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Looking to spruce up your backyard with a nice patio? Want a sturdy foundation for your next tool shed? Consider having a concrete slab as your base. Concrete slabs are inexpensive, long-lasting and easy to install—as well as multi-purpose.
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Note: For the sake of this cost estimate, exact dimensions (in feet) have been given to reflect the different price points. Costs may be lower or higher depending on the size of the slab. All costs have been calculated at a rate of $6 per square foot.
A concrete slab is composed of wet cement mixed with additional materials (usually gravel). This mix is poured onto a gravel bed bordered by a wooden frame, the latter typically made from standard lumber like 2x4s or 2x6s. Once the concrete has cured, this frame—also known as the formwork—is removed, leaving behind a fully shaped piece of concrete—the slab.
Concrete slabs are known for being extremely durable. If properly installed and maintained, they can easily last 100 years or more. Though the name “slab” brings to mind an uninteresting flat gray surface, in truth, concrete slabs offer a lot of design flexibility—from the shape of the formwork to any texturizing or colorizing done after the concrete has been poured.
As a reminder, cement and concrete refer to two different types of material despite often being used interchangeably. Concrete is a composite substance that includes cement and is more durable.
Concrete is fairly inexpensive when compared with other materials like stone or brick. Expect to pay a base cost of around $6 per square foot for the material itself, or within a range of $4 to $8 per square foot depending on factors like labor and concrete thickness.
Though not all of these factors may be relevant to your situation, they each have the potential to significantly change the overall cost of your project.
A standard concrete slab will typically be four or six inches thick, but this can be adjusted depending on the needs of your project. Thickness is key in determining the final cost of the project: the thicker the slab, the more expensive it will be. A four-inch slab, for example, can cost anything from $0.50 to $1 less than a six-inch slab.
It may be necessary to make the edge of your concrete slab thicker, depending on the end design and function of the slab itself. The weight of the concrete is also a factor here, since you do not want the frame buckling under the pour. Expect to pay an additional $1 to $2 per square foot.
If you aren’t fond of the classic concrete slab look, there are a variety of texturizing and colorizing options that you can use to finish your slab. Adding any kind of finish and design—whether it be stenciling, staining or engraving—can bump up your final cost from $8 to $18 per square foot. If you desire a fully bespoke or advanced design, you may pay even more.
For the most part, the typical price range of $4 to $8 per square foot includes labor. However, if your project requires the use of specialized equipment—such as any machines needed for grading—the cost can skyrocket. For example, a single pump truck (used to pour concrete if your build location is too difficult for a standard concrete truck to access) can tack on around $900. Keep this in mind especially if you are doing a DIY install, since you will need to rent or buy any equipment you do not have.
Depending on your specifications or contractor recommendations, your project may require the use of additional materials. Things like a vapor barrier, a Styrofoam layer or using wire mesh will add between $0.30 to $2 per square foot. When mixing concrete, you may also be charged extra if you require more cement than normal.
Dirt work and grading refers to any preparation of the substrate that needs to occur before laying the formwork and pouring the concrete. This can be as simple as leveling the surface, or as complicated as consulting with a structural engineer on how to build the slab on a slope. Some contractors will include grading in their services at no additional cost, but this is highly dependent on the complexity of the site and its requirements.
With careful planning and preparation, it is entirely possible to install a simple concrete slab by yourself. The process is time and labor intensive, so set aside at least a week to complete it—which should cover everything from preparing the form to allowing the concrete to set and cure. Keep in mind that while the installation itself is relatively straightforward, there are lots of little factors and steps that may make the process more hassle than it’s worth.
Details like permit requirements, leveling and grading the sub-surface, properly staking and bracing the frame and smoothing the concrete after it has been poured can all affect the final build of your slab. Any finishing you want to do should also be thoroughly researched so that you do not apply a finish too early or late in the curing process.
Wet concrete is also considered toxic and can cause chemical burns, so take the appropriate safety precautions to make sure that you are not exposing your skin and eyes.
Though DIY is cheaper overall than hiring a professional service, depending on the complexity and size of your project, it may not be worth the personal time and energy spent. Consult with a professional contractor to receive a project estimate and compare it to your DIY estimate before you make a final decision.
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At $6 per square foot, a 10×12 slab of concrete will cost $720. This cost may vary depending on the additional specifications and requirements of the project.
The standard thickness for a concrete slab is four inches. If you plan on putting a lot of weight on your slab (such as building a structure on it, driving a car on it, etc.), aim for a six-inch thickness instead. In general, the more stress and weight you plan on subjecting your concrete slab to, the thicker it will need to be.
Yes. In general, you can save up to 40% or more if you pour a concrete slab yourself. If you decide to mix your own concrete, you can save even more.
Gravel is required before pouring a concrete slab. This not only helps provide a level surface for your slab, but also prevents any cracking, shifting or unevenness in your slab caused by direct contact with the ground. It also prevents issues like water pooling underneath the concrete and reduces the likelihood of erosion and settling. For a four-inch concrete slab, set at least three-inch of gravel.
Chauncey grew up on a farm in rural northern California. At 18 he ran away and saw the world with a backpack and a credit card, discovering that the true value of any point or mile is the experience it facilitates. He remains most at home on a tractor, but has learned that opportunity is where he finds it and discomfort is more interesting than complacency.
Samantha is an editor who covers all topics home-related including home improvement and repair. She edited home repair and design content at websites like The Spruce and HomeAdvisor. She also has hosted videos on DIY home tips and solutions and launched multiple home improvement review boards staffed with licensed pros.