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Engineers are particularly concerned with cracks in structural concrete.

These cracks may be produced before the concrete has set or after it has
hardened. Broadly, they are called plastic cracks when they are formed before
the concrete has set. The term refers to the concrete in its fresh state and not to
be confused with "plasticity" which is a term used to describe the property of a
material, i.e. flow under constant stress. The two types of plastic cracks are
plastic settlement cracks and plastic shrinkage cracks.
The cracks induced in concrete in its hardened state may be the result of
applied forces or environmental conditions. Thus the cracks produced by
environmental conditions may occur even before a structure is in service and
may continue to be produced concurrently with the applied forces.
The term "non-structural" cracking indicates only that the cracks are not
the result of structural loading. It does not imply that they may not influence the
performance of the structural element, although generally the effect is minor.
Concrete is a highly complex composite. It is made up of numerous
components of various properties. Two concrete mixes may have the same mix
proportions but not the same property, e.g. compressive strength. Another pair
of mixes may have the same property, e.g. compressive strength, but not the
same mix proportions. A third pair may have the same value for a particular
property, e.g. compressive strength, but not the same for another property, e.g.
modulus of elasticity. Even for a given mix, its properties may vary with time and
with the history of the environment in which it is placed.
Within a concrete mix, the various components have different properties.
For example, the strength and modulus of elasticity of its weakest component,
air, are negligible compared to those of its strongest component, aggregate (of
normal weight)? In the case of such a complex and heterogeneous composite, it
can be expected that the internal stress distribution under either physical loading
or environmental conditions is both complex and varying from point to point
within the mass.
The scope of the presentation covers the causes of cracking, particularly
when, where and why cracks are produced and how such cracking potential may
be minimised.



Freshly mixed concrete is considered to be in its plastic stage, i.e. before

setting and hardening. This may be taken as the time to reach 27.6 MPa (4,000
psi) penetration resistance by the ASTM C 403 method or the corresponding
method given in BS 5075 for testing of retarding admixtures.

Fresh Concrete

When concrete has been placed and compacted into a form or mould, the
initial spatial distribution of the various components is established. At this stage,
the components are:

a well distributed system of coarse aggregate particles,

a system of fine aggregate particles filling the inter-particle space
between the coarse particles,
cement particles (including mineral admixtures such as pfa, ggbs or
cfs, if added) filling the voids between all the aggregate particles,
water voids (including chemical admixtures, if used) forming
interconnected capillaries, and
air bubbles (entrained and/or entrapped).

This complex system of solids, liquids and gas changes from their initial
spatial distribution as the denser solid particles, particularly the coarse
aggregates drift downwards whilst the lighter components, water and air, rise
upwards to the exposed top surface. This behaviour has been described as
bleeding, settlement and segregation. As hydration takes place, the rate of the
movements is rapidly reduced and ending when hardening takes place. The
duration of time, during which gradual stiffening results in hardening, may be
prolonged by the addition of retarders. The initial degree of fluidity of the mix
may also be modified by varying the dosage of plasticiser besides adjustments to
the mix proportions.

Plastic Settlement Cracking

After concrete has been placed, stiffening begins. However, if the

concrete contains a set-retarding admixture, the process is very much slower.
The duration of this plastic stage may extend from an hour or two for a plain mix
but up to several hours depending on the dosage of retarding admixture added.
During this period, the few hours after placing, the concrete continues to settle. It
the downward movement of the concrete is obstructed e.g. by the top
reinforcement bars or formwork tie-bolts, the concrete tends to flow around them
and hence resulting in a line of crack along the direction and directly over these
obstructions. In addition to the cracks above the bars, the settlement of concrete
may also cause to void to form immediately below the bars.

