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Number 7

38 TheStructuralEngineer Technical
July 2015 Post-tensioned slabs

Concrete Design Guide

No. 7: Design of post-tensioned slabs

This series is produced by The Concrete Centre to enable designers to realise the potential
of concrete.
The Concrete Centre, part of the Mineral Products Association (MPA), is a team of qualified
professionals with expertise in concrete construction, engineering and architecture.

 Figure 1
Unbonded and bonded
tendons and components
Post-tensioned (PT) concrete floors are
now widely used in the UK, particularly for
high-rise buildings. PT flat slabs provide the
thinnest readily available structural option for
spans of 7m or more, and can economically
be used for spans up to 13m × 13m. For
longer spans, a one-way spanning slab onto
band beams is frequently used.
Most PT floors are designed in the
UK by specialist designers as part of a
performance specification procurement
route. However, the design is not necessarily
complicated and the main designer should
have knowledge of the benefits and
limitations of PT design so that a reasonable
scheme design might be considered as
a structural option and produced for the
tender documentation, and also so that
the designer can factor the design and
its benefits into the overall stability and
robustness of the structure.
This article provides information on how to
scheme a PT slab and how the use of post-
tensioning affects the rest of the structure.
A more detailed guide to the design of PT
Table 1: Comparison of PT systems floors can be found in the Concrete Society
Bonded Unbonded Technical Report 43 (TR43), Post-tensioned
concrete floors: Design handbook1. This
• Localises effect of accidental • Reduced covers to strand guide can be used for the design of PT
damage • Reduced prestressing force floors to Eurocode 22 as it is quoted as non-
• Develops higher ultimate strength • Tendons can be prefabricated leading to faster
contradictory complementary information
• Does not depend on anchorages construction
after grouting • Tendons can be deflected around obstructions (NCCI) in the UK National Annex3.
• Can be demolished in same way more easily
as reinforced concrete structures • Greater eccentricity of strand Bonded and unbonded systems
• Grouting not required There are two types of post-tensioning
• Useful when only one strand is required, e.g. in rib system available to the engineer: bonded
in ribbed slab and unbonded (Figure 1). Most of the post-
tensioning work in the UK is bonded, being

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W Figure 2
Typical floor layouts

Where the restraining walls are in a

favourable arrangement and the floor is in an
internal environment, the length of the floor
without movement joints can be up to 50m.
However, full consideration should be given
to the effects of shrinkage due to drying,
early thermal effects, elastic shortening and
creep in the design. A strain of 650με should
be considered normal.
Where the walls are unfavourably
arranged, a calculation of the effects of
movement should be carried out and suitable
measures taken to overcome them. This
could involve:

• using infill strips, also known as pour strips,

which are usually cast around 28 days after
the remainder of the floor, to allow initial
shrinkage to occur (Figure 3)
• increasing the quantity of conventional
about 90% of the market. Restraint reinforcement, to control the cracking
Bonded systems have prestressing At the early stages of a project using PT • using temporary release details
tendons running through a duct which is floors, care must be taken to avoid the • using a proprietary temporary release detail
then grouted after prestress has been problems of restraint. This is where the free • reducing the stiffness of the restraining
applied. The ducts can be circular or movement in the length of the slab under elements
flat and hold a number of tendons. The the prestress forces is restrained, e.g. by the
benefit of using a bonded system is that unfavourable positioning of shear walls or lift The effect of the floor shortening on the
the anchorages are no longer live after the cores (Figure 2). columns should also be considered in their
grouting has set, which means that any All concrete elements shrink due to drying design, as this may increase the design
damage to a tendon (e.g. if a tendon is cut and early thermal effects but, in addition, moments.
through by a post-drilled fixing) is limited prestressing causes elastic shortening and
to the bond length of the tendon on either ongoing shrinkage due to creep. Stiff vertical Design to prevent disproportionate
side of the cut. The tendon is also protected members, such as stability walls, restrain the collapse
from corrosion by the grout, in the same floor slab from shrinking, which prevents the PT floor systems are usually designed to
way as normal reinforcement is protected in prestress from developing and thus reduces resist disproportionate collapse through
reinforced concrete. Finally, bonded systems the strength of the floor. detailing of the tendons and reinforcement.
are as easy to demolish as normal reinforced
concrete – or possibly slightly easier, due to
less reinforcement within the structure.
Unbonded systems are more prevalent
in North America and in other parts of E Figure 3
Typical infill strip
Europe. Here the tendons run through a
greased sheath and are always independent
of the concrete. This has no effect on the
serviceability design or performance of a
structure under normal working conditions.
It does, however, change both the design
theory and structural performance at the
ultimate limit state (ULS). The anchorages
for an unbonded system are live throughout
the lifetime of the structure and if the tendon
suffers damage, the prestress provided by
that tendon is lost along the whole of its
Both systems can be used in the same
slab if the design dictates it. Table 1 gives a
comparison between the two systems.

