Practical Experiences on Cracking of Concrete Slabs on Ground
Jukka Lahdensivu Lic. Tech., Senior Research Scientist Tampere University of Technology Tekniikankatu 12, P.O. Box 600, FI-33101 Tampere E-mail: jukka.lahdensivu@tut.fi Jari Hietala M. Sc., Research Scientist Tampere University of Technology Tekniikankatu 12, P.O. Box 600, FI-33101 Tampere Kari Saastamoinen M. Sc. Student, Research Assistant Tampere University of Technology Tekniikankatu 12, P.O. Box 600, FI-33101 Tampere

ABSTRACT Concrete ground floor slabs are commonly used floor type in Finland. According to Finnish Guide for Concrete Floors (by 45) concrete slab on grade can be made with centric reinforcement if slab thickness is varied between 80 – 120 mm. A survey about industrial and warehouse floors showed that extensive surface cracking was found very often in the slabs with centric reinforcement. In many cases cracks were so wide that they reach the reinforcement in the neutral axis or in some cases cracks reach the bottom surface of slab. Cracking can seriously reduce esthetical value of floor, but also long-term durability of reinforcement can be decreased due to the possible chemical attack through cracks and because the surface coating is broken. Cause for cracking is due to the differential shrinkage when the top of the slab dries faster than the bottom of the slab. Key words: concrete floor, slab on ground, cracking, shrinkage

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Concrete ground floor slabs are commonly used floor type in Finland. According to Finnish Guide for Concrete Floors (by 45) [1] concrete slab on grade can be made with centric reinforcement if slab thickness is varied between 80 – 120 mm.

two experimental research projects have been carried out concerning curling of floating concrete floors [2. On the other hand. Cracking is harmful considering the durability of structure. In addition. STRUCTURAL BEHAVIOUR OF SLAB ON GROUND The design of ground-floor slabs has traditionally been based on Westergaard’s solution for slabs on ground [4]. cracks reach the reinforcement level. Deformations of concrete slab caused by drying and shrinkage. internal load and edge load). cracks can disturb surface coatings. indirect stresses can be similar order of magnitude than stresses introduced by applied loads. Typically. Firstly. In Finnish Guide for Concrete Floors (by 45) [1] design flow is such that in ultimate limit state the slab’s thickness and reinforcement is determined and in service limit state concrete cracking is checked. change in length causes evenly distributed tensile . SYMMETRIC DRYING ASYMMETRIC DRYING Figure 1. The stresses generated by environmental conditions (due to restraint to temperature and moisture change) are not clearly defined and design procedures for these indirect stresses are insufficient. According to these solutions the slab’s thickness can be determined using maximum allowable tensile stresses. Chlorides or other chemicals can cause corrosion of reinforcement affecting through the cracks. Both of these analyses are made for point loading conditions. The solutions are available for point loading situated at different critical locations (corner load. 2. Numerical methods (FE-analysis) can also be used in design.2 Research data The research data is gathered from condition investigations about the concrete ground floors made by Tampere University of Technology (TUT) researchers. 3]. Cause for cracking is due to the differential shrinkage when the top of the slab dries faster than the bottom of the slab.12 However. Yet. In addition. the differential shrinkage cause also upward edge curling. this can be problematic near walls and when considering flatness of slab surface. in the slabs with centric reinforcement extensive cracking have been observed in many cases. 1. but normally only “hand calculation” based on theoretical solution of Westergaard are made. In concrete ground-floor slab two types of indirect loading condition occurs due to restraint to temperature and shrinkage movement. and in some cases cracks are open through the slab thickness. Plastic methods are also available in which slab is designed as reinforced concrete section in ultimate limit state.

