Concrete driveway cost is determined by strict calculated method rather than a simple square foot price. Throughout my career, in this industry, many times we’ve had customers call us and ask, “How much would it cost to install a new concrete driveway in front of my home... just give me your square foot price?” And that seems pretty simple right? It seems like it would make sense for a contractor to just be able to throw out a number, doesn’t it? Really, you should be aware of any contractor who is willing to just throw out a number.
Let's say you call a contractor and say, "What's your square foot price? Just give me your square foot price".
Let's also say, just for example, after asking you a few questions, the contractor says "$7.80 a square foot". You say, "Oh? Great, can you come and give me a bid?" What do you think that contractor's going to do now? They just found out an idea of your budget and you didn't even realize it. Now, when that contractor comes to give you a bid, what do you think they're going to do now? They're going to say, "Well I didn't realize you had this and that so... the price is actually $10.00 a foot".
Sure you could say no, but then this is where the "fly by nighters" really get you. Now, they know exactly what you're willing to pay for your driveway and they'll make you think they're going to cut their price to earn your business when in reality their going to cut the quality and increase their profits.
Asking a contractor, "What's your square foot price?" is simply setting yourself up for getting ripped off. Not all of the time, but most of the time.
Or equally bad, you've received an estimate for a new concrete driveway and instead of vetting that contractor, you're simply making sure they're in the ballpark on price. Please be a smart shopper and get two to three bids before you make any decisions. Price should not be the single deciding factor. Experience, reputation, quality of work AND price should all be the deciding factors combined.
The truth is, there are many variables that determine the cost to install a concrete driveway.
First and foremost, how big or little is the driveway... what is the square footage?
How much preparation is involved in order to make the driveway drain properly?
How much hand work is involved in installing the concrete where the equipment can’t get to?
How far is the job site away from the concrete plant?
How many concrete mixer trucks will be needed so the crew doesn’t have to wait around for more material?
These are big factors in determining a price to install a concrete driveway. Obviously, as with just about anything, the more volume, the less the square foot price becomes.
So, when a contractor supplies you with a quote, they’re factoring in the following:
The concrete mix
And of course... their profit
Most contractors will factor in a mobilization fee which is the amount of money it costs just to get the crew and equipment back and froth from a job site. When you look at the cost a contractor incurs just getting to the job site, it can add up pretty quickly. An average concrete installation crew can run from 5 to 10 members. Factor in the cost of transporting tools and equipment, the hourly wage of 5 to 10 men getting equipment un-loaded, and the cost of fuel to get to the job site... that can easily add up to a few or more hundred dollars and they haven’t even put a bit of concrete down yet. Obviously the bigger the job, the more the mobilization costs are spread out. The smaller the job, the less the mobilization cost are spread out. This is a big factor in what can make smaller jobs more cost per square foot than larger jobs. The more square footage being installed, the cost decreases.
The next cost factored into an estimate, is the amount of preparation that’s involved. For that, each driveway is unique in it’s own way. But sometimes, to prepare a driveway for proper drainage, big or little, can be quite a task. The most important aspect to a good installation job is good drainage, and good drainage starts with the preparation. Obviously, we don’t want water running towards our home or into our garage; so making sure the drainage is accounted for properly is the most important aspect of concrete driveway cost. Preparation is obviously a variable in the price of installing a concrete driveway and can only be determined by actually seeing it.
First, if the region you live in requires a sub-grade material to be installed prior to installing the concrete, then this will be indicated on the proposal by the amount of tons of base being installed or by the square feet and thickness of base being installed.
Next, is the concrete mix. Obviously, this part of a cost estimate is a variable depending upon the size of the project and the thickness of the concrete. Contrary to what some people believe, there are no large volume discounts contractors receive from their suppliers. In other words, contractors don’t go to their suppliers and say, “I’m laying down 120 yards of concrete today, how much can you drop the price?" There is no "volume pricing" in this industry. All contractors pay basically the same price for their materials which is usually agreed upon with their suppliers at the beginning of each season. So, while the cost of the concrete mix is a variable depending upon the size of the job, the price of the concrete mix is a fixed price. It’s much more likely a contractor that’s been around for any length of time is going to get a slightly better price than other companies, but probably nothing so significant that’s going to make them the lowest bidder by any large figure.
When a contractor gives us an estimate to install a concrete driveway, they’ll need to determine the right amount of mixer trucks needed to deliver the mix. Too many trucks and they’re paying truck drivers to sit around waiting for the others to unload, not enough trucks and the crew is getting paid to wait for the next load to arrive. It’s a balancing act and a mathematical calculation that’s determined by the amount of concrete mix needed for the job, factored by the distance the project is away from the batch plant. The further the project is away from the plant, the more trucks will be needed. The closer it is to the plant, the less trucks are needed. The thicker the concrete slab being poured, the more concrete mix is needed, therefore, the more trucks are needed. It’s not always a perfect calculation, we try our best when scheduling trucks, but either way it’s a risk that comes out of your contractors profit if it’s miscalculated and not yours.
When it comes to the actual installation of the job your contractor will need to determine how much handwork is involved, if any, determine how much time it will take to install the concrete and finish it, as well as factor in usage or replacement costs for the use of equipment and tools. If there are areas the heavy machinery cannot get into, then the preparation must be done by hand, which will take more time. When we factor in the wages and workers compensation insurance of 5 to 10 crew members as well as liability insurance and several thousand dollars in equipment and tools, the charges in the installation process can easily run a couple of hundred dollars per hour. We have to figure and calculate as best as we can to stay competitive in price. Calculate too little time and we lose money, calculate to much time and we probably won't win the bid. Either way, it’s a risk that comes out of your contractors profit if it’s miscalculated and not yours.
The last part of the cost to install a concrete driveway is the profit to the contractor. This is obviously a number decided upon by the contractor. Now this number is not only a calculation for profit but it is also a risk vs reward number. This is a VERY risky business. There is a considerable amount of risk concrete contractors take when running a concrete installation company. Contractors can lose lots of money very fast if something goes wrong. Broken down piece of equipment, traffic jams, “No Show” employees, weather... all kinds of things can cause us to lose money FAST. There is also a high risk of lives working around all of this heavy equipment and believe me accidents have happened that have taken lives. So, this number is not just about the profit. These hard working folks take on a lot of risk and work late hours many days in a row for this profit. Concrete installation is seasonal work, in some states, so this number is also an offset for the winter months the company is producing little or no income for themselves, their employees and their businesses.
And that’s how the cost is determined for a concrete driveway. In my opinion, any contractor who is willing to throw out a number without any knowledge of any of the things mentioned above, should ALWAYS preface their answer by saying "I'd have to see it to be 100% accurate but..." and then give you a budget number.
Now some contractors may say they'll cut their profits to earn your business. But we say, "That’s when you should be very careful! Before you hire any contractor." See “The Most Common Ways Concrete Installation Contractors Rip Us Off and How To Avoid Them” and become familiar with some of the ways these "fly by night" contractors rip homeowners off!
Or make it easy and request a concrete installation estimate from one of our Trusted Contractors!