Concrete repair services specializing in lifting and leveling slabs have been around since the 1930s. There has been and still is high demand for this service. The newer method of accomplishing this with polyurethane foam can lead to healthy profits.
One contributor to the high demand is the Americans with Disabilities Act. This law mandates the repair of trip hazards from sunken or heaved concrete in public areas. With literally billions of square feet of concrete in the U.S., many of the slabs are old and out of alignment, pitched incorrectly, and in desperate need of repair. Whether it is governmental, commercial, or residential, customers are looking for a cost-effective solution to this problem.
The first question is always, replace or repair? Concrete replacement is expensive. It is simple math. Concrete contractors must make up to three trips to a location to replace a simple slab of concrete with removal, framing, pouring, removal of forming material, and cutting of joints. Add to this the ever-growing problem of environmental constraints on concrete disposal and the replacement cost of a simple 10x10-foot driveway or pool deck can be upwards of $1,000.
Repair of misaligned slab panels has historically been achieved by mudjacking or slabjacking. This is the process of injecting a mud/slurry mix under concrete slabs with a specialized hydraulically powered mud pump to lift the concrete. Contractors drill 1 5/8-inch holes in slabs and inject the slurry under the slab, building up enough pressure to lift the concrete. This technique allows contractors to lift, pitch, or level any unrestrained slabs.
Historically, mudjacking or slabjacking has been about half the cost of replacement. But as the price of replacement has increased, the potential for profit in raising concrete has risen dramatically. Repair options have been chosen more frequently due to the lower cost. Repair contractors are on a jobsite for minutes, not days, and have a very low cost of material.
Until recently, entry into the slabjacking/mudjacking business required an equipment investment and was perceived as heavy labor. Contractors doing slabjacking needed:
- A vehicle and trailer capable of carrying two or more cubic yards of material
- A specialized slab-raising pump
- A concrete mixer
- A yard to store material
- Heavy equipment to load trucks and trailers
- A concrete drill and saw
Add to this that the work is labor intensive, often requiring:
- Two-man crews where one person is devoted to shoveling material into a mixer
- The muscling of equipment around jobsites
- Jockeying back and forth from the mixer to the slab when the pump material hopper is empty
- Time to clean equipment and jobsite
Mudjacking does not require a big investment in equipment. There has been and always will be a place in the industry for mudjacking.
A new game
A newer way to lift, level, and stabilize concrete slabs, that has been used for over a decade now, is replacing the mud with polyurethane foam. With this technique contractors inject the polyurethane foam under the concrete slab. The expansion of the foam is what lifts or moves the slab.
Specialized polyurethane foams have been designed that have optimal expansion characteristics, set up speed, and adhesion to provide contractors with ideal control of the lifting process. Unlike with mudjacking, the technician drills fewer smaller (5/8-inch) holes, leaving a cleaner looking job. And the equipment and resources needed is less than with mudjacking:
- An enclosed trailer housing a polyurethane system and a vehicle to pull the trailer
- Polyurethane materials
- Indoor material storage
- A concrete drill and saw
- One-man crew
Unlike with mudjacking/slabjacking, there is no heavy equipment, no heavy labor, limited equipment maintenance/clean up, and it’s green. The process is more environmentally sensitive since recycled material is used to manufacture the foam and polyurethane breaks down under sunlight in landfills if the concrete is ever disposed of. The polyurethane foam option is also permanent; it cures as a rigid foam that will not change shape.
Beyond the benefits of ease of work, a better quality repair, and environmental sensitivity, the polyurethane foam solution to slab lifting offers a huge return on investment. Although the cost of material is greater (polyurethane foam versus mud), productivity is the real profit driver while the customer benefits from less visible repairs and less mess.
A mudjacking contractor must carry two or three cubic yards of heavy material to each job. Most can carry only enough material for two small jobs before returning to their yard to reload. In contrast, equipment and materials for polyurethane lifting loaded into a trailer can be pulled by a low-tonnage pickup and will do many more jobs before needing to reload. Simply stated: If you can get the work, you can do more work in one day with one person.
Polyurethane foam concrete repair can generate up to three times the ROI as mudjacking. With the polyurethane concrete repair process, a trailer and material can be stored in a residential garage and a lifting contractor can work in a polo shirt and slacks versus overalls.
It may be time to t ake another look at slab raising as a business opportunity. The demand is there and the ROI potential is compelling. If I am half wrong, it is still a winner!
Paul DelFino is a principal of the consulting firm Opportunity Inc. For nearly two decades, he has assisted entrepreneurs in growing their businesses, responding to economic downturns, and merger and acquisition activity.