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Concrete Materials

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

To Evelyn

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

Concrete Materials
Problems and solutions


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Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.



1 Concrete materials
1.1 OPC, strength gain and sulfate and frost resistance
1.2 OPC and curing
1.3 Aggregates and frost damage
1.4 Air-entraining agents and frost damage
1.5 Alkali-silica reaction
1.6 Calcium chloride
1.7 Aluminous cement
1.8 Steel reinforcement: additional requirements
1.9 Excess steel reinforcement
1.10 GRC and alkali-glass reaction
1.11 Fibre-reinforced sandwich panels
1.12 Delayed ettringite formation

2 Health and safety

2.1 Cement eczema
2.2 Cement burns
2.3 Pumping grout

3 Concrete on site
3.1 Covercrete d or k
3.2 Spacers for rebars
3.3 Tiling and moisture in floors
3.4 Flatness of floors
3.5 Flatness of formwork
3.6 Joints between precast paving and between kerbs
3.7 Tolerances
3.8 Rising damp and a chemical barrier
3.9 Cracking in the non-visual zone

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3.10 Large-area scaling of floors
3.11 Silanes

4 Specification problems
4.1 The CE mark
4.2 Durability
4.3 Concrete quality
4.4 Specifying strength

5 Precast concrete
5.1 Hydration staining
5.2 Lime bloom
5.3 Colour variations
5.4 Cracking and slenderness ratio
5.5 Thermal cracking in pipes
5.6 Tunnel segment impact damage
5.7 Tesserae detachment

6 Testing
6.1 Labcrete or realcrete
6.2 Design or performance
6.3 Camouflage testing
6.4 Repeatability and reproducibility
6.5 Changes in testing
6.6 Testing fixation
6.7 Testing accuracy


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In more than 40 years experience in the construction industry, I have spent

a lot of time in what is commonly known as troubleshooting: on site with
works in progress, on completed projects, and sometimes even on an
occupied building or civil engineering project.
The advice I gave to the party raising the problem was usually based on
materials science. My main aims were to explain the mechanisms that I
thought had caused the effect, and to suggest possible remedial measures.
With the wide spectrum of problems that I have encountered, I felt that I
could make a useful contribution to the concrete industry by setting these
experiences down on paper.
This book is the result. Each chapter deals with a particular problem
area, organised into sections that are generally relevant to that chapter.
While I was deciding how best to organise the material, my attention was
drawn to the Building Research Establishments Defect Action Sheets.
These DASs ceased issue in March 1990, but their formatillustrating a
problem, dealing with its cause(s), and offering remedial proposalswas
very useful. Following this vein, I have described each problem on the
basis of personal experience, with sections discussing identification,
remedial measures, and avoidance. In most sections these three items form
the final paragraphs. However, in problem areas that generated secondary
problems, the three items have sometimes been discussed with each of the
The book reflects personal experience, with a description of the best
specific solutions that were found. The hardest part of problem solving is
identification, and this is often aggravated by there being more than one
damaging mechanism present. Therefore I make no guarantee that the
recommendations in this book will always work.
A significant degree of overlap between chapters was unavoidable. If a
problem is described in a particular chapter, it does not mean that the
problem could not or does not occur elsewhere. For example, lime bloom
is discussed in Chapter 5 (Precast concrete), but it is also known to occur

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

with in-situ concrete. However, it is not as much of a problem as it is for
precast concrete products.
A basic knowledge and appreciation of aspects of materials science is
essential in dealing with these problems. Architectural preferences and
engineering matters are not my discipline, and have been largely avoided.
Even so, most problems that arose were probably due to a lack of mutual
understanding between the various professions involved.
The causes of most problems are to be found in design, workmanship or
materials. The division between design and workmanship is not very
distinct, but together these two account for over 80% of problems. It is
unfortunate that materials have received, and continue to receive, too much
attention. When I analysed troubleshooting problems recently, I found that
materials accounted for only 18% of the total.
More often than not, the construction industry has problems with
concrete for the apparently simple reason that many procedures are
undertaken in ignorance of the requirements of the other professions. In
general, the solution is to identify the problem area and put the right
questions to the right person(s). Although I have spent 20 years in the
precast concrete industry, and a similar time in general construction, the
views, recommendations and comments made in this book are mine alone.
They do not necessarily reflect the views or policy of the precast concrete
trade federations, nor of any companies within the Laing Group.
I have used the minimum number of references necessary to support
the text. The advice given should stand alone, as being based upon good
faith and experience.

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

Concrete materials 1

Although this chapter and Chapters 3 and 5 are devoted to materials, in

nearly every case it was the deployment of these materials that gave rise to
problems, and not the materials themselves.
The introductions to the remaining chapters are much longer than this
one. This chapter covers a large range of materials problems, and each
section has its own specific introduction. The introductions to the
remaining chapters have a somewhat different function, in that each has
the role of colouring in the background to what follows in the individual


A Concrete Society technical report (Concrete Society, 1987a) compared
cement property changes in the years 1960, 1974 and 1983. More recent
data has not been published, as far as I know, and I have made some
comments based upon individual cement test certificates that have come
into my possession.
The principal changes have been in the percentages of the two calcium
silicates that are the main contributors to strength through their formation
of calcium silicate hydrate (CSH) in the cements chemical reaction with
water. These are tri-calcium silicate (C3S) and di-calcium silicate (C2S).
Typical contents of these in the late 1940s were 40% and 35% respectively.
Representative figures for 1990s production could be 60% and 15%. These
percentages are intended to illustrate medians covering a range of cement
plants and in-plant variations; I have a not-so typical cement test certificate
in which the C3S and C2S contents are reported as 70% and 7% respectively.
Because C3S hydrates much more rapidly than C2S, strength is built
up much more quickly, but the 28-day strength is not significantly

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

affected. In effect, the shape of the strength-time curve has changed.
This more rapid strength gain has had most effect in the in-situ concrete
industry, in that formwork can be stripped earlier, but the attraction
has been that the usual stripping times have been maintained while
using less cement than was the case before cements were so high in
This is the main cause of the problems discussed in this section. The
decision to decrease the cement content for an equivalent early strength
behaviour ignores the detrimental effect that it can have on resistance to
durability risks such as sulfate and frost attack. Decreased cement content
promotes more voids in the concrete matrix that would otherwise have
been filled up with cement paste. These voids result in increased space
within the concrete or mortar for the ingress of sulfates, frost-prone water
and/or de-icing salts/chemicals.
Changes over the years in the equivalent Na O and alkali-silica reaction
are discussed more fully in section 1.5.
Cement fineness also increased in the two decades reported from 1960
to 1983 (Concrete Society, 1987a), and this change also added to a more
rapid hydration rate but with no significant effect upon the 28-day strength.
The effect that this, coupled with the C3S and C2S changes, has had on
thermal and moisture curing is outlined in section 1.2.
A problem that disappeared with the cessation of precast concrete pipe
manufacture by the spinning process was that too fine a cement resulted in
too much cement separating at the inside of the bore. Although cement has
a higher density than conventional aggregate as well as water for the very
fine powders that are spun, segregation is more a function of particle size
than of density. Lighting columns are commonly made by the spinning
process, but the problem of segregation of cement has not been brought to
my attention. The original problem with spinning pipes was solved by the
manufacturer by purchasing a cement with a specific surface of about
260m2/kg and sold as coarse-ground Portland cement. A typical current
OPC specific surface is about 330m2/kg.
In the following sections, sulfate attack has been discussed singularly,
but frost attack has been divided into two groups: direct frost attack with
no other considerations, and attack accompanied by de-icing or anti-frost
chemicals. Weathering due to the effects of wind and rain alone has also
been included.


(a) Sulfate attack

A softening and loss of the surface layers of the concrete is due to the
formation of calcium alumino-sulfate (ettringite) from the reaction of

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

ground or air/rain-borne sulfate with the tri-calcium aluminate (C3A)
component of Portland cement. The reaction is expansive, because the
ettringite takes up more space than the C3A hydrate with which the sulfate
reacted. Delayed ettringite formation is discussed in section 1.12.

(b) Frost attack without de-icing salts or anti-frost chemicals

The original international research (RILEM, 1977) explained the meaning of
critical saturation and specified the relevant tests. In simple terms, when the
water content in the water-accessible void/capillary structure reaches a
critical level, if frost occurs damage can take place because of ice formation.
For example, if the critical saturation of a specific concrete is 80% and its
total water-accessible space is 15% by volume (approximately equal to 6%
by mass), then frost damage is possible when the water saturation level
reaches 0.815=12% by volume (about 5% by mass) or more.
Frost damage usually manifests itself as surface spalling and/or
softening, resulting in exposure of the aggregate. Less commonly, damage
occurs not by any apparent surface loss but by a decrease in the elastic
modulus, which for concrete used in structural applications could result in
deflection beyond that designed.
Attempts to look for frost damage in open-textured concrete, such as
typical concrete blocks and no-fines concrete, are generally fruitless. This
is probably because such concretes have plenty of time to drain out to below
critical saturation level before frost occurs.
In addition, in very severe winters problem areas of frost damage need
be identified only when salts or chemicals have been used. This is because,
for ordinary frost damage without salts or chemicals being involved, mild
winters tend to cause more problems as more freeze-thaw cycles are
involved than during very cold weather.
The other area of frost damage identification that can safely be put to
rest is that of water in blowholes being subject to freezing. No case of frost
damage due to such action has ever been reported; ice in a blowhole has a
free face out of which it can expand as water freezes.

(c) Frost attack with de-icing salts or anti-frost chemicals

Identification is generally in the form of severe surface spalling and a
common wet appearance. The use of salts or chemicals aggravates and
accelerates frost damage for two main reasons and one subsidiary one.
First, the use of salts (commonly salt as NaCl) and chemicals such as
ethylene glycol or urea depresses the freezing point to below 0C. The
method of broadcasting these materials onto concrete results in
concentration variations, which passing traffic can exacerbate. Additional
freeze-thaw cycles can take place with no change in external temperature.

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

Second, when common salt dissolves into solution the reaction is
endothermic, which can cause concrete just above freezing point to freeze
for a while as it cools the surface.
Third, although ethylene glycol is not deliberately used to de-ice
concrete (it is used for spraying onto aircraft) it is an additional risk. Not
only can any chemical that drops onto the concrete cause a similar freezing
point depression, but the glycol itself has a slow dissolution effect on the
calcium salts in the hydrated cement.

(d) Weathering
This is a dusting and softening of a 02mm depth of the surface, which
takes place over many years, and is noticeable on unsheltered surfaces.

Remove all suspect and degraded concrete, and patch or full repair using
(preferably) a polymer mortar (Concrete Society, 1984; Perkins, 1986).

The cementitious content should be kept in the range 375450kg/m3.


Hydration of cement is an exothermic reaction: heat is produced, and the
more rapid the reaction process the more rapid the heat production. The
higher contents of C3S now common in OPC (as well as the form of the
more finely ground rapid-hardening Portland cement), together with the
higher fineness levels of modern cements, have caused concrete to emit
heat more quickly than in previous years. These factors have resulted in
two potential problem areas that have given increased cause for concern.
The first of these is high thermal gradients, which can give rise to thermal
cracking, particularly in thick sections of OPC concrete. This cracking is
thought to be caused because the strain set up by the thermal gradient
exceeds the strain capacity of the concrete in its hardening state (Harrison,
1992). Thermal cracking can also arise when concrete is cast against a cold
substrate such as older concrete.
The second risk area is too rapid a loss of moisture at the surface (Birt,
1985). This can give rise to drying shrinkage cracks, and can also result in
surface softening, caused respectively by shrinkage from too high a rate of
moisture loss and by there being insufficient water in the surface area to
hydrate the cement effectively.

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It may be seen, therefore, that the subject of curing problems always
needs to be qualified by reference to whether the curing is for thermal or
moisture reasons or both.

(a) Thermal cracking
This is most noticeable when there is a maximum temperature gradient
through the section, which for thick (over 0.5m) plain OPC concrete occurs
typically at 4050 hours. Crack apertures up to 2mm wide are not
uncommon. However, as the temperature gradient becomes less steep,
these cracks largely close down to apertures of about 0.5mm. These crack
positions often coincide with the main rebars, and the cracks penetrate as
far as the steel. However, in an in-depth examination of marine-exposed
concrete I observed that the crack width tapered rapidly from the surface
down to about 10mm deep, where it kept to a consistent value of about
0.1mm. Chloride penetration from exposure to sea water did not occur
below this 10mm depth in the crack, and was marginal in all other areas.
Thermal cracks occurring at the junction of new and old concrete
interfaces (the old concrete being known as a heat sink) may generally be
seen to occur at right angles to the interface and horizontal and parallel
further up the wall.

(b) Drying shrinkage cracking

This has typical crack apertures in the range 0.1-0.5mm, tapering down to
zero at depths of about 10mm. The cracking commonly manifests itself as a
series of parallel lines about 100200mm apart and at right angles to the longest
axis of the section. For example, on a precast concrete column, the drying
shrinkage cracks would be seen as a number of bracelets along the unit.
As with crazing in cast stone and other concretes, drying shrinkage
cracks can seal themselves by autogenous healing, and this effect is
illustrated in Figure 1.1 for the crazing on a cast stone pedestal.


(a) Thermal cracking

A low-viscosity resin can be used (Concrete Society, 1984) if the cracks
are considered to be a risk. This can be assessed by estimating the crack
depth by means of the ultrasonic pulse velocity (UPV) method (BS 1881
Part 203:1986). This method is practical only if the cracks are nominally
free of water and the average crack width over all positions is at least

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

Fig. 1.1 Autogenous healing of crazing on cast stone plinth.

0.2mm. The efficacy of the repair system used can be examined using the
initial surface absorption test (BS 1881 Part 208:1996). Repaired and
unrepaired areas can be compared to eliminate the effect of the absorption
characteristics of uncracked concrete.

(b) Drying shrinkage cracking

These cracks are generally aesthetic defects rather than a corrosion hazard,
so as a rule no repair is required. If the effect needs to be masked, then
surface grinding followed by a flood application with a silicone (BS
6477:1992) is recommended. As far as the lifetime of this form of remedial
measure is concerned, the longest in my experience was shown by cast
stone lintels on a school, which were treated in 1958. The lintels were
examined in 1996 and found still to be in good condition.

(a) Thermal cracking
Use formwork with built-in thermal insulation and/or leave thermally
insulating covers in place until both the concrete surface temperature and
the temperature gradient have reached acceptable levels. As far as is
known, no quantitative guidance is available on concrete surface
temperature, because much depends on air temperature, wind speed,

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

relative humidity and the possible risk of rain. Taking wind speed and
wind chill into account, a difference of 10 deg C is probably the maximum
As far as temperature gradient acceptability in the concrete section is
concerned, the recommendations suggested for precast concrete products
should be similar to those for in-situ concrete (Levitt, 1982). Recommended
targets are a maximum temperature gradient of 0.1 deg C/mm and a
maximum cooling rate of 15 deg C/hr. These maxima could probably be
relaxed (that is, increased) for lightweight aggregate or limestone aggregate
concrete, but might need to be more severe for flint gravel or igneous rock
aggregate concretes.
As far as is known there is no published method for measuring the
surface temperature of concrete. My experience has shown that an ordinary
copper-constantan thermocouple spirally wound for its last 3050mm and
stapled to the face of a hand-held cork is suitable.
In addition to or in place of using thermally insulating formwork and/
or covering the surface, it is worth considering procedures such as the
inclusion in the concrete mix of additives such as PFA (BS 3892 Part 1:1993)
or GGBS (BS 6699:1992), or the use of a retarding admixture, which will
both modify the exotherm-time curve with less heat being produced in the
critical period.

(b) Drying shrinkage cracking

Good practice in mix design and procedures to inhibit moisture loss (Birt,
1985; Neville, 1995) inhibit or prevent this form of cracking. Typical
methods of moisture curing are by covering with soundly fixed polythene,
or with hessian kept wet for at least the first 48 hours. These methods of
curing should not be used for visual concrete such as cast stone and
exposed-aggregate concrete, because they can promote hydration staining,
lime bloom and colour variations (see sections 5.1, 5.2 and 5.3 respectively).
Figure 1.2 illustrates typical locations in construction of both thermal
and drying shrinkage cracking.
The necessity for directing attention to curing being required for thermal
or moisture reasons or both is repeated.


Aggregates such as flint gravels, and igneous rocks such as granite and
basalt, are generally resistant to frost, but they have been observed to cause
pop-outs when de-icing salt has been used (Fig. 1.3).
In my experience the occurrence of these pop-outs is a function
neither of concrete quality nor of the method of manufacture. It has been

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

Fig. 1.2 Typical locations for thermal and drying shrinkage cracks (not to scale).
(After C.J.Turton)

observed on in-situ concrete (both air-entrained and non-entrained) as well

as on wet-cast vibrated and hydraulically pressed precast concrete units,
and for both flint gravel and granite aggregates.
The mechanism of frost damage and critical saturation has already been
discussed in section 1.1, and it is possible that there are two processes that
singly or jointly could exacerbate this mechanism.
First, concrete that has been broadcast with de-icing salt will have
become more hydrophilic (attracting water) because of the presence of salt
in its voids and capillaries.
Second, particles of aggregate of flint or granite and the like will have a
higher specific heat than the surrounding mortar, and will subsequently
respond more quickly to changes in temperature. This will result in these
particles being colder nearer the surface of the concrete, and becoming
wetter around their peripheries. These higher saturation levels would be
due to the moisture in the surrounding area moving towards the particles,

Fig. 1.3 Example of frost-induced pop-out at piece of aggregate.

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

which because of their lower temperature have a lower vapour pressure.
(This is why, in a refrigerator, food will dry out unless it is encased, because
moisture will migrate towards the colder condenser area.)

These are aesthetic defects in the form of pop-outs typically 1020mm in
diameter and 13mm deep, with the aggregate particle visible at the bottom
of the pop-out. In general the pop-outs occur only at the largest pieces of
aggregate. For example, if the aggregate maximum size is 20mm, pop-outs
would as a rule be observed at the near-surface 20mm particles.

This is a difficult matter to address because, provided the presence of pop-
outs can be accepted, no remedial action is necessary. Any attempt at
remedial work in the form of a paint or mortar coating could exacerbate
the occurrence of pop-outs, because moisture could become trapped or
inhibited from evaporation. A possible way of dealing with the aesthetic
problem of these pop-outs would be to feature the aggregate exposure
rather than try and hide it. This could be achieved by exposing the
aggregate over the whole of the visual face, possibly using a flame
treatment or another suitable method.
The use of de-icing salt can be minimised by ensuring well-maintained

Assuming that de-icing salts are likely to be used, and that efficient
drainage (including its maintenance) is unlikely to be installed, it can be
advantageous to select a coarse aggregate with a low specific heat, such as
limestone or sandstone. An alternative or addition to this precaution would
be to silicone (BS 6477:1992) the concrete on site, or to incorporate a water-
repellent admixture such as 12% m/m cement of stearic acid powder. If a
water-repellent admixture is being considered and another admixture is
also planned to be used, their compatibility needs to be assessed before
concrete production (see sections 5.2 and 5.3).
Some so-called limestones and sandstones are prone to frost attack
because they have a significantly high water retention capacity of their
own, and a study of their track history is recommended. Flint gravels with
a thick cortex surface coating (white, 13mm thick typical layer) can be
also prone to frost damage. Any such risk with these aggregates can be
indicated by a simple test. Take exactly 100 pieces of the largest aggregate

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

size to be used, soak them in tap water for about 24 hours, then drain off
and place in a polythene bag. Seal the bag and place it in a deep freeze
overnight; take the bag out the following morning, thaw, and recount. If
there are more than 100 particles then pop-outs can be predicted, and the
number above 100 gives an indication of the intensity of the pop-out frost


This section is solely concerned with the reliance placed upon the rather
misconceived idea that having the specified amount of air in the fresh
concrete always means that the concrete, in its hardened state, has good or
improved frost resistance. I have been involved in several cases of
troubleshooting where frost damage, in the form of severe surface spalling,
has occurred for concretes with the correctly specified fresh concrete air
It has been known for over 40 years (Powers and Helmuth, 1953) that
the critical characteristics are optimum bubble sizes and spacing factors,
and not the total amount of air in the compacted concrete. The fresh
concrete air content test (BS 1881/106:1983) does not give any information
on bubble size, nor on the bubble-spacing factor. An added disadvantage
is that the BS test does not differentiate between entrapped air and
entrained air; entrapped air contributes insignificantly to frost protection.
These bubble geometries are usually verified by a microscopic method
(ASTM, 1990) on slices taken from samples (usually drilled cores) of the
hardened concrete. In all the troubleshooting cases that used this US
standard to examine the air void structure, the total amount of air was
found to comply with the specification, but the recommended bubble sizes
and spacing factors did not obtain.
Reference can be made to the British Standard (BS 5075 Part 2:1982),
both for the recommended bubble geometries and for a freeze-thaw test
on samples of labcrete. Typical diameters of the spherical air-entrained
bubbles would lie in the range 0.50.05mm and the spacing factor in the
range 0.20.3mm. The freeze-thaw test in this standard does reflect the
bubble geometries, but the test is on a specified laboratory concrete
labcreteand not on realcrete.
A European standard (BS prEN 48011:1996) is in course of preparation
that specifies a microscopic test based upon the ASTM standard.
This section is solely concerned with the form (geometries) of the
entrained air, and is not concerned with workmanship factors.
An example of misapplication is described in section 3.10, to which
reference may be made when large-area scaling occurs without the
occurrence of frost.

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

This defect shows itself as surface spalling, typically to a depth of 1020mm
with exposure of the larger particles of aggregate. Sometimes the spalling
is in the form of isolated areas, but at other times larger areas can spall.
Confusion with the pop-outs discussed in the previous section is unlikely
because frost spalling does not, as a rule, result in conical craters as
illustrated in Fig. 1.3. Also, the large-area scaling discussed in section 3.10
is unlikely to be blamed, because that scaling is typically in the form of
sheets 13mm thick and covering areas from 0.1m2 up to complete bay

Remove all degraded material; wash the surface thoroughly, and reface
with a polymer mortar or a frost-resistant concrete overlay. Consider
complete concrete replacement only if there are doubts about the property
of the apparently unaffected material.

If an air-entraining admixture is to be used it should comply with BS 5075
Part 2, and should be assessed on the actual concrete to be used in the
works, taking into account all the variables that are likely to occur on site.
The recommended method of assessment is by either microscopic or freeze-
thaw tests on representative hardened concrete samples.
The alternative to using an air-entraining agent is to use a well-mixed
and compacted and cured (thermal and/or moisture) concrete with a
cementitious content in the range 375450kg/m3.
The cost considerations of the selected path would need to be discussed.


Although the few recorded cases of alkali-silica reaction have generally
resulted in severe cracking, leading to some loss of structural integrity, the
problem discussed in this section is not this (chemical) reaction. It is, rather,
the human reaction of a large cross-section of those involved in construction
to the possibility of this chemically expansive reaction causing problems
with their concrete.
Alkali-silica reaction, or ASR as it is commonly known, is generally a
long-term chemical reaction that takes place between the alkali in the
cement and other ingredients in the aggregate (Concrete Society, 1987b;
Swamy, 1991). Although virtually all siliceous aggregates contain some of
this alkali-prone material, it is generally those containing strained quartz

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

such as opaline that cause most problems. The reaction that takes place is
the formation of sodium and potassium silicates by a slow and expansive
reaction of the sodium and potassium hydroxides with the available silica.
As there will always be some available silica, whichever aggregate is
used, the thing that needs to concern those involved is the question: Is the
ASR expansion that will occur going to be a problem? The longevity of so
many constructions in the UK without any manifestation of such problems
indicates that the general answer to this question is No.
There is a requirement for updating on concrete performance in respect
of ASR, because CSTR29 (Concrete Society, 1987a) referred to OPC property
changes only by comparing data from three years: 1960, 1974 and 1983.
The alkali equivalent of cement from those data, given as Na Oequiv.,
remained constant at about 0.6%m/m. Not only did these data exclude the
period since 1983, but also they did not take into account the properties of
the (then and now) cements imported from Greece and Spain. A not
untypical analysis of one of these imported cements gave a batch-to-batch
Na Oequiv. of 1.2%.
Notwithstanding comparisons between UK-manufactured and
imported cements in their Na Oequiv. contents, the few cases of damage
reported (Concrete Society, 1987a) indicate that ASR is a problem when
specific aggregate location sources are likely to be used. Suppression of
this reaction is relatively simple, and recommendations are made in section
1.5.3. The few cases reported seem to indicate that cements are not the
main problem.

