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The following is an article about what GFRC is, how it works, its properties and how it is made,
including mix designs, casting techniques and finishing techniques.
According to Wikipedia.com, ³[g]lass fiber reinforced composite materials consist of high strength
glass fiber embedded in a cementitious matrix. In this form, both fibers and matrix retain their
physical and chemical identities, yet they produce a combination of properties that can not be
achieved with either of the components acting alone. In general fibers are the principal load-carrying
members, while the surrounding matrix keeps them in the desired locations and orientation, acting
as a load transfer medium between them, and protects them from environmental damage.´
GFRC is a form of concrete that uses fine sand, cement, polymer (usually an acrylic polymer), water,
other admixtures and alkali-resistant (AR) glass fibers. Many mix designs are freely available on
various websites, but all share similarities in ingredient proportions.
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GFRC was originally developed in the 1940¶s in Russia, but it wasn¶t until the 1970¶s that the current
form came into widespread use.
Commercially, GFRC is used to make large, lightweight panels that are often used as façades.
These panels are considered non-structural, in that they are designed to support their own weight
plus seismic and wind loadings, much in the way glass window curtain walls are designed. The
panels are considered lightweight because of the thinness of the material, not because GFRC
concrete has a significantly lower density than normal concrete. On average it weighs about the
same as ordinary concrete on a volume basis.
Façade panels are normally bonded to a structural steel frame which supports the panel and
provides connection points for hanging.
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GFRC derives its strength from a high dosage of AR glass fibers and a high dosage of acrylic
polymer. While compressive strength of GFRC can be quite high (due to low water to cement ratios
and high cement contents), it is the very high flexural and tensile strengths that make it superior to
ordinary concrete. Essentially the high dose of fibers carries the tensile loads and the high polymer
content makes the concrete flexible without cracking.
GFRC is analogous to the kind of chopped fiberglass used to form objects like boat hulls and other
complex three-dimensional shapes. The manufacturing process is similar, but GFRC is far weaker
than fiberglass.
While the structural properties of GFRC itself are superior to unreinforced concrete, properly
designed steel reinforcing will significantly increase the strength of objects cast with either ordinary
concrete or GFRC. This is important when dependable strength is required, such as with cantilever
overhangs, and other critical members where visible cracks are not tolerable.
GFRC does not replace reinforced concrete when true load carrying capacity is required. It¶s best
used for complex, three dimensional shells where loads are light. Applications where GFRC makes
the most sense are fireplace surrounds, wall panels, vanity tops and other similar elements. GFRC¶s
advantage is minimized when ordinary flat countertop-shaped pieces are being made. While the
weight savings due to reduced thickness is maintained, the effort of forming, mixing and casting are
similar or the same.
   
GFRC uses alkali resistant glass fibers as the principle tensile-load carrying member. The polymer
and concrete matrix serves to bind the fibers together and transfer loads from one fiber to another
via shear stresses through the matrix.
Fiber reinforcement in concrete is a topic that frequently causes confusion and misunderstanding.
CCI has written articles on fiber reinforcement in ordinary concrete. However, the role of structural
fibers and the importance of their dosage and orientation will be discussed here.
Fiber reinforcement is a common method to increase the mechanical properties of materials. It is an
important topic that is taught to many engineers interested in material science. As mentioned before,
fiberglass is perhaps the most common and widely recognized form of fiber reinforcement.
In order to resist tensile loads (and thus prevent the GFRC piece from breaking or cracking), there
needs to be a sufficient amount of fiber present. Additionally, the orientation of the fiber determines
how effective that fiber resists the load. Finally, the fiber needs to be stiff and strong enough to
provide the necessary tensile strength. Glass fibers have long been the fiber of choice due to their
physical properties and their relatively low cost.
Typical GFRC mix uses a high loading of glass fibers to provide sufficient material cross-sectional
area to resist the anticipated tensile loads. Often a loading of 5% fiber by weight of cementitious
material is used. This means that 100 lbs of GFRC mix includes 5 lbs of glass fibers.
Finally, the orientation of the fibers is important. The more random the orientation, the more fibers
are needed to resist the load. That¶s because on average, only a small fraction of randomly oriented
fibers are oriented in the right direction.
There are three levels of reinforcement that are used in general concrete, including GFRC.
The first is random, three-dimensional (3D) reinforcing. This occurs when fibers are mixed into the
concrete and the concrete is poured into forms. The fibers are distributed evenly throughout the
concrete and point in all different directions. This describes ordinary concrete with fibers. Because of
the random and 3D orientation, very few of the fibers actually are able to resist tensile loads that
develop in a specific direction. This level of fiber reinforcing is very inefficient, requiring very high
loads of fibers. Typically only about 15% of the fibers are oriented correctly.
Random 3D fibers
The second level is random, two-dimensional (2D) reinforcing. This is what is in spray-up GFRC.
The fibers are oriented randomly within a thin plane. As the fibers are sprayed into the forms, they
lay flat, conforming to the shape of the form. Typically 30% to 50% of the fibers are optimally
oriented.

