For owners and stakeholders funding a project, the idea of a concrete boardwalk may have never crossed their minds. While well known to many landscape architects and contractors, constructing a boardwalk out of precast concrete can raise some questions for those who are new to the subject.
At PermaTrak, we aim to demystify the concept, educate our clients, and help demonstrate the tremendous life-cycle value of our product. Our resource library contains information centered around questions we receive and current industry trends.
In this article, our PermaTrak engineers clarify six of our most commonly heard misconceptions about concrete boardwalks.
Misconception #1: Concrete is more expensive than wood or composite materials.
It is true that wood tends to be less costly at the onset when compared to concrete, though the cost of lumber has increased dramatically in recent years. However, the startup costs are only part of the overall picture – it is important to consider the costs of lifelong maintenance associated with a project.
Since the structural strength of concrete is superior to wood, the wider (greater than 10 ft. clear) and more heavily loaded boardwalks (emergency vehicles and specific county maintenance vehicles) have proven concrete to be cost competitive with wood. This superior strength allows standard concrete beams (stringers) to span greater distances than wood, thus saving foundation costs. Additionally, wooden boardwalks require considerable maintenance that incurs additional expense, including the replacement of warped and rotten boards and even full replacement in a timeframe of 10–15 years.
While precast concrete is usually a higher upfront cost, it requires no maintenance and can last upwards of 50–75 years, per Army Corps of Engineers.
Check out our article “Life Cycle Maintenance Costs” to learn more about the cost of concrete versus wood and composite materials.
Misconception #2: Concrete damages the environment.
Precast concrete’s effect on the environment is minimal, especially when compared to that of lumber. Lumber is often treated with chemicals and preservatives that, over time, damage the natural environment by leaching into the surrounding land, soil, and water.
Precast concrete, on the other hand, is an inert building material that has not been chemically treated or altered – meaning its use does not contribute any toxins into the area around it.
Concrete boardwalks can also be installed via top-down construction, which minimizes disturbance to the surrounding environment. Because it is composed of only natural raw materials like sand, water and stones, the materials used in a concrete boardwalk can be repurposed in other precast concrete projects if the boardwalk is ever removed in the future.
An added benefit of the modular design of a precast concrete boardwalk is that it allows for the structure to be fully disassembled and relocated in the future.
Misconception #3: Concrete is a high-maintenance material.
The only potential maintenance needed for precast concrete boardwalks is an occasional power wash to remove any buildup of dirt, dust, or algae. No additional treatments or chemical additives are necessary to ensure longevity.
While wood will ultimately decay, rot, and warp, especially if not repeatedly treated with chemicals, precast concrete maintains its integrity for upwards of 50–75 years (compared to an estimated 3–5 for unmaintained and 12–15 for heavily maintained wooden structures).
For more information, check out our article, “What Kind of Maintenance is Required for a Concrete Boardwalk?”
Misconception #4: Construction of concrete boardwalks can easily damage tree roots and other natural factors, leading to a shorter life span.
While poured (cast-in-place) concrete is susceptible to damage from tree roots and shifting conditions, precast elevated boardwalks offer a solution.
The foundations for our precast concrete boardwalks – like the modular PermaTrak Low Profile Series, for example – can be positioned to avoid the root systems of nearby trees.
One such application in Washington state allowed a community to preserve mature trees and effectively reach its environmental goals.
An elevated concrete boardwalk under construction in Shoreline, WA
Similarly, the Putnam Greenway in New York City’s Van Cortlandt Park was uniquely developed, allowing a trail to fit comfortably into the natural setting with minimal disturbance to the surrounding ecological environment.
As a precast modular system, PermaTrak’s products also flex as the ground moves, shifts, or settles over time. Joints are dispersed throughout the construction, which allow the entire walkway to sink, heave, and otherwise move with the earth, root systems and all, thus eliminating the potential for cracks and separations in the boardwalk surface.
Misconception #5: Concrete is only suitable for specific environments.
Concrete is highly versatile, making it a prime choice for a wide range of environments and climates. Concrete boardwalks are installed using an optimal foundational system for each project’s unique geographical factors, like soil characteristics, lateral load, and uplift.
The ability to match the foundational system to the project’s surrounding area makes concrete a viable solution for stable environments as well as more sensitive environments like wetlands.
Unlike other materials, concrete also withstands extreme hot and cold temperatures. It does not crack in dry climates or warp in wet climates, is impervious to termites, and is unaffected by other harsh conditions like saltwater and bushfires.
Misconception #6: Anyone in the business can produce precast boardwalks.
The quality and appearance of a finished project is largely dependent on the expertise of the professionals involved. It’s critical to thoroughly evaluate precasters before partnering on the construction of a concrete boardwalk system.
PermaTrak works with landscape architects and engineers to design boardwalks that will accommodate specific environmental factors while delivering the aesthetic features our customers desire.
We also thoroughly vet and partner only with specific precasters across the nation to develop boardwalks of the highest quality.
For the best product and overall experience, contact us for a no-obligation consultation.
Helping to Educate Stakeholders
We hope these answers help clarify any misconceptions you may have about concrete boardwalks. Feel free to share with others as well, particularly if you’ve gotten one of these questions while working on a project.
Have you heard any other misconceptions about concrete boardwalks that you would like to share with us?
We would love to hear about them! We can share in this article or add to our extensive resource library.