How to get design economy with precast

I often get calls from people who are looking to use precast on a building and want to know “how much is the precast panel”.  Fair question, although it is difficult to know unless you have enough information.  There are numerous factors that affect the cost, such as openings, colored concrete mix design, cast-in items, etc. In this blog post, I am going to speak about the two main factors that affect the cost.

Impact of Repetition

Precast pricing is primarily determined by size and repetition.  Think about repetition in regards to form or mold costs.  Let’s say you have a form cost of $25,000 for a 12’x30’ panel and you pour only one panel. 12×30=360 square feet.  Take $25,000 and divide it by 360sf=$69.44 per square foot just for the forming cost and nothing has been produced yet.  Now let’s pour ten panels on that same form. $25,000 divided by 3600sf=$6.94 per square foot.  The more repetitive the panels, the more economical it becomes.

Erection Cost – Impact of Panel Size

So how about the size of the panel?  Two of the main factors that determine panel size is trucking and field erecting.  Once the panels are too big to get two per truck load, the old theory of bigger is better takes over.  If it costs $500 for each truck, the shipping costs per square foot go down as the panel gets bigger.  The crane and crew is a fixed cost and we will look at how that relates to panel size.  We will use the crane and crew at $1,000 per hour and a set rate of 8 panels per day/1 per hour.  8’x30’ panel=240sf and divide that by the $1,000=$4.17 per square foot.  12’x30’ panel=360sf and divide that by the $1,000=2.78 per square foot.


As I mentioned earlier, there are numerous factors that affect the cost.  We want the design team to be creative in their design and use architectural features as they see fit, but if you also want economy, consult your precast professional early to help with the panel size and repetition so that you may get the most out of your precast.

Steve Olson
Sales Representative

Wells – A Certified PCI Erector!

For those of you who do not know what PCI stands for, the abbreviation stands for Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute. PCI was started in 1954 to help develop a body of knowledge as a technical institute regarding pre-tensioned bonded prestressed concrete. The Institution has grown considerably over the past 63 years and has put a heavy focus on education, quality and certification of precast companies that choose to be members of PCI.

One of the areas Wells has focused on, along with quality and education, is in certification. Ever since the qualified and certified erector programs were introduced, Wells has chosen to take on the more challenging certified erector status, in fact Wells was one of the first companies to become a certified erector in 2005. We are now entering into our 12th year as a certified erector and we have every intention of keep this going strong.

As we know, the erection process is the last critical piece to client satisfaction. The client and the architect have a lot of time invested in picking colors, finishes and openings – sometimes starting a year prior to erection. Customers should find comfort that as a certified erector, pieces are handled properly and are installed by well-trained erectors who understand every aspect of lifting, swinging and setting their designed components into place. Each field crew has their job site audited twice a year by a third party PCI-certified auditor. Corrective action must take place if deficiencies are found by the auditor. The managerial and administrative part of the erection process is also audited once per year by a third party PCI auditor to ensure that the proper paperwork, safety qualifications and reporting is documented and stored correctly for the audited projects.

Wells is a 12+ year certified erector, and with us the customer and architect can rest assured that their dream will be become an installed reality!

Jesse Hiller
VP – Erection/Field Services

How Precast Concrete can solve all of your Energy Code Problems!

As the energy codes seem to be a constantly moving target, there is one component of design that does seem to be constant. Everyone wants an envelope that is efficient and economical. At the same time it needs to be architecturally pleasing! This is where an insulated architectural precast sandwich panel becomes a very friendly building material.

Let’s first look at the footing to wall condition that has for so long involved the insulation changing planes as we pass from the footing to the wall. The new codes no longer allow this, so we are having to get inventive with how we turn foundation insulation and try to find a way to tuck it under the exterior skin, which is not always easy to draw or build in the field. With an insulated precast wall panel, the panel can be taken to a bearing elevation of -3’0” or wherever it is needed in your area of the country and the integral insulation stays continuous from footing to parapet!

Secondly, let’s talk about glazing and other wall penetrations. With other wall systems it is often that the thermal break in the glazing system is not in the same plane as the wall insulation. Even with a ‘rain screen’ system you have a step in the thermal break from the insulation that is outboard of the vapor barrier and the thermal break in the window frame. This is just another area in which a precast insulated wall panel solves the issue. With insulation being edge to edge and corner to corner in the panel and in thicknesses from 2”-6” you can set your window frames or other openings such that the thermal break in your glazing pocket will always be in the same plane as your wall insulation.