This orients them in the plane that the tensile loads develop in. While more efficient than 3D, 2D
reinforcing is still inefficient because of the highly variable fiber orientation within a horizontal plane.
Additionally, most of the fibers lie outside the zone where the tensile loads are the greatest (which is
the best location to place reinforcing so as to resist those tensile loads). As mentioned in other CCI
articles on reinforcing, this zone is always at the bottom surface of a countertop (or at the top in the
case of a cantilever). Structural engineers are very aware of this, which is why beams have their
reinforcing near the bottom.
The third level of reinforcement is one-dimensional (1D) reinforcing. This is how structural beams are
designed using steel reinforcing. It is the most efficient form of reinforcing because it uses the least
amount of material to resist the tensile loads. The reinforcing is placed entirely within the tensile
zone, thereby maximizing the effectiveness without wasting reinforcing in areas that don¶t generate
tensile loads. The middle of a countertop slab is such a zone.
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GFRC is a form of concrete that uses fine sand, cement, polymer (usually an acrylic polymer), water,
other admixtures and alkali-resistant (AR) glass fibers. Many mix designs are freely available on
various websites, but all share similarities in ingredient proportions.
Typical proportions are equal parts by weight of sand and cement, plus water, polymer, fibers and
other admixtures.
Fiber content varies, but is generally about 5% to 7% of the cementitious weight. Some mixes go up
to 10% by weight of cement. Increased fiber content adds strength but decreases workability. Cem-
Fil¶s Anti-Crak HP 12mm AR glass fiber is commonly used in premix applications.
Common water to cement ratios used rang from 0.3 to 0.35. However, acrylic polymer is being
added, so some of the mix water comes from the acrylic polymer. This makes accurate w/c ratio
calculations difficult unless the solids content of the polymer is known. With a polymer solids content
of 46%, 15 lbs of polymer plus 23 lbs of water are added for every 100 lbs of cement.
Acrylic is the polymer of choice over EVA or SBR polymers. Acrylic is non-rewettable, so once it
dries out it won¶t soften or dissolve, nor will it yellow from exposure to sunlight. Most acrylic polymers
used in GFRC have solids content ranging from 46% to over 50%. Two reliable acrylic polymers are
Smooth-On¶s duoMatrix-C and Forton¶s VF-774.
Sand used in GFRC should have an average size passing a #50 sieve to #30 sieve (0.3 mm to
0.6mm). Finer sand tends to inhibit flowability while coarser material tends to run off of vertical
sections and bounce back when being sprayed.
Pozzolans such as silica fume, metakaolin and VCAS can be used to improve the properties of
GFRC. VCAS will improve workability, while metakaolin and especially silica fume will decrease
workability due to their higher water demand. Typically VCAS is used at a 20% cement replacement
level.
Superplasticizers are often used to increase fluidity. However very strong superplasticizers will make
spraying vertical surfaces difficult since the material will not hang on the vertical surfaces.
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Commercial GFRC commonly uses two different methods for casting GFRC. One is called spray-up,
the other is called premix.

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Spray-up is similar to shotcrete in that the fluid concrete mixture (minus fibers) is sprayed into the
forms. The concrete is sprayed out of a gun-like nozzle that also chops and sprays a separate
stream of long fibers. The concrete and fibers mix when they hit the form surface. Glass fiber is fed
off of a spool in a continuous thread into the gun, where blades cut it just before it is sprayed.
Chopped fiber lengths tend to be much longer (about 1.5´) than fibers that get mixed in, since long
fibers would ball up if they were mixed into the concrete before spraying.
Typically Spray-up is applied in two layers. The first layer is the face coat, much like a gel-coat in
fiberglass. This face coat usually has no fibers in it and is thin, often only about 1/8´ thick. The
second, or backer layer has the fiber in it. The action of spraying on the fibers orients them in a thin
layer, much like the layers in plywood.
Spray-up permits very high fiber loading using very long fiber length. GFRC made using the spray-
up method the greatest strength. However, the equipment required to do spray-up is very expensive,
often costing more than $20,000.