and thus bottom reinforcing is needed for bearing capacity. Point loading cases are usually decisive in design. Ideally. A concrete slab with centric reinforcement is not working effectively for crack control. At a crack tensile force is carried by reinforcement. but applied loading cause tensile stresses to the bottom of the slab. . Reinforcing in the bottom half of slab is therefore not needed for indirect loading cases. Applied loading to the curved slab can cause remarkable danger of cracking because cantilevered edges are not in contact with sub-base and the slab itself have to withstand all the loading. which magnitude depends on the amount of shrinkage and degree of the restraint and axial stiffness of the floor construction. and in order to increase the loading capacity of the slab. 3. Figure 2. The centric reinforcement is so far away from cracked surface that it has practically no influence to cracking. The severity of cracking can be reduced by reinforcement. reinforcement should be placed as close as possible to the top of slab. reinforcing steel in top half of the slab is needed. change in shape (warping/curling due to the thermal/moisture gradient) causes tensile stresses usually in upper surface of the slab because of differential shrinkage (moisture loss starts from upper surface). The effective way to reduce crack width is to use closely spaced a small diameter bars at minimum concrete cover. Secondly. since the upper half of the slab has the greatest drying shrinkage. Curling due to differential shrinkage does induce tensile stresses to the upper surface. The thickness of the slab and the amount of reinforcement is dependent on loading conditions and sub-base modulus. Guidelines state that reinforcement should be placed just above of the neutral axis during the slab construction. Centric reinforcement in the slab [1]. Centric reinforcement can be used when magnitude of point loading is small (P < 30 – 50 kN) and thickness of slab is 120 mm or less. reinforcing steel in bottom of the slab is needed. DESIGN GUIDELINES FOR CONCRETE SLABS ON GROUND According to Finnish Guide for Concrete Floors (by 45) [1] slab on ground can be made with centric or eccentric reinforcement (on both surfaces). in order to control cracking of a slab. the stresses from change in length produces very low tensile stresses to the slab. The magnitude of induced stresses depends on the spacing of the contraction joints and the magnitude of differential shrinkage. if contraction joints are working properly and are not placed too far apart and bonding to sub-base is prevented.13 stresses to the slab’s cross-section. In order to control cracking. Concrete slab will crack if tensile stresses due to applied loading or indirect loading (restraint stresses) exceeds the tensile strength of the concrete. Therefore.

In that time. At early age.14 In heavily loaded slabs (P > 50 kN) the thickness is greater than that of 120 mm. there will not be internal stresses generated by the shrinking. This means that the volume of concrete will decrease as much as water is evaporated from it and components will shrink by the hydration. excluding the chemical drying caused by the hydration. Early age shrinkage is the part of the total shrinkage that occurs before concrete still has not gained much strength. the drying shrinkage means specifically physical desiccation by evaporation. but their influence is different because at early age concrete has not gained much strength and stiffness. because here even the smallest stress can have large resulting shrinkage strains or cracking.1 Early age shrinkage The early age shrinkage is caused by chemical reactions and drying. SHRINKAGE OF CONCRETE The shrinkage of concrete is mostly caused by drying and hydration. 4. when concrete is still liquid. Normally. In typical concrete mixtures. concrete also has the greatest tendency to shrink. concrete starts to change from fluid to rigid stage (setting) and starts to gain strength (hardening). Concrete shrinkage can be divided into two parts: early age and long-term shrinkage. The influence of the hydration on the external volume of a concrete body is known as autogenous shrinkage. autogenous shrinkage is normally insignificant. . The mechanisms for both shrinkage stages are basically the same. and also it is caused mainly by desiccation. autogenous shrinkage can be a concern. Usually only drying shrinkage is an issue of substance. and then slab has to be designed with eccentric reinforcement (reinforcement placed close to the top and the bottom surface). Figure 3. and because the hydration process is the most intensive. Eccentric reinforcement in the slab [1]. 4. At the very first hours after the mixing of water and cement. Minimum concrete cover is 25 mm. Often it is considered the early age shrinkage takes place immediately after casting until the age of 24 hours or until the demoulding. This stage is critical. but in high strength concrete where there is a low water-tocement ratio. because there is a lot of free water and no structure to prevent it from bleeding to the surface where it can evaporate. There is not exact definition which part of total shrinkage is early age shrinkage and which part is long term shrinkage.