Lastly, and probably the most difficult, let’s look at the roof/parapet condition. In many of the standard roof to structural support walls we find small interruptions of the roof to wall insulation. In most cases there is a structural material that the roof insulation will terminate into and the wall insulation is outboard of that. This small break will allow for thermal transfer into conditioned space and often causes ‘sweating’ on interior walls. When we consider the makeup of an insulated precast wall panel (with an interior structural wythe, insulation layer, and exterior architectural wythe) we have the ability to create very simple transitions from roof to wall insulation. One very common and simple detail is to ‘hold down’ the interior structural wythe for the bearing of the roof deck material so that the insulation on the roof can continue over top of the integral insulation in the wall. Another commonly used detail is to continue the roof insulation up the backside and over the top of the insulated sandwich panel and then using blocking and a typical parapet cap to cover the top of wall.  The roof membrane and insulation is all tucked into/under that parapet cap and make for a thermally unbroken transition from roof to wall.

Even though the idea of an insulated precast sandwich wall panel is not ‘new’ to the design community, there have been several advancements in how the panels are tied together with different connectors, and the amount and types of architectural finishes that are available today for the exterior wythe are tenfold what they were even 15 years ago. So if you have a project you are working on and are struggling with how to solve the continuous insulation dilemma please contact your local precast and ask for some design assistance. You might find that this product is just the solution you were looking for!

Curt Gear
Director of Business Development – IA

A World of Precast

The precast concrete industry offers an incredibly diverse range of building and infrastructure products to architects, engineers, DOTs, contractors and homeowners. From structural frameworks and architectural flourishes to septic tanks and bridges, no other building material is as dynamic as precast concrete. You can find precast in many projects all over the world, and some of them truly stunning works of art.

Habitat 67 – Montréal, Canada

Habitat 67 began as a master’s thesis project in 1961 by Israeli/Canadian architect Moshe Safdie for his architecture program at McGill University. The driving idea and theme behind the design was that of providing a high density apartment building that would provide residents with privacy, along with peace and quiet. Eventually he was invited to develop his idea with his former thesis adviser, Louis Kahn, for Expo 67, the world’s fair that was set to take place in Montreal in 1967.
The apartment complex had 354 prefabricated units, initially forming 158 apartments; some units have since been combined for larger options and the complex now contains 146 residences. The project pioneered the design and implementation of three-dimensional prefabricated units of habitation. Every part of the building, including units, pedestrian streets and elevator cores, are load-bearing members, and units are connected to each other by post-tensioning, high tension rods, cables and welding, in order to form a continuous suspension system throughout the complex.

The project contains:

158 residences are located within the structure.
354 house units
18 street girders
6 cantilever girders
7 stair shafts
6 elevator shafts
24 precast columns
4 walkway bridges

Habitat 67 became a thematic pavilion at the world’s fair, visited by thousands of visitors who came from around the world, and during the expo also served as the temporary residence of the many dignitaries visiting Montreal.

Architect: Moshe Safdie and David, Barott, Boulva
Structural Engineer: Dr. August E. Komendant and Monti, Lavoie, Nadon
Mechanical Engineer: Huza & Thibault
Electrical Engineer: Nicholas Fodor & Associates
General Contractor: Anglin-Norcross
Precast Concrete: Francon (1966) Ltd.
Project cost: $13.5 million

Megan Nesius
Marketing Coordinator

Customizable for Your Job

Large-scale infrastructure demands usually include a unique look and feel for the building in order for it to stand out and fit the nature of the company paying for its new construction. These prerequisites allow precast concrete to shine, from small unique locations to custom large-scale construction, because it has the ability to make any design unique with its many different shapes, colors, and sizes.

LiftStation No. 12 – Dicksinson, ND

Precast construction is built with molds and forms, which are manufactured in all kinds of curves, bends, angles, and different designs. By working with a precast manufacturer during the planning stage, the customer/client can achieve the most cost efficient layout with the use of many different precast products. A construction project can turn to precast concrete for every aspect of a building, if desired, to streamline the drawing approval process as well as the overall construction process.

