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Control of air content is essential in

producing durable concrete. Differences in

performance of concretes exposed to
freezing and thawing can often be traced
to variations in the air void system.

Control of air content

The many variables that affect air content
and what to do to keep them in check

S pecifications for air-entrained concrete frequently

require that air content be held within a percent or
so of a target value. But how easy is it to keep air content
Entrained air greatly improves the resistance of con-
crete to damage resulting from freezing and thawing cy-
cles. Microscopic air bubbles produced by admixtures
within this narrow band? The four tables in this article called air-entraining agents relieve pressures caused by
show that air content is influenced by a number of vari- water freezing in the small voids present in hardened ce-
ables: batching sequence, fines content, haul time and ment paste. Without these air bubbles, expansion of the
t e m p e ra t u re, to name a few. While the probable im- f re ezing water would exert destructive pressures that
pactmore or less airis known for most of these vari- can cause scaling and disintegration.
ables, it isnt known at this time how much more or how While the size and spacing of these air voids is impor-
much less air is the result. Even so, knowing the effect of tant, total air content, which is more easily measured, is
these variables can help when adjustments are needed a good indicator of durability. The air void spacing need-
at the batch plant or on the jobsite to keep air contents ed for durability generally occurs when the air content of
within the allowable range. the mortar fraction is 9 1 percent. The target value for
total air content specified by state transportation de-
AIR CONTENT AND DURABILITY partments ranges from 3 to 7 percent with an average of
Why is air content important? How much is needed? about 6 percent. Tolerances vary considerably. Some
And how far off this target amount can the air content be states maintain historical tolerances of 1 percent, while
and still be acceptable? others permit variations of 3 percent. The wider toler-

Variable Effects on Air Content Corrective Action

Cement Content Smaller voids and greater number of voids Increase AEA* 50% for each increase in
but less total air content with increase in cement of 200 pounds per cubic yard.
cement content. Increase AEA 10 times or more for very
rich, low-slump mixtures.
Water Content Air content increases with increase in One-inch slump increases air by 1/2 to 1%.
water content, but very fluid mixes show Decrease AEA accordingly.
loss of air. Voids become coarser at high
water content.
Cement Composition Higher fineness Type III requires more AEA. Use 50 to 100% more AEA for Type III.
Alkali increases air content. Decrease AEA dosage 20 to 40% for high
Cement Contaminants Oxidized oils increase air. Unoxidized oils Obtain certification on cement. Test for
decrease air. contaminants if problems develop.
Sand Air content increases with increase in sand Decrease AEA as sand content increases.
content. Organic impurities may increase Check sand with ?ASTM C 40 prior to
or decrease air content. Surface texture of acceptance.
sands may affect specific surface of voids.
Coarse Aggregate Air content decreases as maximum size of No action needed. Air content required
aggregate increases. Crusher fines on also decreases with increase in aggregate
coarse aggregate decrease air content size. Hold percentage of fines below 4%.
Mix Water Because of its high alkalinity, wash water De not use recycled was water. Test water
from ready-mix trucks decreases air for algae and other contaminants prior to
content. Algae increase air. acceptance.
Water reducers Lignosulfonates increase air. Organic acid- Decrease AEA 50 too90% for lignosulfo-
Retarders based materials have less effect. Spacing nates, expecially al lower temperatures.
factors of voids increase at higher Decrease AEA 20 to 40% for other types.
dosages. o not mix admixtures prior to batching.
Accelerators Calcium chloride increases air. Other types Decrease AREA when calcium chloride is
have little effect. used.
Superplasticizers Naphthalene-based materials increase air Use less AEA with naphthalenes. Specify
content. Highly fluid mixtures may lose air. 1 to 2% higher air content if possible.
Coarser air void systems are produced, and
spacing factors of voids are increased.
Fly ash High carbon content or high loss on Increase AEA. May need up to 5 times
ignition decreases air content. Fineness of more with high carbon ash. Foam Index
ash may also have effect, especially for test is useful check procedure.
ashes with relatively low carbon content.
Pigments Carbon-black based pigments may absorb Pre-qualification of pigment with job
AEA, depress air content. materials.
* Air entraining agent

