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What is prestressed concrete? How is it used?

Before getting into prestressed concrete, let us go back to the basics first.

We all know that concrete is strong in compression and weak in tension. This is reason
for providing reinforcement (in the form of steel bars) to resist tension/tensile force
acting on beams/columns/slabs etcetera.

RC structures under service load undergoes deflection causing the bottom of the beam
(tensile zone) to elongate, causing cracks. Generally, steel bars are provided to limit the
crack widths and resist the tensile force which the concrete lacks.

Here, the rebar acts as ‘passive reinforcement’. Rebars (steel reinforcement) provided at
the bottom of the bar, does not carry any forces until the concrete has already deflected
enough to crack.

How it is used?

This is where prestressing comes into action. The principle behind prestressed concrete
is that compressive stresses induced by high-strength steel tendons in a concrete
member before loads are applied will balance the tensile stresses imposed in the
member during service.

Simply, Permanent pre-compression is produced in the areas subjected to tension using

high tensile strength steel wires or alloys. Now, a portion of tensile stress is
counteracted, thereby reducing the cross-sectional area of steel reinforcement.

As as result, the concrete does not crack because the pre-stressing has reduced the
tensile stress in the section below cracking stress. hence concrete is treated as a elastic

Now, the concrete is said to have two compressive force:

1. Internal prestressing force

2. External forces (Dead load, Live load etc.)
These two forces must counteract each other.

When loads are applied, reinforcing steel takes on more stress and the compressive
force in the concrete is reduced greatly, so that it doesn’t become a tensile force. As a
result the concrete is less prone to cracks or failures because it is always under

Definition: Prestressed concrete is concrete that has had internal stresses introduced to
counteract, to the degree desired, the tensile stresses that will be imposed in service. The
stress is usually imposed by tendons of individual hard-drawn wires, cables of hard-
drawn wires, or bars of high strength alloy steel. Prestressing may be achieved either by
pretensioning or by post-tensioning.

Definition Source: Prestressed, Pretensioned and Post-Tensioned Concrete

Prestressed concrete structures can be classified in a number of ways depending upon
the feature of designs and constructions.

1. Pre-tensioning: As the name says, the steel wires or tendons are tensioned first and
the concrete is poured later. Tendons are temporarily anchored and tensioned and the
prestress is transferred to the concrete after it is hardened.

Then the tendon tries to shrink back to the original length, but resisted by the bond
between the concrete thereby inducing compressive force in it.

2. Post-tensioning: Post- tensioning similar to pre-tensioning, where concrete is

poured first, allowed to harden and the tendons is tensioned later. Tendons are placed
in sheathing at suitable places in the member before casting and later after hardening of


 Longer spans
 Unique designs: irregular shapes
 Shorter construction cycles
 Cost reduction
 Shorter floor-to-floor heights
 Superior structural performance
Other Sources:

Prestressed Concrete

Introduction to prestressed concrete

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Priyabrata Pal, Assistant Engineer at Simplex Infrastructure Limited (2015-present)

Answered Sep 8 2017
As the name suggests, Prestressed Concrete is a form of concrete which is stressed by
means of compression prior to supporting any design load beyond its self weight. The
compression is produced in concrete by tensioning the high tensile strength “Tendons”
located in or adjacent to the concrete mass. It is mainly done to enhance the
performance of concrete.

It is way too effective in several construction work. Where general RCC structures are
ineffective and uneconomical, prestressed concrete structures can come handy in use.

Prestressed concrete is widely used as its induced stresses allow it to take longer spans,
reduced cross sectional dimension and savings in material in comparison to RCC. It is
widely used in construction of bridges, high rise slabs, silos and tanks and nuclear
containment structures.

Prestress in a structure can be induced by 1) Pre tensioning and 2) Post tensioning.

For more in depth details refer to textbooks.

Hope this helps.

Thanks for asking Gaurav Jainer

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Himanshu Mishra, Born to be a Civil Engineer

Answered Feb 7 2016
Prestressed concrete is basically concrete in which internal stresses of a suitable
magnitude and distribution are introduced so that the stresses resulting from the
external loads are counteracted to a desired degree.

Classifications and Types:

Prestressed concrete structures can be classified in a number of ways depending upon

the feature of designs and constructions.

1. Pre-tensioning: In which the tendons are tensioned before the concrete is placed,
tendons are temporarily anchored and tensioned and the prestress is transferred to the
concrete after it is hardened.

