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Concrete Placement

The principles governing proper placement of concrete are:
  • Segregation must be avoided during all operations between the mixer and the point of placement, including final consolidation and finishing.
  • The concrete must be thoroughly consolidated, worked solidly around all embedded items, and should fill all angles and corners of the forms.
  • Where fresh concrete is placed against or on hardened concrete, a good bond must be developed.
  • Unconfined concrete must not be placed under water.
  • The temperature of fresh concrete must be controlled from the time of mixing through final placement, and protected after placement.


Concrete may be conveyed from a mixer to point of placement by any of a variety of methods and equipment, if properly transported to avoid segregation. Selection of the most appropriate technique for economy depends on jobsite conditions, especially project size, equipment, and the contractor’s experience. In building construction, concrete usually is placed with hand- or power-operated buggies; dropbottom buckets with a crane; inclined chutes; flexible and rigid pipe by pumping; shotcrete, in which either dry materials and water are sprayed separately or mixed concrete is shot against the forms; and for underwater placing, tremie chutes (closed flexible tubes). For mass-concrete construction, side-dump cars on narrow-gage track or belt conveyers may be used. For pavement, concrete may be placed by bucket from the swinging boom of a paving mixer, directly by dump truck or mixer truck, or indirectly by trucks into a spreader.

A special method of placing concrete suitable for a number of unusual conditions consists of grout-filling preplaced coarse aggregate. This method is particularly useful for underwater concreting, because grout, introduced into the aggregate through a vertical pipe gradually lifted, displaces the water, which is lighter than the grout. Because of bearing contact of the aggregate, less than usual overall shrinkage is also achieved. 


Even within the specified limits on slump and water-cementitious materials ratio, excess water must be avoided. In this context, excess water is present for the conditions of placing if evidence of water rise (vertical segregation) or water flow (horizontal segregation) occurs. Excess water also tends to aggravate surface defects by increased leakage through form openings. The result may be honeycomb, sandstreaks, variations in color, or soft spots at the surface. In vertical formwork, water rise causes weak planes between each layer deposited. In addition to the deleterious structural effect, such planes, when hardened, contain voids through which water may pass. In horizontal elements, such as floor slabs, excess water rises and causes a weak laitance layer at the top. This layer suffers from low strength, low abrasion resistance, high shrinkage, and generally poor quality.


The purpose of consolidation is to eliminate voids of entrapped air and to ensure intimate complete contact of the concrete with the surfaces of the forms and the reinforcement. Intense vibration, however, may also reduce the volume of desirable entrained air; but this reduction can be compensated by adjustment of the mix proportions. Powered internal vibrators are usually used to achieve consolidation. For thin slabs, however, high-quality, low-slump concrete can be effectively consolidated, without excess water, by mechanical surface vibrators. For precast elements in rigid, watertight forms, external vibration (of the form itself) is highly effective. External vibration is also effective with in-place forms, but should not be used unless the formwork is specially designed for the temporary increase in internal pressures to full fluid head plus the impact of the vibrator.
Except in certain paving operations, vibration of the reinforcement should be avoided. Although it is effective, the necessary control to prevent overvibration is difficult. Also, when concrete is placed in several lifts of layers, vibration of vertical rebars passing into partly set concrete below may be harmful. Note, however, that revibration of concrete before the final set, under controlled conditions, can improve concrete strength markedly and reduce surface voids (bugholes). This technique is too difficult to control for general use on field-cast vertical elements, but it is very effective in finishing slabs with powered vibrating equipment. Manual spading is most efficient for removal of entrapped air at form surfaces. This method is particularly effective where smooth impermeable form material is used and the surface is upward sloping. On the usual building project, different conditions of placement are usually encountered that make it desirable to provide for various combinations of the techniques described. One precaution generally applicable is that the vibrators not be used to move the concrete laterally.


