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Perhaps because their requirements seem so very simple,

concrete floors have a way of generating more complaints
than all other basic concrete structures put together. This
article covers the essentials of good concrete floor con-

B efore there is any thought of planning, designing or

laying a concrete floor, it is well to take a long look at
the type of exposure to which it may be subject. Weve
probably all heard the view, Its easy to build a good
floor; just build it like youd build a good road. The This is a completed floor on ground. Note that it contains
short answer to this one is: Noit must be better. It is two types of jointsisolation joints, which separate the
floor from walls and columns, and control joints, which
true that roads receive an incessant, heavy pounding
divide the floor into panels about 20 ft. square.
and their strength and design must be appropriate for
it. But the traffic rides on relatively soft air-filled tires,
the rubber of which takes most of the wear. An indus- ening system can never be a cure-all for poor materials
trial floor, on the other hand, must be prepared to take or bad workmanship. It simply isnt possible to make an
punishment from sharp, small-wheeled trucks (fre- inherently weak wearing surface really satisfactory for
quently lacking springs or shock absorbers) and heavy heavy and abusive traffic. Of course dusting is a relative
vibrating machinery, and impact and abrasion from an condition; in many plants its occurrence, if not too se-
endless variety of containers and products. Coupled vere, might pass unnoticed. But where precision engi-
with this is the virtual certainty of exposure to corrosive neering parts are being made, for example, or food prod-
oils, acids and other fluids. ucts processed, even a minor degree of dusting cannot
Ordinary, dense, high - grade concrete, well placed and be tolerated. In such areas a surface treatment is essen-
compacted, can take a great deal of rough treatment in tial.
service. For 75 percent of plant floors, however, a special
wearing layer will be desirable. Special conditions also THE SUBBASE
arise, for example, where mildly corrosive to highly reac- It is safe to say that the strength of a floor is largely de-
tive liquids are used, such as are encountered in the pendent upon the quality of the base on which it rests.
range of operations from ordinary industrial plants to Preparation of the subgrade is therefore vitally impor-
steel-pickling plants. Sometimes a concrete surface sim- tant. If a soil survey or information based on earlier
ply isnt satisfactory, and an appropriate protective layer foundation workings reveals the presence of a com-
of mastic paint or tiles must then be applied. Vegetable pressible material such as peat, it is well to obtain the ad-
and mineral cutting oils will present no problem to a vice of a soils engineer. Should the bearing capacity of
dense concrete floor, although where an excessive the underlying soil be insufficient for the loading ex-
amount of spillage is expected the plant owner should in- pected, excavation and backfilling may be necessary.
stall drip trays, if only for appearance and safetys sake. Fill, either as a replacement or to bring the area up to
Fresh foods rarely attack concrete, but as soon as pro- grade, should be built up in layers not greater than 6
cessing starts, trouble begins. This applies to beer, for ex- inches thick, and each layer must be thoroughly com-
ample, which is corrosive once it is fermented, sugars pacted by either tamping or rolling. Clean granular ma-
that are safe only when dry, and fruit juices, pickles and terial, free from lumps, is preferable. Used foundry sand
ketchups which are corrosive in high concentrations. has been found to be very satisfactory by many contrac-
Milk products can also prove difficult, since as soon as tors.
they become sour lactic acids are produced. Frequent A firm uniform base, uniformly compacted, is essen-
washing down of any floor surface will naturally cut tial since slab design is usually made on the assumption
down the rate of attack from any of these sources, but this of uniform bearing capacity. Differences in the density of
is not the real solution. To reduce the danger of corro- the supporting soil will mean uneven stresses in the slab
sion to the minimum the actual wearing surface must be which, if great enough, can cause cracks. Tamping of
as dense and impermeable as it is possible to make it. both the subgrade and the concrete itself should be em-
Dusting is another perennial problem. One of the first ployed right up to the final screed level, and the straight-
things to recognize is that the use of a proprietary hard- edge should be used strictly as a tamping level guide and
not as a device for moving materials. released under the average house each day, as compared
On large jobs it may be possible to use highway con- with only about 3 gallons per day released as a result of
struction equipment to prepare the subbase. On small- all the activities which go on inside the house.
er jobs vibratory compactors can be used. Equipment Compaction around walls, columns and the like is al-
such as trucks and bulldozers are not satisfactory, since ways difficult, and may, in fact, prove dangerous if the
it is difficult to get uniform compaction. Highway stan- lateral stresses so exerted are larger than those antici-
dards with regard to the bearing capacity of soils, and pated in the design. One good way around this, if cir-
type and moisture content of backfill used, will also of- cumstances permit, is to reverse the usual practice and
ten prove invaluable as guides. to grade and compact the whole area first and then build
the foundations afterwards; the area within the confines
of the foundation can then be consolidated by hand. A
final word of warning: when you have a good subbase,
dont let it be ruined by carelessly running trucks over it
or using it for other operations; protection against such
unnecessary displacement is well worthwhile.

