Moving Water

Precast Concrete Flume
By Kirk Stelsel

For the next 10 seconds, close your eyes and picture yourself leisurly lounging on a veranda in an isolated tropical paradise.

Are you there? Listen to the waves crash rhythmically onto shore. Hear birds in the distance as the wind moves slowly through the trees. Take a deep breath of the crisp air carrying the scent of rain. Hear the skies open up to release a steady shower that patters off the roof and leaves around you.

Moments like that help us shed the burdens of life and give in to nature. In that moment, water was all around you – the ocean waves, the rain, and in the birds and plants. Even you yourself are about 60% water (1).

Enjoying nature, our built environment and the basic amenities we often take for granted requires movement and management of water. To do so, we have a maze of networks, and precast concrete plays a vital role.

Out of sight, out of mind

In the tropical paradise we escaped to, we can’t forget that eventually we’ll come in off the porch and use running water. Evidence of humans harnessing water with concrete goes back to the Roman Empire. The Roman Aqueducts (2) and Cloaca Maxima (3) helped carry potable water to the city and take wastewater away. Today, concrete continues to play a vital role in our water infrastructure.

Manholes, pipe and other precast concrete products all disappear into our unseen infrastructure to meet our needs for decades to come. But precast is used even when a connection to city infrastructure is not feasible. Just southwest of Detroit in Milan, Michigan, Milan Vault provided on-site wastewater treatment tanks for a newly installed 4-H restroom and shower facility. To meet effluent regulations, a series of four 3,350 gallon precast tanks advance the treatment of the water until it’s ready for the final treatment area.

According to Jed Dingens of Dingens Architects in Corunna, Michigan, using precast provided a variety of benefits including strength, durability, flexibility of design and ease of installation in a timely manner. The tanks were manufactured for 6 ft of cover with custom risers to grade with cast iron covers, and are strong enough to withstand an accidental drive-over by heavy vehicles. Customizations were a part of the plan.

“We were able to place inlet and outlet penetrations at any location they had need for,” said Sam Wagner, vice president of Milan Vault. “We were also able to place access openings in any location they chose.”

Moving Water 4

Sometimes, though, getting rid of the water is not the need. On a commercial and residential level, rainwater detention and retention systems give overburdened stormwater systems a break and can hold back the water for beneficial reuse (for an example, see In Canada, RH20 was hired to take the residential rain barrel concept to the next level for a LEED-Platinum neighborhood in Newmarket, Ontario.

The company installed underground precast rainwater harvesting systems in the fronts of 34 homes to provide water for flushing toilets and lawn irrigation. The tanks met the town’s requirements to reduce household water draws by 25% and overall water discharge flows by 60%.

Listing all of the underground products that manage our water in some way would be nearly impossible due to custom products, but in almost any city you’ll find grease interceptors keeping our sewers safe from greases and fats, lift stations ensuring our water gets to where it needs to go and manholes providing human access to the network. The list of custom products is limited only by a need, some imagination and a little engineering knowhow.

“I think precast is very important in the underground infrastructure of our country,” Wagner said. “Concrete has a long-standing history of being a durable, economical and readily available product. It is easy to work with on site, requires little maintenance when installed correctly, and saves time and money for on-site contractors.”

Water under the bridge

To get to our tropical paradise, it’s very possible we crossed a bridge or two. Bridges are an integral part of our transportation network. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the U.S. currently has 607,380 bridges that get us over everything from bubbling brooks to raging rivers. However, these bridges are aging. The latest ASCE report card gave U.S. bridges a C+, which is only slightly better than the paltry D+ for overall infrastructure (4).

Replacing bridges takes time and money and snarls traffic, but those headaches can be minimized. As MassDOT found out, precast concrete bridge components install fast (visit, and less time means less on-site labor and a happier public. Whether it’s precast beams and columns for larger bridges or precast culverts for short-span bridges, speed and durability make precast concrete the product of choice. This was the case in Arizona when wildfires ravaged critical wooden bridges (visit Add in precast approach and deck slabs, headwalls, endwalls, wingwalls, parapets, retaining walls and railings and you have a complete bridge solution.

Increasing efficiency is exactly what North Carolina has set out to accomplish with the replacement of 14 aging bridges in multiple counties across the state. Due to staff reduction in recent years, the state sought the expertise of an outside engineering firm to plan and execute the bridge replacements in order to take advantage of federal funds. The bridges are express design builds that mainly consist of small stream crossings best served by precast concrete 3-sided culverts.