where capillary forces are generated. Still. 4. Usually. the drying that causes shrinkage is decreasing. The aim of the slab test was to find out the warping effect . the lower are the drying shrinkage strains [6]. Within the first day after the casting. it gets denser and this resists the convection of free water and water vapour. the importance of chemical selfdesiccation can be greatly remarkable. a couple of hours after the mixing of the concrete. creep causes the internal stresses to decrease [7]. Aggregate particles restrain drying shrinkage in concrete. As concrete is hardening. which causes shrinkage. it is usually ignored as a shrinkage phenomenon and concerned as a separate durability issue. Usually long-term shrinkage is considered as only drying shrinkage. Capillary stress pulls cement particles closer each other. Now the chemical shrinkage takes effect mainly by the chemical desiccation. For this reason the total complete shrinkage of nonuniformly desiccated concrete body is less than if it was desiccated uniformly. If the induced tensile stresses are greater than the tensile capacity of the concrete. Besides drying and autogenous shrinkage. as a result of the hydration. Some restraint arises also from reinforcing bars and connections to adjacent structures. the shrinkage can be even more than ten times as much as after that. When shrinkage strains are restrained. In addition to increasing stiffness that resists shrinkage. nonuniform drying causes internal stresses which partially restrain local shrinkage strains.15 As soon as concrete has gained stiffness. cracks will arise. the drying shrinkage of several concrete mixes was studied with concrete prisms and full-scale slabs. It is also shown that the larger the maximum aggregate size. Intensity of capillary stress is inversely proportional to the size of the pore. 5. All restraints cause stresses to the shrinkable concrete.2 Long-term shrinkage Long-term shrinkage continues from one day onward up to many years. In modern high-strength concretes with a low water-to-cement ratio. amount and humidity of the pores in concrete. partially or fully. They lead to internal stresses. In fresh concrete pores are water filled. As concrete desiccates capillary stresses are generated at local water surfaces. both external (evaporation) and internal (chemical). Also the concentration of unreacted cement particles is decreasing which slows down the total speed of hydration and self-desiccation. EXPERIMENTAL RESEARCH IN LABORATORY In the experimental part. also the carbonation causes shrinkage in the long run. It is good to notice that in that case drying consists of both physical drying by evaporation and chemical drying by hydration. there have formed skeletal structures that will partially restrain the deformations caused by drying and hydration. the external volume reduction of concrete will not be equal to the volume of evaporated water and chemical shrinkage. because carbonation develops normally so slowly and its contribution to total shrinkage is normally insignificant. Total amount of shrinking stress is dependent on the size. [5] Desiccation. causes empty voids. In addition. which may cause cracking if the tensile strength is exceeded.

In the corners and edges the displacement happened upward and in the middle point went down. According to literature review long-term shrinkage is typically from 0 to 1 ‰ for age of 90 days.4 mm to 4. temperature t = 21 ± 2 °C and relative humidity RH < 35 % (15 – 30 %). Typical concrete grade was C30 (cubic strength class of 30 MPa). 5. drying of concrete happened freely.21 to 0.74 ‰ to 0. The thickness of test slabs was 70 mm with concentric reinforcement #8-200. from mid.130 mm. In this experiment the size of prisms were 70 mm x 150 mm x 500 mm. The maximum displacement difference between corners on the middle point of slab was from 3. The maximum drying shrinkage of the top surface varied from 0.5 ‰ to 0. This means that the true final value of drying shrinkage can actually be 2 . Contraction joint spacing was more than 10 m. The thickness of slabs was 120 . The strength of concrete was C30 and the size of slab was 2 x 2 m2 [2]. . The indoor climate in the laboratory was during the spring time. middle of the edge lines and the middle of the slab in each case.3 times bigger than that of 90 days measure. In all cases concrete slabs on ground were designed with centric reinforcement and the amount of reinforcement percentage varied from 0.16 caused by asymmetric drying of concrete slab.87 ‰ with these asymmetric drying samples. In visual inspection any crack was found on top surfaces of test slabs during monitoring. temperature was temperature t = 25 ± 2 °C and relative humidity RH from 30 % to 65 %.1 Slab tests Four concrete slabs were casted on EPS or mineral wool bed (thickness of 30 mm) in the plywood moulds in the Laboratory Hall of TUT (Tampere University of Technology). The displacement of drying slabs was measured from corners. The prisms will be stored in a climate room and drying shrinkage will be monitored 90 days.3 – 2 ‰.2 mm and it was measured after 104 to 126 days. During summer and early autumn. 6. 5. Mars to end of May.6 ‰ [2]. CONDITION INVESTIGATION DATA FOR SEVERAL CONCRETE FLOORS Condition investigation has been made by TUT researchers for six different storage and industrial buildings in which cracking of concrete floors have been observed. the measurements made in TUT shows that magnitude of drying shrinkage continues to increase after the 90 days measurement and the final drying shrinkage could be about 1. The following remarks are based on these field surveys. The concrete prisms were sealed so that drying was possible for top surface only (150 mm x 500 mm).2 Prism tests The normal way to measure drying shrinkage is to cast 100 mm x 100 mm x 500 mm prisms. The indoor air was really dry and drying of the slabs very fast in the beginning. The total monitoring time was six months [2]. After one week aftercare of concrete (covered with plastic). The shrinkage peak reached its peak value after the seven weeks’ drying. Distance of middle point to edge point was 1325 mm. However. The peak values were from 0.63 %.

