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Prestressed Concrete in Building

Advantages and Economics

Partha Pratim Roy, B. E. (Civil), M. E. (Structure)
Vice President (Technical), ADAPT International Pvt. Ltd.

Prestressed Concrete
Prestressed concrete is a method for overcoming concrete's natural weakness in tension.
Prestressing tendons (generally of high tensile steel cable or rods) are used which produces a
compressive stress that offsets the tensile stress that the concrete compression member would
otherwise experience due to self-weight and gravity loads. Traditional reinforced concrete is based
on the use of steel reinforcement bars, rebar, inside poured concrete.
Prestressing can be accomplished in two ways: pre-tensioned concrete and bonded or unbounded
post-tensioned concrete.

Pre-tensioned concrete
Pre-tensioned concrete is cast around already tensioned tendons. This method produces a good
bond between the tendon and concrete, which both protects the tendon from corrosion and allows
for direct transfer of tension. The cured concrete adheres and bonds to the bars and when the
tension is released it is transferred to the concrete as compression by static friction.
However, it requires stout anchoring points between which the tendon is to be stretched and the
tendons are usually in a straight line. Thus, most pretensioned concrete elements are prefabricated
in a factory and must be transported to the construction site, which limits their size. Pre-tensioned
elements may be balcony elements, lintels, floor slabs, beams or foundation piles. An innovative
bridge construction method using pre-stressing is described in stressed ribbon bridge.

Bonded post-tensioned concrete

Bonded post-tensioned concrete is the descriptive term for a method of applying compression after
pouring concrete and the curing process (in situ). The concrete is cast around a plastic, steel or
aluminium curved duct, to follow the area where otherwise tension would occur in the concrete
element. A set of tendons are fished through the duct and the concrete is poured.
Once the concrete has hardened, the tendons are tensioned by hydraulic jacks that react against
the concrete member itself. When the tendons have stretched sufficiently, according to the design
specifications (see Hooke's law), they are wedged in position and maintain tension after the jacks
are removed, transferring pressure to the concrete.
The duct is then grouted to protect the tendons from corrosion. This method is commonly used to
create monolithic slabs for house construction in locations where expansive soils (such as adobe
clay) create problems for the typical perimeter foundation. All stresses from seasonal expansion
and contraction of the underlying soil are taken into the entire tensioned slab, which supports the
building without significant flexure.

Figure 1: Typical Layout of Bonded System

Post-stressing is also used in the construction of various bridges, both after concrete is cured after
support by falsework and by the assembly of prefabricated sections, as in the segmental
bridge.The advantages of this system over unbonded post-tensioning are:
1. Large reduction in traditional reinforcement requirements as tendons cannot destress in
2. Tendons can be easily 'weaved' allowing a more efficient design approach.
3. Higher ultimate strength due to bond generated between the strand and concrete.
4. No long term issues with maintaining the integrity of the anchor/dead end.

Unbonded post-tensioned concrete

Unbonded post-tensioned concrete differs from bonded post-tensioning by providing each
individual cable permanent freedom of movement relative to the concrete. To achieve this, each
individual tendon is coated with a grease (generally lithium based) and covered by a plastic
sheathing formed in an extrusion process. The transfer of tension to the concrete is achieved by
the steel cable acting against steel anchors embedded in the perimeter of the slab.

Figure 2: Typical Layout of Unbonded System

The main disadvantage over bonded post-tensioning is the fact that a cable can destress itself and
burst out of the slab if damaged (such as during repair on the slab). The advantages of this system
over bonded post-tensioning are:
1. The ability to individually adjust cables based on poor field conditions (For example: shifting
a group of 4 cables around an opening by placing 2 to either side).
2. The procedure of post-stress grouting is eliminated.
3. The ability to de-stress the tendons before attempting repair work.

Post-Tensioning in Building Structures

Market Factors Favoring the Post-Tensioning System:
Followings are the market factors, which favor implementing Post-Tensioning system in Building
Longer spans
Unique designs: irregular shapes
Shorter construction cycles
Cost reduction
Shorter floor-to-floor heights
Superior structural performance

Figure 3: Dubai Pearl Project (Commercial / Offices Towers)

Figure 4: Under Ground Parking Structure, Kolkata, India

Direct Cost Reduction
Post-tensioning offers direct cost reduction over conventionally reinforced slabs primarily by
reducing concrete and rebar material quantities as well as rebar installation labor. Typically,
savings between 10% - 20% in direct cost are achieved.