When this occurs, it is difficult to detect and to fill this void after the
concrete has hardened. It is important that revibration of the upper layer of the
concrete is carried out to close both the top cracks and to fill the voids before the
concrete has passed the time for formation of cold joint, i.e. the time to reach a
penetration resistance of 3.5 MPa. Remedial measures after the concrete has
hardened may seal the cracks to protect the reinforcement but the loss of bond
not recovered.
If this is significant structurally, the top layer may have to be
removed to below the bar level and recast.
Similar problems may arise from differential rate of settlement results in
plastic settlement cracks. In the case of waffle slabs, the greater depth of the
ribs may cause a crack to form at the location of change in depth. For columns
with a conical column head, the change in section may lead to arching action of
the concrete flow resulting in a near horizontal crack near the bottom of the
transition. For very large diameter columns with heavy reinforcement near the
surface, the friction near the formwork may cause the concrete to settle at the
different rate from the interior volume. If the cover is small, a horizontal crack
may appear just above the region where the splicing bars from the lower floor are
In such cases, changes in the mix design to provide better cohesion by
using higher percentage of fine aggregate or adding condensed silica fume. It is
best to avoid over retardation for the top layer to minimise the potential for plastic
settlement cracking. The method of placing thick sections, e.g. a thick pile cap
or a deep raft foundation, is often by building up in lifts at one or more corners of
the plan area to its full height and then move progressively over the area. With
this approach, the top layer has the same retardation time as the rest of the
concrete, which is needed to prevent formation of cold joints. However, the top
layer does not have similar need and the high retardation provides more time for
the process of settlement before the concrete reaches setting. The alternate
approach of placing the entire area in horizontal layers enables the concrete for
the top layer to be designed with a nominal retardation suitable for the time
transportation from plant to site. The lower layers will have also reached partial
set by the time the top layer is placed. This will also reduce the total plastic
settlement for the whole depth. In the case of very large areas in plan, the total
plan area may be divided into separate cells with partitions making up of special
mesh for end stops, e.g. Hyrib. This is to reduce the retardation time needed if
the whole area is filled to the same height at a time. The planning and
organisation of the logistic for ensuring the supply of mixes with different setretardation times is directed to the appropriate locations are vital to the success
of such an operation. The alternate to this is to introduce revibration of the
finished surface just prior to the time for cold joint (3.5 MPa penetration
resistance), to close any settlement cracks that may have developed.


Plastic Shrinkage Cracking

Shrinkage of concrete is the result of drying out of the moisture within its
mass. This can occur before the concrete has hardened and continue for
months and years. Cracks may appear in an exposed concrete surface very
soon after it has been finished or even, in some cases, before finishing has been
completed. Such cracks are called plastic shrinkage cracks. They are produced
by the rapid drying of the concrete surface whilst the concrete is still in its fresh or
plastic state. They are generally discontinuous and very seldom extend to a free
edge when there is very little restraint to movement. In areas without top
reinforcement, they are typically in a diagonal direction of relatively short length
(up to 300 mm). The pattern may be modified if top reinforcement bars are
present. The slightly smaller thickness of the cover over a bar may align the
crack along part of its length.
The loss of moisture is most commonly due to evaporation of water from
the surface, but a dry sub-base or formwork materials may suck water from the
concrete and directly lead to cracking or aggravate the effects of surface
evaporation. Thus plastic shrinkage cracking is most common with large
horizontal surface in the case of slabs and pavement. Drying out of the concrete
surface begins when the rate of evaporation exceeds that of bleeding. Thus
plastic shrinkage increases with the cement content of the mix and with lowering
of the water/cement ratio. Hence, there is a complex relationship between
bleeding and plastic shrinkage. A higher bleeding capacity leads to more
shrinkage, but on the other hand it slows down the rate of drying out for a given
rate of evaporation and so reduces potential plastic shrinkage cracking. The rate
of evaporation from the concrete surface depends on the combined influence of
wind velocity, relative humidity of the air, the temperature of the air and the
temperature of the concrete. If the rate of evaporation exceeds 0.5kg/m2/h
(0.1Ib/ft2/h), loss of moisture may exceed the rate of bleeding. Potential plastic
shrinkage cracking is high when the rate exceeds 1kg/m2/h (0.2lb/ft2/h). A chart
is often used to estimate the rate of evaporation under given environmental
conditions and the temperature of the concrete.
Potential plastic shrinkage cracking may be minimised by reducing the
wind velocity with windbreakers, by reducing the temperature of the concrete and
by avoiding excessive delay in setting of the concrete. The best approach is to
ensure that concrete surface is kept wet until the surface has been finished and
curing to begin as soon as finishing is complete. Site control to achieve this is
most important particularly when specification calls for a dry shake hardener
finish is to be applied. The introduction of the hardener with added cement when
bleeding is ending together with the mechanical trowel finishing leads to a very
try finished surface. Any delay in curing is likely to result in plastic shrinkage
cracking. Experience has shown that it is vital that the curing process follows
immediately after the completion of this type of surface finish to avoid potential
plastic shrinkage cracking.