In these locations cracks had radial orientation and approximately 1. Example of cracking in slab on ground. According to investigations these isolation joints worked properly in all cases. Crack widths varied from 0. see figure 6.1 mm to 1. Two types of contraction joints were used: concrete shear keys and doweled joints. but it was measured to be on the deepness of 90 to 110 mm from the top surface.17 6. Most of the cracks were located near columns of the building frame. Generally narrow cracks have smaller spacing and wide cracks have larger spacing. In the vicinity of contraction joints only perpendicular cracks were observed and their spacing was about 2-3 meters.5 cracks were founded around the columns. and crack spacing was typically 300 – 1000 mm. Figure 4.0 mm. Typically cracks were quite long and oriented random directions see figure 4.1 Visual observation In all investigated slabs cracking was visually observed. Thickness of slab was 120 mm reinforcement (#8-150) should be centric. Concrete floor was separated from columns and wall structures using isolation joints. .

0 mm. In many cases wide visible cracks has been filled up with epoxy. . Most of the cases fissures were still able to detect after repairs.1 mm to 1. Figure 6. Crack widths varied from 0.18 Figure 5.

because of a relatively large spacing of the cracks. Cracking of slab can be controlled using adequate reinforcement close to top surface. The crack widths of samples were quite big. 7. DISCUSSION Drying of concrete slab on ground takes place mainly from its upper surface. This produces upward curling of the slab and tensile stresses in the upper surface. Moisture gradient will be thus introduced and the slab is subjected to differential shrinkage (due to the drying shrinkage). extensive cracking at upper surface of slab was found in cases where centric reinforcement of slab was used. Some of the samples were taken cracked parts of the floor. A drilled sample of a cracked slab. Figure 7. The reinforcement should be placed as close as possible to the top of the slab.19 6. According to field survey. In those samples cracks were so wide that they reach the reinforcing bar in the neutral axis or in some cases cracks were widely open from the upper surface to the bottom surface of slab (see Fig. The reinforcements of the slab were usually located 15-30 mm below the neutral axis. Drying downward direction is negligible because of the higher moisture content of the sub-base.2 Laboratory investigations Drilled cylinder samples were taken from all investigated floors. This type of reinforcement is not appropriate for crack controlling. 4). Depending on the magnitude of drying shrinkage and degree of the restraining the tensile stresses can be greater than tensile strength of concrete causing cracking to the slab. This partly explains the great crack widths. .

Concrete slabs on ground having requirements for crack widths. Betonirakenteiden pinnat / luokitusohjeet by 40. 1927. Journal of Materials in Civil Engineering 7(1995)2. Holt E. pp. Finnish Concrete Assosiation. 2003. water permeability or surface coatings should be design and construct using both top and bottom reinforcing. 168 p. pp.1mm and crack length should be less than 500 mm for surface class A. REFERENCES 1 2 3 4 5 6 Anon. 168 p. (in Finnish) Westergaard H. Technical Research Centre of Finland. 2001. Part II. Cracking is not allowable for surface class AA. 9 p. (in Finnish) Hietala J. May 1927. Interdepedence of Creep and Shrinkage for Concrete under Tension. No 3. Tampere. Videla C. 2002. Finnish Guidelines for Concrete Surfaces (by40) [9] recommends that the maximum crack width should be less than 0. 54-60. “Analysis of Stresses in Concrete Roads Caused by Variations of Temperature”. V. Espoo 2001. 8. & Aguilar C. (in Finnish) Hietala J. (in Finnish) Anon. VTT Publications 446. In Finland it is very common to use centric reinforcement with ground floor slabs. Helsinki. Warping of floating floors. Crack control is possible with top reinforcement and loading capacity is ensured with bottom reinforcement. 70 p. Tampere. 96–101 Anon. With centric reinforcement it is not possible to meet mentioned requirements. (in Finnish) 7 8 9 . Helsinki. 1995. Publication 118. Magazine of Concrete Research 58(2006)7. Warping of floating floors. Finnish Concrete Assosiation. An updated look at drying shrinkage of Portland and blended Portland cement concretes. 2006. Structural Engineering. Tampere University of Technology. 2003. 263 p. M. 184 p. 2001. 2004. 87 p. Helsinki. Publication 108. Public Roads. 459– 476 Kovler K. + app. Finnish guide for concrete floors by 45 / bly 7. Finnish Concrete Assosiation. Tampere University of Technology. Structural Engineering. pp. Early age autogenous shrinkage of concrete.20 According to Finnish Guidelines for Concrete Structures (by50) [8] ordinary concrete ground floor slab is no requirements for cracking in Exposure Class X0 and XC1. Finnish guidelines for concrete structures by 50.