2. Post-tensioning: In which the tendon is tensioned after concrete has hardened.

Tendons are placed in sheathing at suitable places in the member before casting and
later after hardening of concrete.

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Paul Skema, former Designer and Owner at Roth Design + Build

Answered 16d ago
Originally Answered: What is meant by prestress concrete?
Concrete in which reinforcing steel bars are stretched and anchored to compress it and
thus increase its resistance to stress.

Read more: What is prestressed concrete? definition and meaning

If you have any questions, need any help, please go to Rothdesign (in my bio) and
contact us for help!



Sarvesh Khanna, B.E. Civil Engineering, Sarvajanik College of Engineering and Technology, Surat
Answered Apr 9 2016
Prestressing is the deliberate creation of internal stresses in a structure or system to
improve its performance. A prestressed concrete member is one in which there have
been introduced internal stresses of such a magnitude, and also distribution, that the
stresses resulting from external loading are counteracted to a desired degree.

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Shakti Singh, Civil Engineer at IRCON International Ltd.
Answered Sep 14 2017
Prestressed Concrete is one of the most important part of construction and you should
and you must have proper knowledge about it. Let us understand it in detail.

A prestressed concrete structure is different from a conventional reinforced concrete

structure due to the application of an initial load on the structure prior to its use. The
initial load or prestress is applied to enable the structure to counteract the stresses
arising during its service period.Prestressing of structures was introduced in late
nineteenth century. The concept of prestressing existed before the applications in

Two examples of prestressing before the development of prestressed concrete are


Force-fitting of metal bands on wooden barrels The metal bands induce a state of initial
hoop compression, to counteract the hoop tension caused by filling of liquid in the

Pre-tensioning the spokes in a bicycle wheel. The pre-tension of a spoke in a bicycle

wheel is applied to such an extent that there will always be a residual tension in the

For concrete, internal stresses are induced (usually, by means of tensioned steel) for the
following reasons.The tensile strength of concrete is only about 8% to 14% of its
compressive strength. Cracks tend to develop at early stages of loading in flexural
members such as beams and slabs. To prevent such cracks, compressive force can be
suitably applied in the perpendicular direction.Prestressing enhances the bending, shear
and torsional capacities of the flexural members. In pipes and liquid storage tanks, the
hoop tensile stresses can be effectively counteracted by circular prestressing.

The following sketch explains the application of prestress.

Place and stretch mild steel rods, prior to concreting

Release the tension and cut the rods after concreting

Figure- Prestressing of concrete beams by mild steel rods

Mild steel rods are stretched and concrete is poured around them. After hardening of
concrete, the tension in the rods is released. The rods will try to regain their original
length, but this is prevented by the surrounding concrete to which the steel is bonded.
Thus, the concrete is now effectively in a state of pre-compression. It is capable of
counteracting tensile stress, such as arising from the load shown in the following sketch.

But, the early attempts of prestressing were not completely successful. It was observed
that the effect of prestress reduced with time. The load resisting capacities of the
members were limited. Under sustained loads, the members were found to fail. This was
due to the following reason. Concrete shrinks with time. Moreover under sustained load,
the strain in concrete increases with increase in time. This is known as creep strain. The
reduction in length due to creep and shrinkage is also applicable to the embedded steel,
resulting in significant loss in the tensile strain.

Forms of Prestressing Steel

 Wires- Prestressing wire is a single unit made of steel.

 Strands- Two, three or seven wires are wound to form a prestressing strand.
 Tendon- A group of strands or wires are wound to form a prestressing tendon.
 Cable- A group of tendons form a prestressing cable.
 Bars- A tendon can be made up of a single steel bar. The diameter of a bar is
much larger than that of a wire.
Nature of Concrete-Steel Interface

1. Bonded tendon- When there is adequate bond between the prestressing

tendon and concrete, it is called a bonded tendon. Pre-tensioned and grouted
post-tensioned tendons are bonded tendons.
2. Unbonded tendon- When there is no bond between the prestressing tendon
and concrete, it is called unbonded tendon. When grout is not applied after
post-tensioning, the tendon is an unbonded tendon.
Stages of Loading The analysis of prestressed members can be different for the different
stages of loading. The stages of loading are as follows.

1) Initial : It can be subdivided into two stages.

a) During tensioning of steel

b) At transfer of prestress to concrete.

2) Intermediate : This includes the loads during transportation of the prestressed


3) Final : It can be subdivided into two stages.

a) At service, during operation.

b) At ultimate, during extreme events.