All too frequently it is the practice to use a rule-of-
thumb design for a slab of, for example, 6 inches at grade
with nominal reinforcement of 40 pounds per 100
square feet. For a small shop or home garage this might
suffice; for an industrial plant it invites trouble.
Proper slab design is a complicated subject involving
To isolate columns from the floor slab, box them out with many factors, including soil-bearing capacity, strength
square wood forms or screeds (left) or with circular of mix, and the area and position of the static and dy-
fiberboard forms (right). namic loads applied. In practice, however, some of these
factors must be estimated because of the difficulty of de-
termining them accurately. The overall controlling factor
Placing a 6-inch layer of sand or gravel beneath the then becomes the heaviest concentrated load which can
slab gives a base which can be more firmly and uniform- be expected. In general this will be the wheel load of ei-
ly compacted, and also provides a safe permeable layer ther an industrial or highway vehicle. With such dynam-
exhibiting little or no volume change in the event of an ic loads it should be assumed that they will be applied
unexpectedly high water table. Such a layer should ob- at the edges of the slab. It may be decided that individual
viously not be placed over sod, muck or organic waste; foundations are desirable with heavy static loads such as
similarly roots or other obstructions should be dug out, presses, lathes and the like, although in general greater
backfilled, and carefully tamped. Hand tamping is also flexibility of operations follows from direct placement on
important around columns, wall edges, or other ob- the slab. With separate foundations the slab should be
structions such as service outlets. Pipe trenches must cast on the compacted subbase around the foundation
also be thoroughly compacted. A tamper weighing not concrete which may itself be at floor level; using the
less than 50 pounds with a face not greater than 100 haunch to support the edge of the slab will inevitably
square inches is recommended. result in uneven bearing and lead to cracking.
Many modern builders believe that every concrete Theoretically a thin slab on a uniform base will carry
slab resting on the ground, or just clear of the ground, a very heavy uniformly distributed live load. In practice,
should have some sort of membrane under it to function however, the minimum satisfactory thickness is 5 inch-
as a vapor barrier. Certain it is that this practice would go es. Extra thickness, with additional safety for the unfore-
far toward correcting such problems as chronically seeable future, will only increase the material cost,
damp basements, warped wood floors, moisture con- which in itself is negligible compared with total con-
densation on walls and exterior paint failures. struction costs.
The use of a saucer of impermeable material as a bot- Much work has been done to reduce slab design to a
tom form in casting a concrete slab performs two im- simple tabular level. The curves of Figures 1, 2 and 3
portant functions: by preventing the loss of water in the were derived by the Portland Cement Association. Prob-
mix by absorption into a dry subgrade, the membrane ably the best way of explaining their use is to take as an
permits the concrete to cure from the bottom; and it example a 5,000 psi mix to be used for an industrial floor
stops or greatly impedes the migration of water vapor carrying lift trucks having 12-inch wide solid rubber tires
from the subgrade through the slab into the structure and a 10,000-pound wheel load. The maximum concen-
above the slab. The importance of the latter is apparent trated load expected is 10,000 pounds. An allowance of
when it is recognized that 20 gallons of water vapor is 25 percent for impact gives a total equivalent static load
of 12,500 pounds. From Figure 1 it can be seen that for
5,000-pound concrete the flexural strength is 700 psi. As-
suming a very frequent repetition of the loading, Figure
2 suggests that we use a factor of safety of 2. The flexural
design stress then becomes 7002 or 350 psi. We can
now use Figure 3 which gives the required slab thickness;
however, since these curves are drawn for concrete with
a flexural design stress of 300 psi and we are working
with 350 psi concrete, the design load must be corrected
accordingly; i.e., 12,500 pounds x 300350 which equals
10,700. This is not a point load, and for the wheels in our
problem an area of contact of about 25 square inches per
wheel can be assumed. From Figure 3, using a loaded
area of 25 square inches and a load of 10,700 pounds,
we get a slab thickness of about 7 inches.

