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The novel shape of the Philips Pavilion was allowed by reinforced concrete.

Reinforced concrete is a composite material in which concrete's relatively low tensile strength and ductility are counteracted by the inclusion of reinforcement having higher tensile strength and/or ductility. The reinforcement is usually, though not necessarily, steel reinforcing bars (rebar) and is usually embedded passively in the concrete before the concrete sets. Reinforcing schemes are generally designed to resist tensile stresses in particular regions of the concrete that might cause unacceptable cracking and/or structural failure. Modern reinforced concrete can contain varied reinforcing materials made of steel, polymers or alternate composite material in conjunction with rebar or not. Reinforced concrete may also be permanently stressed (in compression), so as to improve the behaviour of the final structure under working loads. In the United States, the most common methods of doing this are known as pre-tensioning and post-tensioning.

For a strong, ductile and durable construction the reinforcement needs to have the following properties at least:

  • High relative strength
  • High toleration of tensile strain
  • Good bond to the concrete, irrespective of pH, moisture, and similar factors
  • Thermal compatibility, not causing unacceptable stresses in response to changing temperatures.
  • Durability in the concrete environment, irrespective of corrosion or sustained stress for example.


François Coignet was a French industrialist of the nineteenth century, a pioneer in the development of structural prefabricated and reinforced concrete.[1] Coignet was the first to use iron-reinforced concrete as a technique for constructing building structures.[2] In 1853 Coignet built the first iron reinforced concrete structure, a four story house at 72 rue Charles Michels in the suburbs of Paris.[2] Coignet's descriptions of reinforcing concrete suggests that he did not do it for means of adding strength to the concrete but for keeping walls in monolithic construction from overturning.[3]

Joseph Monier, a french gardener and known to be one of the principal inventors of Reinforced concrete, was granted a patent for reinforced flowerpots by means of mixing a wire mesh to a mortar shell. In 1877, Monier was granted another patent for a more advanced technique of reinforcing concrete columns and girders with iron rods placed in a grid pattern. Though Monier undoubtedly knew reinforcing concrete would improve its inner cohesion, it is less known if he even knew how much reinforcing actually improved concrete's tensile strength.[4]

Before 1877 the use of concrete construction, though dating back to the Roman Empire and reintroduced in the mid to late 1800th century, was not yet a proven scientific technology. American New Yorker Thaddeus Hyatt published a report titled An Account of Some Experiments with Portland-Cement-Concrete Combined with Iron as a Building Material, with Reference to Economy of Metal in Construction and for Security against Fire in the Making of Roofs, Floors, and Walking Surfaces where he stated his experiments on the behavior of reinforced concrete. His work played a major role in the evolution of concrete construction as a proven and studied science. Without Hyatt's work, more dangerous trial and error methods would have largely been depended on for the advancement in the technology.[5] [6]

G. A. Wayss, was a German civil engineer and a pioneer of the iron and steel concrete construction. In 1879 Wayss bought the German rights to Monier's patents and in 1884 started the first commercial use for reinforced concrete in his firm Wayss & Freytag. Up until the 1890s Wayss and his firm greatly contributed to the advancement of Monier's system of reinforcing and established it as a well-developed scientific technology.[7]

Ernest L. Ransome, was an english-born engineer and early innovator of the reinforced concrete techniques in the end of the 1800th century. With a knowledge of reinforced concrete from the gathering of the past 5o years, Ransome innovated nearly all styles and techniques of the previous known inventors of Reinforced concrete. Gaining increasing fame from his concrete constructed buildings Ransome was able to built two of the first reinforced concrete bridges in North America.[8]

Use in construction[edit]

Rebars of Sagrada Família's roof in construction (2009)

Many different types of structures and components of structures can be built using reinforced concrete including slabs, walls, beams, columns, foundations, frames and more.

Reinforced concrete can be classified as precast or cast-in-place concrete.

Designing and implementing the most efficient floor system is key to creating optimal building structures. Small changes in the design of a floor system can have significant impact on material costs, construction schedule, ultimate strength, operating costs, occupancy levels and end use of a building.[9]

Without reinforcement, constructing modern structures with the concrete material would not be possible.

Behavior of reinforced concrete[edit]


Concrete is a mixture of coarse (stone or brick chips) and fine (generally sand or crushed stone) aggregates with a paste of binder material (usually Portland cement) and water. When cement is mixed with a small amount of water, it hydrates to form microscopic opaque crystal lattices encapsulating and locking the aggregate into a rigid structure. The aggregates used for making concrete should be free from harmful substances like organic impurities, silt, clay, lignite etc. Typical concrete mixes have high resistance to compressive stresses (about 4,000 psi (28 MPa)); however, any appreciable tension (e.g., due to bending) will break the microscopic rigid lattice, resulting in cracking and separation of the concrete. For this reason, typical non-reinforced concrete must be well supported to prevent the development of tension.

