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Concrete Cracking


Flexure, Early Thermal Contraction,

Long Term Drying Shrinkage and
Seasonal Thermal Contraction

Structural Engineering Is
That Have Properties Which Can Only Be Estimated
That Can Only Be Approximately Analyzed
That Are Not Accurately Known
(Adapted From An Unknown Author)

There are numerous causes of cracking in concrete, but most instances
are related more to concrete specification and construction practices
than by stresses due to induced forces.

The four primary causes of cracking that the designer can help to
prevent are:

• Flexural Cracking
• Early Thermal Contraction Cracking
• Long Term Drying Shrinkage Cracking
• Seasonal Thermal Contraction Cracking

This presentation is aimed primarily at thin suspended slabs, but the

basic principles can be applied to other forms of construction.
Flexural Cracking
Flexural cracking is a well known and well documented phenomenon
and as such will only be briefly discussed. As a structure deflects to
support the applied design loads, tension forces are induced in one
face of the concrete which leads to the formation of cracks. In Limit
State design, the tension capacity of concrete is ignored and the
steel reinforcement is designed to support the entire tensile strain.

To ensure that durability of the concrete is not compromised, maximum

crack widths are specified depending on the exposure conditions,
purpose of the structure and the visual acceptability of cracking.
Typically for non aesthetic, non water-retaining structures, crack
widths are kept below 0.3mm.

(RCC spreadsheet RCC14 calculates the crack width based on equations

similar to those on the following page)

Flexural Cracking
Excerpts from BS 8007

Flexural Cracking
Cracking due to flexure is additive to cracking due to the
effects discussed in the remainder of this presentation:

• Early Thermal Contraction Cracking

• Long Term Drying Shrinkage Cracking
• Seasonal Thermal Contraction Cracking

Flexural Cracking
• For lightly reinforced sections, as is typical for suspended slabs,
contraction of the concrete results in induced stress only if the
concrete is subjected to some form of restraint.

• Typically, restraint is primarily provided parallel to walls, previously

poured slabs and between cores or other rigid restraints resulting in
potential cracks perpendicular to the line of restraint.

• Restraint parallel to walls and previously poured slabs is only

significant for Early Thermal Strains. For Shrinkage and Seasonal
temperature variations both the slab and the restraint are deemed to
contract together. This is not always true but is a good
approximation in most cases.

• Restraint parallel to walls and previously poured slabs extends in a
triangular pattern at 45 from the ends of the wall or slab. This is due
to the relative in plane stiffness of the walls and the previously
poured slab edge preventing the new slab from contracting.
• The effect of restraint parallel to previously poured slabs can be
reduced by ensuring that the time between casting of the adjacent
sections is kept to a minimum.
• Minimizing the total number of pours also reduces the amount of
restraint by reducing the number of restrained edges.

Contraction Cracking
Contraction cracking, as the name suggests, is due to the contraction
of concrete, primarily due to:

• Early Age Thermal Strains

• Long Term Drying Shrinkage
• Seasonal Thermal Strains

Intro to Contraction Cracking

Concrete Life Cycle

Concrete typically goes through the following life cycle:

• Within the first couple of days after casting new concrete, the
hydration process causes the concrete to heat up.
• From an initial casting temperature, it rises to a peak temperature at
around three days old, coupled with a small expansion in the volume
of the concrete.
• As the concrete cools down to equalize with the ambient
temperature, it begins to contract as it simultaneously sets. This
contraction, if restrained, leads to tensile stress forming in the
• If the induced tensile stress exceeds the tensile strength of the
concrete, the concrete cracks.

Intro to Contraction Cracking

Intro to Contraction Cracking
• In the following three to four weeks, the tensile and compressive
strength of the concrete increases rapidly.
• In its first year of service, the concrete will be subjected to its first
cycle of temperature and humidity, the degree of which depends on
the exposure conditions of the concrete.
• Over a longer, sustained period of 30 years, water within the initial
concrete mix will be lost to the environment by evaporation and
drying by surface winds. Again, the degree of loss is dependent
upon the exposure conditions to which the concrete is subjected.
• Similarly to early thermal contraction, the change in temperature in
the slab and the loss of water to the atmosphere will lead to
contraction of the concrete and tensile stresses leading to potential

Intro to Contraction Cracking

• Creep acts to reduce the effects of the various forms of contraction over a
number of years.

