The University of the West Indies, St.

Augustine, Trinidad & Tobago


Prepared by Dr. T.M. Lewis
REINFORCED CONCRETE STRUCTURES Like steelwork, reinforced concrete structures start off with a foundation, and the structural elements are attached to this base. The base or pile cap is part of the reinforced concrete frame and has to be detailed along with the columns and beams. One of the most common types of foundation is the spread footing. Spread footings may take the form of isolated bases supporting one column or strip foundations supporting a wall. They are designed to spread the concentrated load of the column or wall over a larger area of soil. Exactly how large they will have to be is determined by the structural engineer, knowing the bearing capacity of the soil from tests previously taken. Concrete is not nearly as strong in tension as it is in compression. Unless bases are reinforced they are likely to fail in shear or bending, as illustrated below in the two figures (a) and (b) respectively.



The reinforcing steel should be placed where it will compensate for the low tensile strength of the concrete, as shown in figure 1.

Reinforcement of a concrete base (Note: the reinforcing steel in the base would normally be bent up at the ends to avoid the steel creating a ‘layer failure’) The foundation is cast in a hole in the ground and bears directly on the soil. These will be reinforced to counteract bending. The columns are next built on top of the bases. which support the steel the required distance above the blinding concrete. (b) shearing. To keep the area clean while the reinforcing steel is being placed and the formwork fixed in position. The reinforcing steel must be protected from the moisture in the soil by a minimum thickness of concrete. This is ensured by the use of spacers or chairs. about 50 to 75 mm thick. is usually laid below the designed bottom of the foundation. shearing and direct compression failures as shown in figure 2. known as the cover. a layer of blinding concrete. (a) (b) (c) Figure 2 Failure modes of a concrete column (a) bending. (c) direct compression .Concrete spacers Column Reinforcing steel Base Blinding concrete Figure 1.

so starter bars are cast into the base. known as links. thus ensuring continuity from base through to column. which project far enough above the surface for the longitudinal column bars to be fixed to them by a process known as lapping. but this would involve the use of very long bars that would be cumbersome to handle and difficult to support. doing away with the starter bars. Note that the starter bars are bent through 90°. so that they can lap with the foundation reinforcement. Longitudinal bars Starter bars Lap length 75 mm kicker Figure 4 Junction of column with base It might be thought that the column bars could be placed straight away. These are shown in figure 4. which will compensate for the weakness of the concrete (figure 3).A column will have at least four longitudinal bars and a series of transverse bars. Longitudinal bars Links Figure 3 Reinforcement in a concrete column It is necessary to tie the column to the base with reinforcement. .

known as a kicker. The joints. Not only does this hold the bottom of the box firmly in position. add to the builder's difficulties. other than the general point that the use of excessively long bars. to lap with the longitudinal bars in the flight. cj cj cj cj cj cj cj cj cj cj cj cj Figure 5 Siting of construction joints (CJ) Staircases span from floor to floor and are virtually sloping slabs with steps cast on to them. He must specify the minimum cover in every situation. the kicker for the next column and the necessary lap. He must leave room for the concrete to be placed around the reinforcement. casting the floor slab on another day. but it also prevents the loss of fines from the concrete. He should know the order in which the bars will be fixed and number them accordingly on the drawings and schedules. The depth of the kicker has to be taken into account by the detailer when determining the length of the starter bars. but they do not affect the detailing of the reinforcement. too many bars too close together . They are usually built after the floors and starter bars have to be left projecting from the floors at the top and the bottom. called formwork or shuttering. spanning more than one bay. This stands on the base and is strutted with props to keep it vertical while it is concreted. the structural engineer has included the full depth of the beam in his calculations. The detailer should be aware of these rules.The column is formed by pouring the concrete within a wooden or steel box. There are many things the detailer should take into account that will facilitate the construction process. The beams and floor slab can often be cast in a single operation. which might otherwise force their way under the box and lead to honeycombing of the concrete and consequent structural weakness. The column bars have to be made long enough to extend sufficiently far above the top of the column to allow for the depth of the beam and floor. In order to locate the lower end of the box it is usual when casting the foundation to construct a very short length of column (about 75 mm). between different days' pours of concrete. are known as construction joints and there are recognised places where these should occur. The column is normally concreted up to the underside of the first intersecting beam or floor. From a strength point of view. which are summarised in figure 5 below. It is a good idea to precast the flights of stairs and drop them in after the floors have been built. but it is usual to cast larger beams up to the underside of the floor slab first. but a horizontal construction joint is permissible here. so that the builder uses the right spacers and the steel is protected from the elements. The vertical construction joints in beams and slabs are best located between the one-third points. so as not to weaken the structure or make it more difficult to build.

This is particularly liable to happen where floors meet beams and beams meet columns. It used to be the practice to send to site loads of uncut steel bars of different sizes and of maximum rolled length. is to order the reinforcing steel required for a job already cut. and the shape of the bent bars must allow them to be fixed correctly. the bars required first are on the top of the pile. from a specialist supplier. high tensile steel bars are common and these require the use of power benders. using a simple bar bending machine on a bench. Current practice. The processing of orders for reinforcing steel is now largely computerised. particularly on larger jobs. whose job it was to cut and bend the bars to the required length and shape. instead of drawing little diagrams to show the steel benders what is required. Today. bundled and labelled. All these variations are covered by building codes like the British Standards. It must be clear to the steelfixer which bars are outside of which. The builder then employed steel benders. when the bars are off-loaded on site. as it ensures that the bars required for the bases are delivered first. The bars may be plain round or deformed to bond with the surrounding concrete and they may be straight or bent to various shapes. The consequences could be very serious.can prevent this. STEEL REINFORCEMENT Steel for reinforced concrete can be ordinary mild steel or high tensile steel. which bars are over which. The supplier should load the lorry so that. the columns next and so on. bent. Most importantly. It is not unusual to see a completed building where there has been a pile of reinforcing steel that did not get fixed in the structure. When the bars are scheduled. the shapes are coded and the dimensions are given as a set of standard measurements. . Often the ends are provided with a hook or 90° bend to help anchor the ends in the concrete. The labelling is important. Good detailing practice can help the builder to stop this from happening. he must ensure that bars do not occupy the same position.

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