On the few occasions that ASR damage has been observed it takes the form
of generally random cracking, with crack apertures up to 10mm. However,
the crack widths taper rapidly with depth. Secondary cracking often occurs
in the form of map cracking with crack apertures typically up to 1mm. A
gel-like exudation similar to egg-glass (waterglass) may be seen at the

If the problem is with the specification wording, which could be something
like Not more than 3kg Na Oequiv. per m3 concrete, draw the attention of
the parties concerned to the lowor zero-risk situation if that concrete has
already shown a good track record.
If the problem is an actual risk, and damage has occurred, then either
removal and replacement of the damaged concrete and/or a protective
waterproofing render will generally inhibit further damaging reaction.

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

If it is definitely known that there is a risk of damaging ASR then this can
be inhibited by specifying an additive such as PFA, GGBS or MS in the
concrete mix design.
It is worth observing that, many decades ago, ships delivering cargo to
London from the USA went back with Thames Valley aggregates and
cements as ballast, from which much of the currently standing New York
Harbour was built. These concretes are still performing well, even though
they are subject to wetting and drying conditions and sea water effects.


The use of calcium chloride is now generally banned in specifications. The
main problem that used to be encountered was that corrosion of the
reinforcement was accelerated if water and air penetrated to the rebars.
Calcium-chloride-induced corrosion rarely occurs nowadays, but instances
still come to light. Calcium chloride admixture accelerates both the setting
and the hardening rates of Portland cement concrete. The main attraction
of this was to the precast concrete industry, and the use of calcium chloride
was concentrated in the 1950s and 1960s. It enabled manufacturers to
achieve adequate demoulding strengths at earlier ages and/or a decrease
in the cement content. This latter route was often chosen, and led to
concrete that contained more voids than would otherwise have been the
case, thus giving less protection to the reinforcement.
Steel reinforcement has a passive oxide layer on its surface when it is
surrounded by a highly alkaline environment such as uncarbonated
cement. This high alkalinity can be reduced by a carbonation front reaching
the steel or, much more rapidly, by chloride reaching the steel. Once this
passive oxide layer breaks down, owing to either or both forms of ingress,
the steel becomes subject to corrosion.
CP 110, the old (and now superseded) code of practice for structural
concrete, used to recommend a maximum of 1.5% anhydrous calcium
chloride m/m cement. There also used to be a commercially available OPC
into which this level of calcium chloride had been added. The material
was sold as 417 Cement. It is possible that if this admixture had been
accompanied by a recommendation on the minimum cement content, and
this had been adhered to, the status quo might be different. The structural
concrete division of one large precast manufacturer used to use calcium
chloride regularly in structural concrete units. As far is known, no case of
corrosion of reinforcement in any of the companys units has ever been
brought to light. The reason for this probably lay in that companys strict
attention to quality control, and in its use of a high minimum cement

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Fig. 1.4 Chloride-accelerated corrosion in precast concrete cladding.

Although it is a dubious thought, because the addition of calcium

chloride would accelerate the corrosion risk with mediocre or poor-
quality concrete, it could be a useful means of accelerating trouble that
would otherwise have occurred rather late in the day. The facade shown
in Fig. 1.4 was of white cement precast concrete architectural units, which
became corrosion damaged at 23 years old. The word quality glimpsed
in the lower right corner of this photograph obviously applied to the
cars, but it has been misused as an adjective (see section 4.3) instead of a

This defect is seen as spalling and/or cracking, with cracks commonly
mirroring the rebar positions, together with rust staining marks at the crack
apertures. When pieces of concrete are broken off to expose rebars, a slimy

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green coating may be seen on the steel surface. This is ferrous chloride,
which, within some seconds exposure to air, turns into the brown ferric
chloride. An additional test for chloride is to rub a finger over the steel and
taste it, or even lick a piece of spalled concrete. This will generally give a
salty taste.

Following the Concrete Societys recommendations (Concrete Society,
1984), effect a repair after removing all degraded and suspect concrete and
applying a protective coating to the rebars. Even concrete where there is
no visible damage needs to be assessed, as those areas may have corrosion
occurring at the steel, and/or the quality of the covercrete might not be

The answer is simple: do not use calcium chloride admixture. If excess
chloride is likely to find its way into the mix, either by deliberate addition
or by the use of contaminated materials, then the use of additives is
recommended. Where this is to be applied as a remedial action then the
cementitious content should lie in the range 375450kg/m3 and have 30%
PFA, 70% GGBS or about 7% MS cement replacement.


This is the updated description for what used to be known as high-alumina
cement or HAC. The problem with this cement is that it is subject to what
is known as conversion. This is an additional chemical change (following
the initial hydrates formation) in the calcium alumino-hydrates, promoted
under conditions of high humidity and temperature. These later changes
generally cause a significant loss in strength (2050%), andpossibly more
importantlythis is coupled with an increase in the permeability.
Virtually all aluminous cement concretes were produced as precast units
by three main manufacturers specialising in the production of prestressed,
pretensioned concrete products. This production was undertaken mainly
in the years 19461975 but generally ceased at the time of the bans and part
bans produced by the Government in the mid-1970s, following the partial
collapse of two constructions. The popularity of this cement was probably
due to its rapid build-up of strength: for example, 28-day equivalent OPC
concrete strengths were obtained after 23 days. The setting times of
aluminous cement concrete were (and are) not significantly different from
those of OPC concretes; only the hardening times differed.

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Many organisations involved in consultancy or testing have carried
out examinations and tests on buildings where aluminous cement
concrete had been used. The prime purpose of these exercises was to
assess the concrete from the structural viewpointthat is, to assess the
effect of any conversion on the strength of the concreterather than to
study the permeability changes or any other design implications.
Troubleshooting work has been undertaken in both the conversion and
the permeability areas.
In all, about 1000 constructions were examined (for this purpose I have
categorised a number of dwellings on a housing estate as a single
construction). Over the three decades referred to above about 15 000 000
precast units were manufactured, and these were built into 60000
constructions. The number of constructions would probably lie in the
several hundreds of thousands if each dwelling on a housing estate had
been separately counted. So a very small proportion of the total number of
constructions was examined: about 1.5%.
About four constructions out of these estimated 1000 were found
wanting because of either loss of structural integrity or degradation of the
concrete by chemical action. Four out of 60 000 is a very small proportion
of the total number of units manufactured.
Personal experience in site examination was directed towards examining
samples of concrete in the laboratory, using differential thermal analysis to
estimate the degrees of conversion. Most analyses gave a range of
conversion levels of 7090% with no noticeable distress due to structural
causes. Webs of T-section precast concrete beams were examined using
UPV but, again, problems were seldom found, and, when present, were
not at significant levels. The problems found were in two areas: detailing
at supports and the previously mentioned chemical attack. This risk has
never previously been emphasised in any warnings as far as is known.
As an illustration of the first problem area, visits to two schools with the
precast units open to view (not hidden by a suspended ceiling or similar)
showed that the beam ends sometimes rested on column haunch bed
lengths of 12mm. This was observed with children and teachers in the
class. The classrooms so concerned were immediately evacuated, and
remedial work was put in hand. No other undue distress or deflexions of
these precast elements were observed.
The second problem area was highlighted in concentrating surveys in
areas of construction where there were high humidities and warm
conditions, such as kitchens, bathrooms and roof areas. It was in roof areas
that several cases of chemical degradation were observed. In each case,
woodwool slabs were used above the units, and condensation and/or
leakage was taking place. It was ascertained that the wood fibres in
woodwool slabs were commonly stabilised (to prevent organic growth) by
treatment with calcium chloride. Effluent from condensate or leakage

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resulted in chloride attack on concrete made more prone to attack by
conversion, causing increased permeability. The attack was mainly due to
the formation of calcium alumino-chloride, and the surface had become
softened to a depth of about 10mm. Although in some cases chloride was
found to have reached the prestressing wires, no problems had occurred.
Although, like OPC concrete, aluminous cement concrete is subject to
carbonation (BRE, 1981a) this mechanism was not found to have caused a

Problems with aluminous cement can be identified by:

(a) insufficient support bed lengths;

(b) chloride chemical attack, resulting in surface softening.

Where (a) applies, stainless steel or equivalent brackets should be fixed to
the columns to extend the bedding lengths to an acceptable figure. Shims
of stainless steel or similar would probably need to be placed in the gaps
and grouted up to give continuity. Any shims used should not give rise to
bimetallic corrosion reaction with the brackets.
Where (b) applies, carry out remedial work to inhibit or preferably stop
condensation and/or leakage. Units may have their degraded surface
material removed if required and refaced with a polymer mortar.

The best way of avoiding problem (a) is probably to design adequate
tolerances and to ensure in both precast and in-situ concrete work that
these tolerances are achieved.
Concerning (b), it is best to ensure that areas such as roof spaces,
kitchens, bathrooms and similar risk zones have their precast units in an
adequately ventilated and leak-and condensation-free environment.


In addition to the normal structural need for reinforcing steel in concrete,
two other problem areas were often met where steel was found to be
necessary for other reasons. Although the two instances applied to precast
concrete, there could well be cases when a similar need could arise for
insitu concrete.

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The first additional requirement was for steel in the compression zone
for handling purposes. The problem concerned precast concrete step units,
as illustrated in Fig. 1.5. Structural reinforcement had been placed in the
top of each step to counteract cantilever forces. What had not been
considered was that, although the units were delivered to site in good
condition, each unit was lifted manually from the truck and taken to the
storage area. The two operatives involved in this lifting exercise caused
the units to behave as end-supported beams, and each unit cracked under
the bottom shoulder adjoining the boss.
Although this particular saga continued in a manner unrelated to this
section heading it shows how important it is to pay attention to handling.
There were 14 of these units made for a spiral staircase to be prestressed to
a ground anchor after installation. After making, scrapping and remaking
(with additional bottom of step steel), the units were put in place and
prestressed without any packing mortar between the moulded and
trowelled faces. The spalling that occurred was the outcome. At the
installation of the third remake units with 10mm thick mortar packing
between the joints, only 13 could be installed up to the landing level,

Fig. 1.5 Compression-induced spalling in step units.

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leaving a gap in the spiral. As far as is known these units were dismantled
and a wooden staircase was installed.
The second problem was for a steel requirement in what was thought to
be the compression zone. This need was probably because of differential
moisture and thermal movement between the top and bottom of the
section. The units in question were architecturally faced duct covers, each
about 1m square in plan by 80mm thick. The top of each unit was faced
with a cast stone finish of about 30mm nominal thickness, and the
remainder was made up of an OPC concrete with 10mm maximum size
Figure 1.6 illustrates the placement of each duct cover over an
environment of high humidity and a reasonably constant temperature,
with the visual face exposed to the weather. Shrinkage cracking occurred
on the top face of virtually all the units, and although these cracks did not
approach anywhere near the interface between the two mixes, let alone
the steel in the backing concrete, the units were rejected. They were
remanufactured with a light stainless steel mesh at about mid-depth in the
facing, and no further cracking was reported, as far as is known.

The symptom is cracking in the design compression zone. This cracking
tends to exhibit a rather random pattern, generally unrelated to the drying
shrinkage and thermal cracking discussed in sections 1.1 and 1.2.

If the crack apertures remain nominally static, and crack depths are not
considered to be a corrosion risk, then consider a grinding to clean off
detritus at the crack apertures, followed by a silicone treatment. If there are
structural implications because of the cracking, seek the advice of a
chartered engineer concerning such actions as replacement, stitching in
extra steel, or other solutions.

Fig. 1.6 Visual-faced concrete duct cover unit (not to scale).

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When detailing reinforcement requirements, consider the need for
additional steel to withstand either handling needs and/or differential
thermal/moisture movements.


Reinforcement is generally put into concrete to cater for its relative
weakness in tension compared with compression. The term cross-sectional
area (CSA) is used to refer to the area of the section under consideration,
both for the concrete and for the steel. The ratio of the area of the steel to
that of the concrete is the percentage of reinforcement, which for concrete
sections such as slabs, beams or columns could typically be 35%.
Many cases have been encountered where percentages of reinforcement
of up to 25% have been used. These have led to problems on site, in the
precast concrete factory and in mix design at the preliminary stage.
One problem that was examined concerned precast columns in a
building (Fig. 1.7). The columns were about 3.5m tall and 0.3m square
section in plan. Four 40mm diameter bars, one at each corner with 40mm
nominal cover, made up the main reinforcement. The main rebars were lapped
by 10mm diameter stirrups at approximately 0.3m centres. The mix was a
20mm/10mm/5mm to dust limestone aggregate with a 450kg/m3 white
Portland cement content and a total water/cement ratio of about 0.5 with a

Fig.1.7 Uncorroded rebar-induced spalling in new precast concrete column (not


Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

slump of 100mm. About three months after installation on site, severe
vertical cracking with no steel corrosion occurred in lines with
accompanying spalling in lengths up to 0.5m long. This was diagnosed as
probably being due to there being too much rebar restraining influence on
a concrete with a high initial hydration shrinkage potential.
Another example where excess reinforcement affected mix design
concerned bifurcated in-situ white concrete columns, where congestion of
reinforcing bars at the crossover resulted in there being about 25% steel of
the CSA in plan at the throat. The original mix design, using a 20mm
aggregate with a 75mm slump, had to be changed to a 10mm aggregate
with collapse slump. Fortunately, a Portland limestone aggregate was used,
and the 3060 minute aggregate suction effect on the excess water content
gave cube results that built up quite significantly after four days. The
specified cube strength was obtained about a week later.

The problems that occur from using excess reinforcement are numerous.
The list below highlights those that have been commonly experienced:
(a) pieces of tie wire and detritus on the soffit;
(b) cracking mirroring the main rebars, without steel corrosion;
(c) shrinkage cracking due mainly to the use of too much water and/or
too dusty an aggregate in the mix;
(d) honeycombing above the steel due to the close-packing of the rebars,
allowing fine material sole passage.

(a) Remove tie wires, detritus etc. from the face of the concrete as soon as
possible, and reface cut-out areas with mortar of the same mix as the
fine material in the substrate concrete.
(b) On the assumption that by the time the problem is observed most of
the hydration shrinkage considered responsible for the cracking will
have taken place, remove all unsound concrete and repair (Concrete
Society, 1984).
(c) Repair shrinkage cracking, if considered necessary, as described in
section 1.2.2(b).
(d) Cut out and replace honeycombed zones with concrete or mortar to
give a weathering match.

The general way to avoid most of the problems listed is either to ensure
that no more reinforcement is put in than is needed and/or to distribute

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

the placement of the main bars so as to spread stress shrinkage effects onto
the steel more uniformly. In addition, allow as much room as possible for
concrete to flow through the reinforcement, and use workability-promoting
admixtures and/or additives where possible.
Where high-workability mixes are necessary, consider the use of
aggregates with a suction Vacuum concrete effect. Not only can this assist
in extracting some of the excess water, but the increased wetness of the
aggregate can also assist in the moisture curing of the concrete.


Publications on this subject (Swamy and Barr, 1989; Majumdar and Laws,
1991) have tended to concentrate on the design and use of GRC and
composites rather than on materials science considerations. The problem
encountered on several sites has been slight surface softening to a depth of
less than a millimetre but with exposure of fibre ends, which exhibited a
brittle nature. The detriment was solely aesthetic in nature.
Concerning the chemistry of cement and glass, this form of degradation
was predictable, but a little explanation at a basic level may be useful. When
cement, mortar or concrete is splashed or otherwise brought into contact
with window glass, etching occurs. This is because the alkali in cement
attacks some of the silicates that are used in glass manufacture. The stock
used in making glass fibres has better alkali resistance than window glass
because zirconia is used as one of the constituents.
In order to improve the alkali resistance further, a polymer coating is
applied to the fibre as it is drawn from the melt and before it is chopped
into strands or rolled into spools. The chopping process can take place at
the manufacturing stage, or in the works, or on site during spray
application from the spool of glass fibre. Whichever method of cutting is
used, the cut ends as well as polymer-bruised fibre sides (bruised during
the mixing and/or compaction stages) lose some of the coating
There is also a thermodynamic process concerning heats of solution
of cement and glass. It means that more heat is required per unit weight
to make cement than to make glass. The typical clinkering temperature
of cement is about 1200C, and the melt temperature for glass is about
800C. When the two materials are put side by side, especially in an
environment where chemical reaction can take place, there will be a
transfer of heat energy from the cement to the glass in the form of a
chemical reaction.
It can therefore be predicted that unprotected GRC exposed to the
weather, or to other conditions where water or other solutes can contact
the surface, will have the fibre ends and bruised areas attacked.

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The symptom is exposure of fibre ends on the surface, with accompanying
slight dusting to a fraction of a millimetre deep. With the assistance of a
magnifying glass it might be also possible to observe some hollowing out
of the fibre ends. This would be the residual thin skin of the polymer
appearing as a pipe.

Rub down with a fine-grade disc, carborundum stone or similar to
remove all softened material. Apply a silicate-based or polymer-based
paint system to give an approved finish. The silicate systems are preferred
as they have a track record of good performance exceeding 100 years,
and this thus avoids continuous maintenance apart, possibly, from

If GRC is likely to be subject to the exposure risk mentioned above, the use
of a protective silicate-based or polymer-based paint would greatly
improve the performance. The alternative would be to apply a rich (e.g. 1/
1) fine mortar 12mm thick to the risk face before laying up the GRC
system. A protective coating, as described above, could also be considered
as an additional precaution.


Although the problem met on several sites was with GRC sandwich panels
the same situation would almost certainly have arisen if the fibres had
been of fibrillated polypropylene, steel or carbon or other fibre. The
sandwich panels in question were of half to full-storey height, and had
inner and outer fibre-reinforced sheets about 812mm thick as well as side
walls of the same material. The sandwich consisted of an expanded plastics
or mineral wool with a thickness of about 100mm.
The problem that occurred was of cracks of up to 2mm aperture at the
visual face edges. Where moisture had gained ingress into the sandwich
this cracking was sometimes accompanied by a lime leachate exudation at
the crack apertures.
As this cracking had not been reported from the returns or corners for
cases of single-skin cladding, it seemed that temperature variations could
well have been responsible. Not only was the outer skin exposed to the
external temperature and general weathering conditions, but its response
time was rapid compared with a monolithic solid typical concrete system.

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The webs and rear skins of the panel would have remained comparatively
temperature static at most times, and there would therefore have been
considerable thermal differential strain at the face-web junctions.

The symptom is cracking at the face-web return junctions, sometimes
accompanied by a lime or carbonated lime leachate from the cracks.
Differential movement may also cause the panels to bow in a convex
manner. This could be assessed with a straightedge, but should not be
confused with any convexity that may have been there when the units
were made.

Although no remedial work was undertaken as far as is known on the sites
visited, it is difficult to recommend anything that can cater for such
cracking. If, as is likely, the cause is a thermal one, then the cracking is
likely to be live. Therefore, if a crack-filling material is to be used, this
should be a low-modulus material capable of moving with the changing
crack apertures. The repair should be effected when the cracking is at the
maximum opening so that the sealant used will generally be under

Wherever possible, avoid the use of sandwich panels and consider using
single-skin cladding. If sandwich panels have to be used they could be
designed so that the web-face skin junction is hinged rather than rigid.


The problem encountered was more one of trying to find instances of DEF
than of DEF causing distress. Time will tell whether DEF is a real problem;
at the time of writing this book there is little or no indication of this.
Ettringite is calcium alumino-sulfate, and in cement it is formed by the
reaction of sulfate with the calcium aluminate in the cement. Ettringite is
deliberately present as a reacted product in Portland cement concrete and
mortar because gypsum (calcium sulfate) is added during the clinker-
grinding process to control the setting and hardening properties. Without
this addition, the speed of hydration would be too great for practical use.
This ettringite is harmless, because it is probably in the form of well-
dispersed microcrystalline particles. For ettringite to cause distress it would

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

have to be larger than microcrystalline in size, and would need to form in
the hardened concrete. If such a reaction occurred solely at the surface of
the concrete the effect would probably be that of surface softening, as
discussed in section 1.1.1 (a).
The only observed case that could possibly have been attributed to DBF
was in the exposure of sections of hydraulically pressed kerbs containing
high proportions of high-sulfate PFAs. This observation referred to a long-
term laboratory study of units made in precast concrete works. The PFA
loadings that caused trouble were 1.52.0 times the cement contents, and
with sulfate/PFA levels up to 1.8% (Levitt, 1982, section 4.2). After about
10 years weathering, with no vehicular access, two of these kerb sections
were found to have split cleanly through their mid-sections with no sign of
impact. However, white crystalline deposits of up to 10mm in diameter
were observed at the broken faces. These deposits were found to be rich in
The kerbs manufactured by hydraulic pressing were partnered by kerbs
made by Kango hammer tamping. None of these hammer-compacted kerb
sections exhibited distress on weathering. This could have been due to their
weaker and more elastic properties, coupled with the relatively larger
number of voids that could have accommodated expansion products.
Manufacturers of hydraulically pressed products would be unlikely to
use such high PFA loadings, because this would necessitate an unacceptable
increase in the pressing time.

If this problem is ever found it is likely to be in the form of severe cracking
and/or spalling, with visible ettringite-rich white crystalline deposits at
the broken face. This is a prediction based upon a single observation in
laboratory samples and not from a site.

Not enough experience is available to address this point. If damage were
to occur on site in similar vein to that observed on the hydraulically pressed
kerb samples (assuming that it was due to DBF) then it is likely that major
remedial work or replacement would be necessary.

Until actual site problems become documented and the mechanism is
understood and accepted it is not possible to take avoiding action. As far
as is known at present, there does not appear to be anything to avoid.

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

Health and safety 2
The three examples in this short chapter reflect personal experience in the
industry coupled with involvement in litigation work. Health and safety
matters such as protection from falling objects, safety clothing, and the use
of mechanical and electrical machines are well documented in company
procedures, and are not covered here. The three risk areas discussed here
do not seem to have attracted the attention that they should. They should
interest not only safety officers but also site managers, operatives and
personnel officers.
Because the first two sections refer to cement chemistry, it may be helpful
to put cement into perspective by comparing it with another chemical that
is commonly found on site and in the precast works: concentrated
hydrochloric acid.
Not only is hydrochloric acid a simple two-element chemical, but it is
one of the few acids that is a reducing agent and not an oxidising agent like
nitric or sulfuric acid. Hydrochloric acids fuming property, its pungent
smell and (usually) delivery in glass carboys, coupled with its ability to
etch concrete with accompanying bubbling, cause it to be respected.
However, because human skin is generally acidic (except for the eyes), and
because that acid is dilute hydrochloric, then provided the skin has no
lesions, spillage of fuming hydrochloric acid onto the skin causes little
harm. It is not a caustic oxidising acid: it does not attack flesh.
Compare cement, which arrives as a dry powder, and commands very
little respect. However, it should be treated with a level of safety
consciousness that makes hydrochloric acid pale into insignificance. There
are two reasons for this, and they are both based upon the fact that water is
to be added to cement, which is a multicomponent chemical. First, one of
these components is water-soluble hexavalent chromium. Second, caustic
alkali is released. These two risk areas are discussed in the first two sections.