Intro to Contraction Cracking

Early Age Thermal Contraction

The principal of Early Age Thermal Contraction has already been

discussed. As the fresh concrete contracts upon cooling and begins
to harden, restraints to that contraction induce tensile stresses in the
The amount by which the concrete contracts and the capacity the
concrete has to sustain that contraction before cracking occurs is
down to many variables, all of which are difficult to define with
accuracy without testing.

Early Age Thermal Contraction

Early Age Thermal Strain:

ξeth = T1αkR

T1 is the temperature drop from the peak concrete temperature to the ambient
α Is the thermal coefficient of expansion for the aggregate used in the concrete
k Is a modification factor allowing for inaccuracies in the assumptions
R Is a factor representing the degree of restraint (where R = 1 represents a rigid
restraint and R = 0 represents no restraint)

Temperature Drop:

T1 is governed by the balance between the heat of hydration and the rate of
heat loss to the atmosphere of the concrete. Factors affecting the
temperature drop include: the placing temperature of the concrete; the
ambient temperature; the thickness of the section; the type of formwork
used; the cement content and the presence of any concrete replacement

Early Age Thermal Contraction

Early Age Thermal Contraction
Early Age Thermal Contraction
Long Term Drying Shrinkage

As the concrete matures, the excess water used in the initial mix is lost
through a variety of means, such as evaporation and the drying
effects of wind. The concrete mix design has a large part in defining
the degree to which the concrete is affected by long term drying
The principle factors affecting drying shrinkage are:
• Ambient humidity – the higher the ambient humidity, the less the
amount of water that is lost by the concrete
• Surface Area – the higher the relative surface area, the higher the
amount of water that is lost from the concrete
• Water/Cement Ratio – the higher the water/cement ratio, the more
water there is in the mix to be lost

Long Term Drying Shrinkage

• The following method for estimating drying shrinkage strain is from
BS 5400-4

Long Term Drying Shrinkage Strain:

ξcs = kLkckekiR

kL is the basic value of shrinkage related to ambient humidity

kc is a coefficient to account for the composition of the concrete mix (cement
content and water content)
ke is a coefficient to account for the effective thickness of the section
ki is a coefficient to account for duration of the applied strain
R is a factor representing the degree of restraint (where R = 1 represents a rigid
restraint and R = 0 represents no restraint)

Long Term Drying Shrinkage

Relative Ambient Humidity for Dubai is fairly constant year round at 60%
(expressed as 0.6 RH)

Long Term Drying Shrinkage

Long Term Drying Shrinkage
Seasonal Thermal Contraction/Expansion

As previously discussed, concrete volume changes with temperature.

As its temperature rises, the concrete expands and conversely, the
concrete contracts as its temperature drops.

It is important to note that the temperature of the concrete is relatively

insensitive to rapid changes in the surrounding air temperature. This
is particularly true where the concrete is not subject to direct solar
gain, is subject to internal or partially internal environments or the
concrete is insulated. The temperature to be used in most instances
relates to mean daily temperatures.

Seasonal Thermal Strain

Seasonal Thermal Strain:

ξth = T2αR

T2 is the temperature difference from the ambient temperature at the time

of casting to the expected maximum and minimum mean daily
temperatures over the year (N.B. this can be positive or negative)
α is the thermal coefficient of expansion for the aggregate used in the
R is a factor representing the degree of restraint (where R = 1
represents a rigid restraint and R = 0 represents no restraint)

Seasonal Thermal Strain

Seasonal Thermal Strain

• The calculations required to determine the stresses induced in

concrete due to contraction are laborious and the parameters for
use in the design equations are difficult, if not impossible, to
accurately determine.

• At the end of the day, those stresses that are induced result in
cracking, for which reinforcement is required in order to control the
size and spacing of the cracks.

• It is strongly advised that, wherever possible, movement joints at

approximately 70m centers (maximum) are incorporated into
concrete structures. With such movement joints, the majority of the
thermal contraction strains described herein can effectively be