Methods of curing include the use of sprayed or painted curing

compounds, wet hessian or wet sand (both of which should be overlaid with
airtight polythene cover sheets to prevent loss of moisture), or other curing
Plastic shrinkage cracks may be very fine but can penetrate the full depth
of a slab or a deep beam. Since they are usually developed within the first few
hours after finishing of the concrete surface when the bond strength with steel
reinforcement is still very low, the provision of shrinkage reinforcement (against
drying shrinkage in hardened concrete) does not prevent such cracks. However,
the addition of fibres, e.g. polypropylene fibres, has been reported to be effective
in improving the ultimate tensile strain of fresh concrete against plastic shrinkage
cracking. Often these cracks are not noticed at early ages until their width is
increased by subsequent drying shrinkage. They are difficult to be fully grouted
even by low viscosity polymers. Even when they may not influence structural
behaviour significantly they should be sealed (as far as possible) to reduce the
rate of ingress of moisture and oxygen. These are essential for corrosion of steel
to take place.

Formwork Settlement Cracks

Formwork should be designed to have sufficient rigidity and the supporting

props strong enough not to settle or deflect significantly under the weight of the
fresh concrete and equipment plus their operators. If the support is inadequate,
the downward or sideways movement of the formwork may lead to the formation
of tension cracks on the surface of the partially set concrete. When such cracks
are found in hardened concrete, the remedial measures should include a
structural check in addition to grouting to restore structural action.

External Sources of Vibration

Before fresh concrete has developed adequate strength, it can be

severely disturbed by external sources of vibration, e.g. pile driving nearby, heavy
vehicle movement or other construction activities. Depending on the severity of
such vibrations, surface cracks and/or internal microcracks of the interfacial bond
between cement paste and aggregates or steel reinforcement bars. It is
advisable that fresh concrete be kept from such disturbances for at least the first
24 hours after placing.


Cracks may exist in hardened concrete even before it has been subject to
any physical loading. Such cracks are usually the result of environmental loading
combined with the heterogeneity of concrete.


Composition of Concrete

The volumetric composition of normal weight concrete indicates that in

general, aggregates make up to 65 to 75% by volume, and the balance
consisting of cement paste. For a typical concrete mix with a cement content
ranging from 300 to 500 kg/m3, the volumetric fraction of cement in concrete is
about 10 to 15% by volume of concrete. Water content in the range of 160 to
200 kg/m3 contributes 16 to 20% by volume of concrete. There is always a small
volume of air, up to 3% when admixtures (other than air-entraining admixtures)
are used. Chemical admixtures consist of about 30 to 40% by mass of solids only
and are seldom more than a few kilograms per cubic metre of concrete and
contribute a negligible volume in the concrete.
The mechanical properties of the components according to Newman are
shown below:


Cement paste


7 to 8

1 to 4
2,000 to
200 to
1.7 to 2.2

5 to 10
0.10 to 0.25
10,000 to
200 to
2.5 to 2.7
(with a few
(with a few

Elastic modulus
(psi x 106)*
Poisson's ratio
Ultimate compressive
strength (psi)*
Ultimate tensile
strength (psi)*
Specific gravity
Drying shrinkage

Negligible (?)

Specific creep

Negligible (?)

1 to 3

6 to 12

10 to 20

Thermal coefficient

3.1 to 3.2

6 to 12

* 1 psi = 0.00698 MPa

The stress-strain relationship for both hydrated cement paste and
aggregates are approximately linear over its entire range. However, the
composite material, concrete, does not have a linear stress-strain relationship.
The departure from linearity is due to the behaviour of the interfacial bond
between cement paste and aggregates and in the development of microcracks in
this interfacial bond.


Drying Shrinkage Induced Cracking

Drying shrinkage is the term used to describe the reduction in volume of

concrete arising from the loss of water due to chemical reaction or physical
movement out of the concrete. Curing may maintain near saturation of the
concrete for normal size members. Subsequent exposure to unsaturated
environment leads to moisture moving out of the concrete resulting in a reduction
in volume. The magnitude of shrinkage is in the order a few hundred
microstrains for normal weight aggregate concrete. It develops at a rapid rate at
early ages and continues for many years (shrinkage has been monitored up to 30
years). The amount of shrinkage at time, t is often related to the ultimate
shrinkage, sh by the modeled:
sh(t) = sh [t/(b + t)], where a and b are constants
The value of the constant b is often in the range of 20 to 50 days, implying
that this is the period of time at which half of the ultimate shrinkage has occurred.
In the construction of a long structure, it may be advantageous by leaving a pour
strip, to allow most of the long-term shrinkage to take its course before the whole
structure is made continuous.
When concrete surface is sealed or in the interior of a large mass,
continuing hydration uses up water which is not replaced from external source
such as curing. This is known as "self-desiccation" and the reduction in volume
is called autogenous shrinkage. The order of shrinkage is only about 100
microstrain after 5 years.
Shrinkage that is free from restraint leads to only a negligible reduction in
volume. However, when it is restrained in some way, cracking may develop.
Drying shrinkage occurs at a very slow rate in full size members and relaxation
due to creep is significant. It is only when the tensile stress created by restraint
and after its reduction by creep, exceeds the ultimate tensile strength that
cracking takes place. In the case of autogenous shrinkage, minor bond cracks
may develop at the interface between cement paste and aggregates which act
as restraints.