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

Chromium (chemical symbol Cr) is a minor ingredient in OPC. It is present
at a typical concentration of about 6mg/kg or 6ppm (parts per million). As
far as is known, this figure represents the total Cr and not the water-soluble
part. I have encountered only a few cases of skin problems, and so it is
reasonable to assume that UK cements have low contents of soluble
chromate. Chromium does not occur in the form of a heavy metal but as a
chromate salt. When this salt is present in its hexavalent Cr form it is water-
soluble, and it is in this form thatfor some personnel-eczema, dermatitis
or, more rarely, skin cancer can occur.
There is nothing new in the knowledge of this risk factor; it was first
reported over 30 years ago (Burrows and Calnan, 1965). In Denmark,
research has been undertaken more recently into ways of inhibiting this risk
(Aunstorp, 1989a, b, c). Ferrous sulfate was added to Danish cement, and
the effects on operatives before and after this addition were reported. Danish
legislation then followed, with a limit on the maximum amount of soluble
chromate salt permitted in Portland cements, expressed as ppm of Cr.
Aunstorp found that the allergic reaction to the chromate in the cement
was a much more significant factor than attrition brought about, for
instance, by fresh concrete or mortar being rubbed onto the skin. The
Danish research was based upon a real situation, and was not a laboratory
assessment. Interestingly, the study found inter alia that the use of protective
creams before starting work with concrete did not ease the irritant effect of
contact with wet cement. The wearing of protective gloves had only a
marginal effect in counteracting any allergy or in inhibiting irritation.
Irritation, in all cases, would be the first sign of a skin reaction. The last
examination of the Danish cement specification revealed that the
maximum limit for the soluble chromate salt, as Cr, was 2ppm.
Publications by the Health and Safety Commission/Executive (HSC,
1988a, 1988b; HSE, 1988) drew, seemingly, rather marginal attention to
these risks. However, at the time of writing it seems that an updated
document is due for publication.

The symptoms of cement eczema are irritation of the contact area, probably
accompanied by discoloration and a blotchy appearance. If the effect of
cement burns is occurring at the same time (see section 2.2), skin irritation
is unlikely to be felt because of the damage to nerve ends.

Wash affected areas immediately with copious quantities of water, and
remove cement-stained clothing. Seek medical advice as soon as possible

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

after this, and ensure that there will be no future work likely to result in
contact with fresh concrete, mortar or grout.

Most people are relatively insensitive to the risk of cement eczema, and so
it is advisable to question all personnel at the pre-employment or
deployment stages. Has the person and/or any member of that persons
family ever been prone to allergic skin reactions or complaints? The 1965
study reported earlier indicated that hereditary factors can play a role in a
persons proneness to a reaction. For adequate documentation, the posing
of these questions and the answers received need to be accurately recorded.
As far as protective handwear is concerned, only waterproof gloves
known to be unreactive to chromates should be used. Handcreams only
prevent the skin from drying out; they do not offer resistance to the
chromate salt.


Throughout this section the term cement burns has been used. In USA
litigation reports and published articles the term concrete burns is
generally used. It is the chemistry of the wet cement that causes burns, and
so cement burns is probably the more explicit term. Abrasion by the
aggregate and/or cement on the skin exacerbates the caustic chemical
mechanism involving necrosis that is considered to be responsible.
The UK problems I have encountered have generally been where
operatives have been kneeling and carrying out floor-topping work. Other
cases, such as concrete getting inside a Wellington boot, have been
illustrated in the UK press, and these are identified later. Severe injury was
suffered in all cases, resulting in the inability of the persons concerned to
carry out further manual work. Continuous, permanent pain and unsightly
skin grafts were also common.
The incidence of cement burns was recorded nearly six decades ago in
an American medical journal (Meherin and Schomaker, 1939), but there
appears to have been a dearth of reports in the literature for more than two
decades thereafter. Rowe (1962) described cement burns as unusual. Many
cases of litigation took place in the USA, with Erlin, Hime Associates, a
consultancy practice in Illinois, not only acting for claimants but also
building up a useful dossier of case histories and references to relevant US
legislation. At the beginning of my involvement as an expert witness acting
for claimants in a county court case, a close liaison was set up with Erlin,
Hime Associates. Their earlier 1980s publication (Hime and Erlin, 1982)
had a significant impact upon both US and UK litigation. This US

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

publication did not pursue a detailed mechanism of the form that is
proposed later. It will be argued that there is a simple theory capable of
explaining the cement burn mechanism and of showing why the risk is far
more serious than previously considered.
Although section 2.1 refers to the possible issue of an updated Health
and Safety Executive publication, the two information sheets published
nearly a decade ago appear at present to be the sole UK guidance (HSC,
1988a, 1988b). The references therein, together with warnings in documents
such as delivery notes and safety instructions, will be highlighted later in
the proposed theory as not being detailed enough.
One of these publications contains a photograph of a cement burn to the
knee of an operative. Three further publications appeared a few years later
(Anon, 1993a, b, c). No reference can be made to personal case history
experience here as one of the cases was settled out of court and another
one is current as at early 1997.
It is not known how many cases of cement burns have occurred in the
UK without being reported in the press. The pressures being placed upon
contractors and subcontractors could have resulted in precautions being
sacrificed for the sake of speed and/or economy. However, the apparently
low incidence of cement burns in the UK implies that a high quality of care
is being exercised on site, in the works and plants.
In 1988 Hime and Erlin reported a study where research by others was
referenced, without much detail. This stated that trouser material acts as a
chemical buffer and increases the alkalinity at the skin, with an increase in
pH from about 12.8 to nearly 14. It was not understood how material fabric
could cause this, and I have conducted laboratory tests using fresh cement
mortar on one side of various fabrics such as worsted, linen, denim and
nylon. In all cases the pH was found to be about 12.5 on both sides of all
materials tested, with no significant gradients.
It is therefore logical to turn to what is known about personnel suffering
cement burns on site. Two factors seem to be necessary. First, the spillage
needs to be static and in contact with the skin for at least half an hour.
Second, the skin where the spillage has taken place needs to be on a
relatively warm part of the body. Cement burns do not appear to occur
when the operatives hands are in and out of concrete.
These two conditions need to be correlated with the known cause of cement
burns, which is necrosis, or in simple terms a caustic burning effect on skin,
nerves and muscle. The most critical of these three effects is the destruction of
nerve ends, because this dulls any feeling of burning or irritation. This is
probably why operatives carry on working after spillage, not knowing that
flesh burning is continuing. The 1993 Construction News article (Anon, 1993c)
describing spillage into a Wellington boot is an example of this.
The presence of alkali in the forms of sodium and potassium hydroxides
was mentioned in section 1.5 and expressed as Na Oequiv. A typical level

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for OPC would be about 0.6%. This is equivalent to approximately 0.4% as
sodium hydroxide. This is known as caustic (i.e. it burns flesh) soda. Both
the alkaline lime and the caustic soda contribute to the alkalinity of cement
paste. What is important is that lime is alkaline without being an alkali,
but caustic soda is both. Furthermore, lime is only slightly soluble in water,
whereas the alkalis are very soluble.
Consider now a realistic scenario: an operative kneeling on fresh
concrete so that the chemicals in 1kg of concrete can access the skin. If the
cement content is say 350kg/m3, then that 1kg of concrete will contain
about 150g of cement, assuming a fresh wet concrete density of 2350kg/
m3. At a 0.4% equivalent caustic soda level the operative is in contact with
0.6g of one of the most caustic chemicals known.
Its uniform distribution throughout the contact area explains why body
heat and time are jointly required. As body heat causes the water in the
concrete to evaporate, the effective concentrations of both lime and the
alkalis increase. Lime, being only fractionally soluble in the moisture on
the skin, will not cause much distress. The approximate half gram of caustic
alkali would be responsible for the necrosis that occurs.
This explains why the combined conditions of both warmth and time
are necessary, and why a continuous replenishment and/or renewal of
fresh concrete with the skin does not apparently cause the same distress.
The alkalis do not have the chance to become concentrated by evaporation
of the water. In addition, it may be predicted that the abrasion effect of
contact with aggregate will have an exacerbating effect on flesh already
undergoing necrosis.

The symptoms are soreness experienced after some hours, followed,
usually the following day, by severe pain and ulceration, with a flesh colour
varying from green to purple and, generally, an accompanying discharge.

It is possible to ameliorate the situation slightly by immediate washing
of the affected area with copious quantities of water, coupled by the
removal of all affected clothing. This clothing should be washed or
discarded. The US articles referred to earlier advise not to cover the area
nor to apply any form of dressing. Immediate hospitalisation is advised
with, preferably, a department qualified to deal with cement burns. The
patients contact with cement and caustic alkalis needs to be mentioned
to the hospital staff.

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Protective waterproof (the latter word being commonly omitted in safety
guidance) clothing should always be worn. If operatives have to kneel on
fresh cement then special knee covers or string-held cut-outs of car tyres
should be used. Any cement ingress behind these should be treated as in
section 2.2.2.


Typical uses of grout pumps are for operations such as filling the annuli
between prestressing post-tensioning strands/wires and the duct tubes,
and for filling gaps under large machine baseplates. It was in the former
application that an operative suffered injury to an eye that nearly resulted
in blindness of that eye. A blockage occurred in the tube line to the
prestressed unit, and a coupling was loosened to open up the tube.
Admittedly the person concerned should have been wearing eye
protection, but he assumed that because the machine had been turned into
the recirculation mode, pressure in the feed line had been relieved. He did
not appreciate that, with the particular machine in use, the pressure had
not been taken off the feed line.
The pump supplier, when advised of this mishap, informed the project
manager that there was a third position for the control tap. In addition to
the 12 oclock recirculation and the 3 oclock line pressure positions, there
was another one between 1 and 2 oclock that took the pressure off the feed
line. It was admitted by the pump supplier that this omission in the
instructions for use was an error, and that it would be rectified.
Figure 2.1 shows a simple schematic outline of the system.

Fig. 2.1 Grout pump system (not to scale).

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This potential problem can be identified as non-existent or inadequate
suppliers guidance on how to deal with blockages in the system.

Ask the supplier for written instructions on how to deal with pressure line
blockages. If a coupling in the pressure line has to be undone because of a
blockage, and no instructions are available, run the pump with the tap in
approximately the midway position between the recirculation and
pressurising positions. Ensure that the operatives wear full eye and hand
protection at all times, and that there is a convenient optical douche nearby.

Use grout pumps only where there are distinct instructions on how to
relieve pressure in the feed line should a blockage occur. Wear only
approved eye and hand protection, and ensure that there is a convenient
optical douche station.

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

Concrete on site 3
Most of the main problems encountered with in-situ concrete are grouped
in this chapter, but inevitably there is some overlap with Chapters 1 and 5.
It will be seen in Chapter 5 that the many instances of troubleshooting
involving precast concrete products could have also applied to in-situ
concrete. However, materials faults were seldom involved; the problems
generally related to design and/or workmanship.
It is easy to blame the material, because it is usually covered by a
stringent specification. Design and workmanship are dealt with by codes
of practice, which are state-of-the-art documents, and can be interpreted
in different ways. They also relate to a service rather than a product or
material, and are therefore difficult to define. When using materials on site
there is a resulting tendency to concentrate unfairly on the standardised
material shall wording, and to use or sometimes misuse the guidance
Codes should clauses.
As referred to in the Preface, less than 18% of all troubleshooting cases
encountered were attributable solely to the material. This is not only my
experience, but also applies to many decades of Laing library problem
analyses. It leads inevitably to the conclusion that there is a misdirection of
effort in construction quality control. The main focus of testing should be
on the construction rather than on the material or product. Why is there a
concentration on specifications to resolve less than 18% of the problems?
Presumably because it is fairly easy to specify materials, but difficult to
specify or control design and workmanship. Whether this situation will
change in the future remains to be seen.

Although covercrete d and k are defined in the Glossary, some qualification
may be useful. Concentration on the depth of cover, d, is universal; there is

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little or no interest in the quality, k, of the concrete in that cover. These
variables are generally recorded as d, the depth of cover in mm, and the
lesser-known k, the permeability, in cm/s.
The problem encountered on site was due to non-compliance with a d
specification. This had secondary repercussions. First, it was not clear
whether the specification requirements were for minimum, nominal or
actual cover. Second, where cover to the main steel was of concern, little
account seemed to have been taken of cover to the stirrups. As may be seen
in Fig. 3.1, this cover is reduced by at least that of the stirrup steel diameter.
In general, no consideration was given to the quality of the allegedly
reduced cover area(s). Where this quality was considered to be good,
attempts were made (sometimes with success) to achieve a deemed-to-
satisfy situation with no other work being carried out.
Let us consider each of these variables, d and k, separately.

Why have a d in the specification? The simplest answer might be to protect
the steel from corrosion. Unfortunately, this reasoning seems tacitly to
admit an inability to qualify the answer. What is not apparently designed
is whether d maintains its protective property over the planned lifetime, or
whether it gradually loses it.
From site experience, it seems that the underlying philosophy of a d
specification is defer the fatal date. In effect, we could well assume that d
should be maximised, because the cover will lose its protectiveness with
time. However, there are drawbacks to having too much cover:

fewer cracks, but each with an enlarged crack aperture;

less restraint against shrinkage cracks (see section 1.8).

Fig. 3.1 Difference between strirpup and main rebar cover (all dimesions in mm).

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

The loss of protectiveness of d is generally thought to be due to the
advance of a carbonation front. If chlorides and/or aggressive de-icing or
anti-frost chemicals are present, this loss of protection may be far more
Carbonation is a reaction between carbon dioxide in the atmosphere
and the alkaline hydroxides of hydrated cement. The pH value of the matrix
in concrete unaffected by external elements is of the order of 12.5, and at
any pH value above approximately 9 the rebars will retain a protective
passive iron oxide film on their surfaces. This protection is lost at slightly
alkaline pH values of 79, and much more rapidly under acidic conditions
and/or in the presence of chlorides; corrosion can ensue. Note the word
can: corrosion of steel in or at the carbonated zone front needs both
moisture and air to be present.
The modern design philosophy is possibly to specify d as though
effectiveness would be lost according to a rule of thumb such as 1mm gives
1 year. However, there does appear to be an underlying assumption that
the cementitious part of the specification will ensure that adequate effective
d is left at the end of the planned lifetime. This implies that considerable
reliance is actually being placed on k. However, k is still generally placed in
a secondary role to d, and it could be argued that, for corrosion durability
of reinforced and prestressed concrete, these roles should be reversed.
It can be misleading to predict a linear relationship between the speed
of advance of carbonation and time. For instance, if 40mm becomes
carbonated after 40 years it would be useful to say that 50mm would fare
likewise at 50 years. However, in general, the rate of advance of the
carbonation front follows the square root of time (BRE, 1981b). If this is
applied to the above example then 50mm would become carbonated within
60 and not 50 years.
Another problem encountered on site was a one-off, but it is a risk area
that is easy to overlook. For carbonation of cement to take place, moisture
and air need to be present. If the void/pore structure of the concrete is too
dry then the reaction cannot proceed. At the other extreme, if the void
structure contains enough water to inhibit or stop the passage of the carbon-
dioxide-containing air then, similarly, carbonation is inhibited or cannot
occur. Carbonation tends to proceed most rapidly when the relative
humidity of the void structure is about 75% (BRE, 1981b). This could well
mean that the reinforcement at the back of concrete exposed to a cavity
situation could be more at risk than the rebars nearer the visual face. This
was found to be the case when the rear faces of precast panels were exposed
for examination by removal of the insulation and partition boards.
It is not known what guidance is given in codes concerning this, but the
risk factor has been taken into account in the latest revision of the cast
stone standard (BS 1217:1997), which gives mandatory requirements for

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

cover to all exposed faces. The term exposed is defined as unprotected by
any mortar or similar material, and so applies to visual and cavity faces.
It is probable that the only instance when d is of importance is in fire
resistance, where the purpose of having cover is to keep the steel sufficiently
cool to avoid loss of strength caused by a phase change in the metal.

It is commonplace to specify minimum cement or cementitious contents;
there seems to be a growing tendency to control k with little knowledge of
what it actually is. At the same time, it could well be an admission that
there will be variations in the actual steel covers being achieved, but that
even when these are at their minima the concrete left as covercrete will still
give good performance over the planned lifetime.
The main problem with k is that knowledge already exists on how to
measure permeability, but it takes too long (at least 3 months) before useful
test data emerge. It can be argued that d can be easily confirmed by
covermeter tests or similar, but there are errors involved in such testing (as
with any testing). More importantly, if the concrete has hardened, what
action can be taken to deal with non-complying areas?
A strict mix design specification, which can be easily verified by
supervision, can generally give compliance with a k requirement. This
applies whether the k design is for general weathering durability
requirements or for protection when chlorides are present.
Long-term research can establish how the permeability characteristics
of concrete can be controlled under a variety of durability hazards. It thus
follows that a contractually viable solution to producing the optimum k
for any risk situation lies in the area of mix design.

The problem is manifested as non-compliance with minimum cover
requirements (assuming that the parties concerned are agreed on what is
meant by minimum cover) coupled with the covercrete being potentially
good enough to give adequate performance: in effect, a low d but
accompanied by a low k.

Illustrate by such means as the history performance of similar concrete
and/or by agreed testing of the covercrete that a deemed-to-satisfy
situation exists. Proposed action, such as protective coatings or other
surface treatments, may have an apparently remedial effect, but it is almost
certain to be a waste of resources if the k value is too low.

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

If the quality of the covercrete is mediocre or poor, but that concrete has
to be retained, remedial measures such as polymer-mortar-based rendering
or siliconing might need to be considered.

For carbonation, chloride attack or fire resistance a logical appreciation of
both d and k would seem to be essential.
The carbonation advance with the square root of time, mentioned above,
is a general rule, which appears to apply to concretes whose cementitious
content is below about 375kg/m3. Above this content, carbonation is
generally a few millimetres deep after many years. Therefore, if carbonation
is the sole risk, the solution seems to be a minimum cementitious content of
the order of 375kg/m3.
When chlorides and other corrosion-promoting chemicals are additional
(to carbonation) risks, then the mix to be used needs strict specification
and control. For example, in marine or de-icing salt exposure, the suggested
375kg/m3 minimum cementitious content needs to be supplemented by
specifying that the cementitious content have 30% PFA, 70% GGBS or 7%
MS cement replacement.
If fire resistance is the only requirement then d is almost certainly the only
variable that needs to be specified. Design factors such as secondary mesh-
type holding reinforcement in the covercrete zone may also need to be
The most difficult recommendation to make for carbonation and
corrosion-promoting chemical hazards is what the minimum value of d and
the maximum for k should be. For the present, assuming that the minimum
cementitious content has been achieved and that it has the right ingredients,
then a few millimetres of cover seem to be all that is required. However, in
order to allow for workmanship and the risk of ingress of aggressive material
at the interfaces between mortar and aggregate facets, the minimum cover
should logically be twice the maximum aggregate size. This would cater for
there being a rebar-aggregate-aggregate path to the exposed face.
The definition of minimum cover still remains to be established. This
possibly needs to be resolved at Eurocode level, but for a single meaning
the wording actual minimum cover to any steel might suffice. This form
of wording does not have any obvious interpretative modes.


Six problems have been experienced with both in-situ and precast concrete;
these have been identified separately below as (a)(f). None of these has
been found to predominate over the other five. Only example (d) referred
to spacers made from mortar; all the others were experienced with the
commonly used plastics spacers.

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

(a) The use of trestle-type spacers on vertical and other non-horizontal
rebars instead of wheel-type spacers. Figure 3.2 illustrates the
difference between these two main types of spacer. It can be easily
seen that, under the action of filling with concrete and/or compaction,
a trestle-type spacer placed onto a vertical bar can rotate and lose some
(or, when dislodged, all) of the intended cover design.
(b) Because of overloading, spacer feet either punched into relatively soft
formwork/mould material or, when the concrete was formed against
steel or similar surfaces, distorted spacer feet sprung on stripping. In
both cases, spacer feet protruded from the surface of the concrete, but
in the latter case this was sometimes accompanied by minute spalling.
In the former case (relatively soft formwork), the holes left in this read
as pimples in subsequent form uses unless the holes were made good
before each reuse.
(c) Following aggregate exposure processes, such as grit-blasting, spacer
feet were observed to protrude; the blasting had little or no effect on
the plastics material. This resistance was predictable, because plastics,
and polythene in particular (the common base material for spacers),
have good energy-absorption characteristics. Thus concrete will wear
away more quickly than polythene, because it does not possess good
energy absorption.
(d) Mortar spacers either too impermeable or too permeable. In the first
case (too impermeable), poor bonding occurred between the fresh
concrete and the spacer mortar. This resulted in a gap at the interface,
allowing moisture and air to enter and corrosion to take place. In the
second case (too permeable) the bond was generally found to be good,
but the spacer itself allowed moisture and air penetration, with ensuing
rebar corrosion.
(e) Because of an inadequately pierced cross-section, and under the action
of fire, the plastics material was easily degraded, and the rebar at the
position where the spacer had been became too hot.

Fig. 3.2 Trestle-type and wheel-type plastics rebar spacers.

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

(f) As (e) but, under the action of normal weathering, spalling occurred at
spacer positions with no steel corrosion but with exposure of the rebar
to the elements. This problem was commonly observed during the first
few months of site exposure in hot weather. The mechanism considered
to be responsible was the differential in thermal expansions and
responses between the polythene in the spacers and the surrounding
concrete. Polythene has about 16 times the thermal expansion
coefficient of a typical concrete. A well-pierced spacer section would
have had interwoven concrete, causing it to act compositely instead of
All these examples have been described at length (Levitt and Herbert, 1970),
and Concrete Society (1989) touches on (b) and matters concerned more with
design than with troubleshooting. Further references together with
photographs are given in the authors book on precast concrete (Levitt, 1982).

(a) Reinforcement cage dislodged with the spacer in the wrong
configuration or lying loose on the soffit. Detection of this problem
could be by a simple visual inspection or, more commonly, by means
of a covermeter survey.
(b) Spacer feet protruding from the concretes surface, with holes in
relatively soft formwork and minute spalling possible for concrete
formed against steel or similar hard, unyielding material.
(c) Unsightly protrusion of spacer feet or bases in abrasion-blasted
(d) Corrosion rusting, either in lines at the interface between spacer and
concrete boundaries or fairly uniformly over the spacer base.
(e) A blackened hole of easily removed carbon, giving direct access to the
steel. If the steel has suffered a phase change because of the heat,
additional deflection may also have occurred.
(f) An approximately conical-shaped spall, exposing the spacer base and,
generally, the rebar; the rebar has no corrosion on it at the time that
spalling took place.

(a) Treat as in section 3.1.4 in attempting to achieve a reduced-cover
deemed-to-satisfy agreement, or undertake remedial work, such as
applying extra cover (Concrete Society, 1984).
(b) Knife-cut protruding spacer feet and make good holes in the formwork.
The use of heat to remove these protrusions is not recommended
because carbon staining could occur, and it is also possible that

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

aggregate being calcined could spit out of the surface, constituting a
safety risk.
(c) Remedy as (b).
(d) Cut out mortar spacer down to the rebar and repair with suitable
polymer mortar (Concrete Society, 1984).
(e) Suspected structural damage due to fire having gained direct access to
the steel through the passage where the spacer used to be should be
referred to a chartered civil engineer for advice before any decision is
made concerning remedial work.
(f) Remove as much of the plastics spacer as possible, as well as spalled
and unsound concrete, and repair (Concrete Society, 1984).

