Building a reputation for installing long-lasting, hard-wearing, maintenance-free floors means going the extra mile. The Fricks Company, Fort Worth, is known across North America for just that kind of work: dense, durable concrete floors built using aggregate surface hardeners, shrinkage-compensating concrete, de-watered toppings, and superior joint and slab details that outperform conventional concrete floor slabs.

There isn't a better way to tell when its time to start the finishing operation than to step on the slab and see how deep footprints are. They should be 1/8 to ¼ inch.
There isn't a better way to tell when its time to start the finishing operation than to step on the slab and see how deep footprints are. They should be 1/8 to ¼ inch.

Brad and Greg Fricks, brothers and co-owners of the company founded by their father Terry Fricks, are of one mind on the subject of quality, never flinching from removing and replacing work that doesn't meet their own expectations. Spending many hours on jobsites with their crews, the brothers often revisit installations to assess performance and learn how to improve their process. More than 75% of their business is repeat work; clients are willing to pay for quality because they know how the floors perform over time. (To read an interview with the Frickses, see Contractors to Watch, December 2005, p. 90.)

The goals for such high-quality floors include:

  • Few to no cracks over time
  • Minimal curling
  • Flat transitions over construction joints
  • Meeting or exceeding flatness requirements between joints
  • Joints that hold up over time to excessive forklift traffic

Taking responsibility

Fricks believes that it's better to start finishing with a walk-behind machine with float shoes. They want to open the surface up as quickly as they can without damaging the surface flatness.
Fricks believes that it's better to start finishing with a walk-behind machine with float shoes. They want to open the surface up as quickly as they can without damaging the surface flatness.

The successful completion of one step provides the opportunity for the successful completion of the next step. Careful planning, delegation, and accountability ensure that all conditions are right for good floor construction. Some areas of concern include the concrete mix design, subgrade conditions, the building enclosure, ambient conditions, other trade work, joint layout, pour sequence, construction joint locations, final forklift traffic patterns, and curing. Greg says they choose not to be involved in “place-and-finish” contracts where they can't have responsibility for all the factors that affect the outcome of their product. “It leads to finger pointing when things don't go right,” he says. “The goal for us is to cause every party to do their part to provide the conditions needed for quality work.”

Normally the owner's representatives define responsibility by providing specifications and supervision on a jobsite. But the Frickses have the knowledge to be involved in the decisions made affecting their work. The goal isn't to be adversarial, but rather to be a partner in determining the end result.

Important pre-construction issues

The first important step in achieving high-quality floors is the pre-slab construction meeting. Fricks usually conducts this meeting attended by personnel from the owner's rep, the general contractor, the facility manager, the ready-mix producer's quality control, the testing agency, and any other construction trade that affects the work. Items on the agenda include safety, weather protection, heating or cooling the structure, lighting, protection of the slabs, subgrade conditions and elevation, submittals, mix designs, quality control, testing, joint details, reinforcement, curing, cracks, and curling. This is the perfect opportunity for all parties to lay out their expectations.

Building enclosure. Brad says that quality work starts by controlling the environment. A building should be enclosed with a waterproof roof. To produce a floor with a highly burnished trowel finish, the goal is a tight building with consistent temperatures. Some owners complain about different color from one day's placement to the next. A constant environment is one way to minimize this.

Fricks places concrete with a 3-inch slump—lower than most contractors. Laser screeds can place concrete even at 0-inch slump, but the boom must travel more slowly, and two passes may be necessary to get the elevation of the slab right.
Fricks places concrete with a 3-inch slump—lower than most contractors. Laser screeds can place concrete even at 0-inch slump, but the boom must travel more slowly, and two passes may be necessary to get the elevation of the slab right.

Subgrade preparation. Though others are usually responsible for placing subgrade, it's a high liability issue. Brad says they always check the subgrade by proof-rolling with a loaded ready-mix truck or a full dump truck. They don't want to see wheel depressions of more than ¼ inch. Soil that “pumps” or ruts must be removed and replaced. The subgrade must also be uniformly dry, and any wet material must be removed and replaced.

A typical Fricks contract calls for the subgrade to be turned over to them at ±0.10 foot to balance. Balance means the highs fill the lows and the elevation in any given area does not exceed the 0.10 specification. Any excess material is to be removed by others and any additional material needed is supplied by others. Fricks uses lasers to fine grade the subgrade to be at 0 elevation to minus ¼ inch (+0/- ¼ inch) and has at least three slab placement areas prepared at all times to ensure constant daily placements for production.

Concrete mix design. For the long-term performance of a floor, the mix-design is one of the most important aspects. Fricks is unusual among contractors because it has its own in-house concrete testing facility to develop its own mix designs and conduct tests for shrinkage-compensating concrete mixes. They do this because the long-term performance of a slab reflects on the company's reputation.