If a material with high strength in tension, such as steel, is placed in concrete, then the composite material, reinforced concrete, resists not only compression but also bending and other direct tensile actions. A reinforced concrete section where the concrete resists the compression and steel resists the tension can be made into almost any shape and size for the construction industry.

Key characteristics[edit]

Three physical characteristics give reinforced concrete its special properties:

  1. The coefficient of thermal expansion of concrete is similar to that of steel, eliminating large internal stresses due to differences in thermal expansion or contraction.
  2. When the cement paste within the concrete hardens, this conforms to the surface details of the steel, permitting any stress to be transmitted efficiently between the different materials. Usually steel bars are roughened or corrugated to further improve the bond or cohesion between the concrete and steel.
  3. The alkaline chemical environment provided by the alkali reserve (KOH, NaOH) and the portlandite (calcium hydroxide) contained in the hardened cement paste causes a passivating film to form on the surface of the steel, making it much more resistant to corrosion than it would be in neutral or acidic conditions. When the cement paste exposed to the air and meteoric water reacts with the atmospheric CO2, portlandite and the Calcium Silicate Hydrate (CSH) of the hardened cement paste become progressively carbonated and the high pH gradually decreases from 13.5 – 12.5 to 8.5, the pH of water in equilibrium with calcite (calcium carbonate) and the steel is no longer passivated.

As a rule of thumb, only to give an idea on orders of magnitude, steel is protected at pH above ~11 but starts to corrode below ~10 depending on steel characteristics and local physico-chemical conditions when concrete becomes carbonated. Carbonatation of concrete along with chloride ingress are amongst the chief reasons for the failure of reinforcement bars in concrete.[10]

The relative cross-sectional area of steel required for typical reinforced concrete is usually quite small and varies from 1% for most beams and slabs to 6% for some columns. Reinforcing bars are normally round in cross-section and vary in diameter. Reinforced concrete structures sometimes have provisions such as ventilated hollow cores to control their moisture & humidity.

Distribution of concrete (in spite of reinforcement) strength characteristics along the cross-section of vertical reinforced concrete elements is inhomogeneous.[11]

Mechanism of composite action of reinforcement and concrete[edit]

A heavy reinforced concrete column, seen before and after the concrete has been cast in place around the rebar cage.

The reinforcement in a RC structure, such as a steel bar, has to undergo the same strain or deformation as the surrounding concrete in order to prevent discontinuity, slip or separation of the two materials under load. Maintaining composite action requires transfer of load between the concrete and steel. The direct stress is transferred from the concrete to the bar interface so as to change the tensile stress in the reinforcing bar along its length. This load transfer is achieved by means of bond (anchorage) and is idealized as a continuous stress field that develops in the vicinity of the steel-concrete interface.

Anchorage (bond) in concrete: Codes of specifications[edit]

Because the actual bond stress varies along the length of a bar anchored in a zone of tension, current international codes of specifications use the concept of development length rather than bond stress. The main requirement for safety against bond failure is to provide a sufficient extension of the length of the bar beyond the point where the steel is required to develop its yield stress and this length must be at least equal to its development length. However, if the actual available length is inadequate for full development, special anchorages must be provided, such as cogs or hooks or mechanical end plates. The same concept applies to lap splice length mentioned in the codes where splices (overlapping) provided between two adjacent bars in order to maintain the required continuity of stress in the splice zone.

Anti-corrosion measures[edit]

In wet and cold climates, reinforced concrete for roads, bridges, parking structures and other structures that may be exposed to deicing salt may benefit from use of corrosion-resistant reinforcement such as uncoated, low carbon/chromium (micro composite), epoxy-coated, hot dip galvanised or stainless steel rebar. Good design and a well-chosen concrete mix will provide additional protection for many applications. Uncoated, low carbon/chromium rebar looks similar to standard carbon steel rebar due to its lack of a coating and the inclusion of its highly corrosion-resistant features are inherent in the steel microstructure. It can be identified by the unique ASTM specified mill marking on its smooth, dark charcoal finish. Epoxy coated rebar can easily be identified by the light green colour of its epoxy coating. Hot dip galvanized rebar may be bright or dull grey depending on length of exposure, and stainless rebar exhibits a typical white metallic sheen that is readily distinguishable from carbon steel reinforcing bar. Reference ASTM standard specifications A1035/A1035M Standard Specification for Deformed and Plain Low-carbon, Chromium, Steel Bars for Concrete Reinforcement,A767 Standard Specification for Hot Dip Galvanised Reinforcing Bars, A775 Standard Specification for Epoxy Coated Steel Reinforcing Bars and A955 Standard Specification for Deformed and Plain Stainless Bars for Concrete Reinforcement.

