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TECHNICAL REFERENCE

MANUAL
Civil and Structural

DESIGN OF PILE CAPS

TRM 73
Rev 10
Date 10/08
Page 1 of 7

DESIGN PRINCIPLES

The pile cap design procedures in this TRM have been prepared in accordance with
BS 8110-1 and BS 8004. After some research and consultation, the recommended shear
enhancement has reverted to BS 8110-1 rules in preference to BS5400-4. Design is based
on bending theory rather than truss analogy for all but two pile caps. The reasons for
adopting these design principles are explained in Appendix A.

Concrete grade for pile caps (to BS 8110)


2

This is generally taken as f cu = 28/35 N/mm , but may need to be increased if the column
strength is greater than 40/50, see TRM 171 High strength concrete columns intersected by
lower strength slabs.
Where aggressive soil conditions are present refer to BRE Digest 363 for guidance on
concrete grade and mix design.
3

Plan shape
A compact arrangement of piles gives the most economic size of cap. The minimum spacing
of piles is controlled by the soil conditions. Generally this will be three times the pile diameter
as the majority of piles carry their load by a combination of shaft friction and end bearing.
Pile caps should extend at least 150 mm beyond the theoretical circumference of the piles.

Depth of cap
Determine the initial depth of the pile cap as equal to the horizontal distance from the
centreline of the column to the centreline of the pile furthest away from the column. It may be
necessary to increase the depth after carrying out the shear checks in section 7.
The depth of the cap must also be sufficient to meet anchorage-bond length requirements for
starter bars and beam shear and punching shear requirements.
The minimum cover to the main reinforcement = 50 mm.

Loading
The design axial load for a pile cap should be the sum of the capacities of the piles in the
group. This gives an important additional capacity for future upgrading, and only in
exceptional circumstances should a lower value be used.
To determine the ultimate capacity of a pile clause 7.4.4.3.1 of BS 8004 states: The average
compressive stress under working load should not exceed 25% of the specified works cube
strength at 28 days calculated on the total cross sectional area of the pile. This is 0.4 f cu
(approx) at the ultimate limit state.
Hence the ultimate capacity of a pile = 1.5 x SWL (but no greater than 0.4 f cu (/4) 2)
where SWL
=
safe working load of pile (controlled by soil conditions)
=
28 day cube strength of concrete in pile
f cu

=
diameter of pile.

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TRM 73

TECHNICAL REFERENCE
MANUAL

Rev 10
Date 10/08

Civil and Structural

Page 2 of 7

DESIGN OF PILE CAPS


Table 1

Design data - truss analogy


TENSILE FORCES ACROSS PILE CAP

PILE GROUP
x

NEGLECTING COLUMN SIZE

B
Ft ( AB ) =

N
2d eff

A
2

Ft ( AB ) = Ft ( BC ) = Ft ( CA) =

2N
9d eff

B
2

B
x

Ft ( AB ) = Ft ( BC ) = Ft ( CD ) = Ft ( DA) =

Ft (total )( long . & trans.) =

N
2d eff

A
x

2
N
deff
x

Ft ( AB ) = Ft ( BC ) = Ft ( CD ) = Ft ( DA) =

Note:

N
4d eff

Ft (total )( long . & trans.) =

0.8 N
4d eff

0.8N
2d eff

=
=
=
=

distance between centre of piles


ultimate axial load (refer to section 5)
effective depth
y (with a square column)

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TECHNICAL REFERENCE
MANUAL
Civil and Structural

Rev 10
Date 10/08
Page 3 of 7

DESIGN OF PILE CAPS


6

TRM 73

Design method
On plan, columns must be located at the centroid of the pile group. The axial load N is
taken as equally shared by all piles in the group.
Truss analogy is used for the design procedure for two pile caps and bending theory for all
other pile arrangements. Both methods are recognised by BS 8110 but test results
suggest that bending theory gives more accurate results when the bars are uniformly
distributed across the cap. This is explained in more detail in Appendix A. Both design
procedures neglect the size of the column when determining the tensile force to be
resisted by the reinforcement. Formulae for calculating tensile force using truss analogy
are provided for reference in Table 1.
The design procedures are based on pile caps resisting axial load only from the column
above. The procedures may also be used when the cap is to resist moments in addition
to axial load provided all piles stay in compression and nP is less than the ultimate
capacity of the pile cap; P is the maximum load on any pile in the group and n is the
number of piles in the group.
The design procedures are not appropriate where moments cause uplift and where there
are substantial horizontal forces. If columns are designed to transmit moments into the
pile cap, then the pile caps (and piles) will need to be designed accordingly.