ances are needed to accommodate actual field va ri a- ances for protected concrete.
tions in air content.
Current state specifications on air content also make VARIABLES THAT AFFECT AIR CONTENT
little distinction among various types of stru c t u re s. Variables that influence air content can be grouped
Some modification of this practice is desirable. St ru c- into four categories: concrete materials and mix design,
tures directly exposed to deicing salts and freezing tem- production procedures, construction practices, and en-
peratures require more air entrainment than elements vironmental conditions. These categories are covered in
protected from the weather. Air content tolerances for the four tables presented in this article. Each table de-
exposed concrete might also be narrower than toler- scribes the effects different variables have on air con-
tent and corrective action that can be taken. mesh will also reduce air content. This occurs when
crusher fines exceed 3 percent of the total coarse aggre-
Concrete materials and mix design gate, or when significant amounts of clays or silts are
CementAir-entraining agents become less efficient present.
with either an increase in cement content or an increase Chemical admixturesWater reducers, retarders, ac-
in cement fineness. They become more efficient with an celerators and superplasticizers all increase air (see
increase in the alkali content of the cement, though air- table), but superplasticizers are of most concern. Mixes
entraining agents based on vinsol resin are usually less made with naphthalene-based superplasticizers require
affected by alkalies than are other types of air-entraining half the usual dosage of air-entraining agent, while mix-
agents. Oil from mill bearings can also contaminate ce- es made with melamine-based products require about
ment and affect air entrainment, but this is rare. the same dosage, maybe higher. Exactly how much air-
WaterChanges in water content affect air content by entraining agent is needed depends on the particular ce-
changing both the water-cement ratio and the slump of ment and admixtures being used. In some cases where
the concrete. As the water-cement ratio increases, more superplasticizers have been used to produce flowing
free water is available for the generation of air bubbles, concrete, air losses of up to 212 percentage points have
so air content increases. Increase the water-cement ratio been reported.
from 0.40 to 1.0, and air content can increase by over 4 Larger voids and greater space between voids have
percentage points. An increase in slump also increases been reported for concrete containing superplasticizers,
air content, even if the water-cement ratio is kept con- but most studies of the durability of superplasticized
stant. In the range from 12 to 5 inches, a 1-inch increase concretes have indicated good performance. This may
in slump will usually increase air content by 12 to 34 per- be due in part to the lower water-cement ratio, which re-
centage point. Above a slump of 6 to 7 inches, concrete is duces both the amount of freezable water and the per-
often too fluid to retain entrained air and air content de- meability of the concrete.
creases. Fly ashThe Foam Index Test may be helpful in pre-
A g g re g a t e s Air content is reduced by both an in- dicting how much air-entraining agent is required by
crease in maximum aggregate size and a decrease in concrete that contains fly ash. In this test, cement and fly
sand content. As the maximum aggregate size increas- ash are shaken with water in a glass bottle. Air-entrain-
es, less sand is needed in a properly proportioned con- ing agent is added, and the bottle is shaken again. The
c re t e. Because air bubbles are usually trapped in sand minimum amount of air-entraining agent needed to cre-
grain interstices, less sand means less air. Every 1 per- ate a stable foam is termed the Foam Index. The ratio of
cent decrease in sand will decrease air by about 0.1 per- foam index for a cement-fly ash combination to foam in-
centage point. Large amounts of fines that pass a No. 200 dex for the cement alone can be used as an indicator of


Variable Effects on Air Content Corrective Action

Batching Sequence Simultaneous batching lowers air. Late Avoid slurry-mix addition of AEA.* Do not
addition of AEA raises air. batch AEA onto cement. Maintain
uniformity in batching sequence.
Mixer Capacity Air content increases as mixer capacity is Run mixer close to full capacity, avoid
approached. overloading, clean mixer frequently.
Mixing Time Central mixers: air increases up to 90 Establish optimum mixing time for
seconds, then decreases. Truck mixers: air particular mixer. Avoid overmixing.
increases up to 10 minutes, then
Mixing speed Air content increases up to about 20 rpms, Avoid high drum speeds.
the decreases.
Admixture Metering Accuracy and reliability of metering system Avoid timers and manual dispensing
will effect uniformity of air content. gravity-feed systems. Positive displace-
ment devices preferred. Establish frequent
maintenance and calibration program.
Haul time Long hauls reduce air content, especially Optimize delivery schedules and maintain
in hot weather. concrete temperatures in recommended
*Air entraining agent

Variable Effects on Air Content Corrective Acvtion

Retempering Air contents increases after retempering, Retemper only enough to restore work-
but this is ineffective after 4 hours. ability. Avoid addition of excess water.
Consolidation Air content decreases under prolonged Do not overvibrate, avoid high frequency
vibration or at high frequencies. vibrators, and avoid multiple passes of
vibrating screeds.
Transport Some air (1 to 2%) normally lost during Avoid high air contents in pumped con-
transport. Air lost in pumping and on belt crete. Do not use aluminum pump lines.
conveyors, especially at higher air
Finishing Excess finishing reduces air content in Avoid finishing wwhile bleed water is still on
surface layer. surface. avoid overfinishing. And do not
sprinkle surface prior to finishing.

