A Friend asks us how can they clean up the pathway in their backyard to make it look better and to improve its condition. Its a 3 foot wide concrete pathway that was placed on the back of the home to help with diverting rain away from the home. There is actually a pretty big grate in the path on the side of the home which diverts water out into the street and their yard is fenced in. When the work was first performed it looked great but as the years have passed it has crumbled due to heaving and roots of nearby trees.
So, when you first look at the condition of the pathway the reaction might be to just completely pull it out and pour a new one and that would be a great option if they had the time to put into this project. All they really want to do is improve what they have now until that day comes where they actually must remove it and install new.
The additional problem with putting in new path would be mixing the concrete. It is not an easy task to mix that much concrete on your own and for the entire area they are probably looking at about 100 80lb bags of concrete which they would have to get delivered or they would have to hire a truck to deliver a batch of concrete. They would probably need about 3 to 4 yards if they completely did the whole area.
In this case they just want to address the worst of the worst and take some time to decide on the rest.
Grading And Preparing The Area For Concrete Repairs
The first thing the homeowner should do is regrade the lawn around the concrete walkway and remove all of the debris, border bricks and loose concrete sections.
Around the trees there is nothing else to do but remove all of that concrete and you want to be careful not to cause the tree harm. You can use a few pieces of scrap lumber and a long steel prybar. One of the things a friend who is a mason clued me into was that you can get a steel pipe and hammer the end of it flat then grind the edge down. I have seen other people cut a notch in the end of a 6 foot pipe and weld a piece of 1/4 inch plate steel on the end. Or you can just pickup a long crowbar.
Remove all of the concrete chunks that are not stable and then you can if you want use a concrete diamond blade in a circular saw to cut a long 1 inch deep or deeper notch across the concrete slab where you think it is a good ending point and then snap the waste part off with a sledge hammer.
There are a couple spots where chunks of concrete are just missing and have been backfilled with gravel over the years. If you can find a section from your waste concrete you could place it in this area or you will have to dig out the gravel and dirt and fill that area with new concrete. You want it to be about the same depth as the existing concrete.
For large cracks between stable concrete sections you can if you want fill those areas using high strength mortar that make with Portland Cement and Sand using a ratio of 3 shovels of sand to 1 shovel of Portland Cement. It should result in a very high strength mortar for patching.
To patch the areas you want to brush out all the debris and wet the surrounding concrete really well with water. If it is not very wet then it will suck the moisture out of your mortar and the repair will fail.
Now that you have the pathway structure about as good as you are going to get it you should let it rest for 3 to 7 days and then you can wash it down and if you want you can apply a skim coat of Portland Cement.
To skim or surface coat your concrete you can use a 2 portland to 1 sand ratio and you want it to be mixed like toothpaste.. pretty thin but still not watery.
Using a mason’s brush which is a heavy bristle hand brush about 8 inches in width you can then apply a skim coat across your entire concrete surface. Use just enough to coat the surface you are not trying to cure heavy cracking. It should be like really thick paint.
Depending on your winters this portland skim coat will need to be reapplied once a year or so. And Again you want it thin so it won’t chip. Just apply it like paint.
In reality eventually this backyard is going to need new pathways but with a couple weekends of work what is there now can be made to last another 5 years or so. When the choice is doing something vs doing nothing.. then something even if its not perfect is always a better choice.
The total investment for this repair would be about $50 vs maybe $500 to $800 to replace all the concrete on his own and maybe 4 times that to have a contractor pull up the bad and replace it with new.
All our friend is wanting to do is make their home a little better and I really respect that. You can’t always live in a brand new home and you have to know your limits and what projects must get the big attention. This is just a nice way to clean up their backyard so they can enjoy their BBQ and let the kids play back there without tripping over loose concrete.