Differential Thermal Cracking

When concrete is subject to heating and cooling arising from daily or

seasonal temperature changes, the different components within the concrete
respond differently due to their different coefficient of thermal expansion. The
differential movement of these components may lead to microcracks in the
interfacial bond between cement paste and aggregates or embedded
reinforcement steel. Such cracking is minor and seldom propagates to any
significant extent unless the thermal changes are very high, e.g. in the case of a

The range of both the daily and seasonal temperatures is small within the
tropics, generally within 10C. A variation of 5C produces a strain of the order
of 50 microstrain. Since concrete is not a good conductor of heat, the interior of
the mass is subject to a much less change in temperature and thermal strain
induced cracking is unlikely. Thus this factor is not significant in the design of
structural elements. On the other hand, in the tropics an exposed concrete roof
slab is heated to a high temperature in the afternoon. Temperatures up to 50C
have been recorded. A heavy downpour of tropical rain occurs frequently and
the sudden thermal sock of a fully restraint slab, particularly when no top
reinforcement is provided at mid-span, may lead to differential thermal cracking.
Another similar situation is during fire fighting when water is sprayed onto the hot
concrete. In general, it is not only the space rate of temperature difference
(physical gradient) but also the time rate of temperature change (creep relief)
combined together that determines the potential thermal cracking.
The case of casting of thick sections with a high cementitious content is
covered in a later section under potential early thermal cracking.



Only the commonly encountered chemical attacks are considered. The

details on the mechanism of attack and prevention methods are not included.
Cracking due to chemical attack is divided into two groups:

directly induced cracking in concrete

indirectly induced cracking in concrete

Directly induced Cracking

The chemical reaction between component of concrete and the chemical

may result in cracking directly. The two most common types are:

Alkali-silica reaction (ASR)

This involves the reaction between the soluble alkalis (Na2O and K2O) in
cement and the reactive silica in certain types of aggregates. The resultant gel
formed by the reaction has a high capacity of imbibing water and swell. The
expansion of the gel gives rise to forces sufficient to cause spalling of the
The best means to prevent such occurrence is to either avoid the use of
aggregates that are known to be reactive, or by selecting cements that have an
Na2O equivalent (%Na2O + 0.658%K2O) content below 0.6% or 3.0 kg/m3. In
general, if the service environment is dry, (below 75% RH), there is insufficient
water to enable the gel to produce enough swelling to cause spalling.


Sulphate attack

Sulphate attack is a well-known phenomenon and it is not intended to

present the mechanisms of attack in details. The main chemical reaction is
between the sulphate from an external source, e.g. from the soil, ground water or
seawater and the tricalcium aluminate in cement. The reaction product is
ettringite (sulphoaluminate corrosion) which forms with a large increase in
volume (over twice its initial volume). The expansion disrupts the concrete,
which spalls off exposing new concrete for further reaction. The other reaction is
between the sulphate and the calcium hydroxide present in the pore liquids of
concrete, forming calcium sulphate (gypsum corrosion). Magnesium sulphate,
which is present in seawater, may also react with the silicates thereby disrupting
the concrete matrix. Depending on the type of sulphates and their concentration,
the attack varies in severity.
The method of minimising sulphate attack is to reduce the amount of
tricalcium aluminate in cement. Typically, a sulphate resisting Portland cement
limits its tricalcium aluminate content to less than 3.5%. The recent revised
edition of BS 5328 : Part 1 : 1997 provides details for the selection of appropriate
types of cement and mix proportions for various concentration of sulphates.