Advantages of Prestressing

The prestressing of concrete has several advantages as compared to traditional

reinforced concrete (RC) without prestressing. A fully prestressed concrete member is
usually subjected to compression during service life. This rectifies several deficiencies of
concrete. The following text broadly mentions the advantages of a prestressed concrete
member with an equivalent RC member. For each effect, the benefits are listed.

1. Section remains uncracked under service loads ¾ Reduction of steel corrosion

Increase in durability. Full section is utilised Higher moment of inertia (higher
2. Less deformations (improved serviceability).
3. Increase in shear capacity.Suitable for use in pressure vessels, liquid retaining
4. Improved performance (resilience) under dynamic and fatigue loading.
5. High span-to-depth ratios Larger spans possible with prestressing (bridges,
buildings with large column-free spaces)
6. Typical values of span-to-depth ratios in slabs are given below. Non-
prestressed slab 28:1 Prestressed slab 45:1 For the same span, less depth
compared to RC member. Reduction in self weight.
7. More aesthetic appeal due to slender sections
8. More economical sections.
9. Suitable for precast construction
The advantages of precast construction are as follows.

 Rapid construction
 Better quality control
 Reduced maintenance
 Suitable for repetitive construction
 Multiple use of formwork.
 Reduction of formwork.
 Availability of standard shapes.

Prestressing systems have developed over the years and various companies have
patented their products. Detailed information of the systems is given in the product
catalogues and brochures published by companies. There are general guidelines of
prestressing in Section 12 of IS 1343: 1980. The information given in this section is
introductory in nature, with emphasis on the basic concepts of the systems. The
prestressing systems and devices are described for the two types of prestressing, pre-
tensioning and post-tensioning, separately. This section covers post-tensioning.Pre-
tensioning Systems and Devices•, covers pre-tensioning. In posttensioning, the tension
is applied to the tendons after hardening of the concrete. The stages of post-tensioning
are described next.

Stages of Post-tensioning
In post-tensioning systems, the ducts for the tendons (or strands) are placed along with
the reinforcement before the casting of concrete. The tendons are placed in the ducts
after the casting of concrete. The duct prevents contact between concrete and the
tendons during the tensioning operation. Unlike pre-tensioning, the tendons are pulled
with the reaction acting against the hardened concrete.If the ducts are filled with grout,
then it is known as bonded post-tensioning. The grout is a neat cement paste or a sand-
cement mortar containing suitable admixture.

In unbonded post-tensioning, as the name suggests, the ducts are never grouted and the
tendon is held in tension solely by the end anchorages. The following sketch shows a
schematic representation of a grouted post-tensioned member.The profile of the duct
depends on the support conditions. For a simply supported member, the duct has a
sagging profile between the ends. For a continuous member, the duct sags in the span
and hogs over the support.

The various stages of the post-tensioning operation are summarised as follows.

1. Casting of concrete.
2. Placement of the tendons.
3. Placement of the anchorage block and jack.
4. Applying tension to the tendons.
5. Seating of the wedges.
6. Cutting of the tendons

Advantages of Post-tensioning

The relative advantages of post-tensioning as compared to pre-tensioning are as follows.

• Post-tensioning is suitable for heavy cast-in-place members.

• The waiting period in the casting bed is less.

• The transfer of prestress is independent of transmission length.

Disadvantage of Post-tensioning

The relative disadvantage of post-tensioning as compared to pre-tensioning is

the requirement of anchorage device and grouting equipment.

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Idris Dhabir, Engineer at Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited (2017-present)

Answered Feb 6 2017
Prestressed Concrete is an architectural and structural material possessing great
strength. The unique characteristics of prestressed concrete allow predetermined,
engineering stresses to be placed in members to counteract stresses that occur when the
unit is subjected to service loads. This is accomplished by combining the the best
properties of two quality materials: high strength concrete for compression and high
tensile strength steel strands for tension.

Actually, prestressing is quite simple. High tensile strands are stretched between
abutments at each end of long casting beds. Concrete is then poured into the forms
encasing the strands. As the concrete sets, it bonds to the tensioned steel. When the
concrete reaches a specific strength, the strands are released from the abutments. This
compresses the concrete, arches the member, and creates a built in resistance to service

Prestressed Concrete Beam

Prestressed or pretensioned before it leaves the plant, a slight arch or camber is

noticeable. Energy is stored in the unit by the action of the highly tension steel which
places a high compression in the lower portion of the member. An upward force is
thereby created which in effect relieves the beam of having to carry its own weight.

The upward force along the length of the beam counteracts the service loads applied to
the member.

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