Figure 5: Beach Tower II, Sharjah, UAE (Residential Tower)

Figure 6: Al-Shabah Mall, Aleppo, Syria (Shopping Center)

Followings are the factors which contribute to direct cost reduction:
Less concrete material
Reduction in slab thickness reduces total building height and cost
Less rebar
Less labor cost for installation of material
Reduced material handling
Simplified formwork leads to less labor cost
Rapid reuse of formwork leads to less formwork on jobsite
As a rule, the break even mark between conventional and prestressed solutions is approx. 7m


Cost PT

6m 7m 8m 9m 10m 11m

Figure 7: Direct Cost Comparison between RC and PT systems

In a typical slab with spans over 7 meters, the net savings in material cost can range between 10%
- 20% of original RC alternative. A typical comparative cost structure is shown below:

Total Savings 10% - 20%

Concrete PT System

Concrete 25% Reduction

Rebar 65% Reduction

Figure 8: Cost Structure of RC vs. PT Slabs

Material represents 60% of direct cost of a post-tensioning system. Cost structure of PT System is
shown below:

Design 10%
Logistics 10%

Site Management & Labor 20%

Duct & Casting 20%

Material 60%
Strand 40%

Figure 9: Cost Structure of PT Systems

Improved Construction Efficiency

Since post-tensioned slabs are designed to carry their own weight at time of stressing, they can
significantly improve construction efficiency and deliver an additional 5%-10% of indirect savings.
Following factors contribute to improved construction efficiency:
Shorter construction cycles
Less material handling and impact on other trades
Simpler slab soffit less beams and drop caps/panels
Quicker removal of shoring gives more access to lower slabs
Typical 5-Day Construction Cycle schedule for 800-1,000 m2 of slab is shown below. 3-day cycle is
also achievable with early strength concrete and industrial formwork.

Figure 10: Typical 5-Day Construction Cycle

Superior Structural Performance
The prestressing in post-tensioned slabs takes optimal advantage of tendon, rebar and concrete
properties to deliver an economical structural system.
Factors contributing to superior structural performance are listed below:
Use of high-strength materials
Deflection control
Longer spans are achieved
Crack control and water-tightness
Reduced floor-to-floor height
Lighter structure requires lighter lateral load resisting system
Economy in column and footing design
Reduced noise transmission compared to RC
Lower total cost of ownership (maintenance) compared to RC alternatives

Sustainable Design
Compared to conventionally reinforced structures, post-tensioned buildings offer a more
sustainable design alternative.
Factors contributing to sustainability:
Less material use than RC
Reduced carbon footprint
Lower cost of ownership
Less cracking
Lower deflection values
Reduced cost for corrosion maintenance

Typical Quantities
Post-Tensioning and rebar rates vary greatly depending of span configuration and loading.
Compared to other countries, PT projects in US are designed with less loading and lower PT and
rebar rates.
Bonded System
US values (1 kN/m2 SDL & 2.5 kN/m2 LL)
3 4 kg/m2 of PT
5 kg/m2 of Rebar
With higher loading (3 kN/m2 SDL & 3 kN/m2 LL)
3.5 5 kg/m2 of PT
7 9 kg/m2 of Rebar
Unbonded System
US values (1 kN/m2 SDL & 2.5 kN/m2 LL)
3.75 kg/m2 of PT
6 kg/m2 of Rebar
Case Study of Value Engineering:
Legend Plaza, Dubai, UAE is designed using ADAPT-Floor Pro ( Salient
features of this project are listed below:

Project Parameters
Gross Floor Area Superstructure: 72,000 m2
Typical Floor Gross Area: 11,000 m2
Total Floors: 7
Typical Floor Slab Spans: 10 m max / 8 m avg.

Type and Location

Type of Structure: High-end Residential
Location: Dubai, UAE
Construction Date: Aug 2004 Jan 2005

Project Team
Prime Structural Engineers: Adnan Saffarini
Contractor: SBG
Client: Private Investment
PT Supplier: Freyssinet Gulf
PT Value Engineers: ADAPT Corporation

Design Criteria
Design Code: BS-8110
Concrete Compressive Strength Fcu: 40 MPa
Reinforcement Yield Stress: 460 MPa
Superimposed Dead Load: 6 kN/m2
Design Live Load: 2 kN/m2

Figure 11: Completed Structure Legend Plaza

Figure 12: Layout of Original Design

Original Design
Original Floor System: Hourdy Slab System
Depth of Floor System: 380 mm
Boundary Beams: Yes

Alternative Design offered by Freyssinet & ADAPT

Post-tensioned Floor System: 2-way Flat Plate
Depth of Slab: 220 mm
Boundary Beams: None

Figure 13: Layout of Alternate Design

70 % less rebar
13 % less concrete
Elimination of all Hourdy Blocks
Unified structural slab system
Beams & drop caps were deleted, simplifying slab installation
25 % less formwork
3 months shorter construction program
15% savings in site overhead and plant
Value engineering saved Contractor over 1 million US$.

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