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Temporary Expansion Joints for Large Buildings - Floors

Wood structural panels, like all wood products, react to moisture due to the hygroscopic nature of the wood cell structure. When panels are not exposed to direct wetting, the moisture content of wood structural panels is a function of the relative humidity and temperature of the immediate environment. Panels absorb or give up moisture from the surrounding environment until they reach an equilibrium moisture content (EMC) with their surroundings. Panels may be exposed to direct wetting during construction delays and sometimes during the service life for some applications. When exposed to direct wetting, the moisture content of the panels is influenced by amount of wetting, veneer species of plywood and wax or other additives of OSB, and wood cell variables (i.e., degree of capillarity). In typical roof, wall, and floor applications, wood structural panels range between 4% and 18% moisture content in response to changing relative humidity, which may vary between 25-95% in different locations and seasons. The increase in length or width of wood panels with increasing moisture content is reported as linear expansion. Linear expansion of wood structural panels is generally evaluated by measuring length increase due to change in moisture content. The performance standards for wood structural panel products provide limitations as to the amount of linear expansion panels are allowed to exhibit when tested under extreme exposure conditions. Total dimensional change (linear expansion) of an unrestrained 96-inch x 48-inch panel exposed to the range of relative humidity between 50% and 90% typically averages 1/8-inch in length and width. Most wood structural panel manufacturers also recommend a minimum 1/8-inch space be provided around the perimeter of the panels to allow for expansion. The dimensional change of installed panels is somewhat reduced due to partial restraint by fasteners and framing. During construction of buildings with large and continuous floor and roof decks, the wood structural panels are exposed to elevated moisture or humidity; panel expansion may accumulate through the framing. Field experience often reveal a build up of expansion in floor and roof decks, even though proper spacing gaps have been provided at panel edges and ends, and panel movements have been restrained by fasteners and framing. Floor panels are connected by bottom wall plates, which are nailed to the floor or connected through the floor to the floor framing. In addition, it is recommended that wood-based structural-use floor panels be nailed and glued to the floor joists and other applicable structural components. A glue-nailed floor assembly improves floor stiffness; helps eliminate floor squeaks, vibration and bounce. To some extent, both installation techniques may reduce the effectiveness of panel edge and end gaps, resulting in an expansion build up along the length and/or width of a building. Previous laboratory testing and field experience demonstrates that the maximum average linear expansion along the panel strength axis (i.e., 96-inch dimension) due to elevated moisture is approximately 0.23%. The build-up in the expansion of large floor structure can be illustrated with the example of 80-foot and 320feet long buildings. If we use the average linear expansion of 0.23% for a 96-inch long panel, total expansion of the panel will be 0.2208 inches (i.e., approximately 0.25 inches); the length of the 80-foot long building during the construction may be increased by inch, or inch at each end. In typical slab-on-grade construction this expansion might cause out-of-plumb displacement of the rim joist by inch, which could be easily accommodated. Accordingly, the same displacement might be observed on the exterior walls and not be perceptible.

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However, for a 320-feet long building, the overall build-up in expansion could be 3 to 4 times as much (i.e., to 1 inch at each end of the building)), causing out-of-plumb rim joists and visible displacement of exterior and/or interior walls. For long and/or wide multi-story wood or light-gage steel framed building utilizing wood structural panels, walls would be plumb at the buildings mid-length or mid-width; however, wall displacement would gradually increase to a maximum at the exterior walls. This out-of-plumb situation can cause problems with the squareness of the wall window and door openings and cause other problems with the buildings exterior cladding. It is recommended that building designers and/or contractors incorporate a temporary expansion joint in the floors of a large building to avoid out-of-plumb displacements when the building plan dimensions exceed 80 feet. An example of temporary joints may consist of extra-wide spacing gaps of -inch between the panel ends at 80 feet floor intervals (Figure 1a and 1b).

Figure 1a. Location of temporary floor expansion joints for light-framed wood and steel structures, when the building plan dimension (length or width) exceeds 80 feet in one direction.

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Panel ends should be supported on the adjacent floor joists and not nailed until the expansion of the floor is completed. In addition, the wall bottom plates should not extend across the expansion joint. Complete the fastening of floor panels after the building is closed in. Fill the gap between the adjoining panels with a piece of panel (strip) or non-shrink grout and install a lumber filler block and doubler between the studs to splice the bottom plate of the walls over the expansion joint (Figure 1b).

Figure 1b. Suggested construction detail for floor temporary expansion joints.

Expansion of wood structural panels can be considerably reduced by minimizing exposure to moisture during construction delays. The prolonged moisture exposure to rain and snow can accumulate a considerable amount of water areas that are subject to water ponding such as in areas adjacent to wall bottom plates. If the floor panels are flooded with water, it is recommended that drainage holes be drilled through the floor panels to allow water to escape. After the building is closed in, the drainage holes should be plugged with glued wood dowels or non-shrink grout supported on the underside by wood structural panel backer plates (Figure 2).
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Figure 2. Preventing trapped water during construction delays: Drainage hole through wood structural floor panel.

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