architect’s pet peeve no. 14 – concrete vs. cement

Concrete is all around us. Used since ancient Rome, it is amazingly versatile and relatively inexpensive. And it is hard and strong and ubiquitous.

But that is concrete, not cement. It seems like everyone mistakenly calls concrete “cement”. I’m sure this goes back further than Jed Clampett calling his concrete pool the “cement pond”. So, since we all seem to know what concrete is, then exactly what is the distinction between this and cement?

Portland cement, bagged for mixing

Cement is one of the ingredients that go into the mix of water and aggregates (sand and rocks), as the binding agent, that makes concrete. Mixed with water, cement creates a chemical reaction, producing heat, and hardening into concrete. The aggregates can vary widely in size, color, etc., allowing for a great variety in what concrete looks like and performs,  not to mention all the other stuff you can throw into the mix – dyes, colorants, plasticizers, etc.   You use cement to make concrete, but concrete is not cement alone. Like the bacon in a BLT – its gotta be there, but on its own it ain’t no sandwich.

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