Cherry Precast, an NPCA member in Lewisville, North Carolina, bid the job and was awarded the contract for all 14 bridges. “Using precast, you have the option to cast all of the parts of the structure (culvert, wing wall, wing wall footers, etc.) before the contractor moves on site,” said Nelson Fulcher, vice president of Cherry Precast. “Then, once he’s there, he can reduce the duration of time by removing the existing structure, pouring the new foundation and placing the new structure all within a couple of weeks. By doing so, the contractor reduces his overhead, traffic controls, erosion controls, manpower on site, etc.”

Custom channels

Revisiting our paradise one last time, local engineers have probably managed natural water sources in some way to make habitation possible. Custom precast concrete products enable cities to harness natural water in all sorts of ways. In California, the El Dorado Irrigation District needed a custom product for Flume 41, a section of a larger system that carries water down a mountainside to a power station.

The existing wooden flume had long since met its expiration date, but to replace the 584-ft section, a number of requirements had to be met. The precast sections needed to be lightweight, and the mix required a 6% air content to combat the freeze-thaw nature of the area, which sits at 3,000 ft directly above Riverton, California. At the precast plant, Universal Precast in Redding, California, the design was perfected by starting with 3-D modeling. After that, it was just a matter of getting the pieces cast and set.

“We had never done anything like this before, and this is the largest repair job that the district itself has done – so it was the first time for a lot of people,” said Rick Rice, project manager with ProVen Management. “It’s in a remote location, so having Universal Precast perform the work cut costs and provided better controls on batching concrete, and the wood pieces we replaced are not nearly durable enough. The precast was brilliant – everyone is extremely pleased with how the project turned out.”

Now installed, the project engineer estimates Flume 41 to have a 100-year lifespan thanks to the precaster’s quality control measures.

“Precast sections allowed for better mix control and for a higher-quality product than possible with on-site cast-in-place,” said Dave Jermstad, principal-in-charge for the design, construction administration and quality control inspection plan for Carlton Engineering. “We have had great success with the construction and performance of the precast flume sections over the past 20 years. This includes extreme exposure and incidental rock-fall or tree-fall impacts.”

Moving Water 6Just a few states to the east in Utah, Oldcastle Precast took on a waterway restoration project of its own: the reconstruction and improvement of approximately six miles of mostly open, unlined channels that feed critical water to farmers. Prompted by a deadly landslide in 2009, the precast channel provided a complete reconfiguration of the canal.

Oldcastle supplied approximately 10,000 ft of specially designed precast concrete box culvert and pipe that was used in the upper portions of the canal. To match the canal, designers beveled the majority of the segments to curve with the existing footprint until they emerge into a 66 in. concrete pipeline. During installation, the contractor was able to average more than 15 segments a day. Once installed, it was backfilled with 6 in. of road base to provide a maintenance access road and a recreational trail.

Water world

Considering that approximately 71% of the earth’s surface is covered by water and the average daily use of ground and surface water in the U.S. was around 410.6 billion gallons per day in 2005 (5), it’s no wonder we have such extensive networks to manage water. To contact a local precaster who can help you find a product suiting your water management needs, visit

Kirk Stelsel is NPCA’s director of communication and marketing.



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2nd Place 2014 National Precast Concrete Association Bumper Cars – National Playground Expo Texas

Precast Concrete Bumper Cars

Universal Precast Concrete Inc.
Project: Bumper Cars Playground Display
Location: National Playground Expo, Houston, Texas

Bumper cars have been around for many, many decades entertaining children and adults alike and earning their place in Americana. Precast concrete bumper cars, however, are something new and different altogether.

Universal Precast Concrete was approached with the idea of designing precast bumper cars to be installed as very durable and heavy duty additions to a playground concept. The customer wanted the cars to look real and also be able to withstand use from many children over the years.

Universal Precast’s designers worked on renderings and concepts that were approved by the client, which led to the next step of developing molds to pour the unique products. To successfully pour and strip the forms, elements were split into modules that were cast separately and then assembled at the plant. The cars were also given footings that were added to provide additional stability once installed.

The last step was painting the cars to ensure they resembled real bumper cars. As a finishing touch, a steel post was added to simulate the electrical connection that is synonymous with the power source of real bumper cars.

The end product was exhibited at the National Playground Expo in Houston and, thanks to the durability of precast, stands the chance of creating a legacy that lasts as long as the project’s real-life inspiration.