Indirectly Induced Cracking

The ingress of chloride or carbon dioxide into concrete results in chemical

reactions which do not directly produce cracking in the concrete. The reaction of
carbon dioxide with calcium hydroxide in the pore fluids of concrete reduces the
alkalinity of the concrete. This results in the depassivation of the steel
reinforcement bars which may then corrode if water and oxygen are available.
The presence of chloride leads to depassivation even when the alkalinity is still
high. The products of corrosion (rust) can be several times larger in volume than
the materials entering into the reaction. The expanding forces lead to
overstressing of the concrete cover. Initial cracking may be transverse to the
steel bars but later splitting along the length of the bar results in spalling of the
cover concrete.
The best way to minimise the ingress of chloride or carbon dioxide is to
reduce the permeability of the concrete to these chemicals combined with an
adequate cover depth so that depassivation does not reach the level of the steel
reinforcement bars during the design service life of the structure. Remedial
measures include the replacement of cover concrete, application of coatings,
addition of corrosion inhibitors, calcium nitrite and cathodic protection for the
steel. Alternatively, epoxy coated reinforcement may be used. In recent years,
non-metallic reinforcements, e.g. carbon fibres, are being developed to avoid
corrosion. However, most of these are still in the development stage and costly.
Their common use in practice will take some time yet.



In reinforced concrete design, the tensile stress in bending is assumed to

be contributed by steel reinforcement bars only. The contribution by concrete in
tension is ignored. In general, the tensile stress in the steel bars at serviceability
limit state already exceeds that of the ultimate tensile strength of concrete.
Hence tensile cracks are accepted but their crack width is limited to 0.1 to 0.3
mm depending on its applications.
From the discussion on bleeding and segregation of fresh concrete and
the difference in the response of the various components in concrete to
environmental changes. minor internal cracking exists even before any load is
applied. For concrete in compression, as the stress level increases there are
four nominal stages of cracking intensity in relation to its stress-strain



Below about 30% of the short-term strength, the degree of preexisting bond cracking is small and the cracks are stable with little
tendency to propagate. In addition, there is some new crack
initiation at localised regions of stress concentration accounting for
the slight deviation from linearity at this low stress level.


Between about 30 and 50% of the short-term strength, the cracks

may propagate but only very slowly. They are mainly interfacial
bond cracks growing in a stable manner with very little cracking in
the cement matrix. The stress-strain relationship showy. more
deviation from linearity.


When 50% of the short-term strength is exceeded, cracks begin to

spread into the matrix and a more extensive and continuous
network of cracks begins to be developed. More and more of the
originally isolated bond cracks are connected to the matrix cracks.


Beyond 75% of the short-term strength, more rapid crack growth

within the cement matrix takes place and eventually linking up with
other cracks to form an unstable system leading to fracture

Creep Fracture

When concrete is subject to a sustained loading, the strain increases

under constant stress. This is called creep strain. For a sustained stress level
of about 70-80%, the propagation of cracks may lead to eventual fracture, known
as creep fracture. At lower sustained stress levels e.g. under service loads,
creep continues for many years (30 year creep has been reported) but fracture is
not reached although deformation may be excessive.




The casting of thick sections is a topic of special interest. This is an area

of concrete construction where transfer of technology developed for temperate
region calls for critical review and modifications to suit the hot and humid tropical
The hydration of the cementitious fraction of a concrete mix generates a
substantial amount of heat, as this is an exothermic reaction. The rate of heat
evolution is high during the first few days after placing. At the exterior region of
the concrete mass, heat can dissipate into the environment. For the interior
region, the poor thermal conductivity of concrete prevents significant heat
dissipation. Thus a temperature differential is developed with the centre
remaining at high temperatures for a long time, particularly when the exterior
surface is insulated to reduce the temperature differential. In the surface region,
similar to the case of a thin section, the temperature rise is dependent on the rate
of heat evolution and the rate of heat loss. For the interior of a thick section, the
temperature rise is higher and hence the temperature differential increases. The
peak temperature depends mainly on the total heat evolved more than the rate of
evolution. The contraction of the cool external zone is restrained by the warmer
interior. This is the internal restraint. The resultant surface tensile strain may
lead to surface cracking if the restrained component exceeds the tensile strain
capacity of the concrete at the time of the occurrence.
The actual thermal strain in concrete is the product of the coefficient of
thermal expansion, the difference in temperature and a restraint factor (based on
the external restraints). In order to avoid differential thermal cracking, the tensile
strain capacity. TSC should exceed the thermal strain developed:
TSC > (T1 Te)R




= tensile strain capacity

= coefficient of thermal expansion of concrete
= temperature at the hottest part of a section
= temperature at the surface of a section
= restraint factor