Shear
Both beam shear and punching shear should be checked irrespective of the method used
to determine the tension reinforcement. The size of the column should be taken into
account when considering the effects of shear. A small column size will give the worst
conditions.
Shear links are not required in pile caps provided v vc. If this is not the case increase
the depth of the pile cap.
The allowable shear stress vc may be obtained from table 3.8 of BS 8110-1.
interpolation is required or it can be calculated directly from:
vc = 0.79 {(f cu/25) 100 As/(b deff)}

1/3

(400/deff)

1/4

Some

/ m

where m = 1.25. This reduces to


vc = 0.707 {100 As/(b deff)}
2

1/3

(400/deff)

1/4

when f cu = 28/35 N/mm . The limit in table 3.8 of (400/deff)


triggered when deff 2000 mm.

1/4

not less than 0.67 is

The critical sections for the design shear strength of a pile cap are:
i

Along a vertical section extending across the full width of the cap. This section is
located 20% of the diameter inside the face of the pile as shown in figure 1.

ii

Punching shear should be checked on a perimeter located 20% of the pile


diameter inside the faces of the piles as shown in figure 1.

Iii
Around the perimeter of the column where the design punching shear stress
2
should not exceed the lesser of 0.8 f cu or 5 N/mm .

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TECHNICAL REFERENCE
MANUAL
Civil and Structural

DESIGN OF PILE CAPS


Perimeter for punching
/5
shear check (if necessary)

/5

TRM 73
Rev 10
Date 10/08
Page 4 of 7

av

Critical section for shear


check
Figure 1. Critical section for shear check in a pile cap
For (i) the shear resistance vc may be increased by a factor 2deff/av where av is the
distance from the face of the column to the critical section. Note that BS 8110-1 allows
this shear enhancement over the full width of the pile cap (providing the spacing of the
piles does not exceed 3 x pile diameter) whereas BS 5400-4 cl 5.4.4.1 restricts the
enhancement to the width of the pile(s). This revision of the TRM uses the BS 8110-1
rule. The conclusions of reference 1 have been considered but do not provide adequate
grounds to justify adopting the more conservative BS 5400-4 approach. This is explained
in more detail in Appendix A.
For (ii) the allowable shear resistance vc may be increased by a factor 1.5 deff/av when
checking punching resistance.
It should be noted that the maximum enhanced value of shear stress should not exceed
2
the lesser of 0.8 f cu or 5 N/mm .
8

Anchorage
A full anchorage is required beyond the pile centres when designed using truss analogy
whereas for caps designed using bending theory an anchorage equal to the effective
depth beyond the critical section for shear is all that is required.
Clause 3.11.4.4 (c) of BS 8110-1 requires that tension reinforcement should be provided
with a full anchorage. Bars in the sides of the cap enhance the shear capacity by acting
as shear links. It is therefore preferable to continue the bars up the sides of the cap for
the full depth (less the cover).
The use of standard radii in the bar bends may cause the bearing stress to rise above the
limits in the code. The containment of the concrete and reinforcement provided at right
angles to the reinforcement under consideration allows the allowable bearing stress to be
increased.

Pile anchorage into pile cap


All pile reinforcement must be properly anchored into the pile caps.
Trimmed pile heads must be cast into the pile cap by 75 mm.

WSP Group

TECHNICAL REFERENCE
MANUAL
Civil and Structural

DESIGN OF PILE CAPS

TRM 73
Rev 10
Date 10/08
Page 5 of 7

Pile reinforcement
anchored into pile cap
75 mm
Pile head
cast into pile
cap

Figure 2: Pile anchorage into pile cap


10

Lacers
Horizontal bars around the sides of the cap should not be less than H12 bars at a vertical
spacing not more than 250 mm.

11

Lateral forces/stability
Lateral forces may occur from wind and overall stability considerations. These forces
would be applied at the top of the pile cap. Such forces would not normally affect the
design of the pile cap significantly.
They could however alter the pile reactions, especially with deep pile caps (say pile cap
depth h > 1.0 m). This effect must be assessed by the designer before adopting the
standard design procedures.

12

Column eccentricity/setting out tolerance


It has been assumed that the effects of column eccentricity due to setting out tolerances
are resisted by ground beams and/or the piles.
Two-pile caps should be braced by ground beams in the transverse direction. The ground
beams should be designed to resist a moment arising from a column eccentricity of
75 mm.
The effects on the larger multiple pile caps are usually insignificant.