(a) Use only trestle-type spacers on horizontal bars in contact with the base
of the form or mould. Wheel-type spacers can be used in all applications,
bearing in mind that some types are not strong enough for use on the
bottom steel. Wheel-type spacers can be prevented from slipping down
vertical and other non-horizontal rebars by holding each spacer in place
with an elastic band, which is then left in the concrete.
(b) Ensure that the load distribution on spacers is such that the tendency
to punch into formwork is minimised. At the same time ensure that
not too many spacers are used, because they can encourage planes of
possible weakness in the concrete.
(c) Avoid using plastics spacers for exposed-aggregate finishes. Mortar
spacers are preferred with spacers having aggregate exposure by the
same process planned for the concrete.
(d) Mortar spacers should be made with a sand/cement ratio between
1.5 and 2.0, preferably of the same fine aggregate (sand) planned for
the concrete. Curing of the spacers under damp conditions for at least
the first 48 hours is recommended.
(e), (f) Ensure that the seating area of both trestle-type and wheel-type
spacers is pierced to at least 25% of its section. This permits concrete,
under the action of compaction, to interweave with the plastics and
cause each spacer to act compositely rather than as an individual piece
of material. This caters both for the thermal expansion differential and
for degradation under the action of fire.


Concrete construction processes involve the use of water, and as a rule
more water is used than is necessary to hydrate the cement. The result of
concretes losing or trying to lose this excess water has been problems in

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

the application of floor coverings such as PVC tiles and sheeting, rubber
tiles and synthetic-backed carpet tiles.
The problem has been generated from an advisory clause in a particular
code of practice (BS 8203:1996). This recommends that, when the surface
relative humidity (RH) is measured by a specified means, tiling should not
be laid until the RH drops below 75%. Putting aside the validity or
otherwise of this recommendation, this 75% is commonly invoked as a
contractual mandatory clause.
The problem arises because the waiting time necessary to reach this
maximum is generally impracticable on site. On the rare occasions when
such delay can be countenanced, adhesion and/or floor covering failures
are rare. However, it is not definitive that 75% is the right number, nor that
it is being measured the correct way, nor that the property of RH is the
right one to address, nor that efforts should be directed towards the suitable
adhesive for different conditions of dampness of the floor.
Another area of difficulty was that of the actual failures, and the five or
more causes that could have been responsible, either singly or jointly:

(a) moisture in the concrete softening the adhesive;

(b) an alkaline concrete-adhesive reaction;
(c) moisture pressure gradient pushing the coverings upwards;
(d) inability of the adhesive to stick to the concrete;
(e) temperature gradient across the thickness of the slab, causing mois
ture to be driven to the colder lower vapour pressure face, and pushing
the covering off of the surface.
The mechanism of (e) is shown in Fig. 3.3.
The main problem with the 75% RH recommendation is contractual,
and lies within the remits of the main and specialist flooring subcontractors.
Because they have to work to stringent time requirements, usually derived

Fig. 3.3 Tiling on ground and supended floors.

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from the site schedule, they tend to withhold any form of guarantee because
it is virtually impossible to achieve that maximum. The rule of thumb
commonly applied to predict how long a typical concrete slab will take to
dry to a moisture condition complying with the 75% maximum is to wait
one week for every millimetre thickness of slab. This implies that a wait of
two years would be required for a 100mm thick slab. Contractually, this is
Clearly, a host of problems arise from this code and the way it is applied,
not least the five listed above. It can also be argued that, irrespective of the
value of any specification number, there is a tendency to cling to that
number just because there is a number there. This is discussed in depth in
section 6.6.
As far as the causes listed under (a)(e) above are concerned, a project
scheduled to last about 30 months began at the end of 1996. It is jointly
sponsored by the Department of the Environment under its Partners in
Technology (PIT) Scheme and by the Concrete Society, which acts as the
main contractor. It is the aim that a technical report (a CSTR) will be
published by the Society in 1999, and that the findings will be aimed at
making clauses in BS 8203 and other relevant codes more realistic. The
author is the convenor of the working party that is controlling the work.
Feedback is essential, and the Society will possibly have one or more
launches of the CSTR in a preliminary draft form for discussion at seminars
and workshops. The project working party reports to a more widely
constituted steering group; no matter how wide these representations are,
there will possibly be points to report that have not been covered. Some of
these points will now be discussed in terms of experience by others; this
may well trigger additional feedback.
The role of chemical reactions as the cause of adhesion failures has been
mentioned earlier, but some reactions also lead to the emission of rather
unpleasant gases. Reports on this subject would be useful to the Concrete
Society, together with any related research work by organic chemists.
Another matter of interest is the growing use of plasticisers and
superplasticisers, both in the concrete and in the screeding and levelling
materials laid on top. The main advantage of these admixtures is that, for
a given workability, they permit large reductions in the total water/cement
ratio. This in turn reduces the excess water waiting to dry out, so that the
75% should be reached more quickly. In general, the use of these admixtures
in concrete does not seem to have caused any problems. However, the
admixtures for some screeds and underlayment levelling compounds are
polymer based. Although these will have very low water contents, and
hence a lower initial RH, they can also have low permeabilities to the
passage of moisture, with a consequently reduced loss rate.
Other than by using a vacuum concrete process, methods of trying to
eliminate excess water have not proven fruitful. The use of hot air blowers

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

has been found to have no beneficial effect on drying rates. The process
drives the water from the surface into the body of the slab but, within as
short a period as one day after turning the heating off, the original RH is
reinstated as the temperature becomes reasonably uniform in the slab.
Moisture moves towards the colder face because of the vapour pressure
gradient. Knowledge of this mechanism could be useful both in laying floor
coverings and in heating buildings. The aim is to keep moisture as far away
as possible from the face to be covered, so consideration could be given to
tiling and heating the top floor of a building first and working down to the
ground floor as the last to be covered.

This is the discovery that a 75% RH limit has been specified for laying floor
coverings, but that this cannot be met within the site limits as laid down in
a bar chart.

The only possible avenues that may be worth pursuing are either to get the
specifier to accept the risk situation, or possibly to allow a variation
resulting in the use of a more expensive adhesive that can tolerate high
levels of water in the floor.

The use of plasticising or superplasticising admixtures in the concrete is
worth examining as an interim measure and, possibly, as a long-term one
pending the findings of the CSTR in 1999. Specifiers should have their
attention drawn to the problems generated by the 75% specification, and
should be told inter alia that there is no cheap way of getting over the


How do we define and specify flatness? This question has created a host
of site problems, not least in measuring whether compliance has been
achieved. Well-known publications (Concrete Society, 1988; Perkins, 1988)
have discussed many of these facets at length, but a simpler approach has
been adopted in this section, based on dividing the problem into three main
groups identified by increasing dimensions, with a fourth group containing
ramps and relatively large and severely exposed floor areas such as multi-
storey car parks:

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(a) short-distance flatness, 0100mm;
(b) middle-distance flatness, 0.15.0m;
(c) large-distance flatness, >5.0m;
(d) multi-storey car parks.
Flatness here refers to achieving the target of having any three points on
the surface lying on a single straight line. In (d) the overall floor design is a
slope towards drainage, but the term flatness still applies.


This problem shows up as sinkings commonly known as elephant
footprints, caused by poorly compacted and/or mixed areas of screed
underneath PVC tiles or sheeting. PVC is light reflective, which makes
these fairly easy to observe, and the edges of the sinkings are liable to
attrition damage. The footprints are generally 13mm deep and of random
pattern. The problem has been commonly encountered in hospitals, where
this form of construction has been used for corridors, operating theatres
and preparation rooms. The general quality of husbandry in these
buildings does not seem to have helped the situation, with the movement
of vehicles, concentrated loads from operating trolleys, and anaesthetists
sitting on three-legged stools not necessarily with all three legs in contact
with the ground.
Figure 3.4 illustrates the effect of an elephant footprint.
Remedial work can be carried out, preferably before applying the
smoothing compound and/or the tiling, by cutting out defective patches
of screed material and (avoiding any feather-edging) making good with
new screed material and, most importantly, ensuring full compaction. It
is common to have this defect brought to ones attention after the tiling.
In such cases, when the tiling/sheeting have been removed, defective
compaction in the screed has been found, and the screed has to be

Fig. 3.4 Elephant footprint on PVC tiles.

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repaired and the surface retiled (see section 3.3) when ready to receive
covering. The buildings maintenance department should keep a supply
of new floor coverings to cater for the likelihood of repair. These coverings
should be identical to the original, to avoid replacements being made with
PVC tiling that does not match in colour or shade.
The short-distance flatness problem can be avoided by strict supervision
of screed laying and compaction. The screeds generally used where this
problem has occurred are known as semi-dry, and good workmanship in
laying them is essential. Self-levelling screeds are becoming increasingly
popular, as they are not so sensitive to the standard of workmanship.
Screeds used to be commonly laid wet, and the use of superplasticisers
seems to have been instrumental in bringing about a return to this practice.


This problem has been identified on site with in-bay and bay-to-bay
flatnesses, where a flatness-measuring device is used. Typical wording in a
specification might be a deviation of not more than 3mm under a 3m
straightedge. Straightedges are commonly made from a hardened steel,
and their straightness can be certified by companies registered with the
United Kingdom Accreditation Service. On site, a reasonably accurate
method of checking the straightness of a straightedge is simply to look
along the edge.
It has been found quite easy to record a failure with the 3mm
requirement when adjoining bays have been cast to very good individual
flatnesses, but they are not horizontal. Figure 3.5 illustrates this, where
there is an inverted V at the joint.
Failure can also be indicated where the adjoining bays have the same
sloping directions, because there is a step at the joint. Problems at stepped
joints due to wear and tear are common, and therefore it is sensible to
check flatness tolerances both within bays and from bay to bay.
Remedial work has been found to be best directed at removal of
excesses rather than addition to the deficient zones. This can be achieved
by grinding or other suitable means, accepting the aesthetic defect of a
terrazzo-like appearance at the ground-off areas. Thin mortar applications
to cater for small negative tolerances have generally been found to
have mediocre to poor performance. A longer-lasting mortar repair can

Fig. 3.5 Planeness at joint.

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be achieved when at least 10mm of the surface is removed and a repair of
at least that thickness can be effected without feather-edging.
Many of these middle-distance flatness problems can be avoided by
accurate setting-up of stop-ends, rails etc. to which bays have been
designed to be cast. Optical setting-out both from site datum levels and
from bay-to-bay levellings is recommended. The use of laser alignment on
one site to align the floor of a tunnel led to problems because temperature
variations along the tunnel caused the laser beam to refract. Forced air
circulation had to be used to create a more uniform temperature


This problem has been identified in buildings such as warehouses and cold
stores, where a lack of (mainly) bay-to-bay flatness leads to stepping at
joints and interference in the mechanics of mobile racking systems. Storage
areas such as these are subject to relatively heavy wear and tear. Even a
3mm step, which could well be permitted under the example specification
in section 3.4.2 (not more than 3mm under a 3m straightedge), would be at
risk of spalling. Any out-of-flatnesses, especially at joints, will be at risk
under the action of moving vehicles, sliding racks and similar.
Remedial work would probably be best undertaken following the
recommendations listed in section 3.4.2. Severer structural requirements
may be under consideration than for smaller floor areas. If so, then full-
depth replacement of all or part of a bay may be necessary.


Identification of the problem has commonly taken the form of puddling,
frost damage and/or reinforcement corrosion where the flatness datum
has not been to a slope that is effective for drainage.
Although any roof with a slope of less than 10 is defined as flat, roofs
of car parks as well as other buildings are commonly designed to a flat
slope: 1:70 is typical in a specification. Roofs examined in troubleshooting
exercises with a slope of less than 1:60 have commonly been observed to
suffer degradation due to inadequate drainage. Clearly, the target for such
roofs must be a combination of slope and flatness. Carriage in of water
and de-icing salts by vehicles is common, and if drainage is poor, collection
of water can promote rebar corrosion.
Another observation made on site concerned control joints that should
have been placed at high or intermediate parts of a slope or slopes. Sealant-
filled joints, not all of which were performing well, had been placed in the
bottom of drainage gullies. Ingress into the construction had occurred.

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Remedial work is difficult to recommend, bearing in mind that the
common aim of such work would be to improve drainage by, for instance,
cutting drainage grooves in the slope. Care would needed in such cutting
work, in view of the likely effect of this on the covercrete d.
The problem can be avoided by paying special attention to drainage
details: not only the slope and flatness of bays, but bay-to-bay slope
uniformity, drainage and positioning of control joints. Manual car-washing
facilities have been introduced in some car parks. Special drainage is
important in these areas to ensure that the effluent from washing
operations is removed. Collection of water, especially when cars are being
washed in cold weather, can lead to personnel risk if the surfaces become
slippery because of water containing detergent or because of icing.


The problem encountered on site concerned the use of untreated birch-faced
plywood formwork for in-situ concrete wall construction in concreting
sections about 3.5m high by 4.0m wide. A concreting subcontractor was
assembling the panels of formwork, then cleaning and reassembling them
for four or five reuses in an unprotected enclosure on the site. Each panel of
formwork consisted of about eight separate pieces of plywood.
Significant movement of the birch was observed in the form of bowing
and dishing of individual sheets and lack of alignment at the butt joints in
the formwork panels. Figures 3.6 and 3.7 illustrate respectively the
problems with the concrete and the formwork that caused them.
A Class B finish to BS 8110 Structural use of concrete had been specified, and
although the walls were for internal parts of a building and were to be painted,
the stepping was unacceptable to the architect. A limit of 2mm maximum
stepping was eventually agreed; the wall areas that did not comply with this
limit were ground down at these joints to remove positive tolerance.
Observations on site indicated that there was minimal supervision of
the subcontractor by the main contractor. It is debatable whether any of
the problems would have arisen if the main contractor had realised that
responsibility for the subcontract work was in the contractors remit, as
the expertise should have been there for this sort of work. Perhaps if solar
reflectors, escalators or other specialist subcontract work had been
undertaken the involvement of the main contractor might have been
expected to have been more restricted.

The problem is identified by stepping or lipping at formwork joints, as
well as convexity or concavity, discernible by the naked eye, by a

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

Fig. 3.6 Steps in fromwork.

Fig. 3.7 Steps mirrored onot concrete.

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

straightedge or by a vertical spirit level. Both types of defect have been
found easier to observe in reflected light.

Grind down lips and other unacceptable high areas. If the appearance of
the ground areas is a problem, then grinding the whole area could be
considered, because a patchy terrazzo-like effect would result from
grinding solely at the joints.

Use good-quality timber formwork with known relatively stable moisture
and temperature behaviour. Protect formwork from the effects of the weather
as much as possible, as well as from direct timber contact with concrete and
mould-release agents. For the latter in-use protection, seek the formwork
suppliers views on the suitability of painting. If no information can be
obtained on a suitable paint, a pigmented paint (Levitt, 1982) could be
applied to both the inside and the outside of the forms. The type of paint
selected would depend upon how many reuses are planned. Whichever
active ingredient base is used in the paint, performance has been found to be
more a function of the presence of a pigment than of the base.
Consideration could also well be given to improved setting-out of panels
of formwork. It is reasonable to assume that with each use there will be
some movement. Therefore jig-setting before each use, with the necessary
adjustment of soldiers, whalings and shims, could well promote an
improved planeness of finish.


Three problems have been encountered on site with the use of both these
types of precast concrete product:
uneven bedding of paving flags;
joints between vertical faces of flags or kerbs;
jointing kerbs on a hill.
As in section 3.4, the identification, remedial and avoidance comments
have been discussed separately with each of the problems. Some of the
recommendations repeat and qualify those published in the mid-1970s
(Concrete Society, 1974). For some reason, no reference was made to this
useful technical report in the concrete industrys well-known annual
reference book, the Concrete Year Book (1997).

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

The three problems listed above are often invoked to cast aspersions on
the properties of the precast concrete units. Any troubleshooting problem
needs to be examined carefully, and these cases have been found to cause
considerable aggravation in this respect. It is not common for the single
causes of the three problems in this section to be identified individually.


Identification of this problem is simple, in general unevenness and stepping
at joints (Fig. 3.8).
Cost rather than cost-effectiveness considerations have generally been
found to be the reason for this problem, in that the base and sub-base were
low-cost materials, and a minimum of labour was used in compaction. In
addition, the practice has been observed of placing a dab of mortar at each
corner of a prepared seating area, placing a paving flag on top, and
applying a bolster at the centre to settle the unit in place. In effect, an impact
flexural test is being conducted: breakage of the paving flag is the common
The danger to pedestrians from tripping cannot be overemphasised.
Although it is not known how many cases are brought against local
authorities for personal injury, my experience with some authorities
indicates that the departments dealing with installation, maintenance and
legal matters seem to operate in isolation from each other. Information
brought to my attention in the mid-1990s indicated that one local authority
took maintenance action only when the stepping at paving flag joints
exceeded 25mm.
The recommended remedial work is to remove all affected slabs, base
and sub-base material and reinstate with well-compacted Type 2 sub-base
material followed by a minimum of 50mm of well-compacted dry lean
concrete. When this has hardened sufficiently, apply a full bed of a sand/
cement 4/15/1 mortar and re-bed flags, leaving vertical joints unfilled
and the thickness of a trowels blade apart.

Fig.3.8 Paving slabs on unsuitable base.

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The problem is probably best avoided by having a sub-base, base and
bedding specification, as suggested in the previous paragraph. Although
this is probably the most expensive method of laying paving flags, the
reduced cost of maintenance work and the potential costs for personal
injury should also be taken into account.


This problem is commonly found in the form of wedge-shaped spalls or
compression cracking at joints. If the products butt, or a stone becomes
trapped in the nose, or a line of mortar has been forced into the nose, then
point stresses are set up (Fig. 3.9).
Paving flags or kerbs laid during cold weather tend to exhibit this
spalling more than products laid in warm weather. Even though kerbs are
commonly bedded on a backing haunch of in-situ concrete there will still
be a weather-exposed face responsive to solar-induced thermal movement.
Remedial work is fairly straightforward but, as with most work, the
cause has to be removed or inhibited from acting further. All butting joints
should be sawn down as far as possible, targeting full product depth, with
as thin a blade as possible (2mm, for example).
Remove spalled areas and feather-edging, and repair with an SBR or
similarly approved mortar. Apart from the possible use of an antifoliant,
leave the joint untreated. Spall-repair joints with an aperture wider than
2mm as above, and fill the joint (cut wider if necessary to 3mm or more)
completely with a 3/1 to 4/1 sand/cement mortar having an aggregate
maximum size of 2mm.
The object of leaving a joint of 2mm aperture or narrower unfilled is to
promote air-borne dust forming a natural control joint. The filling of wider
joints with mortar is to prevent joint-butting or stone-trapping from
causing stress-raisers.

Fig. 3.9 Spalling at kerb noses.

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The problem is probably best avoided by specifying that all products be
laid to an unfilled trowels-thickness joint, or that joints be deliberately
designed to a nominal 510mm width and completely filled with mortar
during or after the laying sequence.
Although not directly related to this problem, control joints placed
through the haunch concrete that backs a kerb should be continued through
a kerb-kerb joint and be visible on the face. Control joints in road
construction work where precast concrete units are being used are probably
best designed to cater for separate and individual movements in bespoke
sections of the road.


This problem manifested itself as kerbs moving slowly down the hill
because there was little or no restraint. Kerb joints opened up along the
incline and dislodged at radius kerbs or similar at the bottom of the hill
and/or at corner junctions. The problem appeared to be confined to
relatively steep hills: on the few occasions that it has been observed the
hills had inclines of 1 in 20 or steeper.
Remedial work was not undertaken in any of these cases as far as is
known. Common sense suggests that one answer could be to replace or
realign dislodged kerbs, coupled with some form of restraint. The restraint
could be effected by concreting in a vertical butting unit. This could be a
small column, or even a kerb on its end, so that runs of kerb could butt
against these restraints. The problem could be avoided by taking this
principle of column restraints into the design. An engineering appraisal
might be needed to calculate at which kerb centres these restraints would
need to be placed.
I have had only hearsay evidence of problems with precast interlocking
paving blocks, and am therefore unable to include any personal experience
here. Most reports have been of these blocks sinking below datum level.
Therefore much of what is recommended in section 3.6.1 would appear to be
the way in which the main problem of units sinking could have been avoided.

The main problems encountered on site with tolerances seem to have been
associated with a general lack of appreciation that, although building loci
are never at exact and predictable points in space, their variations and
catering for these variations are both within the realms of the designer,
builder and/or manufacturer. In general, the problems investigated fell
into two broad categories:
positive and negative tolerances;
matching tolerances.

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

When a dimension is put into a drawing, tolerances need to be put
alongside, because what has been asked for has to be both achievable and
buildable. As far as tolerances of achievability are concerned, if what has
been dimensioned is something like a window, for example, then it is not
logical either to omit tolerances or to specify tolerances that cannot be
achieved by the manufacturer. Concerning buildability, and using the same
window as the example, if there is too much positive tolerance for the
window and/or too much negative tolerance for the opening designed to
receive it then it is very likely not to fit.
If the case under consideration was a precast concrete cladding unit, then
in addition to the geometry of the opening and the dimensions of the
cladding unit, there would be the tolerances (for both support and restraint)
of the fixings.
There is a useful general rule: tolerance is an easy thing to find on a
construction site but a difficult thing to lose. More difficulty has been found
in assembling parts of a building because they were too large than because
they were too small. There are a variety of gap-filling materials available to
cater for undersizing, but mechanical or similar removal is all that is
generally available to deal with too much positive tolerance. There are
notable but rather singular exceptions to this guidance: the aluminous
cement beams resting on column haunches described in section 1.7 are an
example where significant positive tolerance was critical.
I have been involved in many cases where troubleshooting revolved
around the subject of tolerances. Of the three examples that follow, the first
two relate to positive and negative tolerances and the third to matching

Example 1
A prestige building had a canopy of single-skin GRC cladding panels fixed to
a stainless steel subframe. It had apparently been assumed that the specialist-
manufactured subframe would be made to strict tolerances because, possibly,
of the use of an expensive alloy. Unfortunately, this did not turn out to be the
case; and, probably worse than that, the whole frame was under-dimensioned,
and great difficulty was experienced in fixing the GRC panels in their
designated positions. Much of the excess negative tolerance was countered by
the use of large numbers of stainless steel shims at the fixings. In some cases as
many as 12 shims, 3mm thick, were used. The only thing found right on this
contract was that, in the other two space dimensions, the fixing points were
found to be within an acceptable tolerance.

Example 2
The problem concerned rain penetration around the window details of an
office block gable end constructed of cast stone ashlar cladding, sill and

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

lintel units. On leaning out of one of the top-storey windows where leakage
had been occurring, it was found that both the sill and ashlar unit below
could be easily rocked by hand. Arrangements were made to have these
taken off the building before a second visit.
It was found during the second visit that there were no fixings to the
insitu wall relative to the removed stones, nor, with the aid of a torch, could
any be seen to the adjacent stones. The rain ingress points at the sill were
easily discernible; a direct mortar path allowed passage under the sill.
When all 10 storeys of gable end stonework were removed, it was found
that less than 10% of the total number of units had been secured to the in-
situ concrete wall. The main reason for this lack of fixings appeared to be
that the in-situ wall was so far out of vertical that the Abbey Dovetail tails
were unable to reach the slots cast into the wall. Units were reinstated with
countersunk stainless steel expansion bolts both securing the cast stone
units and fixing to the in-situ concrete.

