Concrete is a composite FOURTH class construction material, composed of cement (commonly Portland cement) and other cementious materials such as fly ash and slag cement, aggregate (generally a coarse aggregate made of gravel or crushed rocks such as limestone, or granite, plus a fine aggregate such as sand), water and chemical admixtures.
In evaluating concrete problems, one of the important decisions home inspectors must make is determining whether a problem is the result of conditions that have stabilized with a low chance of continuing future problems, or whether the conditions that caused the problem are such that there is a high probability that problems will continue or worsen.
Concrete additives have been used since Roman and Egyptian times, when it was discovered that adding volcanic ash to the mix allowed it to set under water. Similarly, the Romans knew that adding horse hair made concrete less liable to crack while it hardened and adding blood made it more frost-resistant.
The constituent materials which are included in the mix, their proportions, the order in which they are combined, the length of time and method by which they are mixed, and the length of time between mixing to placing all affect the quality of concrete. With each decision and operation, there is a chance that mistakes will be made. The environmental conditions that exist during placing, finishing and curing concrete will have an effect on how it develops. The ground and air temperatures, wind speed, cloud cover, and the absorbent qualities of the substrate will affect newly placed concrete.
Combining water with a cementitious material forms a cement paste by the process of hydration. The cement paste glues the aggregate together, fills voids within it and allows it to flow more freely. Less water in the cement paste will yield a stronger, more durable concrete; more water will give a freer-flowing concrete with a higher slump. Impure water used to make concrete can cause problems when setting or in causing premature failure of the structure. Hydration involves many different reactions, often occurring at the same time. As the reactions proceed, the products of the cement hydration process gradually bond together the individual sand and gravel particles and other components of the concrete, to form a solid mass.
Movement of the sub-grade, such as settling or heaving, can crack concrete. This may be caused by changes in soil volume in response to changes in the soil’s moisture content, or it may be caused by subsidence. Subsidence is settling that can have a number of causes. Sub-surface mining, extraction of natural gas, the dissolution of limestone or conditions related to groundwater can all cause soil to settle. An example is when groundwater dissolves the carbonate cement holding sandstone particles together, and then carries away the particles, creating a void in the soil.
Plastic shrinkage is shrinkage caused by the loss of water to the atmosphere. Autogenous shrinkage is shrinkage that takes place with no loss of water to the atmosphere. Autogenous shrinkage is caused by internal drying, with water being absorbed by the constituent materials in the concrete. As the long-term chemical hydration process continues – and it can continue for many years — water in the pores within the cement paste is absorbed, and the pores are filled, to some degree, by materials produced during hydration. This process leads to decreased permeability and increased strength and durability of the cement paste. Absorption of water from the pores also causes shrinkage.
When buying a new property it is important to have the building inspected by a qualified residential or commercial inspector. The Barrie Home Inspector has performed over 4,000 inspections and is a Certified Building Code Official. Visit www.napoleon.cc for many tips on Commercial and Residential properties.
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