A lot has changed in concrete construction since 2005. Smartphones and mobile technology have transformed the way we access information and communicate on the jobsite. Safety regulations have become more stringent. Building codes have been updated. Innovative materials and construction processes have changed the way we work. All this led to the need to modernize the concrete construction industry’s go-to reference book.

“The Contractor’s Guide to Quality Concrete Construction” was first published in 1992 by the American Concrete Institute (ACI) and the American Society of Concrete Contractors (ASCC), and since then it has served as an invaluable document for concrete industry professionals of all types and levels of experience. Approved by ACI Committee E703, Concrete Construction Practices, in accordance with the Educational Committee Manual of the ACI Educational Activities Committee, the guide provides information on everything from planning to mix design to placement and finishing. It is used as a textbook in schools, as an in-house training tool by contractors, and as a basis for tests by many licensing agencies. But the last update to the guide was in 2005—before polycarboxylate admixtures and self-consolidating concrete became commonplace.

In January 2019, at the World of Concrete in Las Vegas, ACI and ASCC unveiled the fourth edition, which features 100 new pages and substantial updates—including a new chapter, appendixes, and an easier-to-read layout that for the first time includes full-color photos and illustrations. Moving away from black-and-white illustrations, smaller print, and narrow column widths have made the guide’s content simpler to navigate and digest. Tables are easier to read; images and drawings are larger so that details are not lost. For digital readers, the guide is now available as a PDF file.

In addition to the new format, here are some of the biggest changes made in the fourth edition:

Safety and quality
There are many important factors to consider in concrete construction, such as quality of work and making a profit, but safety must always be the No. 1 priority on a jobsite. The third edition discussed safety topics in its forward, but the latest edition places even greater emphasis on safety.

To accommodate the new opening safety chapter, the committee moved the previous edition’s Chapter 1 (Organizing for Quality) further back in the book under a slightly different title: Planning for Quality. This chapter was almost completely rewritten to discuss the elements of a quality management system, including site-specific quality plans and procedures, and the typical roles and responsibilities of each project team member when it comes to quality. Also covered are contract reviews, documenting quality control procedures, evaluating subcontractors and suppliers, process control, inspection and testing, and the importance of training and certification in producing quality work. The chapter’s new location more accurately reflects the sequence of the construction process.

Expanded topics, updated language
Although slightly reorganized, other chapter titles have not changed. The guide follows the concrete construction process in a relatively linear manner, reviewing the types of concrete mixes and how the material is specified before diving into how to form, reinforce, place, or finish concrete. Obsolete terms and outdated information about materials were eliminated, and fresh content was added, including:

  • Chapter 3, The Concrete Specification, was revised to emphasize the need for contractors to read and fully understand project specifications and to address questions they may have before bidding. New topics include acceptance criteria, acceptance testing, mass concrete, and the various sources and formats for specifications. A subsection was added on reference specifications to help contractors understand why they are an integral part of the specification and how they should be used by design professionals. Also, while not new to the chapter, discussions on ACI 318, Building Code Requirements for Structural Concrete, and ACI 301, Specifications for Structural Concrete, were broadened.
  • Chapter 5, Formwork, features up-to-date and expanded form pressure formulas and tables.
  • Chapter 7, Joints and Embedments in Structures, now includes language explaining why control joints are not needed on elevated slabs on metal deck.
  • Chapter 8, Joints and Reinforcement for Slabs-on-Ground, contains updated terminology on joint types and additional information on welded wire reinforcement placing.
  • Chapter 10, Preparing for Concreting (Chapter 9 in the third edition), provides lengthier discussions on mixture proportion approval, cooperating with the ready-mix producer, and adding water to the mix at the jobsite.
  • Chapter 12, Common Field Problems, Cause and Prevention (formerly Chapter 11), has an expanded troubleshooting checklist of common field problems.

Chapter summaries and review questions
To help make it easier to use “The Contractor’s Guide” as a classroom tool, each chapter now ends with a summary of what was covered and review questions. Also included is a reference list of applicable guides and standards. As with the previous edition, chapters refer readers to “recommended reading” sources to learn more about the topics discussed.

Appendixes: Additional guidance for today’s contractors
The bulk of the guide’s new content appears in the final sections of the 262-page book. Three new appendixes help guide contractors through common legal and constructability issues and introduce readers to certification opportunities.

  • Appendix A, Legal Issues. The construction industry’s increasingly litigious nature has made the Legal Issues appendix an important addition to “The Contractor’s Guide.” It identifies the most common liability issues contractors face and offers some guidance on how to prevent or minimize such issues. Commonly encountered problems include responsibility for the mix design, concrete defects, standard of care/negligence, unforeseen conditions, personal injury, meeting owner expectations, and dispute resolutions. Of course, readers should also consult with legal counsel licensed in their own jurisdiction, and a list of resources is provided at the end of the section. ACI Vice President Jeffrey Coleman contributed heavily to this section, lending his vast experience as both a structural engineer and practicing attorney specializing in construction law, professional liability defense, concrete construction, and general business law including insurance and coverage. A principal partner with The Coleman Law Firm LLC, Minneapolis, Coleman is the author of “Legal Issues in Concrete Construction.” He is slated to become president of ACI in 2020.
  • Appendix B, ASCC Position Statements. Another important addition is the inclusion of 43 ASCC Position Statements. Each statement is a one-page document that clearly lays out what ASSC contractors are—and are not—responsible for when it comes to a host of issues, including tolerances, cracking, curling, curing, balcony drainage, discharge time requirements, finishing specifications, and more. Contractors can use these Position Statements during the bidding process to determine whether the specification or scope of work is realistic and to explain what they can and cannot feasibly do. Position Statements give concrete contractors a means to educate project owners, partners, and team members about issues specific to concrete construction. They can be presented during preconstruction meetings so all parties can discuss the issues before they become problems. Because the Position Statements come from an industry organization, they also serve as a valuable risk management tool. For example, they can be presented to owners, general contractors, construction managers, other trades, arbitrators, or lawyers to either warn of potential problems or defend outcomes.
  • Appendix C, ACI Certification Programs. This new section calls attention to the more than 25 certification programs offered by ACI in a variety of areas within the industry. ACI certification programs are designed to form a minimum qualification for personnel employed within the concrete construction industry—to ensure the most qualified people are on the job. Many local, national, and international building codes require ACI-certified personnel on jobsites to ensure work is executed according to the highest standards.

One consistent “voice”
Since its inception, “The Contractor’s Guide” has been written by contractors, for contractors. Considering the many contributors over the years to the guide, one of ACI and ASCC’s goals was to ensure the editorial tone of the latest edition would be uniform from chapter to chapter and also resonate with its intended audience.

Overseeing this effort as the guide’s sole editor was Anthony Lamanna, Sundt Professor of Alternative Delivery Methods and Sustainable Development and the program chair for the Del E. Webb School of Construction at Arizona State University in Tempe. Lamanna came to the project well-qualified for the task. He has been teaching construction management and engineering courses at the university level for more than 17 years.

The fourth edition of “The Contractor’s Guide to Quality Concrete Construction” remains essential reading for anybody involved in the concrete industry—from concrete contractors and ready-mix producers to testing technicians and specifiers to engineers and other industry professionals. It is available in both printed and digital formats. A Spanish version will be available soon. For more information, contact ACI at concrete.org or 248-848-3800, or ASCC at ascconline.org or 866-788-2722.

Bev Garnant is executive director of the American Society of Concrete Contractors, St. Louis. Michael L. Tholen is managing director of engineering and professional development at the American Concrete Institute, Farmington Hills, Mich.

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