Example 3
This was an instance of troubleshooting at the design stage, and concerned
matching tolerances. Precast concrete units were to be fixed using
proprietary cast-in stainless steel slots in the units to locate with floor bolts
cast into the in-situ concrete. The problem was that the site, being a
refurbishment in a busy metropolis, had no storage room and could not
tolerate any delay. Fixing had to be direct from the delivery vehicle onto
the facade, and had to be timed for when the tower crane was available.
It was agreed that, in order to correlate the precast unit dimensions and
the tolerances for the positions of both the site and unit fixing points, the
opening (the gap to receive the unit) centre lines rather than column centres
would be used for location. Precast units were dimensioned from the centre
vertical and horizontal lines, both for their overall sizes and for the cast-in
fixing slots. Few problems were encountered on site.
Figure 3.10 illustrates how this system was used.

The problem shows itself as difficulty or inability in putting parts of a
construction together.

This is difficult to address, because each case probably needs to be
considered individually. Fortuitously, the 1980s and 1990s have seen the
advent of many new types of proprietary fixing, which can be used, for
instance, as single or double locking or expansion devices. In addition,

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

Fig. 3.10 Tolerances for a slot fixing in a precast concret cladding unit; x and y each
2mm (not to scale).

polymer adhesive systems have some applications where injection or

gravity feed are possible. Endoprobes can be used to inspect the efficacy of
many of these remedial actions.
Sometimes difficulties are known to be likely because of poor alignment,
and on-site welding of stainless steel fixings or similar might be a viable
remedial measure.

Most of the problem areas mentioned above can be avoided by applying
realistic detailing and dimensioning, always bearing in mind that
tolerances are important all the way from material to product to completed
construction. Buildability could possibly be improved by aiming to keep
positive tolerances as small as possible and allowing variations to be
catered for in the negative tolerance range.

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

The problem experienced on site related to concrete block masonry walls
exhibiting apparent rising damp and how to rectify the situation. There
was little point in addressing a rising damp problem unless it could be
proved beyond reasonable doubt that the dampness was due to water being
drawn up from the ground by capillary attraction. Dampness can be caused
by one or more of the following:
(a) rising damp from the ground;
(b) water penetration through the wall from outside;
(c) water penetration through the roof;
(d) condensation.
Attention was drawn to a British Standards publication (DD 205:1991) that
suggests specific tests for identifying (a) with respect to the other three
causes. However, rising damp tends to exhibit a common behaviour,
whether it is on brickwork, blockwork or rendered faces: the dampness
rises to only 1.01.5m from ground level, and the damp area is generally
covered with black mildew.
On the site visited it was found that the damp-proof membrane had
been omitted. The dampness was diagnosed as rising damp, and it was
recommended that a chemical damp-proof course be installed following
the guide lines in the code of practice (BS 6576:1985). Apparently, an
inexperienced company was chosen to undertake the injection work, and
a site re-visit was requested to comment on the possible reasons for the
apparent lack of success of the remedial work.
Most of the advice given in BS 6576 had apparently been ignored, and
the errors that were observed on site included the following:
The silicone used (an aluminium stearate might also have been
suitable) had a low solids content (about 5% is a typical content).
The internal rendering had been reinstated too soon after the injection.
The chemical should have been left to become fully effective. This
normally takes a year or a little longer.
The rendering reinstatement should have been undertaken using a
water-repellent mortar, stopping this at the injection line.
Where party wall work was being undertaken the neighbour had not
been advised of the smell of solvent permeating the wall, nor of the
need for ventilation.

The problem is characterised by dampness and mildew growth to a height
of 1.01.5m above ground, and chemical injection remedial work is of little
apparent benefit.

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

Using a contractor proficient in the application of the British Standard
recommendations, step drill and silicone inject the masonry wall as shown
in Fig. 3.11, and reinstate mortar and decorations after a period of at least a

Take special care when installing mechanical damp-proof courses and
trays. Many problems found on site have been associated with damaged
membranes, as well as with mortar bridging dpm lines. The masonry code
of practice (BS 5628 Part 3:1985) recommends that something like 5mm of
membrane should be left protruding from the face of the masonry. This is
not as common as it probably ought to be, and membranes tend to get
bridged by mortar, allowing a path for rising damp.
A non-concrete case of dealing with rising damp was studied at the
installation date and again just over a year later. It concerned a building
that was 150 years old, with a single skin of clay brickwork 320mm thick.

Fig. 3.11 Chemical injection steps for a damp-proof membrance.

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

The system studied used an electrical method by placing a direct curren
field across the base of the wall just above ground level. The system
allegedly relied on the electrical properties of the rising damp, and put an
opposing field into the wall. Little or no improvement was observed a the
second visit.
A possible lesson to be learnt from this is that processes should be
examined and understood as far as possible. The best test assessment is
probably track history of performance if knowledge of the mechanisms is


The Glossary defines both crack width and crack aperture; the problems
found on site all related to crack aperture, as it was this that was visible.
The crack aperture was generally assumed to reflect both the crack-width
and the number of cracks beneath the surface in the concrete. For example,
it was generally thought that if a crack of 0.5mm aperture was present then
the crack width was constant at 0.5mm right down to the steel, and that
there was just that one crack. However, the various types of crack geometry
shown in Fig. 3.12 demonstrate that this assumption can be misleading.
Once a crack has been seen, one or more of the following possibilities

(a) Water and air can access the rebar and initiate corrosion.
(b) Dirt can collect at the apertures, giving the surface an unsightly
(c) Structural distress may be occurring.
(d) The crack may be static or dynamic.

Fig. 3.12 Various crack geometries surface crack widths in mm (not to scale).

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

In general, the problem manifests itself on site as (a). Once a crack is
seen it is commonly assumed that there is a corrosion risk, and that
something needs to be done about it. Guidance in the British Standard (BS
8110 Part 1:1985) refers to a limiting crack aperture of 0.2mm as acceptable
from the point of view of corrosion. The code of practice for water-retaining
structures (BS 8007:1987) suggests a limiting crack width of 0.1mm.
However, little or no attention appears to have been paid in these guidance
documents to the crack geometry. The reference to crack apertures alone,
with no reference to what the crack does as it goes into the concrete, might
apply to one or two crack-forming mechanisms but cannot cover all causes.
Section 1.2 referred to the observed geometry of thermal cracks that,
although traversing down to the steel at a constant width of about 0.1mm,
had not promoted carbonation, nor chloride-induced corrosion (it was a
case of marine exposure), nor additional chloride ingress.
There are many publications that refer to crack width geometries as well
as to crack aperture, but it probably serves little purpose on the
troubleshooting trail to list these. Cracking in concrete is common, and there
are very few cases where either macro or micro-cracking is not present; yet
most concrete carries on doing the task for which it was intended without
exhibiting distress. Reinforced concrete is designed to transfer its weakness
in tension to the rebars placed in the tension zone. The steel controls the
extent of the concrete yield; it does not stop cracks. As pointed out in a paper
published in the 1980s (Richardson, 1986): If it isnt cracked, it isnt working.
The aim must be to identify whether or not a crack aperture is a risk.
The indirect method of the application of UPV at the surface (BS 1881
Part 203:1986) can indicate both depth and direction fairly accurately if the
crack is not bridged by sound-conducting material such as water or
detritus. However, one needs to know the risk of water getting to the rebars
via the crack only if there is a reasonable indication that the crack is singular
and might be as deep as the rebars. The initial surface absorption of concrete
(BS 1881 Part 208:1996) has been used on site quite successfully to assess
both cracked and uncracked areas. Because of the point-to-point variability
in surface permeability it has not yet been possible to suggest a comparison
limit for acceptance or rejection. The small amount of site data collected
indicates that, if the crack could allow water ingress, significantly higher
results would be obtained from cracked zones than would be expected for
general surface variabilities.
Crack aperture has generally been found to be irrelevant to the dirt
retention risk referred to in (b). The mechanism observed was that capillary
attraction of rain at the crack aperture resulted in water being drawn in,
and the dirt from the water was left on the surface (Fig. 3.13).
What this amounts to is that all crack apertures appear larger than they
really are. Rubbing ones finger across the crack to remove the dirt reveals
a much narrower defect.

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

Fig. 3.13 Dirt retention at crack aperture (not to scale).

The structural and crack mobility factors referred to in (c) and (d) fall
within the province of an engineering assessment rather than being a
material problem. There is little point in dealing with cracks from any of
the points of view of identification, remedy or avoidance without a
reasonably clear picture of the mechanism(s) that caused the cracking, and
of the crack geometry.
The two common types of crack-measuring device used on site are
transparent plastics cards with different thicknesses of lines for laying
alongside cracks, and the crack microscope. Both of these measure crack
aperture and not crack width. The crack microscope is possibly too precise
a tool, because the need to measure crack aperture beyond a 0.05mm
accuracy (which can fairly easily be judged with the human eye against a
reference line on the card) is debatable. Furthermore, site conditions and
ergonomics need to be considered. There are attractions to using a cheap
card that is pocket sized (100mm40mm, say), sufficiently accurate, and
virtually unbreakable. However, whichever measuring device is used, the
information it provides has been shown to have little value.

The problem is identifiable in one of two forms: either there is some
wording in the specification limiting crack apertures, or visual cracks are
observed whose position, crack apertures or times of occurrence are not as

For static cracks that are not considered to be a corrosion risk, rub down to
remove all dirt, and apply a flood coat of silicone water-repellent to the
recommendations of BS 6477:1992. Static cracks that are considered to be a
corrosion risk may be amenable to repair by injecting an epoxide resin. The

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

injection equipment should be connected to a pressure gauge, because it is
quite easy, using ordinary hand-pump actuation, to make the damage worse.
Cracks exhibiting dynamic behaviour (that is, live cracks) need
individual consideration depending upon the site conditions. If the crack
aperture is in a narrow range (0.050.25mm), a copolymer capillary
introduction may be successful. Wider crack apertures may be amenable
to repair using a silicone or similar sealant.

Although good design and workmanship minimise the occurrence of
cracks, it is essentialboth at specification stage and during the work-not
to raise problems when the risks are insignificant or unfounded. The best
approach is probably for the parties to agree at a preliminary stage which
crack apertures necessitate further investigation and possible action, as well
as which cracks do not need attention.


The problem occurred with an industrial in-situ concrete floor where a
superplasticiser complying with BS 5075 Part 3:1985 had been specified.
The admixture was based on a chemical that was added into the truck
mixer in the specification range 0.71.2% m/m cement at the delivery point
on site. It was added at a concentration of about 1.0% m/m cement for this
particular site. As is common with truck-mixed concrete, the admixture
was stored in a tank above the mixer drum, and was added and truck-
mixed on site just before the concrete was discharged.
Because of an error at the ready-mix plant, the admixture tank was
inadvertently charged with the same volume (about 20L) of an air-
entraining agent based upon a neutralised vinsol resin. This type of
admixture is normally added at one tenth of the concentration of a
superplasticiser: 0.1% m/m cement is typical. More importantly, it is
recommended to be added into the mixing water when the truck mixer is
charged at the plant.
The day after casting the bays with the 6m3 of concrete from this truck
load, large-area scaling of sheets of surface material occurred down to a
thickness of 13mm. The scaled material was darker than the remaining
concrete, and at the interface there was a concentration of coagulated
bubbles with accompanying delamination parallel to the surface. The
remaining concrete was uniformly air-entrained, but the total air content
in the hardened concrete was about 12%. Of this percentage, about 1.0%
consisted of irregularly shaped entrapped air voids; the remainder
consisted of the common spherically shaped air-entrained voids in the

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diameter range 0.050.50mm. The coagulated bubbles at the interface were
mostly in the diameter range 0.050.20mm. The bays affected were replaced
with concrete complying with the specification.
Although the causes of this scaling were not discussed at the time of the
discovery, a comparison of the mechanisms of the action of
superplasticisers and air-entraining agents could yield a relevant clue. The
plasticising mechanism of a superplasticiser is generally accepted as
electrostatic action in setting up repulsive forces between aggregate and
cement particles. Thus underdosing or overdosing such admixtures would
tend to cause less or more film-over-particle formation respectively. Air-
entraining agents generally rely on the mixing actions trapping bubbles
that are electrostatically bonded between cement particles and the
surrounding aggregate-rich matrix. So an overdosing of air-entraining
agent could result in a concentration of bubbles, which might join together
under the same forces and form a pseudo-entrained/entrapped system of
plates of bubbles. These plates might have only enough buoyancy under
the action of site compaction processes to rise to just below the surface.
If this mechanism is relevant, then if there were cement-rich areas in the
ready-mix truck due, perhaps, to insufficient mixing, similar large-area
scaling would be expected. However, the scaled areas would be in patches,
because if cement-rich areas were responsible they would be unlikely to be
uniform in the truck mixer. Furthermore, the amount of air-entraining
agent overdosing would not need to be particularly high, because a bubble-
trapping mechanism would tend to operate at the cement-rich areas.

The problem would cause large areas of scaling up to 3mm deep of surface
layer, exhibiting little air entrainment but with a weak interface of coagulated
laminar bubble plates also showing laminar cracking. The remaining
substrate concrete from the same batch of concrete would tend to exhibit
fairly uniform air bubble distribution. The surface planarity would not
change significantly over the scaled areas. The scaling observed, and
illustrated in Fig. 3.14, could not have been misdiagnosed as the familiar
blistering or small-area scaling, about which much has been published.

Depending upon the degree of unsound material, a decision may be taken
to cut out the top layer to a depth of, say, 1020mm and resurface with new
concrete if the underlying substrate is acceptable. If there are more serious
doubts (as there were with the case mentioned) then complete replacement
may have to be considered.

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

Fig. 3.14 Large-area scaling on a slab.

All admixtures should be used in accordance with known and acceptable
good practice. Those added at the plant or works should be fed in with the
mixing water. Superplasticising admixtures added on site should be fed in
only after the concrete in the drum has been uniformly mixed and is as
close as possible to the required discharge position.

The problem encountered on site was with large concrete units precast on
site for placement in and above tidal water. The specification required that
virtually all concrete be treated with silane according to government
recommendations (DoT, 1990). The nature of the problem was twofold.
First, the concrete was too impermeable to absorb more than a marginal
amount of the two coat specified silane applications. Second, what little
managed to get into the concrete penetrated only about 1mm deep.
As far as was known at that time (and probably at the time of preparation
of this book), silanes had little or no track history in the UK. In contrast, the
long-established silicones have had a proven performance over at least 40
years. It is of interest to note that the superseded 1984 edition of the current
standard on masonry water repellents (BS 6477:1992) replaced a standard
(BS 3826:1969) that referred to silicone only in its title. The aim of these
types of treatment is to impregnate (not coat) concrete with a chemical that
has or endows the concrete with water-repellent properties. With silanes,
one has to wait for a significant amount of time to obtain this property.
Therefore the concrete or other material being treated must be capable of
being impregnated to a depth that will give an acceptable performance:
that is, not so shallow as to be at risk of losing its efficacy too quickly
because of wear or weathering. In addition, what impregnates the concrete
must be designed to act as a water repellent and not be subject to nor
designed for water under more than a nominal pressure.
Only silicones, usually based in a volatile solvent such as white spirit,
act immediately as water repellents by lining the sides of voids and
capillaries with a hydrophobic layer. Silanes have much lower viscosities

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than silicones in solvent, and should penetrate further if viscosity is the
sole criterion. However, silanes are not water repellents, and have to be
hydrolysed (chemical transformation by reaction with moisture in the
concrete or air) to form silicone.
It would be expected that water-repellent properties would only become
apparent with time. This was observed on site, where the thin layer of
penetration was observed to be water repellent only after several months
An additional factor to bear in mind is based on the physics of fluid
penetration. Viscosity controls the speed at which fluids pass through a
capillary system, but there has to be pressure driving that fluid. The
pressure for fluids in contact with permeable materials such as concrete
arises from the capillary attraction force, which is mainly a function of the
surface tension of the fluid and of the capillary radii of the permeable
material. There is considerable knowledge of capillary sizes in concrete
and of the viscosity of silane and silicones, but nothing on the surface
tension of either silanes or silicones.
Another potential disadvantage of silane is that because hydrolysis is
the mechanism that converts the chemical to the water-repellent silicone
form, moisture cannot get past the hydrolysed material to hydrolyse the
underlying silane.
Silanes are virtually solvent-free systems, and have very low boiling
points, which can, at 35C, sometimes be lower than the temperature of
the concrete. Not only does this make application troublesome in warm
weather, but it may also be necessary to spray the concrete with water to
promote hydrolysis if its own free moisture availability is low.
Another consideration is what to do with the unabsorbable run-off
material. A typical cost of silane is about 3 per litre; from the two specified
applications of 300mL/m2 each, it would not be unusual to have 500mL/
m2 or more being lost. In the case in question, gutters, filters and collection
tanks were installed, and the silane saved was reused.

The problem is flagged by a silane application requirement in the

Advise the specifier of the following:

The concrete will have to be of mediocre or poor quality for the silane
to be able to penetrate to a significant depth.

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A wait of some months will be required for the silane to hydrolyse into
the form of a silicone water-repellent.
It may not be possible to achieve the specified coverage rates with little
or no rejection of the silane.
Problems are likely to be encountered in hot weather.
Silane is expensive.
Silicone in a solvent may be a better proposition.

Pre-tender discussion is advised. The contractual aims may well be
achievable by better-known and tried means.

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Specification problems 4
Before going into the details of the four problem areas discussed in this
chapter, it may be helpful to describe some of the technical and materials
aspects that have coloured the current activity. Every effort has been made
to keep to materials problems, although it is difficult to avoid the
contractual aspects of construction. Hopefully, what will emerge is the need
for an interdisciplinary appreciation of all the interlocking features of the
construction programme. It is much more effective to get involved in
problem solving and troubleshooting at the preliminary stages rather than
during the work on site or after it has been completed.
Some of the general problems encountered tend to have common
features related to the technical requirements of the contract:
a tendency to use wording that is either vague or subject to debatable
general reference to standards without detailing the relevant parts or
a misguided concentration on initial cost, often at the expense of
scientific or technical needs;
contradictions between the specification and other submitted
documents in matters such as references and drawings;
reluctance by the party receiving tender documents to comment on
technical and materials preferences or buildability factors;
reluctance by the party preparing tender documents to consult the
relevant disciplines on these matters before submission for pricing;
reticence in the application of scientific and technical state-of-the-art
knowledge to construction.
There are possibly a few more factors that could be invoked. However, it is
hoped that optimism for the future of the industry will result in a sensible

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

appreciation of the roles that the technical and scientific parties should
play in construction.


The problem related to what the reader understood when the CE mark
was seen written on goods, literature, invoices or delivery notes. All too
often the interpretation was that what was being offered or supplied was
high-quality, reliable articles. This may well have been so, but it is essential
to understand what the claim means. I gained considerable experience in
this by representing the Chartered Institute of Building on the Department
of the Environments Joint Advisory Committee.
The basis of the CE mark is the safety requirements contained in a
Harmonized Standard, a Standard or an Agremnt Certificate (the latter
two documents do not have a European equivalent). The Joint Advisory
Committee, with members constituting trade associations, professional
institutions and the like, advised the UK governments representatives on
the European Standing Committee concerning the policy of Directives.
For the construction industry the main Directive of relevance is the
Construction Products Directive, which was issued as a Statutory
Instrument (HMSO, 1990). There are other Statutory Instruments based
upon other Directives, such as Low Voltage Equipment or Gas Appliances,
which also applysometimes in contradiction to the CPDbut the CPD
predominates for construction.
The CE mark for construction products relates to six Essential
Requirements: mechanical, fire, health, noise, energy and safety. These refer
to the behaviour of the product in the works, and not to the product itself.
How these six features apply to the European Standards Technical
Committees who receive their instructions from the Standing Committee
has been subject to a great deal of interpretation. Eight Interpretative
Documents have been published (fire has three: structural, noxious
emission and extinguishers), which are an order of magnitude larger than
the original CPD.
The Harmonized Standard on which a CE claim is based is a normative
Annex derived from the CPDs Essential Requirements. Therefore goods
claimed to be CE marked need to be studied for qualification as to the basis
of that claim. The following points merit investigation:
Against what Harmonized or equivalent Standard is the claim made?
Do the clauses in that Standard meet both the technical requirements
and the health and safety needs of the product when installed in the
Is it appreciated that the CE mark applies only to the Essential
Requirements, and that if there is another contract specification, such
as an architectural one, this is unlikely to be covered?

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Is it appreciated that the CE mark refers to the suitability of the product
in the works, but contains no reference to the construction processes
Is it appreciated that the main basis of a CE mark claim is that the
product complies when assessed under the clauses relating to health
and safety in the Harmonized Standard (or equivalent document)? This
is irrespective of whether or not those clauses meet the end-users
essential requirements.
In effect, the CE mark is a safe to use claim based upon safety defined by
others; it is not a fit for purpose claim. Although a product manufacturer
placing the CE mark on goods generally has to have external assessment,
the goods do not, in my opinion, generate the same degree of confidence
that the British Standard Kitemark gives. The Kitemark specifies the
standard to which the product is being assessed, and how regularly it is
being examined.

The problem arises when the CE mark appears in the contract documentation
without the parties concerned knowing to which Harmonized Standard or
equivalent specification the product is specified, or how all this relates to the
required performance of the product in the works.

Advise the party or parties concerned of the limitations of having only
part of the knowledge necessary for the construction.

CE marked products should be specified only when it is clear which are
the supporting documents, and what their relevance is to the job
requirements. The better-tried route of invoking relevant codes of practice
coupled with supporting standards and adequate supervision on site might
be more cost-effective.

The problem is to define the word durability. It has been used for many
years in relation to concrete and concrete structures, but all too often it can
mean any of the following:
strength, usually with respect to the cube results;
sulfate resistance, usually for concrete placed in the ground;

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

freeze/thaw resistance, for pavement-quality concrete;
a generally vague reference to how long it lasts.
The best way of tackling the problem could well be to pose the questions
that seem relevant, and propose how these questions may be answered.
This has manifested itself in four main ways on site:
What is meant by durable concrete?
What is/are the durability risk(s) and effect(s)?
How is durability to be assessed?
For how long is the concrete required to be durable?


The simple dictionary definition of durablestrong and long-lasting
is possibly what has resulted in the use of concrete strength to define
concrete durability. However, the relationship between concrete strength
and any particular durability risk is, at best, tenuous. As far as is known
the word durability has not been defined in the Standard (BS 6100 Part
6.2:1986), and the following might be suitable and relevant:
The ability of concrete to perform in the manner expected under
the defined conditions of use for the time expected.
This definition is subject to interpretation with respect to such phrases as
manner expected and time expected. However, if it is accepted that these
aspects of durability are relevant then they need to be described as
accurately as possible. The phrase defined conditions is probably the part
of the definition that is simplest to understand. For example, if concrete is
damaged by a durability hazard arising from an unexpected change of
use, then the concrete was and still is durable by its basic definition. The
following sections should clarify the meaning of manner expected and
time expected.


There are at least a dozen durability risk factors that, either singly or in
combination, could be relevant to any particular assessment:
Sulfate attack: weakens surface or can cause splitting.
Chloride ingress: promotes rapid unprotected rebar corrosion.
Carbonation ingress: permits rebar corrosion.
Freeze-thaw (F/T) without de-icers: degrades surface slightly.
F/T with de-icers: severe surface degradation.
F/T with anti-frost chemicals: surface softening and dissolution.
Inorganic chemicals: dissolution in depth.
Organic chemicals: generally a more rapid dissolution than inorganic
chemicals. (Note: The calcium salts resulting from some organic acid

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

reactions can form an acid-insoluble protective layer during the
reaction. Citric acid tends to behave in this manner; the initial rapid
reaction tends to stop within a minute or two.)
Attrition: loss of surface and dusting.
Impact: spalling, cracking or shattering.
Fire: integrity loss, spalling or cracking.
Weathering: change in appearance. (Note: Architectural durability
should be considered alongside the other durability factors. An
appendix in the cast stone standard (BS 1217:1997) tabulates these
considerations: this is possibly the first time that this matter has been
addressed in a BS.)
ASR: severe cracking and loss of integrity when the reaction is
unacceptably expansive.
Note: Refer to section 1.12 for the reason why DEF is omitted from this list.


