New concrete type gets perking in South Bethany

What do you get when you take away the sand in a standard concrete mixture? Pervious concrete!

Coastal Point • Monica Scott: A demonstration of pervious concrete on display at Lion Contractors.Coastal Point • Monica Scott
A demonstration of pervious concrete on display at Lion Contractors.

Pervious concrete does exactly what its name says. It allows liquid to permeate, or go through the surface, thus offering less of an environmental impact than typical concrete or asphalt surfaces. At the beach, that factor is more important than ever, as towns are starting to regulate impervious surfaces, as well as many other environmental impacts.

The Town of South Bethany has been hard at work for months now, aiming to create and adopt an ordinance relating to ground coverage and impervious surfaces. The latest draft of the ordinance was completed on Nov. 19, and town officials expect a first reading by February’s town council meeting.

The ordinance, 145-14.3, deals with “ground covering allowed in setback area” and would require that 55 percent of any required setback area (the area of land not already covered by the house) be covered with pervious, or permeable, materials, including pervious concrete. It would also state that only pervious material is permitted within 5 feet of the property boundary line; and would require advance approval should there be a request to install impervious ground covering on building lots.

“We have been working something for several years,” said council member and co-sponsor of the ordinance John Fields, noting that there has been considerable controversy over the proposed measures.

“The bottom line is that people don’t like to be told what they can and cannot do on their property. They are all for green and for water quality, but not in their back yard. And it is natural to feel that way,” Fields allowed.

Pervious concrete can be a way to bridge the desires of the homeowner with that of the town and its government. While many people at the beach still want a flat surface driveway rather than gravel, rocks or pebbles, many of them also don’t want to add to the environmental impacts of their property. And many property owners still need to be educated on the options that are now available.

That’s where Mike Uzzo of Lion Contractors comes in.

“It’s a happy medium between the homeowners, developers and all the town councils,” said Uzzo of pervious concrete. He noted that his company had recently done a “lunchbox seminar” aimed at educating some of the town’s building officials and council members on the benefits of pervious concrete.

Uzzo has been busy working with several area town councils, giving demonstrations and educating people on the benefits of pervious concrete.

To pour the pervious concrete, contractors must be licensed and have taken a test, and Uzzo said he believes his company is one of only about eight in Maryland that are certified to do so – and the only one on the eastern side of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

“It’s a lot more intense,” said Uzzo of the differences between pouring standard concrete and the pervious variety. “It’s quicker, and you gotta be on top of your game. I’ve been in concrete my whole life and had my own business for 30 years, and it’s a different animal.”

Uzzo said concrete’s “flowability” is measured in something called “slump.” Traditional concrete has a higher slump than pervious concrete because pervious concrete has had less water added. The time installers have, from when it hits the ground, to cover the desired surfaces is only about 20 to 30 minutes. And special attention is given to the pre-grading process on the already-sandy soil of the beach area.

Although flat like traditional concrete, pervious concrete looks less smooth because of the absence of the sand. When water is poured on the surface, it seeps down into the mixture and then into the ground below, allowing it to naturally permeate the ground as it would on an uncovered surface. That aids in eliminating pollutants before they reach the canals and bays.

“It’s just putting it back where God intended it to go originally,” said Uzzo of the simplicity of the product. “That’s it in a nutshell.”

Uzzo said he first learned about pervious concrete from an estimator who was working with one of his customers.

“He said, ‘Do you know what pervious concrete is?’ And I didn’t. Within five minutes, I was on the phone with one of my suppliers, and within a week, I was learning about the product.”

An added bonus to pervious concrete is it is considered LEED point-worthy. LEED is a “green” building standard administered through the U.S. Green Building Council, “an internationally recognized green building certification system, providing third-party verification that a building or community was designed and built using strategies aimed at improving performance across all the metrics that matter most: energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts.”

“Every single person I talk to says, ‘What’s pervious [concrete]? So when I am talking to people, I am constantly educating them on the product and, at the same time, showing them where it can be used and making them feel comfortable. When I show people [in demonstrations], everybody smiles.”

He said the coastal area is a perfect spot to focus on use of the pervious concrete, because of the area being surrounded by and filled with waterways that need to be protected. And with “green” being in the forefront of many minds and local towns stepping up and regulating everything from windmills to geothermal systems, the timing is perfect, Uzzo said.

“Pervious concrete will allow water to percolate into the soil. They could cover the whole lot in it, as far as we are concerned,” suggested Fields, adding that towns up and down the coast are dealing with the very same water quality and regulation issues as South Bethany.

Fields pointed out that gravel, sand and interlocking pavers are acceptable options under the towns proposed ordinance, as well, but pervious concrete is less expensive and “does a good job.”

For more information, call Lion Contractors at (301) 330-9071 or local sales representative Bob Novelli at (301) 471-6712.