When you think of the people you call to fix things in need of repair, do you think of them as artists? Unless you’ve had the luck to encounter a particularly creative auto mechanic, handyman, plumber, or general contractor, your answer to that question is likely somewhere around “no.” Most likely, you think of them as repair technicians – professionals who use specific technical expertise to fix what’s broken.
In many situations, you’d be right. In those situations, making repairs is as simple as carrying out certain activities in a certain order: press a button, adjust a setting, do this, do that, press a different button. These kinds of solutions can be written out in an instruction manual, so that anyone and everyone can recreate the process, knowing that doing X and then Y creates Z.
As the Liftech team has learned, however, using polyurethane to repair concrete isn’t something that can be captured in an instruction manual. In fact, while it’s absolutely a science, it’s also very much an art: one that requires experience-based judgment, creative problem-solving, patience, dedication, and serious attention to detail. And while we won’t call ourselves artists, it’s worth calling out the artistry that goes into the work the Liftech team completes every day.
New Technology – and No Instruction Manual
When it comes to residential use, polyurethane concrete raising, repair, and stabilization is still an incredibly new technology. Here at Liftech, we’re immensely proud of being one of only three companies in Colorado that are certified and authorized to install polyurethane systems specifically designed for geotechnical (in-ground) applications. With Liftech’s founding in 2012, we became pioneers in leveraging the technology for residential, commercial, and municipal repairs throughout the Denver metro and beyond.
Though polyurethane technology has itself been around for a couple of decades, up until recently, it was too expensive to be used on anything but large commercial projects. Fortunately for sagging driveways and sunken floors everywhere, the patent ran out, allowing companies like Liftech to embrace, innovate, and perfect the technology for residential, municipal, and commercial use.
The newness of our technology means that knowledge about it is both hard to come by and closely held. That means that – though the Liftech team draws on knowledge and hands-on experience gained from other relevant areas (e.g., construction, landscaping, and other industries featuring significant in-ground work) – 100% of our team’s polyurethane injection knowledge and experience comes from their direct, first-hand experience serving Liftech’s customers. Luckily, over the past several years, we’ve learned a tremendous amount about what works, what doesn’t, and how to problem-solve as we go.
Liftech Lead Technician Jamie Alackness explains that it’s an ongoing challenge to find anyone outside of Liftech who’ll provide advice or guidance about the polyurethane injection process. Says Jamie, “It’s so unknown. Most of the guys that have been doing it for awhile hold what they know really close. You can watch videos all day long on YouTube on how to do this, but there’s a lot of trial and error. It’s a whole lot of luck and a good bit of know-how. If you don’t do it every single day of the week, you lose it really fast. It’s a lot of feel. It’s as much an art as it is a skill.”
Listening to the Concrete
Among the biggest lessons we’ve learned? Getting the “art” of concrete repair right indeed requires a great deal of hands-on experience, ongoing adjustment, patience, and attention to detail. At the heart of this lesson: learning to listen to what the concrete tells us.
During a recent polyurethane injection process to lift the sagging floor of the office of a construction business, Jamie drills a series of holes in the floor in locations he selects strategically. His colleague, Kody James, follows closely behind, installing specially designed ports that allow them to inject the polyurethane foam to the appropriate depth.
Working slowly and deliberately, Jamie uses a hydraulic pump to dispense Liftech’s heated and pressurized North Carolina Foam, Inc., (NCFI) chemical foam into each of the ports. After making each injection, he shuts off the pressure, bending his ear toward the ground, listening and watching for any changes at the floor’s edges. With the pump still installed on the port, he makes another measured injection, again pausing to watch, listen, and survey the floor. Eventually, Jamie will move to the next port, working his way around the floor in a considered circuit. Each time Jamie finishes with a port, Kody drills it out, removes the used port, and installs a fresh one. Kody will uncomplainingly uninstall and reinstall some of these ports three, four, or five times – whatever’s required until Jamie is satisfied with the results.
Leveling a sunken floor is precision work. If you inject too much, there’s no fix. That’s why our Liftech teams work slowly and deliberately, listening, watching, waiting, and using their first-hand experience to judge how to proceed and when to stop. Having done polyurethane injection for Liftech for well over two years, Jamie’s an old hand. He works confidently but painstakingly, careful to let the concrete guide him.
Experience-based Instinct and Artistry
While Jamie acknowledges the artistry of what he does, he’s clear-sighted in his assessment of what it takes to succeed in using the technology: “To do this and be successful at it, you better have a whole lot of experience in a whole lot of everything.”
Jamie is himself a former contractor, well-versed in the niceties of concrete and other building materials as well as the structural considerations and requirements surrounding them. Kody, too, is no stranger to working below ground. He says, “I was a landscaper before I came to this business. I’ve got a feel for moving dirt, and moving heavy things.”
Jamie details the resumes of some of the other Liftech leads: “The other lead tech – he was in metal recycling before this. He’s pretty well-rounded. The head of structural was an oilfield worker, so once again, another guy who’s done everything. Those guys do a lot of seat-of-their-pants type stuff.” Jamie then pinpoints the true lesson at the center of concrete repair artistry: He says, “You’ve got to be able to problem-solve all the time and make the best of what you’ve got.”
Redefining the Instruction Manual
If there’s an instruction manual for Liftech’s innovative concrete raising, repair, and stabilization techniques, we’re the ones writing it. But it’ll be a different kind of manual. Because even though there are parts of our work we can explain on paper – press button A, wait for B to happen, then do C – there’s a massive part of the manual that will exist only in the minds of our highly experienced technicians.