Although it seems desirable to assess the concretes degree of durability by
a test, the apparent logic of this does not always prevail. An example that
arose from a recent site experience related to concrete in an estuarine
environment, with chloride ingress being the main risk. Section 3.1
discussed the diffusion characteristics and the symbol k, where test data
took at least 6 months to yield indicative data. Contractually, it is much
more acceptable to use a strictly supervised mix design regime with its
known track record of good site performance. The same considerations
largely apply to freeze-thaw testing and ASR assessments.
It is not the purpose of this section to discuss how to deal with each of
the 13 risks listed above, but simply to suggest that although testing has its
attractions it is not always the most effective or acceptable. There are well-
established track records of specific recipes of concrete, and with the need
to ensure good mixing, compaction and curing procedures, it is attractive
to specify and control mix design. If the parties concerned with the
assessment of durability agree that these control aspects are those that
prevail, then the incorporation of supervisory items in the contract
probably merits further discussion.


This difficult subject is possibly best tackled from the point of view of track
record, coupled with on-site monitoring to check predictions. This may be
achieved by concrete mix/concreting specification, or testing, or both. A
reasonable prediction can be made of the onset of something unacceptable,
or of the need for maintenance or remedial work; then a reasonable

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

assurance of a 10-, 25-, 50- or 100-year life will result. Concrete has been in
use for well over 100 years, and most of it is documented as performing
satisfactorily. There is enough information available to explain why things
go wrong when they do.
The main problem with concrete is that it cannot be designed like an
electric lamp, for example, to give 1000, 5000 or 10 000 hours burning time.
Most of my troubleshooting experiences have related to concrete under 20
years old, with most of the problems becoming manifest within the first
five years. The inference from all this is that concrete should be designed
to last as long as possible. It seems too risky to design concrete deliberately
to show durability distress within a limited time, such as 1020 years.
When it comes to proving the point that the planned durability has
prevailed over the years, there are, in addition to visual examination, a
large number of monitoring methods. For example, carbonation depth,
chloride gradient, half-cell potential and the initial surface absorption test
(ISAT) have all been found to be useful on-site tools. Of particular note
was an article referring to the use of the ISAT in limit-state design for the
time of the onset of rebar corrosion (Levitt, 1985).

Look out for the words durable or durability appearing in documents
with no qualification, risk description or assessment/control.

Probably the best way to deal with this is to ask for the qualification. When
it comes to dealing with durability as defined in 4.2.1, there appear to be
two camps. The first is the cater camp, which accepts that something is
going to go wrong and caters for it either by repair or by replacement. The
second is the apparently rarer cure camp, which ensures that the concrete
needs no maintenance apart, possibly, from occasional cleaning.

Pre-contract liaison between the members of the construction team seems
to be the best way to promote an understanding of the relevant durability
considerations, and of the best way to deal with them in each specific case.


The problem is concerned specifically with the word quality, and with
what much of the specifying and purchasing communities think the word
means. Quality, and all that the word engenders, has resulted in a growth

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

industry in both the manufacturing and servicing sectors. The subject is
complex, and a simplified step-by-step approach may help to throw some
light into a grey area.
Many users of the identical EN 29000 or ISO 9000 series of standards are
as likely to be misled by the inference of the word quality as by the
deliberately badly worded title of this section.
Quality is defined (BS 4778 Part 3:1991) as
The totality of features and characteristics of a product or service
that bear on its ability to satisfy stated or implied needs.
In my opinion this definition could be substantially improved, but first
note that the word quality is a noun. It is generally misinterpreted as an
adjective, to mean that the thing it refers to is good, better or excellent
in some way. This initiates a discussion on the interpretations of the
definition of the word, which will lead naturally into a description of the
pit-falls awaiting the unwary. Most people seem to accept that the word is
always a guarantee of something good.


As a noun quality needs an adjective to describe the quality on offer, such
as good, mediocre or poor. It does not matter whether what is being
considered is a product or a service. The current common use of the word
quality as an adjective before either of these wordsor any other word
is either meaningless or misleading. It gives no information as to the sort
of quality on offer, and it implies, without supporting information, that
what it refers to is superior or good.


The and/ part of the title of this section does not occur in the definition.
Usually this will have no effect on a product manufacturer, nor on the
designer or specifier. However, when it comes to a contractor or a
subcontractor the definition fails, because what is under consideration is a
mixture of both product and service.
The simple solution would be to change the definition to include and/
or. A more complicated approach might be to restrict the contractor or
subcontractors work to quality assurance of the work undertaken as a
service. This would leave any product involved subject to separate assurance.


The words or implied in the definition introduce a grey area of
interpretation. It would be far less complicated if these two words had
been omitted from the definition.

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Great store is currently being set by the optimism that seems to be
engendered by specifying quality in some form or the other in products or
services. However, when a product or service is quality assured, all that is
known is that there is some independently assessed paperwork confirming
that a claimed level of quality is being achieved. Thus, if a quality-assured
product or service is specified or offered, the parties concerned have a
reasonable assurance of consistency, and an implied expectation of
something that is good or very good.
The impression created by a framed ISO 9000 certificate in a foyer or a
claim in trade literature seems to be out of proportion to what that
certificate or claim actually means. The information has to be accompanied
by one or more appendix pages stating what quality is on offer, and how
the person making the offer substantiates the claim. It is only for a service
organisation such as an architectural practice that the lead certificate could
carry words such as Complete range of architectural services and provide
sufficient information on a single piece of paper.
As an example of the complications manifested by the subject of quality,
consider a specifier asking for a product from an organisation with ISO
9000 registration. The interest is solely in the product, not in the way it is to
be used. If the logical assessment of the suitability of that product is in its
properties, then surely a BSI Kitemark is sufficient?
A second example that might be more relevant to the construction
industry would be a manufacture and install requirement. The first head
of this two-headed specification could probably be dealt with by a
Kitemark. The second head needs to be a service-oriented control by the
ISO 9000 route, or by a known track record, or by adequate site control and
Hence there needs to be a clear definition in a series of specification
clauses that define, preferably with little or no ambiguity, what is required
to be purchased. Where a product and/or service is on offer, in the same
light, that product and/or service requires a fully qualified and
unambiguous description. There are also grounds for discussion outside
the subject matter of this section for the inclusion of the control of quality
as specific cost items in the bill of quantities. Although it can be expensive
to install a quality system, a well-organised and well-run system can soon
be shown to be cost-effective, and can pay for itself in the long run.
The most dangerous trap awaiting the unwary is probably tied up with
the word complacency. In-place quality systems generate a considerable
amount of paperwork, the need for some of which is questionable. An ISO
9000 claim or statement of compliance with an established quality
procedure conveys an aura of well-being to the uninitiated recipient. In

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

spite of all this, it is still incumbent on all associated with the quality scene
to understand what is being asked for and what is supplied.
Products and services are fit for purpose only if the parties concerned
are fully aware of what it is they are buying or selling, and realise that
fitness remains within the constancy of that claimed and specified
throughout the contract.
The author, with many years experience as a test house quality manager
(how one manages quality could well be subject to another and longer
discussion) and a Fellow of the Institute of Quality Assurance, condones
the application of quality principles in any industry or service.
Nevertheless, the 1980s and 1990s have seen a tendency to over-react to
the assumed benefits of registration.
A recent publication in the Institutes journal (Seddon, 1994) discussed
ISO 9000 in general terms. Seddon stated that registration was related to
competitiveness in a tendering position, and that the results of a survey by
Vanguard Consulting painted a picture of a standard that was not making
a strong positive contribution to quality in UK Ltd.
Before ending with the usual three sections, there is another popular
phrase that deserves criticism: quality improvement. Great care is
necessary before embarking on an all-round application of this principle,
because dangers can lurk. It may be relevant in the training of operatives
to carry out specific processes, but for a product there could well be
Consider the case of a paint that has a proven track record of at least 20
years satisfactory use on site. Should the manufacturer change to a
quality-improved product? There could be two arguments against this:
Twenty years was good enough in any case.
Do we wait for more than 20 years to see if it is improved?
There is nothing against improving something when an improvement is
necessary, but nothing for it simply for the sole aim of improvement. Many
cases of the unfortunate loss of track records have probably been caused
by unnecessary improvements.

Look out for the use of the word quality in any context without the parties
concerned knowing in unambiguous terms what the word implies in terms
of product and/or service.

Ensure that what is under consideration is qualified by a full description.
If this is not forthcoming, explain why a problem area still exists, and how
this may affect the work.

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

Four points are listed below as suggested constructive criticisms in tack
ling the problem at the pre-tender or tender stages. However, overriding
all this discussion is the possibility that quality assurance is the wrong peg
on which to hang ones hat.
Complaints are the indicators that there is something wrong with
quality. The way to avoid complaints or keep them minimal is to ensure
that quality is controlled (not assured) at all stages: that is, total quality
control. The installation of such a system, coupled with its supervision
would seem to have a lot in its favour without many of the disadvantages
associated with quality assurance.
It is difficult to summarise the avoidance of the problems described
earlier. The following points could form the basis for future discussion as
avoidance targets:

The specifier or purchaser needs to state what is wanted as exactly as

possible, by test data, drawings, specification wording, description and
The specifier or purchaser should neither specify nor describe how to
achieve what is wanted.
The suppliers suitability needs to be confirmed by a strict form of
The way this control is achieved needs to be documented and available
for audit by the other contract parties.


Concrete strength in a contractual supply situation is commonly specified
by the term characteristic strength. The term applies only to cubes or
cylinders made from that concrete, and not to the concrete in the structure.
The term is statistical (BS 8110 Part 1:1985); it means that not more than
10% of all cube results would be expected to fail the specification level. For
example, if 40 cubes of a C40-specified concrete are tested at 28 days, and
four of these cubes give results below 40MPa, that concrete can still comply.
The relative ease of using this form of specification, coupled with the
apparent relative simplicity of the manufacturing and testing regimes, has
generated serious problems on site, mainly with in-situ concrete.
Problems of this nature do not usually arise with precast concrete
products because, apart from beams, columns, cladding panels, cast stone
and similar, most precast products are specified by tests on the product.
This is the fundamental difference between type testing (a test on the
concrete supplied) and proof testing (a test on the actual finished concrete).
The terms are not to be confused with words realcrete and labcrete

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(defined in the Glossary). Proof testing of precast concrete products such
as masonry units, kerbs and pipes is on realcrete. As cubes or cylinders for
strength testing are usually made on site and then tested in a laboratory,
they do not fall into either the realcrete or the labcrete category.


From the foregoing discussion, it may be concluded that the value of a test
result is solely in the potential compressive strength. The test cannot cater
for realcrete factors such as:

(a) how well the concrete has been compacted;

(b) how well the concrete has been cured (thermal and/or moisture);
(c) the effect of segregation, honeycombing and similar;
(d) the potential difficulty in applying the term characteristic to high-
strength specifications;
(e) the potential problem of the 10% below all being in a single and critical
place on site;
(f) the likelihood of specifying strength when strength is an unnecessary
specification requirement.
An in-depth analysis of the pros and cons of the subject matter could well
extend this list, but the discussion here is restricted to my own experience.
For convenience (a), (b) and (c) have been integrated into this section, (d)
and (e) into 4.4.2, and (f), by itself, in 4.4.3.
My experience in the real world of site, plant and works concrete has
been coloured by the observation that people rarely follow specified
procedures to the letter of the specification. Happily, where deviations have
occurred, these have usually had a marginal or insignificant effect on the
Identification of the problem area is in two parts: the laboratory data,
and the strength that the concrete has in the construction. The first part
manifests itself in questions about the validity of the data. For example,
confidence can be undermined when a cube test certificate gives two
decimal places of strength or, for that matter, comments on a pass-or-fail
The second part of the problem is much more common, and is
encountered when a site dispute arises over aspects such as compaction,
curing or materials in general. This form of dispute can be triggered from
the cube or cylinder strength data, from a site inspection of the concrete, or
perhaps from some form of behaviour at a later date giving grounds for
It is remarkable how frequently data from cube or cylinder testing are
emphasised with little concentration on any part of the manufacture, cure

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or testing of these items. Remedial measures seem to be tied up with
sensible and total quality control all the way down the line. If as much
attention was paid to the manufacture and testing of test items as to the
results that the tests produce, then many of the problems would disappear.
Remedying queries relating to the realcrete on site is a different matter,
and one that should probably be included at the tender stage, to avoid or
inhibit the likelihood of disputes. There are a number of non-destructive
and semi-non-destructive tests that could be agreed as criteria. For
example, cores could be tested (BS 1881 Part 120:1983), or the concrete could
be examined for surface hardness (BS 1881 Part 202:1986). The latter test
would need to be supported by correlation data, and the former test would
need to be subject to a pre-agreed interpretation, both with respect to the
specified strength.
The way to avoid the problem is to treat all aspects of testing, from
sampling of the concrete right through to reporting, as part of a strictly
controlled regime. The primary documentation needs to spell out the
method for dealing with disputes on site relating to the quality of the
concrete in the construction. If all parties agree a detailed procedure for
tackling subsequent problems then much late and unnecessary argument
can be avoided. The parties probably also need to accept that a
multicomponent material emanating from a number of different disciplines
is always likely to create problems.


Two problems have been met in connection with this statistically based
specification. They are both easily identified.
The first problem concerns high-strength specifications such as C50 and
higher when the coarse aggregate used or specified has an ultimate yield
compressive strength not much higher than 50MPa. In order to meet the
specification, a manufacturer or supplier of concrete would, for example,
strive to achieve an average strength of at least SOMPa plus two standard
deviations. It is assumed that all cube results would sit within a bell-shaped
Gaussian (normal) distribution, and that not more than 10% of the total data
would fall below SOMPa. Thus with a standard deviation of, say, 3MPa an
average strength of 56MPa would be targeted. Most importantly, the
statistical concept would assume a mirror reflection of data on either side of
the average. Because 80% of the data would be expected to lie within the
range 5062MPa (there would be 10% failing the upper limit), any aggregate
strength below 62MPa would annul the characteristic concept. The new
distribution of data would be skew and possibly of a Poisson type.
The second problem concerns the potential risk that all of a 10% failure
batch might find its way into a single and possibly critical part of the

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structure. As an example, a part-load of 2m3 of ready-mixed concrete or an
even smaller load of site-mixed concrete could be used in concrete piles. If
the total amount of concrete used in the piles on the contract was 20m3 and
the cubes from the 2m3 were the only failures then the concrete could be
said to have complied. A chartered engineer would need to advise on how
critical the 2m3 pile positions were and on their relation to the cube strength
A remedy for the first problemthe inapplicability of the Gaussian
distribution to high-strength concreteis suggested by a current case,
where the solution was to vary the requirement of BS 8100 from not more
than 10% to not more than 5%.
As far as the second problem is concerned, if the cube data relative to
some pile positions are suspect although the specification is met, then an
engineers appreciation of that concrete is required. The non-destructive
or semi-non-destructive tests referred to in section 4.4.1 might be of help.
The avoidance of both types of problem is easier to address. If the grade
of strength required means that the Gaussian distribution has a significant
overlap with the ultimate aggregate strength, then either a Poisson
statistical basis of specification needs to be introduced, or the specification
could be based on minimum strength as the criterion or on some other
acceptable scheme. For the second form of the problem, it is possible that a
minimum rather than a characteristic strength specification would address
the risk. Remember that the 10% below refers to the number of results
and not to the level of each result. Because it is a habit to specify concrete
cube or cylinder strength on the characteristic basis it does not have to be


This problem has generally concerned contractual situations where the
concrete is expected to perform as a function of cube or cylinder test data.
The performance requirement has been either unrelated or only tenuously
related to strength. The problem arising from the reliance on test sample
strength data was aggravated by having to wait for several days for the
numbers to arrive on site, by which time the construction would have
probably advanced by several stages. The following are examples of the
part or full inapplicability of strength tests:
(a) situations such as chloride resistance where the selection of mix
ingredients is the most important aspect;
(b) situations where concrete is likely to be subject to deformation, and its
elasticity is more important;
(c) concrete subject to the hazards of fire, impact, explosion and impact
sound insulation;

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(d) situations where the concrete is subject to an aesthetic weathering
durability risk, and its water and dirt resistance are more important
than strength.

The only possible remedy would be to introduce an assessment related to

the performance requirement, or to have the strength specification
modified. As far as waiting for strength data to arrive on site is concerned,
the use of a non-destructive test such as the rebound hammer (BS 1881
Part 202:1983) could be considered. However, at the remedial stage, it is
unlikely that better than a 15% accuracy can be placed upon strength
prediction, because a calibration relationship for the specific concrete is
unlikely to be available.
As in section 4.4.2, the problem is fairly easy to avoid, because action
can usually be taken at tendering or pre-contract stage. The parties
concerned with the technical requirements need to agree what performance
characteristics are relevant, how these are to be assessed, and with what
limits. The specification of mix design as a priority over the properties of
the hardened concrete could also yield fruitful results, provided that this
was coupled with a realcrete assessment to cater for such things as curing
and compaction.

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Precast concrete 5
In this chapter I have taken the opportunity to update several items from
my first book, Levitt (1982), as well as to add knowledge accumulated both
in the time spent with the Laing organisation and since then.
There are no clear dividing lines between many of the problems
encountered with precast concrete products and those encountered with
in-situ concrete. This chapter describes problems that have been observed
with precast products, but where the same problems are met with in-situ
concrete there is no reason to think that the same approaches to
identification, remedy and avoidance cannot be taken, as with aggregates
and frost damage discussed in section 1.3, for example.
As in Chapters 1 and 3, the actual material being used is rarely the reason
for the problem. Matters of design or workmanship nearly always lie at
the root of the problem.


Levitt (1982) described this problem at length, but this virtually irremovable
and most unsightly of aesthetic defects continues to occur. It has been
observed in both in-situ and precast concrete finishes, although the
complaints recorded have referred mainly to precast concrete products.
This is probably because the surface finish requirements and expectations
for precast products are more stringent than those for in-situ concrete. Also,
precast products are commonly stacked at an early age. Mould smoothness
or polish and the effect of stacker packs have both been found to be
significant factors in causing this problem, and so it was considered best to
place this section in this chapter.
Before listing the factors associated with hydration staining, it is worth
restating the underlying mechanism suggested in Levitt (1982) to be the

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cause of this problem. The words macro and micro have been used at
various places in this book, and will be found in many treatises dealing
with concrete and other materials. About four orders of magnitude below
the micrometre (m), atomic forces are encountered at the ngstrom level
of length measurement (1=10-10m). Strong levels of atomic attraction
due to van der Waals forces are known to operate at atomic distances. A
reasonably smooth surface of a mould or a stacker piece is likely to have
areas of atomically smooth surface. Therefore fresh or fairly young
concrete in contact with such a surface will tend to adopt the same macro,
micro and atomic smoothness as that of the surface with which it is in
A relevant manifestation of the strength of these forces may have been
experienced when mounting 35mm photographic slides. In addition to the
two plastics locking frames for each slide there is a stack of tissue-wrapped
smooth glass plates, of which two are used to encase each transparency.
Each piece of glass can generally be removed only by a sideways sliding
action. It is almost impossible to pull a piece of glass off vertically along
the same axis as the stack of glass plates.
Another less well-known example of these forces occurs when two
pieces of pure copper have their ends polished to a mirror smoothness
in a nitrogen box (to avoid oxidation), and these polished faces are
brought together under light hand pressure. A bond as strong as a
brazed or soldered joint is obtained, and the two pieces of copper cannot
be parted.
The main factors involved in hydration staining are as follows:

Concrete shrinks during the hydration process of the cement.

The shrinkage away from the mould or formwork leaves a small gap,
which is nevertheless large enough for air with its small carbon dioxide
content to enter.
For typical OPC concrete this results in a light grey colour because of
slight surface carbonation.
Such concrete cured under air-free conditions exhibits a colour between
dark grey and black.
White Portland cement concrete and cast stone exhibit a light blue-
grey colour.
Smooth polish-finish, gloss-painted moulds or formwork will promote
hydration staining, because atomic smoothness can be obtained over
quite large areas.
Smooth-faced packing pieces or stacking blocks placed against visual
faces before the concrete is about 2 days old will promote the same
Hydration staining has been found to bear no relation to the type or
amount of mould release agent or oil used.

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The glossier the finish of the mould or formwork the worse the
The strong attraction forces between the concrete and the mould or
formwork make demoulding or stripping difficult.
Weathering does not ameliorate the effect; if anything, the concrete
surrounding the stained area tends to lighten in colour while the stain
remains virtually unaffected. This makes the stain stand out more in
Figure 5.1 illustrates an example of hydration staining on Portland-finish
cast stone units, caused by stacking planks. This twin-line staining was
first observed in 1991, and when last inspected in 1996 showed no sign of

The symptom is dark glossy area(s) on the surface, usually accompanied
by difficulty in demoulding or stripping. This staining typically penetrates
1030mm into the concrete. Weathering, if anything, tends to emphasise
the contrast between stained and unstained areas. Hydration staining has
been found to have no similarity to the staining caused by leavesplanks
of timber used for stacking after the concrete is a few days oldwhere
saponification by the lime in cement generally causes such stains to fade or

Once hydration staining has occurred there is no direct remedial action
that can be taken. The areas affected can be cut out and made good, but

Fig. 5.1 Hydration staining on a case stone unit.

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the aesthetics of the made-good concrete would need to be discussed. The
alternative indirect treatment would be to paint the concrete with a low-
maintenance paint such as a silicate or acrylic-based system, ensuring that the
surface can still breathe: that is, can allow the passage of water in vapour form.

Avoid the use of gloss-finish moulds or formwork. Where paints are used
they should be matt finish and pigmented, with the pigment colour
changed if more than one coat is to be applied. The pigment in paint is
more significant in promoting wear resistance than the type of paint used
(Levitt, 1982), and changing the colours of subsequent coats facilitates the
assessment of paint wear rates.
Where the mould or formwork has a high gloss finish, two or three
consecutive daily mortar applications and removals help to weather the
surface into a consistent use behaviour. The alternative is to sandblast the
surface lightly so as to produce a matt finish.
Where stacking pieces are to be used they should not be deployed until
the concrete is 48 hours old. Even after this time, for visual faces, the
stacking items used should preferably allow part-air ingress. For example,
expanded polystyrene blocks would be preferable to polythene-wrapped
pieces of timber.
The associated experience of the concretes sticking to the mould or
formwork can often be alleviated by incorporating a valve into which
compressed air is blown during demoulding or stripping. The sticking would
be due to the van der Waals attraction forces, which at a simulated total
vacuum suction level could reach 0.1MPa. Over an area of concrete of say,
0.1m2, the force required to release this area of adhesion would be 1 tonne.


The most abundant alkaline material in hardened concrete is calcium
hydroxide, often referred to as lime. It is slightly soluble in water, and can
move through the void structure. When it reaches the surface it quickly
reacts with the carbon dioxide in the air to form calcium carbonate. This is
white in colour, and is known as lime bloom. It should not be confused
with efflorescence, which is normally in the form of a white crystalline
deposit of calcium sulfate, and is a problem (outside the scope of this book)
that is associated with some clay bricks.
In general, the simple difference between calcium carbonate as lime
bloom and calcium sulfate as efflorescence is that when each is placed in
turn in dilute hydrochloric acid, lime bloom bubbles whereas efflorescence
does not.

