Construction joints for multistory structures
Where to locate them, how to form them
BY BRUCE SUPRENANT DEPARTMENT OF CIVIL ENGINEERING & MECHANICS UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA TAMPA, FLORIDA
onstruction joints are stopping places for concrete work. They’re needed because it’s not feasible to place all the concrete for most jobs in one pour. Breaking the job into smaller portions allows the contractor to: Match pour size with concrete delivery capabilities s Choose the best crew size s Make best use of equipment s Reduce formwork costs by increasing form reuse Vertical and horizontal construction joints must be carefully located to produce these b enefits without weakening the structure. And to function properly the joints must be built correctly.
Where to install construction joints
The architect or engineer often specifies construction joint location
Figure 1. The ACI Code requires construction joints in elevated slabs to be located within the middle third of spans of slabs, beams, and girders. Joints must be located at least two beam widths away from beam-girder intersections.
in the contract documents. Sometimes, though, the contractor is asked to submit a construction joint plan after the bid letting. In either case, the engineer or contractor should consider economy, appearance, strength, and durability when choosing joint location. Economy. If the contractor has input on where to put construction joints, he can match the pour size to his crew’s capabilities. Also, placing a construction joint in a practical spot, such as between footing and walls, avoids complex, costly formwork. Appearance. Construction joints can influence how a structure looks. Often they are installed in an inconspicuous position. Sometimes, though, they are used as a feature of the structure. Some designers use reglets and rustication grooves to hide the joints. Whatever scheme is used, the joints should fit the architectural design. Strength. A construction joint introduces a weak vertical or hori zo ntal plane in an otherwise monolithic concrete member. This obvious slip plane may reduce the strength of beams, columns, and walls. Test results show that construction joints reduce a member’s shear strength but not the flexural or bending strength. Tests conducted on simply supported beams with a vertical construction joint at the center showed the same load-deflection and ultimate moment characteristics as an unjointed beam (Ref. 1). Measurements of crack widths also indicated similar performance between jointed and unjointed beams. These results held true for a joint that was deliberately debonded between the two concrete pours. The construction joint in these tests was located in a region of negligible shear. In a region where the shear is significant, a construction joint with a smooth surface reduces the shear strength of the member by 40%. But a beam having a joint with a roughened surface has a failure mode and ultimate load similar to an unjointed beam. A 1⁄16-inch texture over the
Figure 2. Bulkheads form vertical construction joints for elevated slabs (above) and beams (below). Bulkheads are stiffened and braced to resist lateral concrete pressures.
Code (Ref. 2, Section 6.4.4) requires that: “Construction joints in floors shall be located within the middle third of spans of slabs, beams, and girders. Joints in girders shall be offset a minimum distance of two times the width of intersecting beams” (Figure 1). There may be high shear forces even at midspan, for instance, where a beam intersects a girder. That’s why the code requires joints to be located at least two beam widths away from a beam-girder intersection. It’s a good idea to keep construction joints away from point loads (such as heavy equipment) for the same reason. Locate construction joints in walls and columns on the underside of floor slabs, beams, or girders, and at the tops of footings or floor slabs.
entire face qualified as a roughened surface in these tests (Ref. 1). Du ra b i l i t y. The location of construction joints also is affected by whether or not water and salts can easily enter the joint. Although concrete has low permeability to water and salts, construction joints don’t. Water and salt leaking through joints may cause rusting of rebar, p re s t ressing tendons, and anchorage hardware in parking structures. Locate construction joints at high points in the floor away from drains. Where durability is critical, use fewer joints by allowing larger floor pours. Consider using waterstop at some or all joint locations.
Figure 3. Keys are sometimes formed in bulkheads to increase joint shear resistance. This joint design also includes a waterstop. Note that the plywood bulkheads aren’t notched. Plywood pieces are cut, positioned under rebars, and nailed to 2x4 vertical supports.
ACI requirements for construction joint design
Because construction joints are most likely to reduce shear strength, they should be located where shear forces are low. Under uniformly distributed gravity loads, shear forces are low in the middle of a flexural member span. Thus, the American Concrete Institute (ACI) Building
Figure 4. Detail shows how to form an inconspicuous horizontal construction joint without a rustication strip (Ref. 4).
To avoid cracking from settlement, pour concrete in columns and walls at least 2 hours before placing concrete in slabs or beams framing into them (Ref. 3). Designing concrete members for lateral forces may require special design treatment of construction joints. Shear keys, diagonal dowels, or the shear transfer method (ACI Code, Section 11.7) may be used.
