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2

Plastic and thermal cracking


Richard Day and John Clarke

2.1 Introduction
Reinforced concrete is a composite material where load-bearing and deformation properties are determined by the behaviour between the elements steel and concrete as well as the individual constituents of these elements, particularly those of the concrete. Concrete, at all ages, has a low tensile strength compared to the compressive strength. Under load, the tensile strain builds in the tensile zone. This tensile strain is taken up by the reinforcement but it is inevitable that regular but controlled cracking will occur. This is accounted for as part of the structural design process, where the crack widths are limited by an appropriate area of reinforcement suitable to the working environment. Tensile strain and the possibility of cracking (flexural, shear, torsion, anchorage failure etc.) do not only occur due to structural loading. Micro-cracks will develop in the concrete at the interfaces between the steel and cement paste and aggregate, although only visible through a microscope, due to internal shrinkage etc. This type of cracking is not covered here. Cracks can develop at the unformed surface of immature concrete due to a rapid reduction of volume at the surface (plastic shrinkage). If a concrete bleeds excessively, the denser particles tend to settle over embedded materials, e.g. the reinforcement, causing the near surface to tear (plastic settlement). In these cases the reinforcement does not generally take up any tensile strain, although may affect the crack pattern developed. Cracks can also be associated with temperature cycles, either from the hydrating concrete at early ages or solar gain (thermal), where restraint against movement prevents expansion or contraction so that tensile strain is induced. Here the reinforcement accommodates the