13

Construction information
Ensure that the following information is provided on pile cap detail sheets:
drawing number of general notes drawing
drawing number for location
concrete grade - and check whether SRC or partial cement replacement is necessary
location of holding down bolts for structural steelwork and reference to separate
details
location of starter bars. Enter bar marks on pile cap schedules, or provide separate
starter bar detail sheets.
provide setting out dimensions which can be related to the pile layout drawing
provide a level datum
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TECHNICAL REFERENCE
MANUAL
Civil and Structural

DESIGN OF PILE CAPS

14

TRM 73
Rev 10
Date 10/08
Page 6 of 7

provide the unique reference required to identify the pile cap type on the pile layout
drawing
enter the title block information.

Spreadsheet
The spreadsheet has been re-written and is accessed as a separate file (TRM 73A).

REFERENCES

Bloodworth et al, Reinforced concrete pile caps: ICE Proceedings, Structures and
Buildings 156 issue SB4, November 2003.

KEYWORDS

Calculations; concrete; foundations; groundworks; piles; pile caps; spreadsheet.

Author:
Not known, rev 11 and spreadsheet rev 11 by Jeremy Wells, GTC
Sponsor:
Group Technical Centre
Revision record:
11/05
Rev 6. BS 5400-4 method for shear introduced, calculations and spreadsheet
updated.
5/06
Rev 7. Minor corrections.
10/06
Rev 8. Minor correction.
05/08
Rev 9. BS8110-1 shear enhancement rules reintroduced, change to bending theory
design for 3, 4 and 5 pile caps, lacer requirement reduced, Appendix A added.
10/08
Rev 10. Spreadsheet updated. Partial safety factor for reinforcement increased to
1.15. Compression steel calculation and shear on 3-pile cap corrected.
03/09
Rev 11. Revisions to 3-pile cap only. Tensile reinforcement banded to align with
IStructE SMDSC, corrections to shear calculation.

WSP Group

TECHNICAL REFERENCE
MANUAL
Civil and Structural

DESIGN OF PILE CAPS

TRM 73
Rev 10
Date 10/08
Page 7 of 7

Appendix A
Background to design approach for bending and shear
1

In 2002, a paper by Bloodworth, Jackson and Lee was published in ICE Structures and Buildings
which took the form of a review of available experimental data on the strength of pile caps. It
concluded that the BS8110-1 rules for shear enhancement were unsafe. On the basis of that
paper, revisions 6 to 8 of this TRM were based on the more conservative BS5400-4 rules for shear
enhancement.
GTC has since reviewed the experimental data on which Bloodworth et al. based their conclusions.
Of the 70 caps on which the 2002 study was based, the conclusion regarding shear enhancement
was based on six tests by Blevot and Sabnis. Of these tests, one (Blevot 4N3b) was effectively a short
column which could not conceivably have failed in longitudinal shear and probably suffered some form
of crushing failure the axial load at failure was 25N/mm2 compared with fcu of 31.3N/mm2.
The results for the remaining five tests are summarized in table A1.
Test

Blevot Q.1
Blevot Q.2
Blevot
Q.2b
Sabnis
SS6
Sabnis
SG2

BS8110 design values (kN)

Test
Result
(kN)

Notes

BS8110 result safe


BS8110 would be unsafe if test result valid but
recorded as bond failure
BS8110 unsafe (9% high) by truss analogy but
safe by bending theory
BS8110 marginally unsafe (1% high) by truss
analogy but safe by bending theory.
BS8110 unsafe (23% high) by truss analogy
but safe by bending theory. This was a scale
model with only 3 bars on the bottom, one
midway between piles and therefore unlikely to
contribute much to truss action.

Truss
analogy
360
871

Bending
theory
<360
723

Shear
454
994

408
650

559

462

852

510

284

273

396

280

212

173

334

173

Table A1 Summary of test results with BS 8100-1 design predictions

No conclusion can be drawn from Blevot Q.2 as the anchorage conditions, which were the apparent
cause of failure, are not known.
In each of the four remaining cases, the BS8110 predicted shear capacity is much greater than the
bending capacity. In the absence of conclusive evidence that failure occurred in shear, it seems
reasonable to conclude that the caps failed in bending. In each case, if bending theory was used rather
than truss analogy the BS8100 design would have given a safe result. The evidence would seem to
suggest that bars remote from the pile head do not fully contribute to truss action. This is not entirely
unexpected.
The conclusion of GTC is that in some cases BS8110 can produce slightly unsafe designs but a link to
the shear enhancement rule has not been satisfactorily demonstrated. There is evidence that design
based on truss analogy can produce unsafe results where reinforcement is remote from the pile head.
On this basis it is recommended that truss analogy is used only for two pile caps. Generally, design
should be based on bending theory. BS8110-1 shear enhancement rules should be adopted.
These recommendations will result in more economic pile cap designs which are significantly shallower
but may have slightly more tension reinforcement than designs to previous revisions.
The spreadsheets that accompany this TRM have been revised in line with these recommendations.
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