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Concrete is subject to volume changes from the time its in its plastic state
throughout its service life due to movement towards moisture equilibrium
with the environment where it is located. These volumetric changes are
termed as strain and their magnitude is referred to as shrinkage. Shrinkage is
the change in length per unit length and is, therefore, a dimensional number
expressed as percent. Shrinkage is time-dependent and its value includes
plastic shrinkage, autogenous shrinkage, drying shrinkage, and carbonation
shrinkage. Autogeneous shrinkage, also known as basic shrinkage, is the
shrinkage due to chemical reactions between cement with water, known as
hydration, and do not include environmental effects such as temperature and
moisture changes. Its magnitude is usually ignored in concretes with w/c
more than 0.40, but may be a significant component in concretes with w/c
less than 0.4. Plastic shrinkage is contraction in volume due to water
movement from the concrete while still in the plastic state, or before it sets.
This movement of water can be during the hydration process or from the
environmental conditions leading to evaporation of water that resides on the
surface on the wet concrete. So, the more the concrete bleeds, the greater the
plastic shrinkage should be. According to Neville, plastic shrinkage is
proportional to cement content and, therefore, inversely proportional to the
w/c ratio. Carbonation shrinkage is caused by chemical reactions between
carbon dioxide and the hydration products of cement; this process increases
the mass of the concrete sample, and its dependent on physical condition
and characteristics of the sample, the environmental conditions where the
sample is during its curing phase, and the lime content of the cement used.

There is always strain associated with applied stresses to any material.

ASTM defines creep as the time-dependent increase in strain in a solid
resulting from force. when a load is applied to concrete, it experiences an
instantaneous elastic strain which develops into creep strain if the load is
sustained. The magnitude of this creep strain is one to three times the value
of the instantaneous elastic strain, it is proportional to cement-paste content
and, thus, inversely proportional to aggregate volumetric content. The
magnitude of creep is dependent upon the magnitude of the applied stress,
the age and strength of the concrete, properties of aggregates and
cementitious materials, amount of cement paste, size and shape of concrete
specimen, volume to surface ratio, amount of steel reinforcement, curing
conditions, and environmental conditions. The following figure shows the
elastic and creep strains curves as a specimen is being loaded and then
unloaded. A recovery can be observed as soon as the stress is removed.
Figure 1-1. Combined curve of elastic and creep strains showing amount of

From the previous figure, several things can be appreciated about how
concrete responds to sustain stresses. Concrete exhibits initial elastic strain
which depends on the magnitude and rate of applied stress. This strain
increases over time due to creep where the concrete will experience inelastic
deformation. If the stress is removed, the specimen shows an instantaneous
recovery strain lower than the elastic strain on loading, followed by gradual
decrease in strain (creep recovery) over time. This recovery curve resembles
the creep strain curve, only that the recovery curve reaches its maximum at a
faster rate than the creep strain curve. It must be noted that there is always a
residual deformation because the recovery of creep is incomplete, known as
irrecoverable creep.

When a load is applied on a concrete specimen, the specimen first shows an

instantaneous deformation which is then followed by slow further increase
of deformation. This slow increase of deformation is called creep. Concrete
specimens slowly deform in time even in the absence of applied loads. These
deformations are called shrinkage when temperature is constant. To define
creep one must consider two identical specimens subjected to exactly the
same environmental histories, one specimen being loaded and the other load-
free (companion specimen). The difference of the deformation of these two
specimens defines the instantaneous deformation plus creep.


Creep of concrete has its source in the hardened cement paste and, at high
stresses, also in failure of the paste-aggregate bond. The paste consists of
solid cement gel and contains numerous capillary pores. The cement gel
contains about 40 to 55% of pores in volume, has an enormous pore surface
area (roughly 500 m2 /cm3), and is made up of sheets of colloidal
dimensions. The sheets are formed mostly of calcium silicate hydrates and
are strongly hydrophilic. Because the pores of cement gel are micro pores of
sub capillary dimensions they cannot contain liquid water or vapour; but
they do contain evaporable water (water that is not chemically bound in the
hydrates), which is strongly held by solid surfaces and may be regarded as
(hindered) absorbed water or interlayer water. This water can exert on the
pore walls a significant pressure called the disjoining pressure, the value of
which depends on temperature and the degree of water saturation of
capillary pores. The bonds and contacts between the colloidal sheets in
cement gel are highly disordered and unstable. Therefore, creep may be
expected to be caused by changes in the solid structure. Although the precise
creep mechanism is still debated, bonding and re-bonding processes similar
to movement of a dislocation may be involved, and it may also be possible
that various solid particles displace or migrate (diffuse) from highly stressed
zones to stress-free zones such as the surfaces of larger pores. Because of the
disjoining pressure, bonds get weakened by the presence of water, and this
explains why after drying the creep is less.

