Estimating Concrete Walkway Cost

    Photo: Randall Degges/Flickr

    The same characteristics that make concrete an ideal material for public curbs and sidewalks also apply to your own walkway: It's cheap, it goes down fast and it pretty much lasts forever. It's also maintenance-free (as long as you don't paint it), and of all the standard walkway materials it's by far the most scrapable -- that is, with a snow shovel or sidewalk scraper. But going back to that first benefit: How cheap is concrete? The material itself can cost as little as about $75 for a cubic yard. That's enough for 80 square feet of finished walkway (at 4 inches thick). But of course that's just part of the story, and when it comes to estimating the cost of a concrete walkway for your own project, you can take a couple of different approaches.

    Calculating Materials -- The DIY Approach

    If you're up for the challenge of a DIY concrete pour, estimating concrete walkway costs is all about the materials…and the tools…and the pizza and beer for the "crew." In other words, it's everything but your own labor (which is free, at least monetarily). A concrete walkway starts with a gravel base; 4 inches thick is standard. The concrete also should be 4 inches thick, provided it's for foot traffic only (not cars).

    Both gravel and concrete typically are sold -- and delivered -- by the cubic yard. To calculate what you need, multiply the walkway's width and length to find the square footage; for example a 4-foot-wide, 50-foot-long walkway covers 200 square feet. Next, factor in the thickness: 4 inches converts to 0.33 feet; multiply this by the square footage to find the cubic feet: 200 x 0.33 = 66 cubic feet. Finally, divide by 27 to convert to cubic yards: 66 ÷ 27 = 2.44 cubic yards. This means you'd need about 2.5 yards of both gravel and concrete for a 50-foot walkway.

    Call local suppliers to learn about pricing for gravel and ready-mix concrete (the kind delivered by a concrete truck). For a very small walkway, you might consider buying dry concrete mix by the bag and mixing it in a rented concrete mixer, but at 60 standard bags per cubic yard, the number of bags quickly adds up. Traditionally, concrete suppliers impose order minimums and may charge extra for "short loads" (say, under 3 yards) or partial yards, but you might find suppliers in your area that mix custom batches on-site or specialize in small orders of ready-mix.

    Other materials for estimating concrete walkway cost include the form materials and any reinforcements (such as wire mesh or rebar), isolation board (cheap) and sealer (if you want to seal the walkway after the concrete cures). Form materials depend on the project but typically include 2x4 or 2x6 lumber for straight runs and hardboard siding boards for curves, plus loads of wood stakes and plenty of screws. Then there are tool costs, which can add a fair amount to DIY projects. Rental tools may include excavation equipment, heavy-duty wheelbarrows, a tamper and large concrete finishing tools, such as a bull float. You can also rent sets of finishing tools (trowels, edger, groover) or buy or borrow them.

    Getting Professional Estimates -- The Turnkey Approach

    If you're planning to hire out your project, there's not much point in calculating materials or even doing your own estimating of a concrete walkway cost; let local contractors do it for you. They'll be happy to come over, discuss your goals and budget, and provide a detailed bid for the entire job -- all for free. For accurate comparison, get at least three bids and make sure all of the candidates are bidding the same job; in other words, don't get a price for a basic broom-textured walkway from one bidder and compare it to a fancy stamped and stained treatment from another. Pricing varies by location, of course, but for rough estimating of concrete walkway cost, professional jobs range from about $6 to upwards of $12 per square foot. Because the cost of the concrete itself is relatively constant, what really adds to the cost is the finish.

    That'll Cost Ya…

    So what about those extras? There are three tiers of pricing for estimating concrete walkway costs, based on national averages. The lowest tier ranges from $6 to $10 per square foot -- that's for plain (uncolored) concrete with a basic finish, or perhaps with an upgrade of a single color or a simple specialty finish, such as exposed aggregate. The middle range goes up to $12 a square foot and may include a stamped finish, multiple colors or a border treatment. The highest tier is $12 and up. This is where you'll be if you want your walkway to look convincingly like real flagstone or slate tile or you have a highly custom configuration.

    Philip Schmidt writes for

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