Custom molds allow the smallest and the largest-scale construction projects to have a custom element, and the use of master molds can allow for variance so a project has an appealing design that blends in with its surrounding areas. The molding process allows precast concrete to be a very versatile and cost effective product when panel repetition is achieved. It is always recommended when in the planning stage that you consult with your local precast consultant to achieve the most efficient layout and finishes that appeal to all parties involved

Scott Monzelowsky

Precast vs. Wood

Why Choose Precast?

There is a trend around this country to build high-rise, high-density housing out of wood. These type of structures are commonly built on top of a pedestal, which is typically precast concrete. I received an email from some of our friends at Metromont sharing an article from a local publication. The article pertains to a Raleigh, NC apartment fire in March and states that firefighting groups have expressed concern over the growth of these multi-family wood structures.

The article points out several notable fires that have occurred in these modern wood-framed buildings and a recent fire in New Jersey in 2016 is causing the state to consider toughening its building codes. The article also references a group called Fire Engineering, which publishes a magazine for fire service workers. Fire Engineering has articles and videos on its website explaining the construction of mid-rise wood-frame buildings and describes the hazards these fire fighters can encounter when fighting these fires.

We see these types of structures being built today in our Midwestern cities. Wells has been providing the “pedestals” for these structures and often the area under the pedestal is for parking as the precast provides fire protection to the wood structure above.

Recently a change was lobbied through the international and state building codes that allows an increase in the number of levels that can be built with wood-frame buildings. Those who are building multi-level wood structures say the building types are economical to build because of savings in labor and materials, compared to concrete and steel. Also, they say they are more “green” because wood is a renewable resource.

As precasters, we have to ask a very important question: Does the cost savings in these mid-rise wood buildings outweigh the durability and safety that our concrete buildings offer? More importantly, why not concrete?

Gregg Jacobson
VP Operations

Thin brick within precast wall panels

A large topic of discussion within some of our recent plant tours has been “How do you cast thin brick into a precast panel?” The answer is fairly simple. The process consists of three products; concrete, thin brick (of a desired color, texture, and size), along with a single-use liner to keep consistent mortar joints while the panels are cast. Thin Brick precast systems can achieve the beauty and durability of a regular brick building without compromising quality or aesthetics. Well Concrete only uses thin brick vendors that meet or exceed all ASTM requirements and allowances.

Brick liners are designed so the brick will sit flat in the cavity to inhibit the problems caused by floating bricks. This in turn saves on labor time and money. To enhance in-place installation, thin brick vendors supply a keyway or channel in the backside of the brick which provides a mechanical lock in the concrete for maximum durability and performance.  Vendors also offer waxed brick faces for easy cleanup of any concrete bleeding that may occur during the casting process. A pressure washer is used to remove the wax after the panels are stripped from the precast beds.

Aesthetically pleasing around opening and corners thin brick vendors
also offer corner brick and edge cap to keep a consistent brick look within openings that are recessed in the panels (see picture). Not a fan of grey mortar joints? We can use a certain mix design or color to match the brick or accent colors within the same panel.

Zac Zimmerman

“Because we care about each other.”

May 1 – 5 is Construction Safety Week. While dedicating a week to showcase construction safety and emphasize its importance is great, I will be quick to add that at Wells, safety is an area of focus every week. I’ll spare you the litany of things we’re doing to promote employee safety – the list is long, impressive, and costly. Rather, I would like to share an anecdote that gives insight from at least one employee’s perspective.

During our annual “Safety Days” meeting in March, we gather all of our field services personnel (i.e., the men and women responsible for erecting the building / structure).  The purpose of “Safety Days” are to (1) refresh various OSHA required trainings, (2) maintain qualified / authorized certifications, and (3) give our field crews the opportunity to interact with one another and strengthen teambuilding.

At the kickoff, imagine 150 field services employees gathered together in a large room. Then go further and imagine that these are individuals who tend to be somewhat stoic, yet brutally honest – if they disagree with you they’ll let you know. After some introductory comments on some of the strides we’ve made in employee safety through the years, a field safety manager was addressing the employees and asked, “What is the primary reason we’ve seen such a significant improvement in our safety culture?”

“Because we care about each other,” replied one employee.

An honest and genuine opinion, and one that resonated throughout the room as soon as it was said. More importantly it’s a reinforcement of our company values relating to employee safety and well being. We truly care about each other, and honest, dedicated teamwork is one of the most important building blocks to a successful safety program.

Mark Del Vecchio
Vice President – Human Resources, Health, and Safety

A celebration of precast

Wells Concrete was founded on the concept of prestressed concrete 60 years ago. So with that in mind, here are a few fun facts related to prestressed concrete.