how much air-entraining agent is needed in concrete Construction practices

containing fly ash compared with how much is needed Some of the air content lost during transport can be
in concrete without fly ash. regained by water that is added at the jobsite to regain
consistency. In many cases, almost all of the air may be
Production procedures regained if the concrete is retempered to its initial slump
The lowest dosage of air-entraining agent necessary within 2 hours of initial mixing. One word of caution,
is achieved when the air-entraining agent is introduced though: the addition of water may decrease concrete
after all other ingredients have been mixed. Air-entrain- strength.
ing agent may be added to a cement-water slurry, but Air content may also be restored by adding more air-
mixing cement and water together increases the dosage entraining agent, but this is not commonly done; little
of air-entraining agent required. Air-entraining agent information exists on how much is needed to restore air
should never be batched with dry cement or re c yc l e d content to its initial level.
wash water. And while satisfactory results can be Placing concrete by belt conve yo r, pump, or shotcret-
achieved by batching air-entraining agent onto sand, ing may reduce air content, too. Losses of up to 2 1/2
batching admixtures directly into the water line using a percentage points have been experienced with certain
positive-displacement-type pump is preferred. Air-en- concrete pumps. Aluminum pump lines, chutes or buck-
training admixtures should be batched separately from ets should also be avoided. Aluminum surfaces react
other admixtures. The air void system required for good with the alkalies in concrete and produce hydrogen gas
durability is detrimentally affected when air-entraining bubbles, which leave air voids in the concrete. Total air
admixtures and other chemical admixtures are inter- content is increased and concrete strength reduced.
mixed prior to concrete mixing. In some cases, coagula- Vibration necessary to consolidate concrete will not
tion or precipitation may occur. For this reason, trial normally result in significant loss of entrained air. High
batches should be made to test compatibility of the ad- slump concretes may lose air if several passes are made
mixtures. over the same section or if high-frequency vibrators are
Air loss occurs in both agitating and nonagitating de- used, but normal vibration improves the air void system
livery trucks. This loss can range from 0.5 to 1.0 percent- by allowing the larger entrapped air voids to escape.
age point or greater if the initial air content is above 6 Consolidation of air-entrained concrete can be achieved
percent. If concrete is agitated for an extended period at with minimal loss of air content by following recom-
the jobsite, air losses of up to 4 percentage points may mended practices described in ACI 309-72, Chapters 4
occur. and 11.

Variable Effects on Air Content Corrective Acvtion

Temperature Air content decreases wtih increase in Increase air-entrainment agent dosage as
temperature. temperature increases.
Environmental conditions ventional concrete is, but LSDC needs much more air-
As the temperature increases, more air- e n t ra i n i n g entraining agent to produce the same air content. Up to
agent is needed to produce the same air content. Com- 10 times the normal dosage is needed if neutralized vin-
pared to the amount of air-entraining agent re q u i re d sol resin or alkyl-benzyl sulfonate are used as the air-
when the temperature is 70 to 75 F, approximately 30 entraining agent. With other types it may not be possible
percent less air-entraining agent is required when the to obtain specified air contents at all. Trial batches to test
t e m p e ra t u re is 40 to 50 F and 30 percent more is re- the effectiveness of the particular air-entraining admix-
quired when the temperature is 100 to 110 F. The exact ture are thus recommended. Once the specified air con-
amount depends on the particular materials and prac- tent has been achieved, these concretes exhibit excellent
tices used. air void systems and should provide long-term durabili-
ty, provided that the concrete is adequately consolidat-

Air content sensitivity Reference

Concrete with a slump close to 2 inches is very sensi- This article is condensed from National Cooperative High-
tive to small changes in water content. When neutralized way Research Program Report 258: Control of Air Content
in Concrete. This 84-page report can be purchased for
vinsol resin is used as the air-entraining agent and the $8.40 from Cooperative Research Programs, Transportation
air content is in the range of 4.5 to 7.5 percent, an addi- Research Board, 2101 Constitution Avenue, NW, Washing-
tion of 1.5 percent of the net mix water will increase air ton, DC 20418.
content by one full percentage point and increase slump The report is based on an extensive literature review, a
by about 1 inch. Small amounts of water, it seems, trans- questionnaire sent to state transportation departments and
form the stiff mix into a more fluid mix. This disperses other agencies, interviews with a few of the agencies experi-
encing major problems in control of air content, and labora-
the air-entraining agent throughout the concrete better, tory studies done in an attempt to explain some of these
allowing more air bubbles to form. Mixes with high air problems. The result of this research is a set of guidelines
contents are more sensitive to water than those with low and a verification program for control of air content, both of
air contents. And mixes that contain neutralized vinsol which are included in the report. A complete state-of-the-art
resin as the air-entraining agent are more sensitive than report based on the literature review is also available from
the Transportation Research Board, either on loan or for the
those that contain alkyl-benzyl sulfonate. cost of reproduction.
This sensitivity to slight changes in water content may
explain seemingly ambiguous changes in slump and air
content on some jobs. Because the accuracy of water
metering is usually not better than 1 percent, it might
look like batching is constant, when actually small, un-
detectable changes in water content have caused
changes in slump and air content. Operations that call
for slumps close to 2 inches may thus require closer con-
trol of water content and more stringent restrictions on
additions of retempering water.

Low-slump dense concrete

Used for bridge deck resurfacing, low-slump dense
concrete (LSDC) is made with a high cement factor but PUBLICATION #C840717
a low water-cement ratio. The air content of LSDC is af- Copyright 1984, The Aberdeen Group
fected by water content much like the air content of con- All rights reserved