Tensile Strain Capacity

The TSC of concrete depends mainly on its aggregate. Typical values in

BS 8110 : Part 2 : 1995 are shown below:
TSC x 10-6




Sintered pfa



Coefficient of Thermal Expansion

The coefficient of thermal expansion for the aggregate type in the above
table are shown below:
Coefficient of thermal
expansion 10-6/C




Sintered pfa





Restraint Factor

Typical values of external restraint recorded in various structures are

provided in BS 8110 : Part 2 : 1995 are shown below:

Pour configuration
Thin wall cast on to massive concrete base
Massive pour cast into binding
Massive pour cast on to existing mass concrete
Suspended slabs
Infill bays, i.e. rigid restraint

Restraint factor [R]

0.6 to 0.8 at base
0.1 to 0.2 at top
0.1 to 0.2
0.3 to 0.4 at base
0.1 to 0.2 at top
0.2 to 0.4
0.8 to 1.0

Estimated Temperature Differential For Cracking

The following estimated temperature differentials above which cracking

may occur, are computed using the TSC and restraint factors in tables above:

Sintered pfa

Limiting temperature differential(C) for restraint factor of


The tabulated values show that in the case of a raft foundation, the
probability of differential thermal cracking is very low, even at the base where the
restraint is higher. On the other hand, for the case of a thin wall cast on to
massive concrete base, the probability of cracking is very high due to the high
restraint factor of 0.8 at the base.


The major effects of temperature on the strength development of hardened

concrete are due to high temperature during setting and for curing.


Setting Temperature

Several researchers have reported the influence of high temperature during

setting on strength. In particular, Neville explains that a rapid initial rate of hydration
may lead to the formation of products of a poorer physical structure (probably more
porous), so that a large part of these pores will remain unfilled even with continuing
hydration. This concept has been further extended by Verbeck and Helmuth that
the rapid rate of initial hydration at higher temperatures retards the subsequent
hydration and leads to non-uniform distribution of products of hydration within the
paste. Such products have a poorer physical structure, probably more porous.
These pores may remain unfilled and the resultant higher gel/space ratio will result
in a lower strength. In terms of the gel/space ratio concept of Powers and
Brownyard, the lower gel/space ratio areas result in a lower strength of the paste as
a whole. Notably Price and Klieger have studied the influence of high temperature
on the rate of strength development as well as on the long-term strength that may
be achieved. In most cases, the reported effect of up to 40C compared to 20C' is
around 10 to 15% for 28-day strengths of 30 to 40 MPa. However, for early
temperatures at 50C, around 30% had been indicated by the work of Klieger as
well as by Verbeck and Helmuth. However, their studies were based on a high
setting temperature followed by a lower curing temperature. This is the situation for
concrete cast on a hot summer day, which is followed by cooler days. However,
the situation in the hot wet tropical environment is different. Both the setting and
curing temperatures remain high throughout. Under these conditions, studies by
those in the tropics, such as the reported effects observed by Ackroyd and Rodes
in Nigeria, Quao in Ghana and locally by Tam showed that 28-day strength of
comparable mix proportions do not show any reduction but instead there is an
increase at curing temperatures of around 30C. In fact, the results show that
similar strengths can be obtained with an increase in water/cement ratio of about
0.08. Thus on an equal 28-day strength basis, concrete in the tropics will be of a
lower quality and hence poorer durability than corresponding mixes in temperate
countries. Recent temperature-matched curing studies for cement containing
partial replacement with mineral admixtures such as pulverised fuel ash by Mani et
al or ground granulated blast furnace slag Bamforth show even much later ages
under temperature-matched curing tests before the strength is observed to be less
than those under the normal (lower) standard curing temperature.

Curing Temperature

A higher curing temperature is the basis for accelerated curing of products in

the precast concrete industry. However, the combined effect of higher setting and,
curing temperatures experienced in the tropics compared to the temperate climate
produces a cross over of the strength development with time curves. Although, this
generally occurs beyond the age of 28 days, the rate of early age strength gain is
much higher due to the higher temperature. This is reflected in the higher earlier
age strength relative to that at the age of 28 days.