Eugene Freyssinet

Did you know? Prestress concrete has been around since the late 19th century.

Did you know? A French Engineer/Builder by the name of Eugene Freyssinet converted the concept of prestressing into a practical reality using those concepts in the early twentieth century in the design and building of bridges.

Did you know? Prestressing did not come to the US till after WWII, where it then started to flourish; people started to see alternative applications for prestressed concrete.

Did you know? PCI was formed in 1954, with the 1st PCI journal being published in 1956.


History of Prestress Concrete – The First Fifty Years Video

Some interesting facts from 60 years ago:

•  Average Cost of gas .24 cents/gallon
•  Average Cost of a new home $12,200
•  Average yearly wage – $4,550
•  1957 was the peak of the Baby Boomer years (1946-1964)
•  Wham-O introduced the first Frisbee.
•  American Bandstand debut.



Rick Girard
Greater Minnesota/Central Wisconsin

What is the difference between precast concrete construction vs. traditional construction?

When comparing traditional construction versus precast concrete construction the biggest difference is time; precast construction can save you time on-site. Precast construction typically works heavily with the design team in early stages of the project development, and these efforts up front will save time and money for the overall project schedule in the long run.  With layout coordinated up front the building process can be accelerated, which will get the building enclosed quicker than traditional construction.

Take for example a school gymnasium: to construct this with block and brick, the schedule could take months to get enclosed. However, using precast gymnasium walls it can be enclosed in 2-3 weeks depending on the size and complexity of the project.  By having the building enclosed the overall project can us these areas for staging areas for other trades and adds to the security for their materials.  Plus, precast walls can be erected in all temperatures versus having to heat and hoard for your traditional construction methods in the winter months.  This saves time on the project, which in turn saves money.  By accelerating the project schedule, this can also save the project money by lessening the amount of general conditions that are needed for the overall project.

Ben Ahneman
Vice President – Project Management (Fargo)

Don’t waste your time!

In this blog, I will discuss ways to improve your time management habits and ways you can eliminate distractions from our day that cause stress and unproductivity.

Be proactive with your time:
Lack of planning is the cause of many failures.”– Brian Tracy
Take a few minutes at the end of each day to prepare your schedule for the following day. List all important activities and appointments. This will help you understand how much you need to complete the following day, expose any schedule conflicts, and allow for rescheduling if necessary. Being prepared for tomorrow helps eliminate unnecessary anxiety about what the next day will bring and how you will get it all done. Preparing your schedule in advance puts you in control of your time.

Stay focused on your job:
“Think of many things; do one.” Portuguese proverb

Staying task focused can be difficult in today’s office environment. Distractions from coworkers, emails, phone calls, text messages, and social media compete for our attention every minute. Too many distractions can cause us to be unproductive and inaccurate. Dr. Gloria Mark, Professor of Informatics at the University of CA, Irvine, says it takes an average of 23 minutes for a person to regain focus on a task after being distracted. If you are easily distracted, try some of the following tips.

  • Close your office door for a part of the day to avoid inner office distractions. If you work in an open-office, try working from home or at a library when you are time pressed to complete an important assignment.
  • Arrive at the office early or stay late to avoid the peak office hours. I have found that my concentration and productivity increases significantly after my coworkers are gone for the day.
  • Temporarily turning off your phone and disabling email notifications is helpful to stay focused while working. Checking and returning phone calls and emails in 30 to 60 minute intervals throughout the day will allow you to be more efficient.
  • There are times when you may want to avoid lengthy conversations with coworkers that are unrelated to work. Extended conversations about the weather or the big game wastes precious time. Limiting non-work related conversations can improve your productivity, and also your coworkers.

Don’t waste time:
“My most favorite things in life don’t cost any money. It’s really clear the most important resource we have is time.” – Steve Jobs

We only have the limited amount of time, so we need to use it wisely. The Overload Research Group estimates that U.S. workers waste about 25% of their time with non-work related activities, costing their employers $997 billion a year. They found that the average employee spends at least an hour a day on personal email, text messaging, social media, and surfing the internet. Given the blurred-lines between personal and business communications and the use of smartphones in the office environment, it is difficult to monitor and enforce policies on their use.  A better way is to encourage personal restraint. If you find yourself wasting time on your smart phone here are a few tips to help manage it.