Premix, on the other hand, involves mixing shorter fibers in lower doses into the fluid concrete. This
mixture is either poured into molds or sprayed. While the spray guns used don¶t have a fiber
chopper, they are nonetheless costly and require a pump to feed them (the same pump used with
spray-up). Premix tends to be less strong than spray-up due to the shorter fibers and more random
fiber orientation.
GFRC used for concrete countertops in large shops tends to be made using the spray-up method.
However, the high equipment cost puts this out of the reach of most people.

An alternative hybrid method uses an inexpensive hopper gun to spray the face coat. The fiber
loaded backer mix is often poured or hand packed, just like ordinary concrete. Once the thin face
mix is sprayed into the forms it is allowed to stiffen up before the backer mix is applied. This
prevents the backer mix from being pushed through the thin face mix.
Hopper guns are often used to spray acoustic ceilings, cementitious overlays or other knock-down
surfaces. They are inexpensive and run off of larger air compressors. A very effective combination of
a hopper gun and a 60 gallon air compressor can cost as little as $400-$500.
The face mix and the backer mix are applied at different times, so the makeup and consistency can
be different. It is always important to ensure the gross makeup is similar, and w/c ratios and polymer
contents should be the same to prevent curling. However the heavy dose of fibers in the backer mix
often precludes spraying, so hand placement or conventional pouring of an SCC version is required.
Spraying the face coat

Face coat ready for backer mix


Hand packing backer on upright

SCC backer in bottom

Edge closeup
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Typical countertop thickness ranges from ¾´ to 1´ thick. This represents the minimum thickness that
a long, flat countertop can be made so that it doesn¶t break when handled or transported. Smaller
wall tiles can be made much thinner.




Because of the high polymer content, long term moist curing is often unnecessary. It is important to
cover the freshly cast piece with plastic overnight, but once the piece has gained enough strength, it
can be uncovered and processed.
Generally GFRC pieces are stripped the next day, usually 16 and 24 hours after casting. Longer
curing will always yield better concrete, but the general tendency is strip soon after casting.
 

GFRC, depending upon the mix, the spray method and the skill of the caster may or may not require
grouting to fill bug holes or surface imperfections. Often the blowback (sand and concrete that
doesn¶t stick to the forms) collects in the corners of the formwork, and if it¶s not cleaned out before
getting covered the concrete¶s finished surface will be open and granular.

Sand buildup in corner

Surface variations from inconsistent spraying


Out of the mold, GFRC can have the wet cast look. While not impossible, reliably achieving a perfect
out-of-the-mold piece requires extensive skill, experience and a lot of luck. Often the surface is
honed, which eliminates many casting variations. GFRC in this case is indistinguishable from a
honed sand-mix. Since air bubbles tend to get trapped in the mix, there usually are small pinholes
that need to be grouted, just like regular concrete.
 
GFRC is, after all another form of concrete. So acid staining, dying and integral pigmentation are all
possible. Embedments, decorative aggregates, veining and all other forms of decorative treatments
are possible. GFRC can be etched, polished, sandblasted and stenciled. If you can imagine it, you
can do it.
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GFRC is roughly on par with other forms of concrete countertops in terms of the ³green-ness´. In
comparing 1.5´ thick concrete countertops to ¾´ GFRC countertops, the same amount of cement is
used, since GFRC tends to use about twice as much cement as ordinary concrete. This sets them
equal to each other. The use of polymers and the need to truck them does make GFRC less green
than using ordinary water, which could be recycled from shop use. Both traditional cast and GFRC
can use recycled aggregates, and steel reinforcing is more green than AR glass fibers, since steel is
the most recycled material, so its use in concrete of all forms boosts the concrete¶s green-ness.
 
When accounting for the prices of sand, cement, admixtures, fibers and polymer, GFRC tends to run
about $2.50-$3.00 per square foot for ¾´ thick material. The cost increases to about $3.50-$3.75 per
square foot for 1´ thick material.
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Traditional spray-up GFRC is a low water-cement ratio mix. Most decorative GFRC products, other than
artificial rocks, are made with a two-layer process with a very thin (1/8 to 3/16 inch) face coat and a
thicker backing layer.

ï Sand and cement are typically used at a ratio of about 1 to 1, although some mix designs call for
slightly higher cementitious materials content (see "GRFC Mix Design,"   ,
June/July 2008).
ï With its high cement content and low water-cement ratio (0.33 to 0.38), GFRC can dry out quickly
and not gain full strength. Traditionally, GFRC panels were cured in a moist-room for 7 days.
Today, more commonly, this is overcome by using an acrylic polymer additive which serves as a
curing compound to prevent the mix water from evaporating. The acrylic is typically in liquid form.
NEG America's Mike Driver recommends using 5% acrylic solids by weight of cement, which he
says will result in the same strength you would get from a 7-day wet cure.