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Number 7

40 TheStructuralEngineer Technical
July 2015 Post-tensioned slabs


E Figure 4
Design flow chart for PT slabs

In bonded systems, the tendons can      
be considered to act as horizontal ties. In 
unbonded systems, the tendons cannot be  
relied on and the conventional reinforcement 
acts as the horizontal ties.
Materials and specification  
PT slabs do not require particularly high-    
strength concrete and often class C32/40   " 
is used in a typical flat slab design. For
speed of construction the concrete should
 !   "   $
have high early strength. This allows initial  
prestressing to be carried out as early as  
possible, usually after 24 hours, to prevent
cracking. Final stressing can take place
after three days, once the concrete has    "$
reached a predetermined strength, allowing
striking of formwork. Higher levels of cement   
replacements, e.g. ground-granulated blast-
furnace slag (GGBS) or fly ash, can be used,
but will increase the programme length and     "$
may change the parameters used in design, !
such as the strains due to creep and early  
age shrinkage.
Common strand types used in the UK are    "$
given in Table 2. It is recommended that only   
one of these strand types is used on any  
A specification for the execution of PT   
floors is given in the National Structural
Concrete Specification4, section 7.
As with other forms of reinforced concrete,
the cover is determined by consideration of:

• corrosion protection
• bond detailed guidance, based on Eurocode 2, is checked at the ULS in a similar manner to
• fire protection available in TR43. that for reinforced concrete design, although
At the serviceability condition, the the benefit of the prestress across the shear
The cover required for bond concrete section is checked at all positions plane may be taken into account.
considerations for bonded systems is the to ensure that both the compressive and At the serviceability limit state (SLS),
diameter of the duct for circular ducts; for tensile stresses lie within the acceptable a prestressed slab is generally always in
flat ducts it is the larger of half the larger limits given in Eurocode 2. compression and therefore flexural cracking
dimension or the smaller dimension. For Stresses are checked in the concrete is uncommon. This allows the accurate
unbonded systems, the cover required for section at the initial condition when the prediction of deflections as the properties
bond is the diameter of the sheath. prestress is applied, and at serviceability of the uncracked concrete section are easily
conditions when calculations are made to determined. Deflections can therefore be
Design process determine the deflections and crack widths estimated, and limited to specific values rather
Figure 4 presents a flow chart for the design for various load combinations. than purely controlling the span-to-depth ratio
of PT slabs. Recommendations for the At the ULS the pre-compression in the of the slab, as in reinforced concrete design.
design of prestressed concrete are given section is ignored and checks are made In carrying out the above checks, extensive
in Eurocode 2. Design methods for PT flat to ensure that the section has sufficient use can be made of computer software
slabs are relatively straightforward, and moment capacity. Shear stresses are also either to provide accurate models of the

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 Figure 5
Principles of prestress design

structure, taking into account the effect of

other elements, or to enable different load
combinations to be applied, or to carry out
both the structural analysis and prestress
The basic principles of prestressed
concrete design can be simply understood
by considering the stress distribution in
a concrete section under the action of
externally applied forces or loads.
Figure 5 illustrates the simplicity of the
basic theory. In essence, the design process
for serviceability entails checking the stress
distribution under the combined action of
both the prestress and applied loads, at all
positions along the beam, in order to ensure
that both the compressive and tensile stress
are kept within the limits stated in design
PT beams and slabs are usually designed
to maximise the benefit of the continuity
provided by adjacent spans. In this situation
‘secondary’ effects should be considered in
the design. The secondary effects are not
necessarily adverse and an experienced
designer can use them to refine a design. 
Figure 6
Load-balancing technique

