I noticed the other day that a friend of mine down the street decided to finally ditch his crushed stone front walk for a concrete walkway. He had it all dug up when he gave me a call to ask me how thick to make a concrete walkway.
A concrete walkway should be 4” thick, at a minimum. If you opt for less than 4”, you’ll experience more cracking sooner. Thicker concrete is always better, more stable, and has fewer cracks. It will also withstand weather and traffic better as 4” of concrete is much stronger than 3”.
Pouring and finishing concrete is more of an art form than most people know. Numerous factors go into making a successful concrete pour, with the thickness being just one. Weather, ground type, concrete mixture, and operator skill all factor into whether your new concrete sidewalk thickness succeeds or not.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the reasons behind pouring concrete to a certain thickness, briefly go over your options when pouring your concrete sidewalk, and also cover a few helpful tips that will make your life easier when it comes time to pour.
What is the Standard Concrete Sidewalk Thickness?
Standard concrete sidewalk thickness is 4”. This standard represents the minimum thickness acceptable for a concrete sidewalk or patio, as a thickness less than that number would result in premature cracking or shifting.
The 4” standard does not mean that you shouldn’t consider going thicker – thicker is always better for obvious reasons: it will be less likely to shift and crack while withstanding greater loads. But if you want, say, 6” thick concrete, you’ll be spending way, way more money than you probably intended.
Concrete is not cheap, as you’ll find when you mix a couple of bags and realize the output is far less than you probably expected. The other aspect of thicker concrete is that you’ll have to dig deeper. Thus, the 4” guideline is designed for optimal strength versus cost savings and time.
Do I Need Rebar for a Concrete Walkway?
No, you do not need rebar for a concrete walkway. Rebar for a concrete walkway would be overkill, as the loads that your walkway will carry should never be more than the weight of several people or a large piece of furniture at any one time.
A properly prepped and poured concrete walkway should resist cracking and movement for many years, even without rebar and steel mesh. Gapping your concrete at proper intervals and prepping the soil for adequate drainage will ensure your concrete is stable.
Whether it is rebar or mesh, metal reinforcement is better used in environments with heavy loads such as a concrete driveway. On the other hand, if you are convinced that rebar will increase your walkway’s longevity, you won’t be adding too much cost.
For instance, a 20’ rod of rebar should cost you under $10 and will likely be much less. Some will opt to run two or three rods of rebar the length of their sidewalk to keep the slab level over time. At a total cost of (well) over $100, including some rebar chairs to keep it off the ground during the pour, this may be worth the effort to those of you in northern climates.
What Kind of Concrete Do You Use for a Walkway?
You have options, but the best option would be a mix such as Quikrete 5000 or Fiber-Reinforced as you do not need steel mesh or rebar support in conjunction with them. They are formulated for use in walkway applications and can even be poured in cold conditions.
Quikrete 5000 bills itself as a product that obtains a high strength quickly. While this doesn’t matter to folks putting in a walkway, it means high strength – up to 5000 psi after a month. That means, due to its strength, this concrete is ideal if you don’t intend to use rebar.
Another product that specifically markets itself for sidewalks and patios is fiber-reinforced concrete. It claims to be a “crack-proof” solution for walkways that don’t require mesh or rebar. This concrete can be used for thicknesses less than 2”, although we still recommend a 4” minimum.
Critical to the functioning of your concrete is how you mix it. If you aren’t paying a truck to back up and dump it into your forms, then you most likely have a hand or electric mixer and are pouring it yourself. Watering down your mix and spraying the top for a smoother finish will result in premature cracking and failure. Follow the instructions to the letter.
Concrete Sidewalk Specifications
The thickness of your concrete is but one consideration – albeit the most important one when determining your walkway’s longevity. You’ll also want to think about the width too. If you are on a tight budget, then shrinking the width could be an option for you to reduce the amount of material you need to buy.
A city sidewalk is 4’ wide. There is no specific code that addresses walkway width for an individual home. Four feet is large enough to accommodate two bikes going in opposite directions, a wheelchair, and more. Your walkway won’t need to account for all that potential traffic. Therefore, you won’t feel constrained if you end up with only a 3’ wide walkway.
Another issue is the surface of your path. When finishing your concrete walk, you’ll want to texture the surface. Most installers use a stiff-bristled brush with a long handle to give the surface of the concrete texture. The reason for this is to prevent slips and falls that would occur if a smooth concrete walkway got wet. A surface roughed up slightly by the brush mitigates this.
You’ll also need expansion gaps every 4’ or so. Gaps act to allow the surface of the concrete to expand based on weather conditions. If you do not gap and have an unbroken surface of concrete for, say, 50 feet, then one crack could potentially span the length of your walkway. Gapping will limit cracks to one spot if they occur.
How Much Does a Concrete Sidewalk Cost?
When planning your concrete pathway, thickness and cost should be considered at the same time. After all, if you opt for 5” of concrete instead of 4”, you increase your cost by 20% – not a small number.
Your first move is to calculate the dimensions of your walkway and multiply them together. So let’s say you have a 100’ sidewalk that is 3’ wide. It is also 4” thick. Before you multiply, you’ll need to convert the inches into feet. 4” of thickness equals .33’.
Multiply these numbers together – 100x3x.33. This equals 100 cubic feet. Concrete is sold in cubic yards, not feet, so we must convert 100 cubic feet into cubic yards. To do that we divide 100 by 27.
Why 27? Because there are 27 cubic feet in one cubic yard as there are 3 feet in a yard. After dividing 100 by 27, we get 3.7 cubic yards. This is how much concrete we’ll need.
Most contractors will tell you you’ll need to add 10% to account for spillage, which there will be unless you are a concrete finishing professional. So adding 10% to 3.7 turns out to be 4.07 cubic yards total.
Expect to pay well over $100 per cubic yard, and more likely, that number will be $125 or more. If you opt for a fancier mix, like synthetic fiber mixes, you’ll pay more.
Also, you’ll need to factor in the cost for the truck to come out – a delivery fee – of at least $70. Rebar is a minimal cost – under $100 – and you also need forms which you’ll use dimensional lumber or plywood. Either way, that will cost you another $100, depending on how long your walkway is.
Finally, if mixing yourself, consider this: 1 bag of Quikrete 500 equals slightly less than half a cubic foot. That means, for our example above, you’ll need well over 200 bags. So you might save a little on a truck coming out to pour your pathway, but you’ll spend a much, much longer time doing the mixing yourself. The time savings, for most, is worth the extra cost.
A concrete sidewalk leading up to your front door or a concrete patio is a highly visible part of your home. They are also high traffic areas. Therefore the importance of a proper install is critical. If you have any hesitations about doing a concrete path yourself, then seek out someone who knows what they are doing.
Also, concrete is not just concrete – there are a right concrete mix and a wrong one to use for a walkway. Do your research and find out what the right mix is for you – we gave you two examples in this article. Once you figure out the mix, ensure you follow installation instructions to the letter.
I wish you luck as you embark on your concrete adventure. While concrete might not seem exciting, there is nothing like finishing off a concrete pour and having a nice clean surface leading up to your front door.