In the world of design, concrete is having a bit of a moment right now. While its cool, industrial aesthetic is gaining traction, it also remains an incredibly practical, fundamental part of most construction projects.

With those two points in mind, we spoke to leaders in the industry to see what’s new and what’s trending, when it comes to concrete.

Help with Meeting—and Exceeding—Building Codes

With regularly changing codes to adhere to, many builders are finding that getting a basement or foundation into the ground so they can start the above- grade work isn’t as simple and straightforward as it used to be. It will come as good news, then, that over the past five years insulated concrete form (ICF) systems have been significantly enhanced. “If it’s been a while since you thought about building your basements and foundations with ICFs, now might just be the time to take a new look at them and learn how these high performance foundations can not only add value to your business model, but also solve many construction problems,” says Andy Lennox, Vice President, Marketing Solutions, Logix ICF Ltd.

For one thing, says Lennox, homebuilders can offer customers high-performance ICF foundations as part of their home packages. “And on the production side of the equation, these ICF foundations have been increasing the production efficiency and overall profitability for many builders, while also getting them ready to meet and even exceed the new and ever-evolving building codes,” says Lennox.

“ICFs accomplish six construction steps in one, and these efficiencies provide significant savings in time and money,” says Lennox. These efficiencies reduce construction time and labour costs, too.

The ICF systems include thick foam panels for continuous insulation on the inside and outside of basement walls. The concrete core is typically steel-reinforced for added strength as well as long-term crack control and prevention. In addition, the outer foam layer acts as a cushion, protecting the concrete core from the pressures of cyclical frost heaving. And finally, waterproofing membranes keep out all the moisture and water that’s in the ground, leaving the basement dry and comfortable.

Innovation: Making Building Projects Easier

“In terms of product innovation, King the Sakrete People have developed Sakrete mason-craft as a Type O Mortar available in a 2 KG pail,” says Jane Macpherson, Ontario Sales Manager, King Packaged Materials Company. “This advancement affords contractors and homeowners the availability, convenience and ease-of-use of a repointing mortar in a small container.” The product is ideal for repointing mortar joints between bricks or blocks, indoors or outdoors, on any masonry application where low strength and superior workability is required.Another innovation worth noting is a fast-setting concrete mix from Quikrete, ideal for creating fence posts. “With this particular product you can pour the mix into the hole and then just add water, without having to mix it beforehand,” says Randy Stone, Regional Sales Manager, Quikrete Companies. He adds, “That can mean a lot of time and effort saved on both preparation and clean up.” The mix is ready to use in four hours, as well, making it even easier to use.

Quick-setting capability is a key fea-ture of Sika Canada’s Sika PowerSet, too. “This is a rapid setting, easy-to-use concrete repair product for cracks and spalls in concrete and stucco surfaces,” says Andrew Mulloch, Technical Sales Representative, Residential Construction Sika Canada Inc. Designed with exterior and interior concrete repairs in mind, it’s dispensed with the aid of a regular caulking gun and then worked into the damaged area with a standard putty knife or trowel, providing a smooth durable finish within minutes. “Contractors will find this product attractive because it’s easy to use and provides great results in a matter of minutes,” says Mulloch.Concrete Countertops in High Demand

When it comes to interior design, countertops made of concrete is increasingly popular in more modern kitchens. Sakrete Countertop Magic allows contractors to construct cast-in-place or precast concrete countertops by adding the product to a bag of concrete mix. “This product’s excellent workability and customizable finish make it ideal for kitchens, washrooms or outdoor entertaining areas,” says Macpherson. She adds, “Some customers like the light grey colour while others get creative and tint the mix with colourants and pigments.”“Concrete countertops are gaining quite a bit of popularity,” says Stone, adding that Quikrete Concrete Countertops offer an easy-to-use solution for contractors. “All it requires is a quick mix of the product and then you pour it into a mold.” He adds, “When you pop it out you’ve got a really nice looking countertop.”The UN-Concrete

As far as concrete products go, one company is gaining traction in the field without actually using any concrete.Instone makes a product called Hourwall UrbanConcrete that looks identical to concrete but is made with polyurethane panels, hand finished and available in four colours. “The industrial concrete look is red hot in design, right now, but concrete is inherently really heavy,” explains Jason Duniec, Business Development, Instone. He adds, “Our panels end up being less than 1 lb. per square foot and they’re screwed,

glued or nailed to the wall making them extremely easy to install.”“Another reason we’re seeing signif-icant growth with our UrbanConcrete—which isn’t concrete at all—is that everyone is looking for R Value and thermal insulation and acoustics,” says Duniec. “Concrete has practically zero R Value and even less acoustical insulation. With our product you get an R-value of close to 5 and great sound absorption, as well.”

Another selling point for the product: the cost of installation. “We see a similar look installed with concrete for about $100 per square foot,” says Duniec. “With our product it’s usually less than $20 per squire foot.”Making the Most of New Products

Whether you’re a contractor tapping into consumers’ interior design needs, or you’re busy building fundamental structures like foundations and fence posts, there’s a world of new products and innovation designed to make your next job easier, faster and more successful.