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Construction CPD in Concrete Repair

Concrete Repair and BS EN 1504

This informal CPD article focusing on concrete repair and BS EN 1504 was provided by Mapei.

Introduction to BS EN 1504

Damage to concrete structures can arise from a wide range of factors, including overloading, fire damage, blast damage and natural events such as earthquakes. But it is often the result of poor specification, design or construction, leading to the corrosion of embedded steel or chemical damage. Common symptoms include the growth of black-coloured rust, cracking and spalling. There is also a commonly held but false belief that the problem can be solved if the deteriorated material is removed and replaced with any type of repair mortar.
The British and European standard BS EN 1504 “Products and systems for the repair and protection of concrete structures – definitions, requirements, quality control and evaluation of conformity” defines appropriate procedures and characteristics of products used to repair, maintain and protect concrete structures. The main aim of the standard is to provide a valid instrument to correctly identify problems and optimise repair operations.

Within BS EN 1504 there are various sections covering elements of concrete repair, such as quality control, testing and materials. The key parts are:

  • BS EN 1504-8, which sets out testing and compliance definitions for manufacturers
  • BS EN 1504-9, which sets out specification guidelines
  • BS EN 1504-10, which sets out material application guidelines for contractors

One of the most important steps in any concrete repair is to diagnose why the structure needs to be repaired, to ensure that once the building has been repaired it will remain in a sound condition for the rest of its life. This CPD in Construction outlines how to identify concrete corrosion and diagnose the root causes, as well as explaining how BS EN 1504 can help specifiers to adopt appropriate repair principles and methods.

It is important to take part 9 into consideration before any other part of the standard. This defines principles and methods for protecting and repairing concrete structures that have suffered, or may suffer, damage or deterioration, and offers a guide in professional development by selecting products and systems suitable for their intended use.

  • Corrosion of Concrete Reinforcement

    When reinforcing steel is embedded in concrete it is protected by an iron oxide film, created during the hydration process in the highly alkaline environment of the concrete (the pH value of good-quality concrete is between 12.5 and 13.5). The oxide film, known as a “passivating layer”, insulates the steel against oxygen and humidity, causing it to become immune to corrosion.

    However, there are two factors that can disrupt the protective layer: these are carbonation and atmospheric gases such as carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide.

    Carbonation of Concrete

    Carbonation of concrete is the formation of calcium carbonate caused by a chemical reaction between three combined elements:

    • Carbon dioxide (CO2), found in the air
    • Calcium (Ca), found in the concrete
    • Water (H2O), also found in the concrete

    Damage caused by the carbonation of concrete is a three-stage process.

    • In the initiation stage, carbon dioxide enters the concrete and the pH begins to drop to become more acidic. The steel is not yet affected.
    • In the propagation stage, the carbon dioxide reacts with the water to produce carbonic acid (H2CO3). This, in turn, begins to react with the calcium within the concrete, producing calcium carbonate (CaCO3). When the pH level drops below 11, the passivating film is neutralised, and the rods are left exposed to attack from the oxygen and humidity present in the atmosphere. As the corrosion process accelerates, the surface of the concrete starts to discolour – this may vary from a light grey (which can be difficult to detect) to strong orange.
    • Under these conditions, the deterioration stage begins. Corrosion of the reinforcement rods increases their volume by approximately six times. The surrounding concrete detaches from the rods, and may even be completely pushed out. Once the concrete has started to crack, deterioration of the reinforcement rods will progress more quickly because oxygen and humidity can more easily enter the structure.

    Chloride attacks

    Concrete can also be attacked by the chloride ions found in de-icing salts, marine environments, or contaminated raw materials. This causes a black-coloured rust to form and, as with carbonation, can severely damage the surface of the concrete.

    Once the chloride penetrates the concrete and reaches the reinforcement rods, it breaks down the passivating layer so that the steel is exposed and begins to corrode. Penetration time depends on a number of factor, such as:

    • The concentration of chlorides coming into contact with the surface of the concrete
    • Permeability of the concrete
    • Percentage of humidity present
      Corrosion requires the presence of both chlorides and oxygen. For example, a structure completely immersed in seawater will have a high chloride content, however, because the concrete is completely saturated, oxygen will not be able to penetrate. Corrosion of the reinforcement rods will, therefore, be negligible.

    The concentration of chlorides required to promote corrosion is directly proportional to the pH of the concrete: the higher the alkalinity, the higher the concentration of chlorides that will be required to start the process. Thus, carbonation increases susceptibility to chloride attacks: as carbonation lowers the pH of the concrete, even those areas of the structure with a lower concentration of chlorides will become more vulnerable.

  • Contributory Factors

    Evaluating the underlying contributors to deterioration is essential. These can arise at any point in a project, from design and construction to maintenance.

    • Design
      During the design of the structure, you must determine what sort of wear is likely to occur and whether salts will be present in the area. It is also crucial to design the reinforcement structure to accommodate movement in order to maintain the correct level of concrete cover.
    • Material specification
      When selecting materials it is important to remember that precast concrete panels are especially prone to chlorides because salts are used to accelerate the manufacturing process. Marine aggregates can also introduce salt into the concrete mix.
    • Construction
      The more porous the concrete, the easier it is for both carbonation and chloride attacks to occur. A high water content, which can make concrete easier to work, can also leave it weak and liable to let in more water and contaminants. Increased porosity can also be caused by poor compaction, which creates blowholes or honeycombing, and lack of curing, which leaves concrete susceptible to surface crazing. The correct installation of reinforcement is also essential – poorly set spacers can result in an incorrect level of concrete cover, while on more complex pours, cages have been known to slip.
    • Maintenance
      This is often non-existent or at very low levels due to the perception that concrete is indestructible. It is normally only when defects are identified that work is undertaken. It is important that post-repair inspections are carried out regularly. This includes repairing damage caused by external factors that could cause distress to the protective coating system and any areas where concrete has been removed due to impact.

    Guidance on Repairs

    Once the cause and severity of the defects are understood, there is a range of options for remediation, from patch repairs to full replacement. BS EN 1504-9 lists 10 “principles” for the repair and protection of concrete structures. These are:
    1. Protection against ingress
    2. Moisture control
    3. Concrete restoration
    4-5. Structural strengthening
    6. Resistance to chemicals
    7. Preservation or restoring passivity
    8. Increasing resistivity
    9. Cathodic control
    10. Cathodic protection

    These principles and the related repair methods are detailed in the remaining parts of the standard, 2-7. BS EN 1504-3, for example, considers products and systems for structural and non-structural repair and therefore provides guidance on addressing principles 3, 4 and 7. Below, we show the requirements set out in part 3 for structural and non-structural repair mortars. The standard defines four mortar classes: R1 and R2 for non-structural mortar and R3 and R4 for structural mortar.

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