Reduce waste and save costs

Tarmac Cement’s Dr Bill Price explains why it’s important to give mortar and cement careful consideration and how the right product can result in reduced wastage and costs.

The value of the self- and custom- build market is forecast to grow by 41 per cent by 2020, according to the Homebuilding and Renovating ‘Self and Custom Build Market Report 2017’. Against this backdrop, which is supported by the new Right to Build legislation, it’s no wonder that self- and custom-build is becoming a popular housing choice.

For many self-builders the financial rewards are clear, including lower costs and a reduced stamp duty bill. However, as with any building work, self-build projects can vary enormously, not only because of the type of design and materials used, but also because of the level of construction that is commissioned. Keeping in control of the project timeline and staying within budget is therefore of paramount importance when looking to achieve overall financial gain.

Thanks to its strong, durable and long-lasting properties, masonry construction remains the most common form of house construction in the UK. However, while careful consideration is given to the specification of the bricks and blocks, this often isn’t the case with other associated materials including cement and mortar. Both of these products are often seen as commodities thanks to their proven track record and availability. This means that buyers regularly make spontaneous purchases. However, doing your homework to select the best product for the job can reap numerous rewards.

In many instances it’s often not one big thing that differentiates one type of cement or mortar from another. Rather, it is the sum of all the little things that can really make a big difference including improved health and safety, reduced wastage and a tighter control on spend.

When selecting a cement, always review the product characteristics and benefits. For example, does it have enhanced resistance to freeze/thaw attack? Does it have a lower water demand? Does it produce a more cohesive mix which is therefore easier to compact, spread and finish? And while it may not seem like a deal breaker, the type of packaging and size of the product is also worth considering.

The majority of cement available to buy as a packed product comes in 25 kg bags for builders to split open with a spade and load up the mixer with half of the bag. On a larger self-build site, where there are multiple mixes to be made in one day, this isn’t an issue. However, smaller projects, which may only require one mix at a time could result in the half opened bag potentially going to waste or being spoilt.

This is because of the other half of cement is often left lying around, meaning that cement dust gets into all sorts of unwanted places. Overall, the process is extremely wasteful.

In contrast, there are products on the market now that come in 12.5 kg bags – half the size of the traditional bag. Importantly, this means it has the exact amount for one mix of mortar, ultimately reducing waste. For self-builders this means that money and cement can be saved as they can buy the exact size that they need.

As expected, a smaller bag is also lighter, which makes it easier for builders to deal with onsite. Some bags even come with a small, inbuilt handle so it can be easily carried in one hand, reducing the risk of accidents. It essentially makes the product easier to transport, whether that be up ladders or on to site through confined spaces such as passage ways.

As well as handling, it’s also important to look at storage, especially as products can remain outdoors and onsite for a number of months. With the unpredictable British weather, something as simple as waterproof packaging can increase storage space for water vulnerable products and eliminate wastage through accidental damage.

When looking for a high quality mortar there are many qualities to look out for, from how it hangs on the trowel and spreads, to its workability, compressive strength and appearance. For many self- builders a pre-packed ready to use mortar is therefore a firm favourite. The guaranteed mix proportions of a ready to use mortar also help overcome many potential problems relating to site mixing. These include the use of excess water and the addition of other inappropriate materials This can result in reduced strength, increased permeability and reduced durability of the hardened mortar.

As expected, a pre-mixed mortar eliminates all of these headaches. With improved quality and consistency, products such as Blue Circle Quality Assured Mortar are made to exacting standards in a controlled factory setting. Ready to use, with the addition of water, these dry mixes already include selected sands, lime, cement and admixtures, which have been blended together to produce the ideal product. Quality products from reputable manufacturers should also be available in weatherproof, tear resistant plastic bags and for even smaller projects, some come in re-sealable plastic tubs to reduce mess and wastage on site.

For self-builders, products that make them feel confident about the task at hand are essential, and the onus is on manufacturers to equip them with the best quality products. For the growing self-build market, the right products that can reduce waste and worries, while also saving costs, are therefore essential.

Dr Bill Price is national commercial technical manager at Tarmac Cement