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2013 NPCA CUP Award Winner: 1st PLACE ABOVE GROUND

Universal Precast – Redding, CA
Project: Stagecoach Climber – This project initially started as a 30-acre community park for the town of Yucca Valley with a very conventional playground but had to be scaled back because of budget constraints. The town changed direction just prior to construction, deciding to include some themed elements that tied the playground in with the frontier history of the area. The area historically became known first as a mining town, then later for its cattle ranching. The valley was a major stage stop for bringing supplies to the region.The town determined that a stagecoach would be one of these playground pieces. The challenge was to produce a realistic, fun-for-kids playground piece while staying within budget constraints.As the modeling began, the design team at UPC Parks, a division of Universal Precast Concrete, realized that if the piece was broken up into several smaller casting pieces, they could incorporate more detail into the stagecoach.The design time for the stagecoach modeling was one month. Production time was two months including pouring the concrete and assembly. The painting and detailing took two weeks.The realism attained through the intricate design and painting of each piece adds to the authenticity of the replica. The hollow passenger compartment is complete with fully textured seats and floor. The detailed cargo compartment, with its sack of flour, trunk, strongboxes, barrel, hat boxes and canvas roll-up bring to life the frontier area.The product was installed by simply using a crane to offload it from the delivery truck and place it onto the playground. Fiber material was used to fill up to the level of the wheels to give a realistic appearance as if it had been parked on the playground.

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8 Reasons Why GCs like Precast Concrete

Successful general contractors prefer precast to minimize headaches on the job.

By Claude Goguen, P.E., LEED AP, and Chris Von Handorf, P.E.

It’s a constant challenge for producers to convince specifiers of the advantages of precast. General contractors work with all types of construction materials, but the reality is that they often propose – and prefer – precast concrete solutions based on their own experience with successful jobs. What keeps general contractors coming back to precast concrete? Hear it straight from them, and add these bullets as ammunition to your sales and marketing pitch.

Where’s the laydown yard?
Whether GCs are working in downtown Chicago or repairing existing facilities in the suburbs, adequate space for equipment and material storage is a must. Enough maneuvering room for large cranes and delivery flatbeds is always one of the contractor’s first questions. Materials for a GC’s initial tasks – work trailer siting, power access connections and excavation – require securable, safe space at the work site. Then there are space demands for steel, wood, bricks, saws, welding and fabricating machines, pipe, backfill materials, mobile cranes, man lifts, tarps for rain and space heaters for the cold. The list goes on, and we haven’t even mentioned critical items like parking space for workers and the ubiquitous (and seldom leveled) porta- potties. Everything must be easily accessible to workers, yet it cannot interfere with construction activities.

Now let’s compare the space required for precast concrete erection. Structural and architectural precast products are typically hoisted directly from the transport truck by crane or forklift and set into final position ready for service, thus eliminating the need for on-site laydown areas. That’s one less problem for the GC.

Who’s going to haul this junk to the dump?
GCs struggle to remove mountains of waste material and debris from construction sites. On large projects, pouring concrete on site can create heaps of formwork waste that must be hauled away. Not so with precast concrete – it is fabricated off site. Just-in-time finished product delivery goes hand-in-hand with minimizing site impacts. No on-site storage equals less site impact. Two more labor-intensive and potentially contract bending issues solved for the GC.

Several trades in small spaces: safety concerns
On a fast-paced project, construction sites can become overly crowded with multiple subcontractors vying for the same workspace. This worker congestion can create an environment less than conducive to safety. OSHA statistics tell us that whether on site or in a precast plant, construction workers are at a high risk for injury and even death. So how does precast concrete reduce on-site safety risks?

Precast building systems can be installed by a relatively small crew in a timely manner. Since the product is manufacturedoff site and installed quickly, there are fewer workers to bump into each other at the construction site. Intentionally or unintentionally, precasters take some of the worker-safety liability away from general contractors thanks to off-site production – a fourth avoided migraine for the GC.

“The No. 1 reason is efficiency. In construction, time is money, and precast concrete saves time, saves labor and saves money.” – Scott Sweeney, vice president, Gradex Inc.

“It’s easy to install. We can install a 200-ft run in two days instead of two weeks.” – Dave Hardin, executive vice president and chief engineer, Gohmann Asphalt and Construction Inc.