Another, cheaper way of protecting rebars is coating them with zinc phosphate.[12] Zinc phosphate slowly reacts with calcium cations and the hydroxyl anions present in the cement pore water and forms a stable hydroxyapatite layer.

Penetrating sealants typically must be applied some time after curing. Sealants include paint, plastic foams, films and aluminum foil, felts or fabric mats sealed with tar, and layers of bentonite clay, sometimes used to seal roadbeds.

Corrosion inhibitors, such as calcium nitrite [Ca(NO2)2], can also be added to the water mix before pouring concrete. Generally, 1–2 wt. % of [Ca(NO2)2] with respect to cement weight is needed to prevent corrosion of the rebars. The nitrite anion is a mild oxidizer that oxidizes the soluble and mobile ferrous ions (Fe2+) present at the surface of the corroding steel and causes it to precipitate as an insoluble ferric hydroxide (Fe(OH)3). This causes the passivation of steel at the anodic oxidation sites. Nitrite is a much more active corrosion inhibitor than nitrate, a less powerful oxidizer of the divalent iron.

Reinforcement and terminology of Beams[edit]

Rebar constructed to properly reinforce a beam element, awaiting concrete to be poured.

A beam bends under bending moment, resulting in a small curvature. At the outer face (tensile face) of the curvature the concrete experiences tensile stress, while at the inner face (compressive face) it experiences compressive stress.

A singly reinforced beam is one in which the concrete element is only reinforced near the tensile face and the reinforcement, called tension steel, is designed to resist the tension.

A doubly reinforced beam is one in which besides the tensile reinforcement the concrete element is also reinforced near the compressive face to help the concrete resist compression. The latter reinforcement is called compression steel. When the compression zone of a concrete is inadequate to resist the compressive moment (positive moment), extra reinforcement has to be provided if the architect limits the dimensions of the section.

An under-reinforced beam is one in which the tension capacity of the tensile reinforcement is smaller than the combined compression capacity of the concrete and the compression steel (under-reinforced at tensile face). When the reinforced concrete element is subject to increasing bending moment, the tension steel yields while the concrete does not reach its ultimate failure condition. As the tension steel yields and stretches, an "under-reinforced" concrete also yields in a ductile manner, exhibiting a large deformation and warning before its ultimate failure. In this case the yield stress of the steel governs the design.

An over-reinforced beam is one in which the tension capacity of the tension steel is greater than the combined compression capacity of the concrete and the compression steel (over-reinforced at tensile face). So the "over-reinforced concrete" beam fails by crushing of the compressive-zone concrete and before the tension zone steel yields, which does not provide any warning before failure as the failure is instantaneous.

A balanced-reinforced beam is one in which both the compressive and tensile zones reach yielding at the same imposed load on the beam, and the concrete will crush and the tensile steel will yield at the same time. This design criterion is however as risky as over-reinforced concrete, because failure is sudden as the concrete crushes at the same time of the tensile steel yields, which gives a very little warning of distress in tension failure.[13]

Steel-reinforced concrete moment-carrying elements should normally be designed to be under-reinforced so that users of the structure will receive warning of impending collapse.

The characteristic strength is the strength of a material where less than 5% of the specimen shows lower strength.

The design strength or nominal strength is the strength of a material, including a material-safety factor. The value of the safety factor generally ranges from 0.75 to 0.85 in Permissible stress design.

The ultimate limit state is the theoretical failure point with a certain probability. It is stated under factored loads and factored resistances.

Prestressed concrete[edit]

Prestressing concrete is a technique that greatly increases the load-bearing strength of concrete beams. The reinforcing steel in the bottom part of the beam, which will be subjected to tensile forces when in service, is placed in tension before the concrete is poured around it. Once the concrete has hardened, the tension on the reinforcing steel is released, placing a built-in compressive force on the concrete. When loads are applied, the reinforcing steel takes on more stress and the compressive force in the concrete is reduced, but does not become a tensile force. Since the concrete is always under compression, it is less subject to cracking and failure.[14]

Another way is to insert plastic tubes into the bottom of the beam. Rebar is inserted into these tubes. Once the concrete has cured the rebar can be tensioned and the formwork removed. Usually the tension is applied using hydraulic jacks. The advantage of this method is that it is easy to measure the applied tension. The nuts are then snugged-up and the job is done. It should be noted that all nuts and bolts when mated together will have a helical groove which is a potential rust-trap. An easy method of eliminating this rust-trap is to apply rust preventive red-oxide paint to the threads and assemble whilst the paint is still wet.