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ï The acrylic also gives you concrete that gains strength rapidly. GFRC panels and countertops are
ready for use within 3 days. Mike Wellman, Concast Studios in Oceana, Calif., uses 30% liquid
acrylic emulsion and 70% water in his mixes.
ï The fibers are added to the mix at about 2% to 3% for premixed GFRC or 4% to 6% by weight for
spray-up mixes.
ï Many GFRC experts will also use silica fume, metakaolin, or other pozzolans in their mix. This
reduces the permeability of the concrete, making it more water-resistant and also reduces the
alkalinity of the concrete, which means it doesn't affect the glass²both of these factors mean
increased concrete durability. Vitro Materials makes a pozzolan material they call VCAS 160 (for
vitrified calcium alumino silicate²more on VCAS. VCAS 160 is made primarily from waste E-
glass, making it a "green" material, since it replaces cement with an industrial byproduct. Vitro
Materials has shown that VCAS 160 (formerly called VCAS Micron HS) has 10% lower water
demand than silica fume or metakaolin, can be used at cement replacement levels up to 30%,
and is white in color. Research sponsored by NEG America demonstrates that the ideal
replacement rate is 25% of the total cementitious materials²at that level strength gain is not
delayed and all ASR is controlled.
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 þ   

ï Chopped AR glass fibers²2 to 3% by


weight for premixed; 4% to 6% for spray-up
ï Acrylic polymer emulsion²5% acrylic solids
by weight of cement
ï Type I or II cement
ï Sand:cement equals approximately 1:1
ï Pozzolan (VCAS) at 10 to 25% cement
replacement
ï Admixtures: superplasticizer (high-range
water reducer, such as a polycarboxylate)
for face coat and pourable (self-
consolidating) back coat
ï Color²dry or liquid in face coat

ï With a two-coat system, the face-coat mix contains no fibers that would be visible when polished
but does contain the integral color, so you only have to pay to color a small amount of concrete.
Often a superplasticizer is added to this mix.
ï The backing layer contains the glass fibers but no color. This layer is what provides the strength.
ï The backing layer may also contain a high-range water reducer (superplasticizer), if it is to be
poured into place. For sections that need to hold a vertical shape, such as sinks or drop edges in
countertops, no plasticizer is used in order to keep the mix stiff.
ï Keeping the water-cement ratio and polymer content about the same in the face-coat mix and the
backing layer is important so that the shrinkage characteristics of both layers are similar and you
don't get curling.


    
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Benefits of GFRC
There are lots of good reasons to use GFRC for thin sections of concrete:

ï Lighter weight: With GFRC, concrete can be cast in thinner sections and is therefore as much as
75% lighter than similar pieces cast with traditional concrete. According to Jeff Girard's blog post
titled, The Benefits of Using a GFRC Mix for Countertops, a concrete countertop can be 1-inch
thick with GFRC rather than 2 inches thick when using conventional steel reinforcement . An
artificial rock made with GFRC will weigh a small fraction of what a real rock of similar proportions
would weigh, allowing for lighter foundations and reduced shipping cost.


"    ! 
    !   !      

ï High strength: GFRC can have flexural strength as high as 4000 psi and it has a very high
strength-to-weight ratio.
ï Reinforcement: Since GFRC is reinforced internally, there is no need for other kinds of
reinforcement, which can be difficult to place into complex shapes.
ï Consolidation: For sprayed GFRC, no vibration is needed. For poured, GFRC, vibration or rollers
are easy to use to achieve consolidation.
ï Equipment: Expensive equipment is not needed for poured or vibrated GFRC with a face coat; for
sprayed GFRC, equipment generally costs about $10,000.
ï Toughness: GFRC doesn't crack easily²it can be cut without chipping.
ï Surface finish: Because it is sprayed on, the surface has no bugholes or voids.


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ï Adaptability: Sprayed or poured into a mold, GFRC can adapt to nearly any complex shape, from
rocks to fine ornamental details.
ï Durability: According to ACI 544.1R-96, #     
    ,
"The strength of fully-aged GFRC composites will decrease to about 40 percent of the initial
strength prior to aging." Michael Driver, division manager with Nippon Electric Glass, a major
manufacturer of AR glass fibers, disagrees. "There's never a durability issue. Water can't get in²
there are no cracks²and that's a durable material. GFRC will outlast precast concrete, cast
stone, even some natural stone." Durability has been increased through the use of low alkaline
cements and pozzolans.
ï Sustainable: Because it uses less cement than equivalent concrete and also often uses
significant quantities of recycled materials (as a pozzolan), GFRC qualifies as sustainable.