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Number 7

42 TheStructuralEngineer Technical
July 2015 Post-tensioned slabs

 Figure 7
Idealised tendon profile for two spans with single cantilever

In the majority of prestressed slabs it will This can be extended to several spans Short-term losses
be necessary to add reinforcement, either and provides a more economical design as Short-term losses include:
to control cracking or to supplement the the drape is larger (Figure 7).
capacity of the tendons at the ultimate load The anchorages are normally placed • friction losses in the tendon
condition. at the centroid of the section in order to • wedge set or ‘draw-in’
The technique known as ‘load balancing’ prevent a moment being placed at the end of • elastic shortening of the structure
offers the designer a powerful tool. In this, the beam or slab.
forces exerted by the prestressing tendons These losses take place during stressing
in catenary are modelled as equivalent Initial sizing of PT slabs and anchoring of the tendon.
upward forces on the slab. These forces are PT slabs can initially be sized using span-
then proportioned to balance the applied to-depth ratios. TR43 gives span-to-depth Long-term losses
downwards forces (Figure 6). By balancing ratios for various different slab types, as Long-term losses include:
a chosen percentage of the applied loading, does the Concrete Centre book, Economic
it is possible to control deflections and also Concrete Frame Elements to Eurocode 25. • shrinkage of the concrete
make the most efficient use of the slab Figure 8 gives typical span-to-depth ratios • creep of the concrete, including the effect
depth. for flat slabs, band beams and ribbed slabs of the prestress
In order to use the load-balancing for different imposed loads. Table 3 gives the • relaxation of the steel tendon
technique, the prestressing tendons must be range of spans that are normally used for PT
set to follow profiles that reflect the bending floors. Although these losses occur over a period
moment envelope from the applied loadings. of 10 or more years, the bulk occurs in the
Generally parabolic profiles are used. Prestress losses first two years following stressing. The loss
In PT concrete floors, the load-balancing From the time that a post-tensioning in prestress force following stressing can
technique can enable the optimum depth tendon is stressed, to its final state many be significant (between 10% and 50% of the
to be achieved for any given span. The final years after stressing, various losses take initial jacking force at transfer and between
thickness of the slab, as with reinforced place which reduce the tension in the 20% and 60% after all losses) and therefore
concrete flat slabs, may also be controlled by tendon. These losses are grouped into the losses should, in all instances, be
the punching shear around the column. two categories: short-term and long-term calculated. TR43 gives advice on prestress
For a parabolic profile the upward losses. losses in Appendix B.
uniformly distributed load w is:

Table 3: Span ranges for PT floors

Floor type Span range
where s is the span, a is the drape and P is PT flat slab 6–13m
the prestress force.
This upward load normally balances the PT band beam 8–18m
self-weight and the superimposed dead load. PT ribbed slab 7–18m
Depending on the design, it is also sometimes
PT waffle slab 8–18m
used to balance some of the live loads.

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Table 2: Specification of commonly used strand in the UK

Strand type Nominal Nominal Cross- Nominal Characteristic Maximum value Characteristic
tensile diameter sectional area mass (kg/m) value of maximum of maximum value of 0.1%
strength (mm) (mm2) force (kN) force (kN) proof force
(MPa) (kN)
12.9 ‘Super’ 1860 12.9 100 0.781 186 213 160
15.7 ‘Super’ 1770 15.7 150 1.17 265 302 228
15.7 ‘Euro’ 1860 15.7 150 1.17 279 319 240
15.2 ‘Drawn’ 1820 15.2 165 1.29 300 342 258

 Figure 8
Span-to-depth ratios for PT floors

This article does not provide a full explanation References and further reading
of the design of PT floors. It is recommended
that the designer makes themselves familiar 1) The Concrete Society (2005) Technical Report No. 43: Post-
with TR43 when starting the design process. tensioned concrete floors: Design handbook (2nd ed.), Camberley, UK:
The design of PT floors allows the designer The Concrete Centre
to ‘play’ with the different aspects – prestress
force, tendon profile etc. – to arrive at the 2) British Standards Institution (2014) BS EN 1992-1-1:2004 Eurocode
most economic design. There are many 2: Design of concrete structures. General rules and rules for buildings,
software packages that can help, both 2D London, UK: BSI
design and finite-element analysis.
The Post-Tensioning Association (PTA) in 3) British Standards Institution (2009) NA to BS EN 1992-1-1:2004 UK
the UK can also help. It produces technical National Annex to Eurocode 2. Design of concrete structures. General
design guidance and is in the process of rules and rules for buildings, London, UK: BSI
producing a model performance specification
for PT floors to help main designers 4) CONSTRUCT (2010) National Structural Concrete Specification (4th
understand what is required by specialist ed.), Camberley, UK: The Concrete Centre
designers and what can be expected from
the specialist designers and contractors. 5) Goodchild C. H., Webster R. M. and Elliott K. S. (2009) Economic
The PTA website can be accessed at Concrete Frame Elements to Eurocode 2, Camberley, UK: The Concrete Centre

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