Concrete is not a ductile material-it doesn’t stretch or bend without breaking. That’s both its greatest strength and greatest weakness. Its hardness and high compressive strength is why we use so much of it in construction. But concrete does move-it shrinks, it expands, and different parts of a building move in different ways. This is where joints come into play.
Although many building elements are designed and built with joints, including walls and foundations, we’ll limit this discussion to joints in concrete slabs. Here’s an overview of the types of joints, their function, and tips for locating and installing joints.
Concrete Joint Information
As concrete moves, if it is tied to another structure or even to itself, we get what’s called restraint, which causes tensile forces and invariably leads to cracking. Restraint simply means that the concrete element (whether it’s a slab or a wall or a foundation) is not being allowed to freely shrink as it dries or to expand and contract with temperature changes or to settle a bit into the subgrade. Joints allow one concrete element to move independently of other parts of the building or structure. Joints also let concrete shrink as it dries-preventing what’s called internal restraint. Internal restraint is created when one part of a slab shrinks more than another, or shrinks in a different direction. Think how bad you feel when part of you wants to do one thing and another part wants to do something else! Concrete feels the same way.
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