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ï Cost: GFRC as a material, however, is much more expensive than conventional concrete on a
pound-for-pound basis. But since the cross sections can be so much thinner, that cost is
overcome in most decorative elements. "When you keep the thickness to about ¾ inch, the
material cost is typically less than $2.00/square foot," said Driver. "Because of the high modulus
of elasticity of the glass, it replaces all of the steel, but once you get into 4-inch slabs, the GFRC
becomes cost prohibitive."



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GFRC panels can be given nearly any decorative treatment as normal concrete. The application dictates
what works best:

ï Architectural panels are often cast using various form liners. The surface finish can be sand
blasted, acid etched, or polished. Various tints of gray, white, and buff can be achieved using
colored cements or pigments.
ï Many GFRC ornamental pieces are shot or cast using white cement and light color tints. Stone or
clay brick pieces can be embedded in panels, although consideration should be given to the
differential shrinkage characteristics of the different materials. Many different architectural
featuresare best produced using GFRC.


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ï Rock features typically use GFRC panels that are sprayed against molds made using real rock
features. Steve Holmes, vice president of Eldorado Wall Company, a Boulder, Colo. maker of
rock climbing walls, says that the first coat they spray has no glass fiber. "The chop gun has mud-
only and mud-and-glass triggers. The first thin coat has no fibers then we bring the thickness up
to ¾-inch nominal with the GFRC mix."


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      
ï To create rocks, the GFRC panels are mounted on a structural steel framework. "The panels can
be oriented in different directions," said Eldorado Wall's president John McGowan, "then we
plaster the seams and sculpt them to blend the panels into a rock feature." To create the patches,
said Holmes "we place lath and rebar into the seams then start with a scratch coat then apply the
sculpt coat. This is done with a field mix based on a shotcrete recipe." Coloring the rocks is done
with a variety of techniques Eldorado has developed over the years.
ï Jim Jenkins of JPJ Technologies teaches artificial rock making. His method, however, does NOT
use GFRC but rather a composite fiber-reinforced polymer concrete material that he invented and
has perfected. "Our panels are ¼ to ½-inch thick," said Jenkins, "where a GFRC panel will be 1-
1/2-inch thick. Our material can be cut easily with a circular saw and yet is stronger than GFRC.
The seams between panels are patched with the same material used to make the panels so they
behave, look, and stain the same." A sister company, Synthetic Rock Solutions, sells
premanufactured rock panels that can be used to assemble rock features.


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ï Coloring rock and water features entails a lot of artistry. Multiple colors and techniques are
blended to produce realistic color.
ï Ornamental GFRC fireplace surrounds have become very popular, due to their light weight and
durability.



         
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Unlike concrete used solely for utilitarian purposes, the function of architectural precast concrete is
primarily aesthetic. That means special concrete mixes, such as cast stone and glass-fiber-reinforced
concrete, are often used to achieve the best appearance without compromising performance.


    !# ' 

   is a type of architectural precast concrete that combines the strength and durability of
reinforced concrete with the appearance of natural stone. It's typically made of portland cement, fine and
coarse aggregates (usually granite, quartz or limestone), natural or manufactured sands and high-
performance chemical admixtures. As an architectural trim or ornament, high-quality cast stone is a time-
tested alternative to natural cut stone. It has a high compressive strength, excellent long-term durability,
low water absorption, enduring freeze-thaw resistance, and good resistance to abrasion and dirt. With the
inclusion of steel reinforcement in structural elements, such as columns, cast stone also possesses good
tensile and flexural strength.

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, is a lightweight alternative to cast stone combining cement, sand,
and glass fibers in place of coarse aggregate, resulting in a product that's only about a third of the weight
of conventional precast concrete. "GFRC is better for the installer. It's lighter and easier to cut and less
susceptible to chipping and breaking. GFRC can also be used for structural elements, and no rebar is
needed because its compressive strength is more than twice that of regular concrete," says Tommy Cook
of Absolute ConcreteWorks (ACW).

In addition to being easier to work with, GFRC can be cast into ornate shapes with a high degree of
detail. GFRC can mimic the look of terra cotta, carved stone and even cast-iron building elements. Typical
architectural applications include spandrels, column covers, cornices, brackets, quoins, railings, pilasters,
copings and trim.