipes. They insulate their attics and their walls. They insulate their windows. Hey, when you put a can of beer in one of those foam beer cozies? That’s insulation too! But insulated concrete might be something you haven’t heard of before. It’s the same principle. You’re using a material to retain temperature. You retain temperature by retaining what they call “thermal mass.”

Now, some folks use this for energy efficiency in their homes and businesses. We will talk about ICF construction in a second but there are even more applications for these building materials besides just wall construction, but we just want to go through some basic points of insulation first.

For us in concrete construction, we use an insulation product called polystyrene insulation.

Polystyrene foam is an insulation material and can be made in two different ways. One is typically used for ICF Foundations (Insulated Concrete Form). You can use ICF for ICF walls in foundations as opposed to just straight poured concrete walls. Another kind of polystyrene foam other can be made into sheets and cut to size. And it’s these sheets that we put down underneath our concrete driveways, parking lots and garage floors to keep them from succumbing to frost heaving.

How does insulation work when it’s in the ground? What is the thermal mass it’s retaining? Well, what it’s doing is it’s retaining the ground temperature beneath it. And this is where “frost” comes in. What is frost, really? Frost is not just the shimmery film you can see on your plants and on your windshields every morning. It’s also the moisture you can’t see, which has frozen in the ground.

We did a blog on frost heaving, but just to repeat: at a certain point the frozen ground blocks water from evaporating out of the soil. This water then freezes and forms an ice lens. This growing ice lens is what causes the ground to heave, and thus the concrete above it bends and breaks. Installing polystyrene insulation creates a barrier between the freezing air and the earth. Keeping that cold from penetrating to the ground below (and retaining the earth’s own thermal mass) prevents frost heaving. No more bending and breaking!

We also reinforce our concrete with rebar. Why do that? Because when you have concrete under pressure, you need strength to push back against that pressure. Otherwise, you’ll be more likely to get splitting and cracking and in a few years’ time you’ll just have a pile of pebbles where you once had a nice sidewalk, or you’ll have parts of your parking lot that have heaved and cracked and sunk down season after season. We’ve seen cheap construction enough times to know what it looks like.

Goodmanson Construction putting in rebar and polystyrene foam for an insulated concrete sidewalk.
Goodmanson Construction installs an insulated concrete sidewalk

If You’re Building in Minnesota, You Have to Think About Insulating Your Concrete

We live in Minnesota. We live in a place that has temperature swings that can go from 100 degrees above to 50 degrees below. That’s our reality. If you don’t have insulation in your outdoor concrete, then there’s no way you can prevent what those swings are going to do.

If you’re talking about a commercial concrete construction project, say like a parking lot or a ramp or ADA compliant entryway, or an industrial foundation wall, you should only consider hiring a concrete contractor who offers rigid foam insulation or ICF. It’s just that critical. You’re spending a lot of money on these projects and you want them to last. Goodmanson Construction is one of the few companies with the training, materials and technique to get the job done and get it done in a way that lasts in the state of Minnesota.

But that’s why Goodmanson Construction is here, right? If you want to make sure your parking lot, ADA compliant sidewalk or ramp, or any outdoor construction project stands the test of time and winter, give us a call or send us an estimate request.

We look forward to hearing from you.