The interior of columns is usually congested; it contains a large volume of reinforcing steel compared with the volume of concrete, and has a large height compared with its cross-sectional dimensions. Therefore, though columns should be continuously cast, the concrete should be placed in 2- to 4-ft-deep increments and consolidated with internal vibrators. These should be lifted after each increment has been vibrated. If delay occurs in concrete supply before a column has been completed, every effort should be made to avoid a cold joint. When the remainder of the column is cast, the first increment should be small, and should be vibrated to penetrate the previous portion slightly. In all columns and reinforced narrow walls, concrete placing should begin with 2 to 4 in of grout. Otherwise, loose stone will collect at the bottom, resulting in the formation of honeycomb. This grout should be proportioned for about the same slump as the concrete or slightly more, but at the same or lower water-cementitious material ratio. (Some engineers prefer to start vertical placement with a mix having the same proportions of water, cement, and fine aggregate, but with one-half the quantity of coarse aggregate, as in the design mix, and to place a starting layer 6 to 12 in deep).
When concrete is placed for walls, the only practicable means to avoid segregation is to place no more than a 24-in layer in one pass. Each layer should be vibrated separately and kept nearly level. For walls deeper than 4 ft, concrete should be placed through vertical, flexible trunks or chutes located about 8 ft apart. The trunks may be flexible or rigid, and come in sections so that they can be lifted as the level of concrete in place rises.
The concrete should not fall free, from the end of the trunk, more than 4 ft or segregation will occur, with the coarse aggregate ricocheting off the forms to lodge on one side. Successive layers after the initial layer should be penetrated by internal vibrators for a depth of about 4 to 6 in to ensure complete integration at the surface of each layer. Deeper penetration can be beneficial (revibration), but control under variable jobsite conditions is too uncertain for recommendation of this practice for general use.
The results of poor placement in walls are frequently observed: sloping layer lines; honeycombs, leaking, if water is present; and, if cores are taken at successive heights, up to a 50% reduction in strength from bottom to top. 

Some precautions necessary to avoid these ill effects are:

1. Place concrete in level layers through closely spaced trunks or chutes.
2. Do not place concrete full depth at each placing point.
3. Do not move concrete laterally with vibrators.
4. For deep, long walls, reduce the slump for upper layers 2 to 3 in below the slump for the starting layer.
5. On any delay between placing of layers, vibrate the concrete thoroughly at the interface.
6. If concreting must be suspended between planned horizontal construction joints, level off the layer cast, remove any laitance and excess water, and make a straight, level construction joint, if possible, with a small cleat attached to the form on the exposed face.


Where the surface will be covered and protected against abrasion and weather, few special precautions are needed. For concrete slabs, careless placing methods result in horizontal segregation, with desired properties in the wrong location, the top consisting of excess water and fines with low abrasion and weather resistance, and high shrinkage. For a good surface in a one-course slab, low-slump concrete and a minimum of vibration and finishing are desirable. Immediate screeding with a power-vibrated screed is helpful in distributing low-slump, high-quality concrete. No further finishing should be undertaken until free water, if any, disappears. A powered, rotary tamping float can smooth very-low-slump concrete at this stage. Final troweling should be delayed, if necessary, until the surface can support the weight of the finisher. When concrete is placed for deep beams that are monolithic with a slab, the beam should be filled first. Then, a short delay for settlement should ensue before slab concrete is cast. Vibration through the top slab should penetrate the beam concrete sufficiently to ensure thorough consolidation. When a slab is cast, successive batches of concrete should be placed on the edge of previous batches, to maintain progressive filling without segregation. For slabs with sloping surfaces, concrete placing should usually begin at the lower edge. For thin shells in steeply sloping areas, placing should proceed downslope. Slump should be adjusted and finishing coordinated to prevent restraint by horizontal reinforcing bars from causing plastic cracking in the fresh concrete.


The surface of hardened concrete should be rough and clean where it is to be bonded with fresh concrete. Vertical surfaces of planned joints may be prepared easily by wire brushing them, before complete curing, to expose the coarse aggregate. (The timing can be extended, if desired, by using a surface retarder on the bulkhead form.) For surfaces fully cured without earlier preparation, sandblasting, bush hammering, or acid washes (thoroughly rinsed off) are effective means of preparation for bonding new concrete.Horizontal surfaces of previously cast concrete, for example, of walls, are similarly prepared. Care should be taken to remove all laitance and to expose sound concrete and coarse aggregate.


Floor surfaces highly resistant to abrasion and impact are required for many industrial and commercial uses. Such surfaces are usually built as two-course construction, with a base or structural slab topped by a wearing surface. The two courses may be cast integrally or with the heavy-duty surface applied as a separate topping. In the first process, which is less costly, ordinary structural concrete is placed and screeded to nearly the full depth of the floor. The wearing surface concrete, made with special abrasion-resistant aggregate, emery, iron fillings, etc., then is mixed, spread to the desired depth, and troweled before final set of the concrete below.
The second method requires surface preparation of the base slab, by stiff brooming before final set to roughen the surface and thorough washing before the separate heavy-duty topping is cast. For the second method, the topping is a very dry (zeroslump) concrete, made with 3⁄8-in maximum-size special aggregate. This topping should be designed for a minimum strength,f'c=60,000psi. It must be tamped into place with powered tampers or rotary floats. (Note: If test cylinders are to be made from this topping, standard methods of consolidation will not produce a proper test; tamping similar in effect to that applied to the floor itself is necessary.) One precaution vital to the separate topping method is that the temperatures of topping and base slab must be kept compatible.