  • Break the habit of checking your smartphones during meetings or in the presence of coworkers and customers.
  • Turn off your smartphone or leave it in your car when you have a deadline. Turn off the cellular data, which will allow you to receive phone calls, but not allow access to the internet.
  • Make a commitment not to use social media during business hours. If necessary, remove social media applications from your smart phone.
  • Schedule a personal email/social media check-in time once or twice a day during your lunch hour or break time.

We all need rest:
“You can’t soar with the eagles if you are hooting with the owls.” – Unknown author.

Physical and mental rest is the most commonly overlooked aspects of health. If we expect to perform at our best during the weekdays, we need to take time to rest at night and on the weekends. Even if you eat well and exercise, but do not get proper rest you may be damaging your health and affecting your quality of life. Even missing 1 hour of sleep can have a negative impact on you attentiveness. Lack of sleep can affect your ability process information and lead to making bad decisions. Sleep loss can contribute to the development of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. According to the AAA Foundation, 21% of all fatal crashes involve a drowsy driver. Just as we need to make an effort to get physical exercise, we need to be proactive in getting rest. Here are some suggestions on how to make time for rest:

  • A day of rest. Take a day each week to rest from your work. Spend time with family, go to church, read a book, pray or meditate, choose an activity that will bring you physical and mental rest.
  • Establish a regular sleep time that will allow you at least 7 hours of sleep.
  • Create an optimal sleep environment. Be sure to turn the television off and put down the smartphone after a designated sleep time.
  • Avoid caffeinated beverages late in the day that could affect your quality of sleep.
  • Take a 15-minute break in the middle of the day to go for a walk or listen to music. Taking a short break is a good way to refresh our focus, creativeness and motivation.
  • Regular exercise is important for good sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, people sleep significantly better and feel more alert during the day if they get at least 150 minutes of exercise a week.

Exercise for tomorrow:

“It doesn’t matter how slow you go just don’t stop.” Confucius

No schedule is complete without including time to exercise. In fact, exercise may be the most important thing we do all day to improve our quality of life for tomorrow. There are immediate and long-term health benefits from physical activity. Exercise helps control our weight, reduces the risk of diseases, improves our mood and tolerance for stress, increases our energy levels, and supports better sleep just to name a few benefits. Starting an exercise routine can be fun. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Shoot for 30 minutes of physical activity each day.
  • Start small and gradually increase your exercise intensity. This way you will not become discouraged or injure yourself. Start with 10 minutes per day and gradually work up to 30 minutes or more.
  • Find an exercise partner to keep you motivated. We are more likely to stick with an exercise program if we can enjoy social interaction along the way.
  • Keep a journal of your activities so you can track your improvements. Note how you feel before and after exercising. Measure your waistline and weigh yourself regularly to monitor your progress.
  • Pick up a hobby that is going to get you moving. Try walking, hiking, biking, running or swimming. Doing a physical activity you enjoy will make your workout routine easier to maintain.
  • Make exercise a priority. Wake up a few minutes earlier, or sneak away over the lunch hour for a workout. Nothing in your schedule should be more important than exercise.


Bob Geil
Sales – Twin Cities



The Benefits of a Precast Wall Panel System

When considering the best options for your building project, the benefits of going with a concrete wall panel system are many. Listed below are several important advantages.

Energy Efficiency–Precast walls are energy efficient due to a high thermal mass that enables materials to absorb and store temperatures at a more constant rate. With this system, it reduces the fluctuation of temperatures within the building.

Environmental Soundness–Since precast wall panels are manufactured in a production facility, the impact that these panels impose onsite is minimal. This helps reduce the space needed on a job site.

Aesthetically Pleasing–Precast wall panels can be customized to the architect’s or owner’s desire. Some architectural features that can be found in a wall panel system include bullnoses, reveals, chamfers, and a vast assortment of form liners.

Minimal Maintenance Needed–Maintenance may include occasional cleaning and possibly maintaining the caulk joints over several years. With a precast wall panel system, very little maintenance is needed over its life span.

Swiftness of Construction–Whether it be an interior or exterior wall panel system, these systems can be installed in a quick process without involving multiple trades.  By eliminating the use of other trades, a wall panel system can decrease the overall cost of the project.

There are several aspects to consider when building. Many advantages can be enjoyed by owners, architects, and engineers by choosing a concrete wall panel system.

Ryan Paulouski, Field Supervisor