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However, the occurrence of lime bloom on the face of concrete is a
serious problem, which all too often encourages the use of an apparently
cheap cleaning agent such as hydrochloric acid. The drawbacks of this are
discussed later. The lime bloom forms a patchy appearance, which for dark-
coloured backgrounds looks very unsightly if aesthetics is a consideration.
Calcium carbonate is almost insoluble in water, although it is very slightly
soluble in carbonic acid (water containing carbon dioxide). In practice, the
rate at which lime reaches the surface tends to decrease with time, because
hydration products and carbonated lime tend to obstruct the voids.
Therefore a long wait, of the order of several months or even a year or
more depending upon the site exposure conditions, is necessary before the
bloom lessens or disappears.
Lime bloom is most likely to occur in mid-spring, commonly at the end of
April and in early May. At that time of the year the UK experiences its lowest
relative humidities; I have measured levels as low as 30% with a whirling
hygrometer. Associated with these low humidities are low temperatures,
which tend to be below the temperature of the body of the concrete. The dry,
low-temperature surface zone will have a low saturated vapour pressure
compared with the concrete or cast stone below, and so the calcium
hydroxide in solution will be drawn towards the surface in an attempt to
reach a pressure equilibrium. This mechanism, which is virtually the same
as that described in section 3.3, exacerbates the formation of lime bloom.
In summer the average relative humidity is high, and it would only be
at night timewhen the surface is colder than the body of the concretethat
lime bloom would be promoted. Acting against this process could well be
the nightly comparatively high relative humidity, promoting surface
dampness, and a slow diffusion process would have to take place between
the calcium hydroxide in solution in the body of the matrix and the
relatively fresh and new water in the surface layers.

Lime bloom consists of a white powdery deposit on the surface, which is
insoluble in water but soluble in dilute hydrochloric acid with the
formation of bubbles. (Note: The person carrying out this test would not
be expected to identify the bubbles as being carbon dioxide.)

Lime bloom can either be removed by dry brushing, or left to the slow
dissolution process described previously. Although brushing will remove
most of the bloom there is still an abundant source of lime from the cement
hydrates waiting to go into a very dilute lime solution and replace the

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

bloom on the surface. Once the lime bloom has been brushed off, a silicone
solution complying with BS 6477 is very effective as a more permanent
The use of hydrochloric acid to remove lime bloom is not advised, even
though it appears to be very effective. Even if the concrete or cast stone is
thoroughly wetted both before and after the acid application (in order to
inhibit acid penetration) the treatment will leave the reaction product
calcium chloride in the void structure. Calcium chloride is very soluble in
water, but it is also very hydrophilic, and promotes surface dampness. This
in turn will allow calcium hydroxide to get to the surface and, if anything,
will exacerbate lime bloom formation.

Use a water-repellent admixture such as stearic acid in wet-cast concrete,
or calcium or aluminium stearate in earth-moist products such as most
cast stone production. Do not use this type of admixture with any other
admixture unless representative tests have shown that the two admixtures
are compatible in all properties. The alternative would be to use a silicone
as in section 5.2.2 as soon as possible after manufacture. In this case care
would be needed to avoid spillage onto bedding faces. Provided other parts
of the construction are adequately protected, site application can have its
attractions, most obviously the fact that mortar joints would be siliconed
at the same time.


The word colour is used here to embrace the many terms invoked
architecturally to describe the visual effect that the surface of concrete has
on the human eye. There is considerable subjectivity in this assessment,
because factors associated with the surface, such as texture, tone and
reflectance, all play parts. Superimposed on all this are the conditions when
viewing takes place, such as:
direct sunlight on the surface;
sunlight on a surface adjoining the one being assessed;
wetness, dampness or dryness of the surface;
the appearance under cloudy, misty or foggy conditions;
the effect of adjoining coloured material, such as a window surround.
It may be seen that the view likely to be reached is a function of two groups
of variables: those that seem to lie with the producer, and those that are
subject to the viewing conditions. The problem of colour variations is
mainly concerned with the first of these, because the viewing conditions
should be controllable on site or during storage.

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The problem has arisen because concrete, including cast stone, is a multi-
ingredient material subject to a wide variety of circumstances before it is
used on site. No matter how competent the producer is, colour variations
will occur from product to product as well as within a product. This also
applies within small areas of the face of a section of visual insitu concrete.
Consider a few of the relevant variables that affect colour, tone and texture,
and which the most realistic of control systems cannot control to give a
uniform sameness to the surface appearance:
slight changes in the fine aggregate grading;
slight changes in the colour of the fine aggregate;
small variations in the cement content;
small changes across the concrete mix in water/cement ratios;
slight changes in the surface curing conditions;
small variations in cement colour.
The words small and slight apply solely to the region of ultra-fine control,
which is not within the practical control that the strictest of manufacturers
can exercise.
As far as the relationship between manufacturer/producer and
purchaser/user is concerned, what this amounts to is an acceptance that
there will be control but not at a level that would be impossible to obtain.
Therefore any agreement on what colour variations are acceptable needs
to be based upon samples that represent both the limits within which the
manufacturer can operate and any effects that the geometry of the units in
question may have.
To cover the first aspect, samples ideally need to be unit-sized and
replicated for both works and site comparison. Each sample, as well as a
comparison of one sample with another, should demonstrate the
variabilities within which the full production can work.
In dealing with the second aspect, two of the many factors that have to
be considered are the inclusion of insulation, causing differential curing
rates, and the differing aggregate facets shown by vertically cast and
horizontally cast faces of exposed-aggregate concrete.
The subject of colour leads on to concrete deliberately coloured by the
inclusion of pigments in the mix. These materials are generally fine
powders of iron oxide for the blacks, reds, yellows and browns, but also
include green chromic oxide and blue cobalt oxide. All these have the same
order of fineness as Portland cement, and are nominally spherical particles.
The exception is yellow pigment, which has dendrite-shaped particles
(shaped, microscopically, like the branch of a fir tree).
Yellow iron oxide pigment (actually an iron oxide/iron hydroxide
complex) needs extra care in dispensing and mixing. Carbon black is
available as a pigment but has two general disadvantages. First, it is
commonly an order of magnitude or more finer than the metallic oxide

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

pigments, and the low dosage needed is difficult to control, which often
results in large colour variations. Second, and more important, carbon black
pigment is not only irregular in shape but has a sponge-like porous matrix,
which occludes any lime bloom that forms much more than the impervious
and generally spherical metallic oxide pigments. This has resulted in
carbon-pigmented concrete being wrongly labelled with a colour fade
description. Although carbon can slowly oxidise at weathering
temperatures it does not fade in the short term; it is masked by lime bloom.
Figure 5.2 shows a dwelling with tiles pigmented with both carbon and
iron oxide. The carbon-pigmented tiles are mainly those further from the
Recommendations for avoiding colour variation are listed at the end of
this section. However, it has always seemed incongruous to me that a
material costing 5500 times the price of cement should be put into a
concrete mix with little or no plan in mind to promote colour retention
during the planned aesthetic durability period. The most expensive
pigment is blue cobalt oxide, for which a daily price would probably have
to be obtained as it is based on a semi-precious metal. A blue organic copper
complex pigment is available, but its colour tends to change to green as the
concrete carbonates. The natural blue mineral ultramarine is unstable when
used as a pigment, and fades completely after only a few weeks exposure.
Concerning applied colours in the form of paints, no problems have
been found with the inorganic silicate-based systems. They not only require
nominally zero maintenance (apart from washdown needs), but have a
good performance track record of more than a century. Maintenance has
been found necessary with organic chemical-based paints, mainly because
of ultra-violet effects.

Fig. 5.2 Lime bloom on tiles pigmented with iron oxide and with carbon.

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

Concerning the second group of variables relating to site conditions, an
optimum method of recording colour and its change with time is provided
by standardised night-time flash photography during a dry moonless
night, using the same film, camera and position each time.

There is an apparent lightening in colour with age, and a variation in colour,
texture, shade and reflectance, both within distances as small as a few
centimetres within a unit and from location to location and unit to unit.
The lightening with age tends to promote an eventual uniformity, which
can occur after only a few months on a south or west unprotected face, and
after several months or a year or two on other faces.

Either apply a silicone to BS 6477 after any remedial work, or do nothing.
Any other form of surface treatment, including acid etching, might seem
to be beneficial in the short term, but nearly always makes matters worse.

In addition to exercising the best manufacturing control, any concrete
(pigmented or otherwise) will generally benefit from the use of stearic acid in
wet-cast mixes, or aluminium or calcium stearate in earth-moist mixes. Both
these admixtures endow the concrete with water-repellent properties, and
therefore, if control is mediocre or poor, there will be minimal lightening due
to weathering, and defects in colour variation will be visible for a long time.
Consideration could also be given to using pigments in pre-blended
form, where the pigment and the water-repellent admixture are mixed with
the cement in a powder disperser, as illustrated in Fig. 5.3. The advantages
of this quickly offset the cost of the blender, because not only can the
pigment content be reduced by up to 50% for the same staining power as if
it had been added to the mixer, but the blend containing the water repellent
becomes a hydrophobic cement. During storage it would not be subject to
the typical caking or sack-hardening associated with untreated cement.
Mixes containing water-repellent admixtures need to be mixed by direct-
action as in pan-type mixers. Drum mixers generally do not have enough
energy to mix effectively when stearine-type admixtures are used.


The problem of cracking has been encountered mainly with cast stone sills
and lintels, either during handling and storage or when built into the

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

Fig. 5.3 Elutriation blending of powders inot cement.

structure. The cause was almost certainly the specification of units that
had a large z length dimension compared with the x and y section
dimensions. This is also related to the false expectation that a product
having a cube strength in the range 3040MPa is as structural as a 40
60MPa wet-cast concrete unit.
As far as the product is concerned, cast stone, especially the common
moist-mix design products, is generally a mortar mix and not a typical
concrete mix. The bending strength of concrete is about 1014% of the
compressive strength. For the mortar-mix cast stone this ratio has been
found to concentrate at the 10% end of the range. Therefore, if a cast stone
with 40MPa compressive cube strength is being made, the highest bending
strength will be about 4MPa. However, this assumes that the compaction
and strength of the unit are the same as the cube, but this is rarely likely to
be the case. The safety factor that can be ostensibly applied has not been
specified, and it is only in the standard for cast stone (BS 1217:1997) that
maximum limits for z have been specified compared with the x and y
dimensions. This part of the cast stone specification is based upon x and y
being represented by an inscribed or superscribed circle in the xy section,
depending both on shape and on whether x or y is vertical when the
product is handled.
As far as handling, transport and storage are concerned, it is obvious
that if a long unit is being lifted at its ends and x is larger than y, then it is

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

best moved with the x axis vertical. However, when lifted by two
operatives, such a unit is more comfortable to hold with the shorter y axis
vertical. This will result in a larger bending moment, and therefore the
recommendations in BS 1217 need to be accompanied by strict supervision.
Specifications for cast stone sills and lintels have perhaps been
influenced by the use of prestressed units, which not only can be
manufactured and installed virtually crack-free with high slenderness
ratios, but also can support large loads of superimposed masonry. The
problem at the manufacturing stage for cast stone or similar products (other
than prestressed) is that producers have been loath to tell the specifier that
there is a cracking risk due to the units being too slender. This problem
will remain as both a specifier and manufacturer remit unless the specifier
receives a documented risk warning. Figure 5.4 shows a lintel of cast stone
that has a high slenderness ratio.
On site, in addition to picking up a unit with the shorter of the x and y
dimensions in the vertical direction, there is the extra bending moment
brought about by the manual or cranage acceleration in changing from the
rest position to a moving one. As far as I know no data have been published
on the effect of this, but consider the effect of this acceleration on the lintel
in Fig. 5.4.
Take the following reasonable assumptions:
a cube compressive strength of 40MPa;
an idealised bending strength (equivalent prism) of 4MPa;
a realcrete bending strength of 2MPa;
a cast stone density of 2100kg/m3;
acceleration at the first lift that is double the static bending moment;
unit weight=95kg.

Fig. 5.4 Cast stone lintel with slenderness ratio (not to scale).

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

The calculations give the following approximate data:
Dynamic (during lifting) bending moment=0.50106Nmm;
Moment of inertia divided by distance of neutral axis=0.3106mm3
Flexural stress applied at lifting stage=2MPa approx.
This is the same as the assumed realcrete bending strength, and so the unit
is likely to crack.
An additional problem with cast stone on many sites is that such
products are treated with little respect. Not only have storage and handling
conditions been commonly found to be poor, but the installation is
generally carried out by bricklayers. If natural stone was being installed it
would be handled by masons. Although cast stone is generally cheaper
than natural stone it is made (by its BS 1217 definition) to be used in place
of natural stone. It therefore seems illogical to use price when comparing
installation processes.

Look for one or more cracks near the centre of the unit, tending to narrow
or disappear towards the top of the section. End-lifting a sill or lintel in its
upside position rather than its design installation position would result in
severer cracking, as there would probably not be any reinforcement in the
tensile zone created during the lifting.

A polymer-based system is often suitable, provided that an engineer has
advised on the suitability for repair rather than rejection. The selection
depends upon whether or not the cracks are dead or live. Whichever type
of repair is selected, it is an aesthetic advantage to cut a trench along the
crack about 10mm wide and deep, and to make this good after attending
to the crack. The epoxide-based resins are suitable for dead cracks in many
cases, and the copolymer emulsions for live cracks. The trench repair can
be undertaken for the two types of repair material with a polymer matching
(after weathering) mortar or a sealant respectively. These are broad
recommendations, but each case has to be treated individually. There are
many geometrical variations with concrete and cast stone sills and lintels,
which make it difficult to generalise.

Units should be designed and manufactured with limiting slenderness
ratios. Cast stone units need to be designed to the specified clause of BS
1217, and the conditions laid down therein could well be good starting

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points for other types of precast concrete unit. On site, contractors need to
be aware that the product being handled, especially if it is cast stone, needs
careful consideration at all stages. When the products are cast stone,
masons should be employed for the installation.


The problem related to concrete pipes that exhibited cracks at their inverts,
with crack apertures up to 0.5mm. As far as was known, in all cases the
pipes were of well-designed, manufactured and cured concretes, and the
incidence was not found to be a function of the method of manufacture.
However, the cracking took place only during the hot summer months,
which indicated that a thermal effect was responsible. Of more and, as it
turned out, relevant interest was the opinion of one or two manufacturers
that storing pipes with their axes in the north-south direction seemed to
cause more cracking.
To investigate this possible link, the author tested works-manufactured
pipe rings of about 1m diameter by 0.5m long in the laboratory. Heat was
applied from an arc battery of infrared lamps, which could be rotated to
simulated solar radiation with both north-south and east-west axis
orientations. The movement caused by this was measured by mechanical
strain gauges round the periphery of each pipe. Surface temperatures were
also measured, at locations referring to the centre of each strain gauge
In the north-south simulated orientation there was a significant
tendency for the heated side of the pipe ring to become ellipsoidal in shape;
in some cases cracking was induced at the inverts similar to that observed
in the works. For pipes tested in a simulated east-west storage direction
there was a slight tendency towards an ellipsoidal shape, but the
movements observed were not significant.
Figure 5.5 illustrates the pipe ring positions during the test.
It was also of interest to observe in the measurements of surface
temperature that, in a laboratory running at about 20C, concrete surface
temperatures up to 60C were recorded. The response of concrete to solar
(or other thermal) radiation is fairly well known. On a hot summers day,
dark-coloured or black concrete will feel warmer than grey or lighter-
coloured concrete. At night-time, the converse is observed.
A body that is 100% efficient in absorbing (and consequently in emitting)
radiation is known as a black body radiator. The author calculated the
radiation coefficient for the grey-coloured concrete rings and found it to be
about 0.8. This meant that ordinary grey concrete was almost as efficient in
absorbing or emitting heat as a perfect black body.
From this small apparent difference between grey and a theoretical
black-coloured concrete it can be predicted that white concrete would not

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Fig. 5.5 Thermal cracking in concrete pipe.

be all that much cooler on a summers day than grey concrete. It would
therefore follow, if research supported this prediction, that thermal
protection covers or enclosures/containers should be silver-coloured rather
than white or light in colour.

The problem shows up as a single crack at one or both of the inverts, with
crack apertures in the range 0.20.5mm. The cracks are common in the top
row of pipes and in those stored with their main axes in a north-south

Subject to an engineers acceptance of remedial action, repair the cracks
with an epoxide or polyester resin system, and re-store pipes with their
axes in an east-west orientation. If the pipes cannot be stored in this way,
protect them from direct sunlight with a suitable covering.

Store pipes with their main axes in an east-west orientation. If this is not
possible, protect them from direct sunlight with a suitable covering.

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The problem was observed on a site where contra-shaped
trapeziumsectioned concrete pipe ring units were being hydraulically
rammed into the forming of a tunnel lining. The precision required in the
trapezium shape made it necessary for the manufacturer to choose concrete
moulds because of their stability. The concrete in the precast units was
specified to have an average cube strength of not less than 45MPa. In all
other respects the concrete was observed to have been well designed,
compacted and cured.
The problem manifested itself during the ramming as edge-spalling and
cracking, with most of the damage taking place with the final installed
unit, namely the top dead centre locking piece. To counter the problem,
which was apparently considered to be due to lack of adequate strength,
the minimum average cube strength specification was increased from 45
to 50MPa. This resulted in a significant increase in the incidence of spalling
and cracking.
A subsequent discussion on the energy-absorption characteristics gave
some credence to the attraction of using a more elastically behaving weaker
concrete. It was thought that this property would apply to both slow and
fast (impact) strain induction. The latter applied on this particular site.
Figure 5.6 illustrates how weak concrete compares with strong concrete;
the area under the curves is a function of the energy absorption.

Fig. 5.6 Stress versus strain and energy absorption.

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As a site trial, a batch of segments was manufactured with the specified
minimum average strength decreased from 50 to 35MPa. It was found that
the spalling and cracking problems virtually disappeared. From then on,
all concrete segments were made to this weaker specification.
A similar mechanism was discussed in section 3.2, where, under the
impact of sandblasting, the face of the concrete receded but the elastic
energy-absorptive plastics spacers were left proud of the surface. In section
4.2 impact was listed as one of the durability hazards. These observations
all seem to imply that impact durability is inversely related to resistance.

The problem shows up as spalling and cracking occurring during handling
or installation, especially when high-strength concrete is being used.

Subject to an engineers consideration, repairs can be undertaken following
the general principles of CSTR26 (Concrete Society, 1984).

Where concrete, precast or in situ, is at impact risk and has not been fibre-
reinforced for that risk, characteristic strengths are probably best kept
within the range 3040MPa.


A tessera (plural tesserae) is generally a square or rectangular-shaped piece
of ceramic or glass that is used to form a multi-tessera mosaic on the face of
concrete or other materials. The problem met has been the detachment of
these and/or hollowness, and has been commonly observed in precast
concrete units, but has also occurred with in-situ concrete.
It is common for mosaic to be used in sheets (e.g. 300mm square), with
paper stuck to the visual face. For precast products, these sheets are
normally laid paper-face down at the bottom of the mould, which then has
a mortar applied, followed by concrete. The paper is washed or scrubbed
off after demoulding, as the glue on the paper is water soluble. For in-situ
concrete facades, the sheets are generally pressed onto an applied polymer
mortar; when the mortar has hardened sufficiently, the paper is removed
Both processes are very sensitive to the quality of workmanship, and
this, together with specific design considerations, has been found to affect
the bond detrimentally in the following ways:

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Fig. 5.7 Mosaic subject to edge weathering.

Fig. 5.8 Mosaic subject to compression at a joint.

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(a) inadequate surface preparation;
(b) adhesive mortar allowed to stiffen or harden before applying the
individual tesserae or sheets of mosaic;
(c) the use of an adhesive mortar with inadequate adhesion;
(d) weathering at an exposed mosaic edge return, as shown in Fig. 5.7;
(e) tessera compression failure across a joint, as shown in Fig. 5.8.

Note: A failure due to (c) alone would be a design failure, not a mater ial

The symptom is detached tesserae found on the pavement, ground or
subroofs. Hollowness may also be present, and can be detected by tapping.
This form of testing is best concentrated at the edges or joints of precast
units and at random areas on in-situ concrete with, possibly, concentration
at discontinuities such as windows, doors and corners.

With reference to the above five reasons for probable bond failure, the
following remedies are generally effective:
(a)(e) Remove tesserae from suspect or hollow areas. The use of heat
in the form of a propane gas torch is very effective over large areas.
The heat debonds the mosaic much more quickly than mechanical
methods do. Take precautions to protect personnel and the building
from falling hot tesserae.
(a), (b) and (c) For (b) and (c) remove all mortar, and for all three treat
the substrate mechanically, by grit-blasting, mechanical tooling or
by heat calcination of the aggregate, to produce an exposed
aggregate finish. At this stage or before aggregate exposure the
substrate concrete could usefully be surveyed for the depth of cover
of the steel, depth of carbonation and other properties. This would
confirm that the concrete was suitable to receive remedial mosaic
work without the possible later risk of failure due to rebar corrosion
or other mechanisms. Once the surface has been prepared, apply
an SBR mortar in areas no bigger than can be mosaic-applied
without the mortar becoming dry or stiffening. All these activities
should be undertaken by specialists.
(d) and (e) Remove affected tesserae and mortar and prepare the
substrate surface, preferably by mechanical means, to produce an
exposed-aggregate finish. For (e) cut the joint to give an opening
of 510mm and point up with a suitable sealant. For both (d) and

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(e) replace the tesserae to within about 50mm of the edge or joint,
and finish to the edge with the same mortar as used for bedding
the tesserae to form a margin.
Note: For buildings constructed before about 1970, the common square
tessera size was 0.75 inches. Replacement square tesserae are now 20mm
in size, and filling in patches can be a problem, because a metric tessera is
about 0.5mm larger than the imperial one it replaces.

This can be usefully set out as a number of dos and donts in a format
similar to a code.
Do not:
(a) design or apply mosaic right up to a joint or edge;
(b) allow tesserae to butt across a joint.
(c) have a mortar margin about 50mm wide beside a joint or edge;
(d) for mosaic to be applied to a hardened concrete face, expose the
aggregate either by the use of a suitable retarder or by mechanical or
thermal methods;
(e) use polymer mortars in preference to plain mortars for sticking or
casting against mosaics (the SBR-based systems have a good track
(f) for glass mosaic apply an epoxide resin followed by a sand blinding
to the adhesion face, and allow to harden before sticking onto the
concrete as in (e);
(g) in the rare case of using net-backed (as distinct from paper-faced)
mosaic, follow the same procedure as in (f), ensuring compatibility
between the epoxide and the glue used in the net.
Note: Mosaics have a good track record, going back over two millennia.
These ancient structures (the mosaic floor in the Roman villa at Bignor
near Bognor Regis is a good example) indicate that good workmanship is
the significant factor.

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

Testing 6
Materials form the sole subject matter of this book, and so it is not
surprising that testing so often comes into the picture. So often, problems
have arisen in testing when the focus has been on the numbers or results
that a test produces, with little or no attention paid to such matters as:
the relevance of the test to the performance required;
the value of the test result as affected by the tester;
misleading interpretation of test data based on selective sampling of
sanguine acceptance of complying results when there may be hazards
unaccounted for;
omission of relevant test requirements.
The reader has probably experienced other problems, but the following
sections refer to my own hands-on problem encounters. My hope is that
these discussions will encourage the construction team members to
question, discuss and offer suggestions before or at the tender stage. In
addition, rather than look upon testing as a built-in item overhead, its
importance and relevance to performance in practice might be better served
by the incorporation of specific bill items.