How to form construction joints
Deciding where to put construction joints is only half the job. The other half is forming them correctly and cleaning the joint surface before the next concrete placement. Bulkheads for construction joints are normally formed with wood, although expanded metal mesh has also been used (See Concrete Construction, July 1983, page 552; November 1986, page 966; Fe b ru a ry 1988, page 214). Forming costs are high because rebar has to pass through the bulkhead. Wood members are notched or a gap is left in the plane of the rebar. Leaving a gap allows each bulkhead board to be positioned and removed without putting pressure on the bar. Excessive pressure might cause green concrete to spall or crack. Because they are cut to fit and usually damaged when stripped, bulkheads a re n’t reusable.
Construction joints in floor slabs usually are made of 2-by materials or plywood (Figure 2). Wall or beam bulkheads are usually made of plywood. Shear keys, if required, can be made by beveling 2x4 or 2x6 lumber (Figure 3). Ho ri zontal construction joints in walls and columns are generally spaced one story apart. Use chalk lines or nails driven on the inside of wall forms to mark the joint location. Or use a wood strip nailed to the forms. For architectural concrete, more care is needed to get straight and level horizontal joints (Ref. 4). Nail a 1-inch wood strip to the inside face of the forms near the top (Figure 4). Put tie rods about 4 inches below the joint to support forms for the next lift. Place concrete to a level slightly above the bottom of the s t ri p. Remove the strip after concrete has set enough to hold its position. When forms are set for the next lift, locate another row of ties just above the joint. Ties above and below the joint hold the form tightly against concrete in the lower lift. Don’t overlap sheathing more than an inch over the lower lift. This also helps prevent leakage. Grooves or rustications are a good way to hide horizontal joints (Figure 5). Rustication strips are best attached with double-headed nails d ri ven from the outside. After nails
are pulled, the strips will pull loose from forms during stripping and can be left in the concrete longer to protect edges from spalling. Make sure that rebars behind the rustication strip have adequate cover.
Construction joint surface preparation
After placing and curing the concrete and removing the bulkhead, the hardened concrete joint surface must be prepared. ACI 318-83 requires that: “Surface of concrete construction joints shall be cleaned and laitance removed. Immediately before new concrete is placed, all construction joints shall be wetted and standing water removed.” Use stiff wire brushes, scabblers, waterblasters, or sandblasters to clean surfaces and remove laitance. Expanded metal mesh bulkheads left in place also provide a good rough bonding surface (Ref. 5). The 1977 ACI Code required application of a neat cement paste to vertical construction joint surfaces. This procedure was not always practical and is no longer required.
Understanding the why, where, and how of construction joints for multistory structures involves a team approach. The architect wants joints that are consistent with the
SHEAR WALLS NEED CONSTRUCTION JOINTS TOO
Earthquakes have shown engineers and contractors that construction joints in shear walls can form the weakest link in the loadresisting mechanism of a structure. During the 1964 Alaska and 1971 San Fernando earthquakes, h o ri zontal construction joints in both medium and low-rise buildings were damaged, some beyond repair. Especially troublesome were lightweight concrete floor slabs connected to normalweight concrete shear walls through two construction joints (one at the bottom of the slab and one at the top of the slab). An adequate construction joint for beams and columns may not be satisfactory for walls that need to resist large shears generated during earthquakes. Earthquakes generate many cycles of high-intensity shears that can deteriorate
tute, Box 19150, Detroit, Michigan, 48219, 1987. 3. Specifications for Structural Concrete for Buildings, ACI 301-84, (Revised 1985), American Concrete Institute, 1986. 4. Formwork for Concrete, Publication SP-4, Fourth Edition, (Revised second printing), American Concrete Institute, 1981.
Figure 5. Rustication strips at construction joints hide joint lines and add to the architectural effect (Ref. 4).
architectural design. The engineer wants joints that do not reduce the strength or durability of the structure. The contractor is looking for joints that enhance his productivity. A good construction joint plan involves all three parties.
References 1. Monks, W. L., and B. M. Sadgrove, “The Effect of Construction Joints on the Performance of Reinforced Concrete Beams,” Technical Report, Cement and Concrete Association (London), 1973. 2. Building Code Requirements for Reinforced Concrete, ACI 318-83, (Revised 1986), American Concrete Insti-
joints. This repeated loading reduces the joint interface roughness, thus reducing the frictional resistance. Don’t rely on joint roughness to resist seismic shears. Use shear keys or extra vertical re i n f o rc i n g bars placed at the joint interface. Minimize the number of hori zo ntal construction joints by slipforming the shear wall tower or by making each concrete pour two or three stories high. Consider designing the construction joint using the shear friction concepts from the ACI Building Code. The shear wall is an important load-resisting mechanism and the designer spends many hours analyzing the forces and stresses in the wall. The weakest link, the construction joint, needs some design time too.
5. Building Movements and Joints, Portland Cement Association, 5420 Old Orchard Road, Skokie, Illinois, 60077, 1982.
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