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Design of Slabs-on-Grade

CE A433 RC Design T. Bart Quimby, P.E., Ph.D. Spring 2007


Slabs on grade are PAVEMENTS not generally structural elements

Pavements pass loads through compression to the supporting soil As long as the soils deformations are low, there is negligible bending in the slab

Slabs on grade are deemed to be successful if there is little or no cracking

Apply load to top of slab

Since the slab is stiffer than the soil the load is distributed over a larger area of soil

A thicker slab is stiffer and distributes the load over a larger area of soil

Types of Cracks


Structural cracks are the result of subgrade settlement and/or stiffness discontinuity Often occur when a floor is over loaded Shrinkage cracks occur soon after a floor slab DRIES and will not increase in length, width or number after the drying process is completed.


Causes of Structural Cracking

Virtually all structural cracks are the result of subgrade failure The failure may result from one or more of the following conditions

It is necessary to determine the stiffness of the subgrade and the magnitude of the expected loads so that the proper slab thickness can be determined

The subgrade is improperly designed or prepared The slab thickness is too thin for applied loads and the stiffness of the subgrade The concrete does not have sufficient strength

Structural Cracks

Cracks form when the Moment exceeds the Cracking Moment

Thickness Design of Slabs on Grade

Slabs on grade are, to a limited extent, beams on elastic foundations. The softer the supporting soil and/or the larger the load, the stronger and stiffer the slab must be to spread the load over more of the supporting soil

Slab stiffness is a function of slab thickness Slab cracking strength is a function of concrete strength and slab thickness

Thickness Design Procedures

Portland Cement Association Wire Reinforcing Institute Corp. of Engineers

PCI Method

A series of charts for various loading conditions (wheels, racks, posts, etc) Example of slab thickness determination for a wheeled vehicle:

Data for lift truck

Axle load = 25 k Wheel spacing = 37 in Number of wheels = 2 Tire inflation pressure = 110 psi

PCI Example Continued

Contact area = wheel load/inflation pressure

Contact area = (25,000 lb / 2 wheels) / 110 psi = 114 in2 Subgrade Modulus, k = 100 pci Concrete 28-day strength, fc = 7,000 psi

Subgrade and Concrete Data

Concrete flexural strength, MR ~ 7.5sqrt(fc) ~ 640 psi

PCI Example Continued

Use a factor of safety of 2.0

Choice depends of number of stress repetitions permitted WS = MR/FS = 640 psi / 2 = 320 psi

Concrete working stress = MR/FS

Slab stress per 1,000 lb of axial load

WS / axle load, kips = 320/25 = 12.8 psi per 1,000 lbs.

PCI Example Continued

Effective Contact Area

Slab Stress per 1,000 lb of axle load

Use 8 Slab

Wheel Spacing

Subgrade Modulus

PCI Chart for Racks

Need to match criteria for the chart Read the instructions for each chart!

Causes of Shrinkage Cracking

Shrinkage cracking occurs due to the normal volumetric changes associated with drying Normal concrete can only stretch about 0.002 inches per foot without rupturing Normal shrinkage is about 0.006 (+25%) inches per foot If the slab is restrained against movement then cracking is inevitable

Minimizing Shrinkage Cracking

Shrinkage cracking can be minimized by

Reducing the shrinkage characteristics of the concrete mix Reducing restraint on the slab Encouraging cracks to appear at predetermined locations The use of reinforcing steel

Shrinkage cracking can be controlled by

Reducing Shrinkage Characteristics of the Concrete Mix

Reduce the volume of water in the mix

The challenge is to limit the amount of water in the mix while maintaining workability and finishability without excessive use of water reducers

Use coarser ground cement Use the largest sized aggregate permitted by design Use shrinkage compensating concrete

Reducing Shrinkage Characteristics of the Concrete Mix (Cont.)

