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RAINWATER LEAKS AND SEAPAGE IN CONCRETE SLABS Some thoughts by Pierr de Wet - M.

Sc (PM) Introduction: A while ago my wife had to park our metallic paint vehicle in a basement parking lot for a whole day. A few days later I noticed a lime like residue on the bonnet and considering possibilities of its origins, I asked her about it. Her response was that she noticed water had leaked from the ceiling of the parking basement but she did not give it much thought. How could I tell my wife she should have wiped the water off immediately to prevent damage to the paintwork? Very simple, she does not possess my knowledge and experience but she does now! This may be a very frustrating experience to many office workers and commuters who has to make use of concrete parking lots and experience damage to the paintwork of vehicles. A common scapegoat is found in the bad workmanship of the contractor who most probably did not follow specifications, designs or cheated on quality. Well, I agree there are charlatans in the construction industry but somewhat differ from this perception when it concerns well-established major construction companies who make the industry their long term livelihood. You will soon read why and in an unbiased manner then judge for yourself. For a person to understand why the seemingly clear water that drips onto your vehicle leaves hard white marks when dry, one has to investigate this a bit. I know that it is fairly easy to remove the white stains when you regularly polish your vehicle but when last did you apply some polish? Please take note that hair cracks can also form when rapid hardening cement is used in concrete. This can be a contributing factor to water seeping through an unprotected concrete slab. Some explanations of technical terms: I am not a chemist, geologist or engineer and do not purport to be one and will thus keep explanations as simple as possible least I am found guilty of something. After all, the purpose of this article is to make a reader in the street who sometimes wonders about things, think a little and contemplate on some new knowledge. OPC is the acronym for ordinary Portland cement and it does not need any further introduction because most people have used it some or other time and know it is supposed to become rock hard after mixing with water. I say supposed to because as dry cement gets older, it loses its hardening properties and you may end up with brittle concrete if you use the half pocket of cement that has been standing in the garage for more than a year. ASR stands for alkali-silica reaction and is caused by a chemical reaction between alkaline cement and reactive forms of silica in the sand and stone in a wet concrete mix. Certain conditions are required for ASR to take place, namely; sufficiently high alkaline cement, a reactive silica aggregate (stone and/or sand) and water The cement and aggressive silica, when mixed with water, form an expanding gel that takes up volume and result in concrete cracking when dry. This expansion process takes place over time and can occur well after the initial hardening period of cast concrete. Quartzite rock is the most common coarse aggregate (stone) used in concrete in Namibia and it contains silica. And so does the bulk of our sand. The most aggressive form of silica is found in chert, which is commonly found in dolomitic rock in Namibia and in weathered rock found in riverine sand pits. We therefore have concrete stone and sand that are not best mates with cement. One then has to expect problems and this may cause small cracks called map cracks, which is visible on the

underside of concrete slabs. If the small cracks are not a result of normal shrinkage, the learned people call it ASR damage. What happens when water falls on concrete suffering from ASR? If a concrete slab is exposed to the environment, water sometimes accumulates on top. Concrete is porous and absorbs water if not waterproofed or if admixtures preventing water ingress, is not added to the concrete mixture prior to casting. I previously mentioned that the ASR reaction takes place after the initial hardening of the concrete because sufficient aggressive silica and an alkaline environment remain present. This reaction can take place for years after the concrete had been cast and some of the water soluble and water born chemical reagents leach out through the small cracks. This can be seen as white, lime like veins and deposits and water dripping from the tips, to the underside of concrete slabs. In severe cases stalactites can form below these cracks and stalagmites on surfaces below it. Can ASR be prevented? There are limitations to preventing it in total; Namibia only has limited coarse and fine aggregates or sand and stone deposits suitable for use in concrete and some contain aggressive silica, the importation of top quality stone and sand, which is very heavy, from afar is a cost limiter (concrete stone used in the Northern regions of Namibia is sourced from Tsumeb) and cement, the key component of concrete, is alkaline. Our cement and stone and its properties are thus given factors about which we cannot do much and have to live with. But, before you stop reading, we can do something about an unwilling partner in construction by dressing it up a bit. A first step is the addition of chemical substances that limit ASR and the progression thereof and a second, waterproofing of concrete slabs exposed to the environment. Both these steps are costly and waterproofing a concrete slab has further limitations with regards bonding of for example tiles to the waterproofing cover. Very expensive waterproofing products carry a 20 year guarantee. Is the contractor an innocent scapegoat? It is expected of the contractor to build a structure to the design and specification and sometimes requirements of the client. The contractor is under obligation to execute the works in strict accordance and tolerance parameters of those designs. Testing of constructed works and acceptance is carried out by outside parties and any deviations beyond those designs and tolerances result in a replacement at the contractors expense. From his experience, the contractor may suggest alternatives but remains under obligation to construct what is required. The next time you see white veins on the underside of a concrete slab, think about why it is there and why something could or could not be done about you having white marks on your vehicle paintwork. Is the contractor innocent? Closing thoughts: Very few people can lay claim to being specialists and extremely knowledgeable in the construction industry. Although I have many years of experience in the total built environment, Im still experiencing new things and therefore remain a student. So, if you want to question my findings or viewpoints on white veins (technically called efflorescence) rather spend the time and find a permanent, cost effective and affordable solution to the problem. An interesting titbit: OPC was only developed roundabout 1907 and as far as I could determine, used in Namibia for the first time between 1911 and 1912 and thus with us for a millennium.