“Another advantage is that you reduce the site impact by not having to provide a level area for forms, reinforcing and truck washout.” – M ike Jaskela, sales manager, Rieth-Riley

 “Time is money” – overused expression, but still true
The use of precast concrete means there is no schedule delay or waiting around while cast-in-place concrete cures and gains strength. Precast can be delivered to the site, installed and put in service on the same day. For transportation projects, the use of precast concrete paving slabs or infrastructure products means that traffic can be reopened just a few hours after installation. Angry complaints about extended road closures from the driving public and businesses are minimized. In construction, time is money, so being able to complete projects faster can mean incentive pay and more profit for general contractors. No project delays and more profit = the fifth (and maybe the best) part for GCs.

How do I fix this fast?
Many precasters pride themselves on providing a high level of service along with their high-quality products. An overriding mantra heard throughout the industry is that producers want to “make it right” on every contract. This means not cutting corners and fixing problems the way they are supposed to be fixed.

Depending on the size of the precast operation and the type of products manufactured, precasters may designate a project manager to see projects through from the time they hit the production line and through to installation and service. Precast project managers or customer representatives will often attend job-site meetings, asking the owner and general contractor if there are any issues. In fact, some precasters today are using the same project management software as the GCs who are running the projects. Voila! Smooth supplier coordination and logistics, good communication and product service (like a thorny connection problem solved by the precast engineer): a GC’s dream – advantage six.

Wind, rain and cold: no friends of the GC
A general contractor’s greatest nemesis is the weather. It is uncontrollable and can completely ruin a project schedule. Since a big part of being a general contractor is managing risk, it makes a lot of sense to eliminate some of the uncertainty about meeting the schedule. Precast concrete virtually eliminates weather-related construction delays. Again, depending on the project, contractors may choose precast concrete over castin-place concrete to reduce some of the risks to their project schedule – the seventh incentive to stick with precast.

“Buy America” and supporting local jobs
These days, construction materials are manufactured just about everywhere. Materials can be shipped across land and sea in a matter of weeks or even days. Employing local manufacturers and supporting local job creation matters to most GCs. Moreover, there is something to be said for a GC or owner who can get in his car and drive to the precast plant to take a look at a product being manufactured for his project. This industry access is an intangible benefit that precasters offer to contractors, engineers and architects. This often overlooked perk should be used to the precaster’s advantage whenever possible, as few competing products can offer the same insight to project principals. Consider it the eighth reason why GCs like precast.

Final thoughts
All of these reasons to use precast are no-brainers for plant owners and their sales teams, but that’s exactly why they bear repeating. It’s easy to forget that the general contractors you’re selling your product to don’t know everything you know about the advantages of precast. And even if they do, it doesn’t hurt to remind them. Rather than assuming or taking for granted that these advantages are common sense, share them often.

Claude Goguen, P.E., LEED AP, is NPCA’s director of Technical Services. Chris Von Handorf, P.E., is a structural engineer with Hoch Associates in Indianapolis.

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Walk of Honor Salutes Miltary Veterans – Article in Precast Inc. Magazine

Our project for the Veterans Walk of Honor in the City of Anderson was featured as a Project Profile in the Precast Inc. Magazine. We manufactured a 72-ft- long x 20-ft-high wall of the American flag as well as 6-ft-tall precast letters, a 8-ft-tall bald eagle sculpture- and a custom precast monument sign. Please take a look at our article to view photos of the project as well as a more in depth description of the precast memorial we created.

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Heritage Bark Park – Article in Landscape Architect Magazine

Please take a moment to read this article which showcases the dog themed site furnishings we did for Heritage Bark Park in the Las Vegas Valley.

We created custom dog bone benches for the seating areas to help bring the theme of the park alive.

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Adventure Isles – Article in Landscape Architect Magazine

The themed sculptures we did for Shasta Community Park in Sacramento, CA was featured in an article in the Landscape Architect Magazine!

We were able to help the vision of two playgrounds inspired by the classic adventure stories of Swiss Family Robinson and Treasure Island come alive with our sculptures.

Click here to read the full article. 

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California Custom – Article in Precast Inc. Magazine

Universal Precast Concrete is on the cover of Precast Inc. Magazine!

Please take a moment to read this article about our company. It showcases our success in the midst of the economic recession, largely because of our niche as producers of highly customized precast concrete products while offering cost savings and faster turnaround time to our customers.

At Universal Precast, taking care of our customers by offering them high quality precast products at a cheaper price than our competitors truly is our top priority and the reason behind our success. This article, by reporter Kirk Stelsel, truly encompasses what our company is all about.

Click here to read the full article. 

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