Frozen materials should never be used. Concrete should not be cast on a frozen subgrade, and ice must be removed from forms before concreting. Concrete allowed to freeze wet, before or during early curing, may be seriously damaged. Furthermore, temperatures should be kept above 40_F for any appreciable curing (strength gain).
Concrete suppliers are equipped to heat materials and to deliver concrete at controlled temperatures in cold weather. These services should be utilized. In very cold weather, for thin sections used in buildings, the freshly cast concrete must be enclosed and provided with temporary heat. For more massive sections or in moderately cold weather, it is usually less expensive to provide insulated forms or insulated coverings to retain the initial heat and subsequent heat of hydration generated in the concrete during initial curing. The curing time required depends on the temperature maintained and whether regular or high-early-strength concrete is used. High-early-strength concrete may be achieved with accelerating admixtures or with high-early-strength cement (Types III or IIIA) or by a lower water-cementitious materials ratio, to produce the required 28-day strength in about 7 days. An important precaution in using heated enclosures is to supply heat without drying the concrete or releasing carbon dioxide fumes. Exposure of fresh concrete to drying or fumes results in chalky surfaces. Another precaution is to avoid rapid temperature changes of the concrete surfaces when heating is discontinued. The heat supply should be reduced gradually, and the enclosure left in place to permit cooling to ambient temperatures gradually, usually over a period of at least 24 h.


Mixing and placing concrete at a high temperature may cause flash set in the mixer, during placing, or before finishing can be completed. Also, loss of strength can result from casting hot concrete. In practice, most concrete is cast at about 70 +- 20. Research on the effects of casting temperature shows highest strengths for concrete cast at 40 F and significant but practically unimportant increasing loss of strength from 40 F to 90 F. For higher temperatures, the loss of strength becomes important. So does increased shrinkage. The increased shrinkage is attributable not only to the high temperature, but also to the increased water content required for a desired slump as temperature increases. For ordinary building applications, concrete suppliers control temperatures of concrete by cooling the aggregates and, when necessary, by supplying part of the mixing water as crushed ice. In very hot weather, these precautions plus sectional casting, to permit escape of the heat of hydration, may be required for massive foundation mats. Retarding admixtures are also used with good effect to reduce slump loss during placing and finishing.


Curing of concrete consists of the processes, natural and artificially created, that affect the extent and rate of hydration of the cement. Many concrete structures are cured without artificial protection of any kind. They are allowed to harden while exposed to sun, wind, and rain. This type of curing is unreliable, because water may evaporate from the surface. Various means are used to cure concrete by controlling its moisture content or its temperature. In practice, curing consists of conserving the moisture within newly placed concrete by furnishing additional moisture to replenish water lost by evaporation. Usually, little attention is paid to temperature, except in winter curing and steam curing.
Most effective curing is beneficial in that it makes the concrete more watertight and increases the strength. Methods for curing may be classified as:

1. Those that supply water throughout the early hydration process and tend to maintain a uniform temperature. These methods include ponding, sprinkling, and application of wet burlap or cotton mats, wet earth, sawdust, hay, or straw.

2. Those designed to prevent loss of water but having little influence on maintaining a uniform temperature. These methods include waterproof paper and impermeable membranes. The latter is usually a clear or bituminous compound sprayed on the concrete to fill the pores and thus prevent evaporation. A fugitive dye in the colorless compound aids the spraying and inspection. A white pigment that gives infrared reflectance can be used in a curing compound to keep concrete surfaces cooler when exposed to the sun. The criterion for judging the adequacy of field curing provided in the ACI 318 Building Code is that the field-cured test cylinders produce 85% of the strengths developed by companion laboratory-cured cylinders at the age for which strength is specified.


Concrete should be inspected for the owner before, during, and after casting. Before concrete is placed, the formwork must be free of ice and debris and properly coated with bond-breaker oil. The rebars/deformed steel reinforcing bars must be in place, properly supported to bear any traffic they will receive during concrete placing. Conduit, inserts, and other items to be embedded must be in position, fixed against displacement. Construction personnel should be available, usually carpenters, bar placers and other trades, if piping or electrical conduit is to be embedded, to act as form watchers and to reset any rebars, conduit, or piping displaced. As concrete is cast, the slump of the concrete must be observed and regulated within prescribed limits, or the specified strengths based on the expected slump may be reduced. An inspector of placing who is also responsible for sampling and making cylinders, should test slump, entrained air, temperatures, and unit weights, during concreting and should control any field adjustment of slump and added water and cement. The inspector should also ascertain that handling, placing, and finishing procedures that have been agreed on in advance are properly followed, to avoid segregated concrete. In addition, the inspector should ensure that any emergency construction joints made necessary by stoppage of concrete supply, rain, or other delays are properly located and made in accordance with procedures specified or approved by the engineer. Inspection is complete only when concrete is cast, finished, protected for curing, and attains full strength

Properties and Tests of Fresh Concrete

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