Theoretically, reinforcing steel is not necessary for on-
grade slabs since the subgrade should provide uniform
support. Steel does, however, perform the function of
preventing cracks from opening, and under some condi-
tions cracks can be expected in slabs with dimensions
greater than 15 feet. Correct jointing will do much to
hold down cracking, but the dangers of uneven loadings
and variable bearing capacity in the subgrade make the
use of reinforcement highly desirable.
A simple formula has been worked out to calculate the
amount of steel necessary:
A= WLf
where A = area of reinforcement needed in square
inches per foot of width;
W = weight of slab per square foot;
L= length between joints in feet;
f= coefficient of friction between slab and
t= allowable tensile stress in steel.
Since f and t, under average conditions, can be taken
as 2 and 25,000 respectively, the formula can be simpli-
fied even further to:
A= 25,000
For slabs over 6 inches in depth steel for crack control
should be not more than 2 _ inches below the surface;
for slabs less than 6 inches in depth the distance to the
steel should be 2 inches or mid-depth, whichever is the
The easiest reinforcing steel to handle is, of course,
welded wire fabric mats (not rolls) placed on suitable
chairs or small concrete spacers. The mix should then be
worked under and over it at the same time. The practice
of placing the steel on the subgrade and then attempting
to lift it into place all too frequently results in air pockets,
bond-breaking dirt inclusions and incorrect location. sistency should be cast to the level of the reinforcement,
Setting the mesh on a first layer of hardened concrete the mats of reinforcement being then placed and im-
gives a weaker slab and increases the danger of the en- mediately topped with the rest of the concrete all in one
try of foreign matter. If permitted, concrete of a stiff con- operation.
JOINTS between 15 and 25 feet is desirable. Joints should be sit-
Tests and experience have shown that in a normal ed along column lines if possible; but 25 feet is a maxi-
heated building the initial shrinkage of concrete is gen- mum limit and if the distance between columns is
erally greater than any subsequent expansion due to greater, intermediate joints should be provided.
temperature changes. It is therefore possible, with but Concrete men probably disagree more on the subject
few exceptions, to cut out expansion joints entirely. of joints than any other single problem involving con-
crete. Dummy joints, which consist essentially of a
weakened plane (created by grooving plastic concrete
or sawing hardened concrete) have a strong following in
the industry, but the full-depth control joints seems to
be gaining acceptance as a more dependable construc-
tion device. With this type of joint it is desirable to use ei-
ther steel dowels or tongue-and-groove construction to
assist in transferring loads across the joint. With all con-
trol joints reinforcement must be cut in order to permit
the joints to serve their purpose.