Use proper curing techniques

Proper curing keeps water in the concrete until it has achieved sufficient tensile strength before shrinkage occurs Proper curing allows drying to occur more evenly through the slab thickness

Differential shrinkage due to drying can result in curling of the slab edges, resulting in an induced moment in the slab. When the moment equals the cracking moment a crack forms, redistributing the stress

Sources of Restraint

Friction between the slab and the ground

As the slab shrinks, the friction resists the motion, causing tension in the slab

Bearing on other features (walls, foundation, drain pipes, columns, etc) Attachment to other features

Friction Restraint
Tensile Capacity

Axial Stress Diagram

Shrinkage Cracks
Tensile Capacity

Axial Stress Diagram

Restraint by Features

Locating Cracks

Control and construction joints are places of intentional weakness. They are placed close enough together to keep tensile stresses in the slab below the tensile rupture strength of the concrete

Control Joints

The purpose of these joints is to predetermine the location of cracks for esthetic and performance purposes. ACI 302.1R, pg 6 Unless the design provides for the specific supplemental reinforcing across the joint, the resulting induced crack may offer no structural advantage over a randomly occuring shrinkage crack. ACI 302.1R, pg 6

Construction Joints

These joints are placed in a slab where the concreting operations are concluded for the day, generally in conformity with a predetermined joint layout. If at any time concreting is interrupted long enough for the placed concrete to harden, a construction joint should be used. ACI
302.1R pg 6

Control Joint Details

Construction Joints

Joint Spacing

Unreinforced Slabs

2 to 3 ft for each inch of slab thickness. Smaller aggregate size, higher water contents, and local experience may dictate use of closer joints

Reinforced Slabs

Use a subgrade drag equation to compute joint spacing (See ACI 360R 6.3)

Drag Equation
L Friction mW As f s Strengthallowable 2 2 As f s L mW


L = distance between joints, ft As = Area of steel per foot width of slab, in2/ftw fs = Allowable steel stress (20,000 psi or 24,000 psi) W = Dead weight of slab, psf m = Friction factor (1 to 2.5)

Important Concepts for Joint Details

Only reinforcement across the joint is to be used for vertical load transfer only. Use plain bars and coat to prevent bond to concrete Joint should extend at least slab thickness through the slab Vertical load transfer across construction joints can be accomplished with plain bars or properly designed keyed joints.

No Vertical Load Transfer

Joints have vertical transfer but allow in plane shrinkage movement

Controlling Shrinkage Cracking with Reinforcing Steel

Reinforcement serves to restrain the shrinkage, effectively subdividing the slab and hence distributing the crack area more evenly. This produces smaller and more numerous cracks than would occur in an unreinforced slab of the same dimensions. The actual crack area remains essentially the same.

Fricks, T.J. Cracking in Floor Slabs, reprinted in ACI SCM-25 (92), pg 122.

Reinforcing Steel

Smaller bar sizes are better choices than large diameters This steel should be positioned one-fourth the slab thickness below the top surface up to 2.0 in maximum. ACI 302.1R, pg 5 Minimum cover of the steel is controlled by ACI 318 7.7.

Top cover inch clear cover for slabs protected from the weather, 1.1/2 for #5 or smaller bars and 2 for larger bars exposed to weather 3 clear between bars and the ground.

Is Reinforcement Needed?

Concrete Floors on Ground By Portland Cement Association Second Edition

Sample Slab Reinforcing Calculation

Determine the reinforcing steel requirement for an outdoor, 5 thick concrete slab with control joints spaced 25 ft apart. The slab is cast on a compacted gravelly soil surface. Use 40 ksi rebar Variables

fs = 20,000 psi m = 2.0 (assume that gravel surface has some interlock with the slab) L = 25 ft W = 5 (150 pcf / 12) = 62.5 psf

Calculation Continued

From drag equation:

Spacing Calcs:

Reqd As = 0.0781 in2/ftw #3 bar: s < (.11 in2/bar)(12/ft)/(.0781 in2/ft) = 16.9 in #4 bar: s < 30.7 in 6x6 W4.0xW4.0 wire mesh gives As = 0.080 in2/ftw. ACI 318 7.6 limits spacing to min(3h, 18)

Decision: Use #3 bars 15 O.C. each way. Place with a clear cover of 1 below top of slab.