The effect high curing temperature on early age (1 to 3 days) strength is

often beneficial in construction. It enables earlier removal of formwork for which the
recommended 10 MPa strength (BS 8110) can be achieved often within 1 to 2
days. For precast and prestressed concrete, the savings in time for reuse of the
moulds can be significant.
In site practice, as well as in production of concrete, it is common to estimate
28-day strength based on earlier age strength. Because of the rapid development
of early strength under higher curing temperature, the relative strength between
early age and 28-day strength is much higher in the tropics. Tam showed that the
ratio between the strengths at 7 and 28 days should be modified so as not to
overestimate the 28-day strength - an unsafe practice. Tam and Sri Ravindrarajah
further reviewed this "age factor" for different curing temperatures in the case of
water or air curing for data up to the age of 5 years. For better estimates, more
elaborate methods such the hyperbolic function proposed by Chin or Tam with or
without the modification by Carino or the recent approach of maturity function -in
ASTM C 1074 may be adopted. This last method takes into account the effect of
temperature by obtaining the activation energy for cement hydration experimentally.
The reduction is long term strength that is commonly reported for Ordinary Portland
cement is modified when supplementary cementitious materials, such as pulverized
fuel ash (pfa) or ground granulated blast furnace slag (ggbs) are used. Recent
studies by Bamforth and Mani et al have shown that with the replacement of
cement by such materials, there is no reduction in strength even under mass
concrete conditions as simulated by a temperature-matched-curing process. In
general, the peak temperature reached is also lowered and the time to reach this
peak temperature delayed with resultant benefit in reducing potential early age
thermal cracking discussed in the next section.


The effect of high temperature is of special interest when casting thick

sections such as transfer girders and thick pilecaps and when pouring very large
volume of concrete in a single continuous operation such as thick raft foundations.
With the increasing use of higher strength grades, the cement content of concrete
mixes is much higher than those associated with mass concrete in dam
construction. The combination of these factors has given rise to specifications
which are based on the experience in temperate climate. When such specifications
are applied to the tropical climate, suitable adjustments should be made to account
for the difference in climatic pattern and ambient environment. Some of these
factors are reviewed and guidelines for satisfactory concreting of such construction
are proposed.



Temperature Control

The are two stages in temperature control. The first is the initial concrete
temperature and the second is the peak temperature that the hardened concrete
may reach.

Initial temperature

The factors influencing the initial temperature are the temperature of the
constituents and the mix proportions. The temperature of the aggregates, which
occupy the biggest proportion of the mix, will have the largest influence. This is the
reason why shielding of the mix constituents from direct solar radiation in the tropics
is beneficial in preventing mix temperature becoming much higher than ambient
temperature. However, the easiest approach to lower mix temperature is to use
mixing water which is chilled or replaced by ice. ACI Committee 305 has provided
an estimate of the various effects.
The temperature of a freshly mixed concrete can be estimated based on the
proportions and the specific heat for the various constituents of a mix (ACI
Committee 305) and may include the use of ice to partially or completely replace
the mixing water. This controls the initial temperature of fresh concrete. Allowance
must also be made for the rise in temperature due to the heat capacity of the mixer
drum (and transport truck drum) as well as the gain in heat from the environment
and the agitation during transport, and pumping. In general, the mix temperature
can be lowered by 6 to 11C either by chilled water or ice. Further lowering can
only be achieved by liquid nitrogen injection into the freshly mixed concrete. It has
been estimated that this method may reduce initial concrete temperature to about
10C when the concrete near the injection nozzle becomes frozen. The use liquid
nitrogen to cool the fine aggregate before its batching has also been reported by
Japanese researchers Kurita et al. This has a better efficiency than injection into
fresh concrete from the discharge port of a mixer truck.
As an indication, the resultant temperature of a mix is given by:

T1 =

McTc Hc + MwTwHw + M faTfaH fa + McaTcaHca Mi Fi

Mc Hc + MwHw + M faH fa + McaHca + Mi Hw

M = mass in kg
T = temperature in C
H = specific heat of ingredient, in kJ/kg
F1 = latent heat of fusion for ice = 335 kJ/kg
and the subscripts c, w, fa, ca represent cement, water, fine aggregate, and coarse
aggregate respectively.


In the case of ready-mixed concrete where the cement is kept in silos, the
cement temperature is generally much above the other ingredients. In the tropics,
the cement temperature is likely to be above 40C and at times above 60C. It can
be seen that from the equation given above, the change in cement temperature
alone may be estimated for a typical mix of the following proportions:
Total aggregates

= 350 kg/m3
= 175 kg/m3
= 1,875 kg/m3

Taking the approximate specific heat for the solids, Hs (cement and
aggregates) as 0.92 kJ/kg/C and for water, Hw as 4.2 kJ/kg/C, the change in the
initial concrete temperature of 1C may be caused by a change in the temperature
of either the cement, water or aggregates approximately as shown below:
Cement temperature
Water temperature
Aggregate temperature

= 8.6C, or
= 3.8C, or
= 1.6C

The above indicates that an increase in concrete temperature by 1C is

produced by every 10C rise in cement temperature. This change in temperature of
the mix may be compensated for by a decrease in the water temperature of about
3.8C. However, the same increase in concrete temperature may be produced by
an increase of the aggregate temperature of only about 1.6C.