The term labcrete is often used to define concrete or mortar that is made
and tested under strict laboratory conditions, whereas realcrete applies
to concrete made on site or in the works and used on site. The grey area
here is that of concrete samples (such as cubes) made on site and then
tested in a laboratory. The problems described here, with both laboratory-

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

made and tested concrete and with site-produced samples, were in the
validity and applicability of the results obtained.
Consider, first, laboratory-made and tested concrete, taking admixtures
as an example. The standard for plasticising admixtures (BS 5075 Part 1:1982)
specifies inter alia that nominated concrete ingredients shall be used in a
certain way to produce test data that confirm or deny that the admixture
complies with the standard. The appendix of that standard (like those of the
other admixtures standards) warns the reader of the need for site trials to
assess the suitability of that admixture for the conditions on site or in the
works. However, site or works conditions will not emulate the BS
specification, and so compliance of any admixture with the standard does
not necessarily mean that it will produce the target performance in realcrete.
If samples are made on site and tested in the laboratorya mixture of
labcrete and realcretethe results obtained are likely to be more
meaningful than those from labcrete alone. However, the attention paid to
the manufacture of the simple and small size of a cube or prism compared
with, say, that of a column, is likely to give rise to doubts.
Probably the best way to describe these two cases is to say that the
labcrete admixtures standards give assurance of classification, coupled
with potential for use, whereas the realcrete-labcrete hybrid indicates the
maximum potential compressive strength of the realcrete.
The specifier has a choice:
Use data from labcrete or labcrete-realcrete (site-made cubes, for
example) as a be-all and end-all, with or without the application of
safety factors.
Use realcrete data alone.
The second choice applies to a minority of concrete made: dimensionally
coordinated precast concrete products, where the product itself is tested. (I
prefer the phrase dimensionally coordinated to standardised because
there could be 100 diagrams in a standard deemed to comply, but possibly
only a few could be used with each other.) In-situ concrete and bespoke
precast units such as cladding and cast stone are generally assessed for
strength in a specification by a cube test. The latest standard for cast stone
(BS 1217:1997) accepts this, and has a division between type tests (labcrete-
realcrete) and proof tests (realcrete).
The main points to be addressed are the validity and applicability of
realcrete and labcrete information, and this has to include the common
realcrete-labcrete hybrid, generally known as a cube. To discuss the
materials science and technical requirements of this problem, the test needs
can usefully be listed under three headings:
The test must be meaningful.
The test must be accepted by all parties.

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The test data must be accepted as final, with minimum or no

It would be logical to assume that the purpose of carrying out a test is to
produce data that relate either directly or, in a constant manner, indirectly
to a necessary or desirable performance characteristic. If strength
(compressive, tensile or shear) is in question, then it would be simple to
assume that a cube or prism result is sufficient. This is difficult to accept,
because a labcrete-realcrete test usually gives maximum potential strength
and little else. The use of the cube or prism density figures (specified to be
calculated and reported) generally gives misleading information. This is
because nominal cubes are tested, and these are not necessarily
geometrically true cubes: up to 1% deviations are permitted on all
dimensions. Thus nominal cubes, all from the same concrete and virtually
equally compacted, with a true density of 2350kg/m3, can have nominal
densities in the range 22802420kg/m3.
Therefore, apart from an indication of the maximum potential strength,
there is a risk of sacrificing the target of meaningful on the altar of
traditionalism and the attractive cheapness of the cube test. The codes of
practice, such as BS 8110 Part 1:1985, generally apply safety factors to the
cube data to cater for structural design purposes. It could be argued, with
hindsight, that if the rebound hammer had been invented before the
crushing machine this problem would not exist.
This leads to the interim conclusion that, wherever possible, preference
should be given to realcrete testing, if there is any way in which it can be
shown to be of use.
If realcrete testing is the preference for producing meaningful data, then
the next question is: which of the durability hazards listed in section 4.2
are relevant to the concrete being tested? It follows that the parties
concerned with the test regime as well as the testers need to set up a matrix
of properties versus tests so that a sensible application of the available tests
to the concrete can be made.

Scientific and technical development of labcrete and realcrete in the
construction industry will proceed only when three factors are addressed:

(a) The test methods (included as costed bill items) are agreed in the
(b) Test limits or ranges are agreed. If interpretation is likely, this wording
should also be agreed at a preliminary stage.

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(c) Preserving anonymity of the information source, data are fed back to
the BSI Committee Secretary so that the revision of standards may
make full use of the state of the art.
The current example of the tardiness of acceptability is the BS 1881/200
series (non-destructive testing), all of which are currently
recommendations, and not mandatory.
An example of where (b) above has caused arguments is in the
interpretation of site-drilled, laboratory-tested cores. In an attempt to deal
with the interpretation of cores tested to BS 1881 Part 120, the Concrete
Society produced guidance in the form of a report (Concrete Society, 1976;
Addendum, 1987). The Society has accepted that this report (CSTR11)
needs updating, and is currently carrying out research with this aim in
CSTR11 suggests various interpretative approaches in trying, amongst
other exercises, to relate core strengths to the strength of cubes that would
have been made from that concrete. However, the suggested operating
factors are based on a small quantity of data, and definitive dogmatism
should be avoided. The other factor relating to acceptability is that no
matter how relevant any test procedure is to the property in question, there
is the contractual matter of timing to consider. For example, if it takes six
months to produce data relating to resistance to chloride ingress, and the
track record shows that this resistance can be achieved by the use of PFA,
GGBS or MS additives, then it makes sense for a testing specification to
concede to a mix design specification.


Arguments often arise over the finality of data; many of these are based on
lack of knowledge of the test criteria, including the status of the testing
facility. If the interpretation aspect discussed in section 6.1.2 is brought
into the picture, then it is possible that the wording was somewhat loose.
Therefore it is probably best to aim at a test regime that has a minimum of
or, preferably, no interpretative clauses.
This reflects the discussion in section 4.3, and implies that total quality
control at all stagesfrom specification to handoverwould present the
fewest obstacles to agreement on the finality of the data. The finality would
naturally be based upon the three steps of the test regimes being
meaningful, acceptable and final.

The problem reveals itself in the form of contract data invoking labcrete,
labcrete-realcrete and/or realcrete tests that have little or no relation to the

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properties required and/or are capable of misinterpretation and/or do not
carry bill items to cater for testing.

No remedy appears to be possible; the situation would be a
contemporaneous one, and not one that occurs at the tender or pre-tender
stage. A contract review could perhaps be undertaken, in order to deal
with possible problems to come, but this is in the contractual field and
hence outside the remit of this book.

The main thing to avoid is a contractual dispute over any of the items in
sections One way to achieve this might be for the tendered
parties to adopt a more proactive role, coupled with strong liaison between
all members of the construction team. The setting up of a properties-versus-
tests matrix, mentioned earlier, could well have much to commend it.


I have commented in several sections on the testing specification being
design based or performance based. Where the problem in this subject has
reared its head is in a tendency to ignore the factors relating to this choice
and to concentratewronglyon performance testing.
It is only partly logical to conclude that if concrete is required to perform
in a specific manner then a performance test should apply. This conclusion
ignores the many scientific, technical, architectural, engineering and
contractual requirements that also apply. Compounding all this is the
slackness that is sometimes met in the format of those parts of the
contractual documents relating to the materials: slackness in
the words used;
the intended meaning of those words;
the interpretation of the words by the receiving party;
whether or not the words addressed the property requirement.
It is highly unlikely that concrete would be needed in the construction with
only one property requirement. Thus each property needs to be discussed
in the light of the boundary conditions that pertain. There is growing
pressure from the European standards organisations to concentrate on
performance testing, with an apparent disregard of other considerations.
This could create future problems. This pressure should be resisted;
performance-based specifications should be supported only when they
have minimum interference with buildability, and they relate to sensible

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

property targets. This may mean that a specification has to have a mixture
of design-based and performance-based clauses, but if the five
requirements listed below are considered, this will form the basis for a
logical materials approach:
(a) funderprice, speed and financial return;
(b) specifierunambiguous, relevant and sensible clauses;
(c) specialistsappreciation of services involved;
(d) contractor and subcontractorbuildability;
(e) testertiming of data returns and meaningful tests.
Other factors may also be relevant, but it is these five that, singly or in
combination, have led to problems and discussions. None of these
requirements is an independent variable; altering one of them will almost
certainly affect one or more of the others. Chloride diffusion control by
design rather than as a performance-based specification is an example:
input at (b) involves (d) and (e).
Another example commonly met in troubleshooting is the use of air
entrainment to produce frost-resistant concrete (see also section 1.4). A
typical specification for a concrete with 20mm maximum size aggregate
would be 3.57.5% total air in the fresh concrete (BS 1881 Part 106:1983).
This specification is design based, but has the aura of a performance test. It
possibly comes into the category of the next section. Consider how this
specification relates to (a)(e) on the reasonable assumption that the
construction team members wish to have a frost-resistant concrete (putting
aside other property targets such as strength, flatness and appearance):
(a) The funder is unlikely to be affected by the price or speed of putting
the admixture into the concrete. Where the funder may be concerned
is with costs arising after handover or completion due to (b)-oriented
(b) The specifier will not know whether compliance with the air content
requirement means that the air bubbles are present in the optimum
sizes and geometrical distribution.
(c) Data from the specialist would probably emanate from the admixture
manufacturer and are likely to be misapplied because we are dealing
with labcrete, not realcrete or a hybrid.
(d) The contractors buildability is unlikely to be affected unless (b) applies,
in which case remedial or replacement work might be required.
(e) On the basis of (b) and (c) the testing is not likely to be meaningful, but
a delayed timing of datato wait for petrographic resultswill
probably need to be considered if pre-works data have not been
There are dangers of tunnel vision, in concentrating on design at the
expense of performance testing (or vice versa), as well as in considering

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only one of the five requirements listed and discussed above and over-
looking the others. The choice of design testing, performance testing, or
both, depends upon what the concrete has to achieve in cost-effective
performance terms.

Look for any documentation in which design testing should have been
specified instead of performance testing, or vice versa, as well as a lack of
consideration of any one or more of (a)(e) listed above.

The only possible remedy for a current situation is to try and obtain a
contractual variation or instruction to cater for the obstructing matters.

Pre-contract discussions or comments at tender stage seem to be the way
to address specific cases. In general, the properties versus materials matrix
proposed in section 6.1 could be used and qualified by method statements
and test data limits. The benefits of having standard contract clauses
addressing each of the construction targets could also be discussed.


This was one of the types of testing listed in Levitt (1985), which dealt with
the philosophy of testing. Camouflage testing may be defined as any test
requirements or procedures that are completely irrelevant to reasonable
and sensible materials property targets. The problem with camouflage
testing is that it is largely irrelevant, misleading, dishonest, and defies logic.
There are a number of bases for camouflage:
(a) trying to impress others by having a test clause;
(b) copying something that has been done before without checking its
(c) catering for a problem by invoking a test that has little or no relevance
to that problem;
(d) promotion of a test facility;
(e) promotion of a proprietary product.
An example of (a) was an instance where one of the construction partys
aims was to set out before another member of the building team a
considerable amount of test data in order to impress by the amount of

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

Probably (b) is the most insidious form of camouflage testing, because it
reflects strongly on the traditionalism that pervades the construction
industry. The reader may be able to pick out examples in the previous text,
but the author has had to be careful not to mention specifics.
In (c) the case was where a client experiencing a problem with the
concrete was satisfied with additional but irrelevant testing. Persons
becoming unwillingly involved in such a situation should record and
document their views to the relevant party.
Both (d) and (e) need no qualification, and examples can be found in the
earlier text.

The problem reveals itself in the inclusion of a test requirement (method
and/or limits) that is completely irrelevant to a property that should be
under consideration.

Unless the requirement is deleted or altered, no remedy is possible.

As with so many of the other problems described earlier, a sensible
discussion between the construction team members at pre-tender or tender
stage is suggested.


There is a growing trend to include data on these two properties in both
British and American standards. Briefly, the meanings of these two words
are as follows:
Repeatability refers to the production of data by a specific centre, either
by the repetition of testing on the same sample (non-destructive tests,
for example) or by replicate tests on subsamples from the one master
sample. These data can be produced by more than one operative
working in that centre. Repeatability is commonly described in
statistical terms such as variance, standard deviation or range.
Reproducibility refers to the production of data on nominally
identical subsamples or samples tested at more than one centre, and
compares the results within the group of centres. Again, as with
repeatability, a statistical method is generally used to compare

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

The term often used in standards and other documents to describe
repeatable and reproducible data is precision data.
Concrete is a multi-component (sand, coarse aggregate, water, cement,
admixtures, additives), multi-variable (mixing, compaction, curing)
material. The problems that this causes are twofold. First, whatever test is
being considered there will be variations, and the demand for stringency
in repeatability limits has to be realistic. Second, although statisticians
prefer relatively large numbers of centres to be involved for reproducibility
studies, there have been instances when inferences or conclusions have
been drawn from as few as six cooperating laboratories. In my view, the
number should be at least 12.
Therefore, as far as repeatability is concerned, it is possible for a single
centre to produce enough data for a statistical analysis to be meaningful
(assuming that the test being examined is one for which that centre can
produce the required quantity of data with acceptable interference on its
other commitments). However, the test has to be of a common genre and
common to a large number of centres.
So, for concrete testing laboratories, it follows that a study of
repeatability and reproducibility would be feasible for data such as cube
strengths, and aggregate specific gravities, but restrictions could well be
encountered for petrographic tests, oxygen diffusion tests and the like.
Caution is necessary when using statistics, because it is an applied and
not a pure form of mathematics. Because assumptions are made in the
mathematical treatment of data, any results produced are not definitive;
statistics does not prove or show anything. The results can only indicate
likelihood, comparison, relationship or trend. Section 4.4 discussed the
inadequacy of the normal or Gaussian distribution in catering for cube or
cylinder strength when the target strength is close to the aggregate crushing
strength. For UK aggregates, ultimate strengths in the range 60100MPa
could be assumed as typical, and so C50 and higher specifications for
concrete strength might well require a different approach for both
specifying and drawing inferences. This application of data would apply
to repeatability tests inter alia.

Example 1
This example concerned the use of the Brinel hardness pistol to assess the
strength of prestressed concrete units in a factory. The pistol used to be in
common use as a hand-held test tool for hardness testing of metals and
alloys. Its principle was to impact a hardened steel ball against the surface
under test; the hardness of the metal was assessed by the diameter of the
spherical impression. (The same principle is now used for metal testing,
but a diamond with strict geometry to its facets is used. All modern test
equipment is in the form of a composite machine.)

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In the precast concrete works, the manufacturers target strength was
45MPa at 28 days. Strict total quality control was exercised, and the cube
strengths obtained lay in the range 4050MPa. Each time the units were
tested with the pistol an average impression diameter of 3mm was
recorded, with a range from about 2.7 to 3.3mm.
As these data referred to a specific strength-repetitive concrete, a range
of concrete cubes were made in another laboratory with cube strength
targets ranging from 15 to 60MPa at 28 days old. Just before crushing, each
cube was tested with 10 pistol impressions, and the average of these was
compared with each cube result. It was found that, irrespective of the
strength, the impression diameter was always about 3mm.
Two points arise out of this. First, consistency of data can be misleading.
Second, as discussed in section 5.6, the weaker concrete could have been
predicted to have improved resistance, because its energy absorption
characteristic would have been better than that of the stronger concrete.
As an aside, this leads to an apparent anomaly, in that the rebound
hammer generally gives a positive relationship between rebound and
strength; the rebound numbers increase with increasing strength. The
reason for this may be the difference between the relatively large area of
impact of the hammer and the 6mm diameter steel ball in the old Brinel
hardness pistol.

Example 2
The problem relates to the recently issued recommendation for non-
destructive testing of concrete using initial surface absorption (BS 1881 Part
208:1986). The standard refers to the omission of precision data, as there
was not enough information to hand when the standard was prepared.
The ISAT, by its nature, generally measures only the surface voidage
property, and at a relatively short interval from the start of the test.
Observation of a typical concrete surface drying out after rain would
reveal a patchy appearance over distances as small as a few millimetres,
caused by variations in the absorption properties. The sensitivity of the
ISAT would be expected to reflect this variation, and experience has shown
this to be so.
ISAT units are specified to be recorded in units of mL/m2.s, and the
apparatus has minimum and maximum range limits of 0.01 and 3.0 of these
units respectively. At the lower end, the result can be read to an accuracy of
0.01, and at the higher end to 0.2.
In practice it has been found that, taking readings at 10 minutes as
examples, concrete averaging 0.01 will vary from zero to 0.03. The more
permeable example would vary from 2.6 to too fast to measure. This, in
my opinion, indicates that precision data will be difficult to obtain for the
ISAT, and that it is unrealistic to expect ideal repeatability and

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

reproducibility. An additional problem found on site with the low (say
0.01) results is that if the reading is taken as the sun starts to shine on the
equipment, a liquid expansion occurs in the cap and a negative absorption
can be recorded.

There may be pressure to ask for precision data when they are either not
justified or irrelevant, as well as the use or tabulation of data based upon a
small number of results.

In a current situation there would appear to be no remedy apart, possibly,
from a review of or amendment to the conditions of application.

The recipients of precision documentation in standards, specifications and
regulations preparation should take a proactive role. A defensive, reactive
response to the receipt of such data is not constructive.


The problem is, quite simply, tradition. This takes the general form of strong
resistance to anything new. I neither condone nor condemn this attitude,
but I cannot agree with a generalisation either way. If a test has been
established for a long time this neither means that it is the right test (see
6.16.4) nor that there is necessarily a better test that could take its place.
The problem is probably exacerbated by the lack of use of the currently
available mechanisms to correct the problem. It is logical for members of
the construction team to accept that testing needs to have a nominated
position in the control of material properties. If testing is a weak link in the
chain joining performance to materials, design and workmanship then
science and technology will have little or nothing to contribute to
construction. The best way to tackle this problem is to study each test
requirement on the basis of the matrix suggested earlier in this chapter,
and then do one of the following:
(a) Confirm and/or reinforce that test.
(b) Replace it with a different test.
(c) Run a new test alongside the existing test: that is, (a)+(b).
(d) Remove the test requirement completely.
(e) Introduce a test where there was no test before.

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

It is in respect of (c) that the future appears to be the most attractive. Both
British and European standards have a tendency for a specific test to be the
reference, with other tests being subsidiary. For several British Standards,
where an alternative test to the reference test is included, users are
requested to submit data (but obviously not contract details) to the BSI.
This is a good idea, but lacks the power to change things. It might be better
to make both the reference and the alternative tests mandatory, with all
results to be sent to the BSI. (The BSI would be the secretariat for national
as well as European and international standards).
The complete removal of a test, as listed under (d), can form a large
discussion platform. Over the years many revised standards have omitted
earlier test specifications. Reasons for the omission of a test would be given
in the revised standard. There is no reason to conclude that this process is
complete; there are still some tests that have no reason for their presence
other than tradition.
By the same token, under (e), there is no reason to conclude that every
test necessary to define a property or performance need is present in every
Standard. If the matrix approach suggested in sections 6.16.3 is acceptable,
a method of dealing with the problem and its spin-offs could result.

The problem reveals itself as a reliance on inappropriate or misplaced tests,
often coupled with a resistance to consider or accept anything new or

Apart from discussing the possibility of variations to the test requirements
there seems to be little that can be done to remedy a current problem.

Refer to section 6.4.3 for a nominally identical approach. BSI publications
such as BSI News provide a monthly update on the progress of British,
European and international standards. In addition, any person can
purchase a draft at the public comment stage and submit their opinion to
the relevant secretariat.


Although this title implies that the problem is a mixture of the earlier
discussion in sections 6.3 and 6.5, there is in fact a completely different

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

facet that warrants exposure. The problem encountered was a dogmatic
insistence that wherever or whenever a property or requirement was under
consideration there had to be a test accompanying that part of the
specification. This insistence was often found to generate a spin-off
problem in the form of a reversal, which commonly manifested itself as an
insistence on some form of property requirement so that a test could be
proposed to accompany it.
An example of test insistence that in my opinion was (and still is) largely
unjustified was described in reference to aluminous cement in section 1.7.
The test was differential thermal analysis on drilled powder samples taken
from precast pretensioned concrete beams, made of high alumina cement
(as it was then called and is still known), in order to ascertain the degree of
conversion. Virtually every construction examined in my experience
showed 7090% conversion, with stable performance of the precast units
and the construction.
An example of testing that was not really sensible was described in
section 3.1 in reference to chloride diffusion, where track records have
shown that good performance has been achieved by the mix design route.
Testing would have not furnished data of significance for about 6 months,
and such a potential contract delay to await test results would have been
unacceptable to most parties in the construction team.
It is debatable whether either the alkali-silica reaction (section 1.5) or
delayed ettringite formation (section 1.12) comes into the spin-off category
referred to above. In my experience damage has been almost certainly due
to ASR on only three constructions. As far as DEF is concerned, apart from
the possibility of its having been the cause of the splitting observed in
experimental kerbs described in section 1.12, no case on site has been

Someone will insist on the presence of a test and/or call up a property,
whether relevant or not, so as to have a test to address that property.

If discussion is possible, and logic can be applied, a change in the wording
to the testing or property documentation should be attempted.

The most fruitful approach would seem to be full discussion at committee,
institution or authority levels before requirements are put into formal

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

The problem refers to the data produced from a test initiated at the
specifying stage by the demand for an impossible or unreasonable accuracy,
and at the reporting stage by a form of impressionism. Examples are given


A common example of this family of problems is in typical specification
wording such as The concrete cube strength shall be SOMPa at 28 days
old. There are two virtual impossibilities here. First, even under the strictest
form of production, it is impossible to get each cube to reach the exact
strength of 30MPa at that age. Second, cube strengths are specified to be
reported to the nearest 0.5MPa, so the 30MPa (if it had been possible to
achieve) should be 30.0MPa. The omission of that SOMPa being specified
to be a minimum, maximum or average could also be called into question.
In other instances, dimensions have been specified to an accuracy of
1mm, and tolerances have been completely omitted from the drawings. In
the former case, the contractor or producer was being asked to work to the
unachievable; in the latter case, no tolerance would seem to be permissible
in the work.


An example of this is with a typical cube-testing machine that locks in the
failing load reading to the nearest 1kN. Thus it would appear that a 100mm
(nominal) cube failing at 424kN load could be reported to have had a
42.4MPa strength. Putting aside the specification requirement of reporting
to a 0.5MPa accuracy, this report ignores the machine accuracy. At the best
this would be no better than 1% under a Class 1 machine certification. It
also ignores the cubes being only nominal in size, with a 1% allowance on
all dimensions. Therefore the 42.4 could be anywhere between 42.0 and
42.8 on the machine accuracy. The crushing area of the cube could be up to
2% larger or smaller than the specified nominal size calculation. Taking
the largest negative and positive cube area sizes on the final load range,
the actual cube strength (ignoring other testing variables) could lie
anywhere in the range 41.243.6MPa. So although the specified reporting
accuracy for this cube gives a strength of 42.5MPa, it is still subject to an
error of about 1MPa.
Another example of a reporting problem is with a water absorption test
on, say, an approximately cubic sample of 100mm side cut from concrete.
It, and its weight changes from oven drying to wetting, can usually be
measured to an accuracy of 1g. For a sample weight of about 2kg, this

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.

represents an accuracy of 0.05%. If an operative carried out 30 minute
absorption tests on three subsamples and obtained readings of 3.50%, 3.50%
and 3.55%, an average of 3.52% could be reported. The lesson here is that
reporting accuracy should not be based upon unnecessary mathematics,
which can give answers indicating a form of superiority.

Look for an unreasonable or impossible accuracy specified or an unjustified
accuracy in the data reported.

In the first example, the specifier should be advised of the impossibility or
inapplicability of the requirement; in the second example, the report should
be returned to the issuing activity. The corrected replacement report should
have the same report reference number as the superseded one but be
marked Rev or Superseding Report No...... or similar, and the superseded
report should be marked as such.

Both specifiers and testers should be aware of the problems that can be
generated, and should take appropriate steps to avoid them. Other
members of the construction team should also draw the attention of the
specifier or the testing authority to any cases that come into their remits.

Copyright 2003 by Taylor & Francis Group. All rights Reserved.