Concrete for floor construction should be made with
hard, well-graded aggregates and should contain only
To isolate walls from the floor slob, l/8-in.-thick asphalt- sufficient water to insure good workability. The accepted
impregnated fiber sheets (or other joint materials less than modern way of assuring that quality concrete is used is
1/4 in. thick) are fastened to the wall. to purchase it from a well equipped and competently
staffed ready mixed concrete plant. Water content is im-
portantthe less the better for a strong, wear-resistant
and watertight surface. The maximum is 5 _ gallons per
sack of cement, including surface moisture on aggre-
gates, with recommended figures of 3 _ to 4 gallons for
machine floating, and 4 _ to 5 gallons for hand floating.
Slump should never exceed 4 inches and entrained air
should be used to minimize bleeding and permit the use
of lower slump concrete. The object is to produce a non-
porous paste coating around every piece of coarse ag-
gregate without getting voids, honeycombing or excess
water on the surface. Should a mix become too harsh to
work, it is better to attempt to vary the proportions of
fines to coarse rather than to add more water.
If the slab is to be thickened, as at a doorway, the change
in thickness should be gradual, not more than 1 in 10. PLACING, FINISHING, CURING
Placing concrete directly on a dry subgrade can upset
all mix studies and lead to untold trouble in finishing.
Joints should, howe ve r, be made around all walls, The subgrade should, as necessary, be sprinkled not less
columns, or machinery foundations, primarily to iso- than 6 or more than 20 hours before placing. If it still
late the floor slab from other parts of the building and to dries out, further sprinkling is permissible but care must
permit differential settlement. This joint need not be be taken to avoid standing water or a soft surface. The
wider than 1/4 inch or 3/8 inch. mix should then be wheeled, shoveled or chuted into
In the design of the slab it was assumed that there place and well compacted by either tamping, rolling or
would be no free edges on which concentrated loads vibrating, extra care being taken at all corners and edges.
would occur. To insure that this is really so some builders Vibration, when used, should be uniformly applied and
strengthen edges at doorways where vehicles may enter slump should not exceed one inch.
or leave. Such strengthening can be done by increasing Finishing should begin immediately after com-
the thickness of the slab by 50 percent and tapering it paction. The mix should be struck off from side forms or
back to normal size over a distance of 4 feet or more. An- adjacent slabs, either mechanically or manually. Wood
other increasingly popular solution to the problem of floating follows directly, to rough finish to grade. Ma-
free edges is to cast tongue and groove joints into the ad- chine floating is now the common practice on all except
joining concrete faces. the smallest jobs; a much stiffer mix can be employed in
Experience has shown that a control joint spacing of this way. Stay away from the steel trowel at this stage; it
ted if a very smooth surface is not desired. Finishing
should not begin until all water sheen has disappeared
from the surface. Final troweling follows when the sur-
face is so hard that it can just be dented by finger pres-
sure. At this stage the trowel produces the familiar ring-
ing sound as it polishes the surface. It is important to
have enough finishers on the job when troweling; other-
wise, the last areas to be done may be too hard.
Troweling is an art and it is here that true craftsman-
ship shows up; the purpose is to produce a wearing sur-
face of maximum density. This cannot be done by too
early use of the trowel which simply works water and
fines to the surface to create weak concrete which will
Do not use unvented heaters during or after concreting. dust badly under traffic. One last loud DONT: dont
Fresh concrete absorbs the carbon dioxide produced by
spread dry cement over a slab with the idea of absorb-
such heaters, causing surface dusting. Unit heaters are
preferred. ing excess moisture. This is one sure-fire way of creating
a dusting problem.
Curing should begin as soon as possible and should
continue for at least 5 days (3 days with high early
strength cement). The usual methods: membrane curing
compounds, waterproof paper sealed at the edges, wet
burlap, sand or ponding with water. Curing is an impor-
tant factor in insuring durability, reducing cracking, and
preventing dusting. It must be watched with care to in-
sure a structural concrete or slab that will be strong, im-
permeable and dense. Before permitting traffic, allow
the floor to air dry after it has cured.
Increasing quantities of chemical preparations, con-
sisting mainly of sodium silicate, are being used today in
floor construction to simultaneously cure, harden and
Use a spud vibrator to consolidate concrete, especially at dustproof concrete. One function of such chemicals is to
corners and bulkheads. Be careful not to overvibrate. convert the free lime or calcium carbonate almost al-
ways present in concrete into calcium silicate, a much
harder, stronger and more stable compound. Even exist-
should be possible to rough finish, if the mix is of the ing concrete floors can usually be improved by this sur-
right consistency, without using the trowel at all to re- face hardening technique. Materials of this type cost in
move float marks. If you must trowel, then let it be to the the neighborhood of $2.50 per gallon, and a gallon gen-
minimum. After floating, troweling is usually applied as erally covers around 600 square feet, so the economy is
a two-stage process, although the first stage can be omit- excellent.

Copyright 1962, The Aberdeen Group
All rights reserved