Peak Temperature

In order to minimise the rise in temperature, the total heat of hydration of the
mix may be reduced by suitable choice of the chemical composition of the cement.
Special low heat cement and partial replacement of Portland cement with
supplementary cementitious materials such as pfa and ggbs are available for such
purposes. The use of plasticizers to reduce cement content for a given
water/cement ratio offers another means to reduce the total heat of hydration of a
mix. Currently available high range water-reducing admixtures (super-plasticizers)
can provide a mix equivalent in workability and strength with a reduction of up to
20-30% in both the water and cement contents.
In actual construction of thick sections, the situation is not one of truly
adiabatic condition but that there will always be some loss of heat from the concrete
to the environment. Under this partially adiabatic condition, the delay in hydration
by the introduction of pfa or ggbfs will result in not only a lower peak temperature
but also for it to occur at a later age of the concrete. Thus the cracking resistance
to the mix is higher by the time when the peak temperature is reached. The
differential temperature is often reduced in the process as observed by Mani et al.


The peak temperature as well as the differential temperature can be

controlled by circulating cooling water through pipes embedded within the large
concrete mass. This is a technique taken from the casting of mass concrete dams.
The cost to provide such a cooling system and later to grout up the pipes may not
justify its use except for special cases. Some recent examples of casting of thick
sections in the local climatic conditions are described by Lee et al and Tam et al.


Cracking of concrete in the tension zone is an accepted criterion in

reinforced concrete design. Hence the presence of cracking in a member does not
necessarily imply failure. The significance of cracking may be divided into 4 levels
of increasing severity:
Level 1:
Level 2:
Level 3:
Level 4:

cracks which spoil the aesthetic appearance of a structure.

cracks which affect serviceability, e.g. water leakage, damage
to finishes.
cracks which impair durability and may lead to reduction in
load carrying capacity.
cracks which affect structural integrity.

Level 1 Cracks

All cracks are unsightly and invoke human reactions to the safety of the
structure. The prestige of the structure also determines the tolerance of cracks
which do not impair durability, serviceability or structural integrity. CampbellAllen proposed a set of prestige numbers and the acceptable viewing distance from
which cracks of a given width may be noticed:


Little used and scarcely seen storage areas
Parking stations and garages
Factory and commercial buildings

Viewing distance - m
for crack width (mm) of

Domestic buildings

Prestige public buildings, public works and

Monumental buildings






Level 2 Cracks

Early thermal cracks and plastic shrinkage cracks may be continuous

through the full thickness of a section. Often they are less than 0.2 mm and may
seal themselves if autogenous healing (i.e. sufficiently wet) takes place. However,
cracks greater than 0.2 mm are unlikely to seal themselves and leakage of water
and sound are generally not acceptable. Hence they should be grouted to provide
acceptable degree of serviceability.

Level 3 Cracks

There is no agreed opinion on the importance of crack width (up to 0.5 mm)
and its effect on durability. Generally, crack width is limited to a range of 0.1 to 0.4
depending on the service environment. Some studies (Beeby) show that there is
no unique correlation between crack width and corrosion of steel bars. In
particular, cracks perpendicular to the bars do not lead to significant corrosion beat
those parallel to bars are critical. However, there is a danger that deep pitting
corrosion may occur when the anode area is small. If funds permit, It is desirable to
seal all cracks even if the seal is only partially penetrating the full depth of a crack.
This is to increase its durability life even though it may be marginal in effectiveness.

Level 4 Cracks

These cracks are usually wide and are caused by structural action. They
indicate possible overloading in flexure or shear (depending on the nature of the
cracks) or settlement of supports. Before they are grouted or repaired by
replacement of the spalled concrete, their cause(s) should be established and
prevented from re-occurring.

Repair Techniques and Repair Materials

Repair techniques and repair materials form a specialised aspect of

construction. Not much of these have reached codified stage and specialist
literature and advice are necessary at this stage of development. However, there
are moves to draft standards on requirements for repair materials and codes of
practice for methods of repair. For general guidance, rigid type of repair materials
should only be used with dormant cracks, i.e. cracks which are unlikely to change in
width. For live cracks which may be subject to further movement, flexible repair
materials are needed and they should be able to accommodate the expected


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