During drying, on the other hand, the creep is higher than in sealed
specimens. This effect, called drying creep or Pickett effect, probably has
two sources. One may be the fact that as water is diffusing out of the loaded
gel micro-pores it creates disorder, facilitating migrations of solid particles.
Another cause, possibly the major one, is likely to be macroscopic, namely
the stresses and micro cracking produced by drying in the specimen as a

As the solid particles migrate out of the loaded regions the load on them (or
disjoining pressure) is gradually relaxed, being transferred on to more stable
parts of the microstructure. This causes the creep rate to decline. At the same
time hydration proceeds, which causes the volume of cement gel to increase
at the expense of large (capillary) pores, and the number of bonds in the
existing gel to also increase. This reduces creep, too. Shrinkage results from
the increase of solid surface tension and capillary tension due to drying, as
well as from the decline of disjoining pressure in the gel.

Creep and shrinkage of concrete are influenced by a large number of factors,

which may be divided into intrinsic factors and extensive factors. The
intrinsic factors are those material characteristics which are fixed once and
for all when the concrete is cast. Extensive factors are those which can vary
after the casting; they include temperature, pore water content, age at
loading, etc. The main intrinsic factors are the design strength, the elastic
modulus of aggregate, the fraction of aggregate in the concrete mix, and the
maximum aggregate size. Increase of any of these factors causes a decrease
of creep as well as shrinkage. This is because the aggregate does not creep
appreciably and has a restraining effect on creep and shrinkage. Gap grading
of aggregate further reduces creep and shrinkage. As for shrinkage, it also
increases as the water/cement ratio of the concrete mix increases. Among the
extensive factors we must distinguish the local from the external ones. The
former, also called the state variables are those which can be treated as a
point property of a continuum. They are the only ones which can
legitimately appear in a constitutive equation. Temperature, age, degree of
hydration, relative vapour pressure (humidity) in the pores, and pore water
content represent state variables affecting creep. On the other hand, the size
of specimen and the environmental humidity are not admissible as state
variables in a constitutive equation even though they have a great effect on
creep of a concrete specimen. Properly, the environmental humidity must be
considered as the boundary condition for the partial differential equation
governing pore humidity. It is the pore humidity, not the environmental one,
which directly affects creep and can appear in the constitutive equation. The
effects of state variables are as follows. Creep decreases as the age of
concrete at the instant of loading increases (this is actually the effect of the
increase in the degree of hydration). Creep also increases with increasing
temperature but this effect is offset by the fact that a temperature increase
also accelerates hydration which in turn reduces creep. Creep at constant
pore water content is less for smaller pore water content or a lower relative
humidity in the pores. In most practical Situations, however, this local effect
is overpowered by the effect of the changes in environmental humidity (an
extensive factor) upon the overall creep of a specimen or structural member.
This effect is opposite-the creep of a specimen is increased, not decrease by
the decrease in environmental humidity. Another Important non-local
extensive factor which is not a state variable is the size of specimen or
structural member. The drying process in a larger specimen is slower, and
consequently the creep increase due to drying is less, I.e. creep is less on a
larger specimen. Similarly, shrinkage is less for a larger specimen and it is
also less for a higher environmental humidity. In a sealed state, at which
(due to hydration) the pore humidity is found to drop gradually to about 97-
99%, concrete exhibits a small shrinkage called the autogeneus shrinkage. It
is due to volume changes in the hydration reaction and is bout twenty times
less than the drying shrinkage. In water Immersion (100% humidity)
concrete exhibits small swelling (negative shrinkage), which is about ten
times less 10 magnitude than the drying shrinkage.


With the rapid development of massive concrete structures, the effects and
magnitude of shrinkage in the performance of concrete cannot be
overlooked. Shrinkage affects durability, serviceability, long-term reliability,
and even structural integrity of concrete. It is important to take also into
account when the concrete was casted and the environmental conditions
where it is loaded. Shrinkage is a major concern because most concrete
members are restrained from movement and since shrinkage in concrete
cannot be prevented, it means that these members will experience tensile
stresses and will thus develop cracks that will affect its aesthetic appearance
as well as its serviceability. The structural designer must take shrinkage into
account when designing for reinforcement because cracks produced by
tensile stresses, especially at early ages, make the concrete permeable and
the reinforcement in concrete is then vulnerable to corrosion.



As mentioned before, when concrete is loaded it experiences a large strain

upon loading known as the instantaneous elastic strain. Concrete will
experience a gradual increase in strain because of this sustained load, and its
consideration is therefore of vital importance in structural design. Creep
behavior of concrete is also of great importance especially in todays
construction techniques. Because of rapid construction techniques, concrete
members will experience loads that can be as large as the design loads at
very early age; these can cause deflections due to cracking and early age low
elastic modulus. So, creep has a significant effect on both the structural
integrity and the economic impact that it will produce if predicted wrong.
Engineers must be able to, not only calculate stresses from observed strains,
but also calculate the amount of steel reinforcement required to avoid
excessive deflections.

1. Raju, N. Krishna: Design of Concrete Mixes 4th Edition, CBS

Publishers, New Delhi, 2002.

2. Aziz, M. A.: Engineering Materials 1st Edition, Hafiz Book Centre,

Dhaka, 1973.

3. Neville, A. M.: Properties of Concrete 4th Edition, Pearson

Education, Inc., India, 2006.

4. Orchard, Dennis Frank, A. Curran, and R. Hearne. CONCRETE

Monograph. 1979.