Pervious Pays Off

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In 2005, Zeke Zinchiak, owner of Z Con, Inc., Woodbine, Md., witnessed a pervious concrete demonstration at an American Society of Concrete Contractors (ASCC) event in Denver, Colo. Zinchiak was drawn to the technology, which allows rainwater and snowmelt to filter through a concrete surface rather than run off into waterways or other pervious surfaces.

He brought an enthusiasm for pervious concrete and his vision for its possibilities back to Maryland and quickly took a lead in researching and promoting the pervious concrete industry. Zinchiak was Maryland’s first National Ready Mixed Concrete Association (NRMCA)-certified Pervious Concrete Craftsman — one of only about 30 in the United States. Over the last several years, he tested pervious concrete mixes and placement techniques with several ready mix suppliers in Maryland, presented educational talks for engineers looking to specify the system, and promoted pervious concrete’s benefits to owners and developers.

After years of contributing time and energy to the industry, that investment is starting to pay off in the form of pervious concrete placement jobs. Zeke says while five years ago he would see a pervious project up for bid every six months, today he’s seeing about one a week. His knowledge and background in the industry has helped Z Con win a good number of these jobs, resulting in the company garnering 40 percent of its 2011 sales from pervious jobs.

Building a business

Zinchiak started Z Con, Inc. in 1992, after the commercial concrete company he worked at for 20 years went out of business. He started with four employees in the residential and light commercial market.

Over the years, Z Con evolved into a full-service commercial concrete company, performing demolition, excavation, site prep and nearly all types of concrete construction. Zinchiak’s medium-sized firm performs work mostly for repeat customers and has a reputation for high quality work and problem solving. Z Con’s niche in the Washington D.C. and Baltimore markets is a willingness to take on the jobs other companies won’t do.

“We do things no one else wants to do, and we make money on those jobs,” Zinchiak explains.

A basement lowering project two blocks from the White House is a good example of one Z Con’s niche projects. Z Con was tasked with lowering a 5,000 square foot basement by 2 feet. The team took a compact tool carrier equipped with a breaker attachment down a flight of stairs and used it to break up and tear out the existing concrete floor. They sent the rubble up a conveyor through a 2-foot by 2-foot window and proceeded to excavate to lower the basement floor. Then using the same windown through which they sent waste out, crews brought concrete into the basement, first through a chute in into a power buggy to place the footings along existing piers, then with a pump truck to place a new floor.

“A bigger company won’t take on a small job like this, while a smaller company doesn’t have the skills and experience to perform the work,” Zinchiak explains.

Learn by association

Zinchiak’s move from running a field crew for his former employer to owning his own contracting business wasn’t always easy. “The biggest learning curve I had to deal with after moving from a superintendent position to owning my own company was learning the business side of things,” he says. But Zinchiak didn’t have to do it on his own, and credits much of his company’s success to his involvement in associations.

Z Con joined ASCC in 1999. “The networking and exchange of ideas with contractors across the county really helped me out,” Zinchiak says. “The ASCC gave us the confidence and support we needed to take on bigger projects.”

Connections at the ASCC also opened the door for joint ventures with other members of the association. When a major rehab project came up for bid at one of the Washington, D.C.-area post offices affected by the anthrax mailings in the early 2000s, Z Con teamed up with another ASCC member company to complete the work — a project too big for either company to have done on its own but a job they could take on together.

The Maryland Ready Mix Concrete Association (MRMCA) is another organization that helped Zeke strengthen his business, particularly in the area of pervious concrete. “At the time I joined there were only a half a dozen or so active contractor members, so I really got to know the big ready mixed suppliers in the area. I tested a lot of pervious concrete with them, and over the years I have gotten a lot of referrals from ready mix suppliers,” he says.

Zinchiak was the first contractor elected to the board of the MRMCA, and the group honored him with the Outstanding Individual Achievement Award for Concrete Promotion in 2008.

The future of pervious

Pervious concrete has gained acceptance in Maryland, where land is a premium and municipalities work to protect waterways like the Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac River. The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) recently introduced strict stormwater regulations that have given rise to pervious pavement projects, both with concrete and asphalt.

“We are in competition against asphalt. We want concrete parking lots. The concrete industry can compete against asphalt when you are comparing projects apples to apples,” Zinchiak says.

Zinchiak says one of the biggest challenges he faces in the pervious concrete market is getting owners and general contractors to understand the importance of a quality contractor. “If pervious is cost driven, then owners will get hurt. Not all contractors know it well enough and they don’t realize how a poor installation can affect them a few years down the road,” he says.

Nearly all crew members at Z Con are certified as Technicians or Installers through the NRMCA’s Pervious Concrete Contractor Certification Program. Zinchiak stays in contact with a nationwide group of pervious installers who help each other out on projects and talk about advancements in technique and mix design. But Zinchiak says all this experience doesn’t matter if you don’t know when to walk away from a project.

“We were looking at a 70,000 square foot pervious project, but we wouldn’t take the job because of the general contractor and his demands in the contract. We walked away,” Zinchiak says, “and the project didn’t go as well as it could have.”

A recent pervious concrete job Z Con did take on was a 1-mile stretch of sidewalk, comprising 25,232 square feet and using 350 yards of pervious concrete for the Montgomery County DOT. The sidewalk was constructed of a 12- to 18-inch #2 stone base with a 4-inch, #57 choker coarse and a 4-inch pervious pad. Common practice in Maryland is to include filter cloth on the sides of the installation.

Z Con saved time and labor on the placement of the mile-long sidewalk thanks to a prototype pervious placement head Somero built for Z Con’s Copperhead Laser Screed. “We usually have two guys pulling a roller screed, but on this project we only needed one to run the Copperhead, and it was a lot easier job for that one guy,” Zinchiak explains.

With a slow economy, Z Con has seen its sales off about 30 percent from its strongest years, but that percentage could have been worse if the company wasn’t so heavily involved in the pervious industry. Zinchiak’s commitment to the pervious concrete industry, including a year of research and training crews on technique before Z Con got its first paid pervious job, is paying off. The company has performed pervious jobs as small as driveways and as large as 75,000-square-foot commercial parking lots. And Zinchiak continues to work on advancements and new products in the pervious industry. He and his crews are looking at alternative jointing techniques, re-using curing plastic when they can, and exploring internal curing products and top sealers that will one day eliminate the need for a plastic curing sheet. "The pervious industry is light years ahead today from where we were 5 years ago," Zinchiak says about advancements in the pervious industry. "Pervious mix designs are so much better with the addition of new admixtures. And we'll see even more advancements in the future."

Z Con is successful in the pervious market for the same reasons it has always been a successful company. “Our quality and professionalism sets us apart from our competition,” Zinchiak says. “We do what we say we will do when we say we will do it, and if there is an issue with a job we will work on it until everyone is happy.”