Concrete Technical Facts


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All About Concrete

...the stuff your mother never told you!

General Concrete Information

Concrete is a composite building material made from the combination of aggregate and cement binder. The most common form of concrete is Portland cement concrete, which consists of mineral aggregate (generally gravel and sand), Portland cement and water. It is commonly believed that concrete dries after mixing and placement.

Actually, concrete does not solidify because water evaporates, but rather cement hydrates, gluing the other components together and eventually creating a stone-like material. When used in the generic sense, this is the material referred to by the term concrete. Concrete is used to make pavements, building structures, foundations, highways & roads, overpasses, parking structures, bases for gates/fences/poles, and cement in brick or block walls. An old name for concrete is liquid stone.


The Assyrians and Babylonians used clay as cement in their concretes. The Egyptians used lime and gypsum cement. In the Roman Empire, cements made from pozzolanic ash and an aggregate made from pumice were used to make a concrete very similar to modern Portland cement concrete. In 1756, British engineer John Smeaton pioneered the use of Portland cement in concrete, using pebbles and powdered brick as aggregate. In the modern day, the use of recycled/reused materials as concrete ingredients is gaining popularity due to increasingly stringent environmental legislation. The most conspicuous of these is pulverized fuel ash, recycled from the ash by-products of coal power plants. This has a significant impact in reducing the amount of quarrying and the ever-attenuating landfill space.


During hydration and hardening, concrete needs to develop certain physical and chemical properties, among others, mechanical strength, low permeability to ingress of moisture, and chemical and volume stability. Concrete has relatively high compressive strength, but significantly lower tensile strength (about 10% of the compressive strength). As a result, concrete always fails from tensile stresses - even when loaded in compression. The practical implication of these facts is that concrete elements that are subjected to tensile stresses must be reinforced. Concrete is most often constructed with the addition of steel bar or fiber reinforcement. The reinforcement can be by bars (rebar), mesh, or fibres to produce reinforced concrete. Concrete can also be pre-stressed (reducing tensile stress) using steel cables, allowing for beams or slabs with a longer span than is practical with reinforced concrete.

The ultimate strength of concrete is related to water/cement ratio and the size, shape, and strength of the aggregate used. Concrete with lower water/cement ratio (down to 0.35) makes a stronger concrete than a higher ratio. Concrete made with small (1/2" or 12mm) smooth pebbles is much weaker than that made with larger (1" or 25mm) rough-surfaced broken rock pieces for example.

Certain shapes are very strong in compression, such as arches and vaults, and are therefore preferred for concrete construction.

Concrete is placed in a wet or plastic state, and therefore can be manipulated and molded as needed. Hydration and hardening of concrete may lead to tensile stresses at a time when it has not yet gained significant strength, resulting in shrinkage cracks. However, when concrete mix is placed in accordance with the best recommended practice, cracking may be minimal.


Additives are organic or non-organic materials in form of solids or fluids that are added to the concrete to give it certain characteristics. In normal use the additives make up less than 5% of the cement weight. The most used types of additives are:

* Accelerators: Speed up the hydration (strengthening) of the concrete.

* Retarders: Slow the hydration of concrete.

* Air-entrainers: Add and distribute air to the concrete.

* Plasticizers: Increase the workability of concrete.


Workability is the ability of a fresh (plastic) concrete mix to fill the form/mould properly with the desired work (vibration) and without reducing the concrete's quality. Workability depends on water content, additives, aggregate (shape and size distribution) and age (level of hydration). Raising the water content or adding plasticizer will increase the workability. Too much water will lead to bleeding (loss of water) and/or segregation (concrete start to get inhomogeneous) and the resulting concrete will have reduced quality.

Workability is normally tested by slump measurement. High flow concrete, like self compacting concrete, are normally tested by one of several flow measuring methods.

Concrete slump is a simplistic measure of fresh (plastic) concrete's workability. Slump is normally determined by the ASTM C 143 or EN 12350-2 slump test standards, using the Abrams cone, into which concrete is placed for testing. When the cone is carefully lifted off the enclosed material, it will slump a certain amount due to its water content. A relatively dry sample will slump very little, and be given a slump of one or two inches (25 or 50 mm), while a relatively wet concrete sample may slump as much as six or seven inches (150 to 175 mm).

To increase the slump, the rule of thumb is:

US units

Add 1 US gallon of water per cubic yard of concrete in the mixer truck to increase slump by 1 inch. Adding 27 US gallons to 9 cubic yards of batched concrete will therefore increase the slump by about 3 inches.

Metric units (converted from US rule of thumb)

Add 2 litres of water per cubic metre of concrete in the mixer truck to increase slump by 1 cm. Adding 54 litres to 9 cubic metres of batched concrete will therefore increase the slump by about 3 cm.

Slump can also be increased by adding a plasticizer, without changing the water/cement factor.

Self-Compacting concretes

During the 1990s a number of countries including Japan, Sweden and France developed a range of concretes that were self-compacting. These 'SCC's are characterised by their extreme fluidity (using plasticizers), behaving more like water than the traditional viscous concrete.

SCCs are characterized by

* extreme fluidity measured by flow or slump, typically measured between 700-750 mm.

* no need for vibrators to compact the concrete, which can be noisy

* no or little need for expensive concrete pumping equipment

* no bleed water (excess water draining out of the concrete)

SCC can offer benefits of up to 50% in labour costs, due to it being poured up to 80% faster and having reduced wear and tear on formwork.

As of 2005, self compacting concretes account for 10-15% of concrete sales in some European countries.

Shotcrete ...sprayed concrete

Shotcrete uses compressed air to shoot (cast) concrete to a frame or structure. Shotcrete is mostly used for rock support, especially in tunneling. Today there are two application methods for shotcrete: the dry-mix and the wet-mix procedure. In Dry-mix the dry mixture of cement and aggregates is filled into the machine and conveyed with compressed air through the hoses. The water needed for the hydration is added at the nozzle. In Wet-mix the mixes are prepared with all necessary water for hydration. The mixes are pumped through the hoses. At the nozzle compressed air is added for spraying. For both methods additives such as plasticizers and accelerators may be used. Shotcrete is normally reinforced by fibers.

Source: Wikipedia

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Genie Block TM & Genie Blocks TM are the registered trademarks of Genie Block Manufacturing Ltd. 
All Rights Reserved.


Patents Pending on all products and proprietary tools shown or described herein.