Common failure modes of steel reinforced concrete[edit]

Reinforced concrete can fail due to inadequate strength, leading to mechanical failure, or due to a reduction in its durability. Corrosion and freeze/thaw cycles may damage poorly designed or constructed reinforced concrete. When rebar corrodes, the oxidation products (rust) expand and tends to flake, cracking the concrete and unbonding the rebar from the concrete. Typical mechanisms leading to durability problems are discussed below.

Mechanical failure[edit]

Cracking of the concrete section is nearly impossible to prevent; however, the size and location of cracks can be limited and controlled by appropriate reinforcement, control joints, curing methodology and concrete mix design. Cracking can allow moisture to penetrate and corrode the reinforcement. This is a serviceability failure in limit state design. Cracking is normally the result of an inadequate quantity of rebar, or rebar spaced at too great a distance. The concrete then cracks either under excess loading, or due to internal effects such as early thermal shrinkage when it cures.

Ultimate failure leading to collapse can be caused by crushing of the concrete, when compressive stresses exceed its strength; by yielding or failure of the rebar, when bending or shear stresses exceed the strength of the reinforcement; or by bond failure between the concrete and the rebar.


Concrete wall cracking as steel reinforcing corrodes and swells. Rust has a lower density than metal, so it expands as it forms, cracking the decorative cladding off the wall, as well as damaging the structural concrete. The breakage of material from the surface is called spalling.
Detailed view of spalling. The apparently thin layer of concrete between the steel and the surface suggests, or similar problems of corrosion from external exposure

Carbonation, or neutralisation, is a chemical reaction of carbon dioxide in the air with calcium hydroxide and hydrated calcium silicate in the concrete.

When a concrete structure is designed, it is usual to state the concrete cover for the rebar (the depth of the rebar within the object). The minimum concrete cover is normally regulated by design or building codes. If the reinforcement is too close to the surface, early failure due to corrosion may occur. The concrete cover depth can be measured with a cover meter. However, carbonated concrete incurs a durability problem only when there is also sufficient moisture and oxygen to cause electropotential corrosion of the reinforcing steel.

One method of testing a structure for carbonatation is to drill a fresh hole in the surface and then treat the cut surface with phenolphthalein indicator solution. This solution will turn pink when in contact with alkaline concrete, making it possible to see the depth of carbonation. Using an existing hole does not suffice because the exposed surface will already be carbonated.


Chlorides, including sodium chloride, can promote the corrosion of embedded steel rebar if present in sufficiently high concentration. Chloride anions induce both localized corrosion (pitting corrosion) and generalized corrosion of steel reinforcements. For this reason, one should only use fresh raw water or potable water for mixing concrete, ensure that the coarse and fine aggregates do not contain chlorides, and not use admixtures that contain chlorides.

Rebar for foundations and walls of sewage pump station.
The Paulins Kill Viaduct, Hainesburg, New Jersey, is 115 feet (35 m) tall and 1,100 feet (335 m) long, and was heralded as the largest reinforced concrete structure in the world when it was completed in 1910 as part of the Lackawanna Cut-Off rail line project. The Lackawanna Railroad was a pioneer in the use of reinforced concrete.

It was once common for calcium chloride to be used as an admixture to promote rapid set-up of the concrete. It was also mistakenly believed that it would prevent freezing. However, this practice has fallen into disfavor once the deleterious effects of chlorides became known. It should be avoided when ever possible.

The use of de-icing salts on roadways, used to reduce the freezing point of water, is probably one of the primary causes of premature failure of reinforced or prestressed concrete bridge decks, roadways, and parking garages. The use of epoxy-coated reinforcing bars and the application of cathodic protection has mitigated this problem to some extent. Also FRP rebars are known to be less susceptible to chlorides. Properly designed concrete mixtures that have been allowed to cure properly are effectively impervious to the effects of deicers.

Another important source of chloride ions is from sea water. Sea water contains by weight approximately 3.5 wt.% salts. These salts include sodium chloride, magnesium sulfate, calcium sulfate, and bicarbonates. In water these salts dissociate in free ions (Na+, Mg2+, Cl-, SO42-, HCO3-) and migrate with the water into the capillaries of the concrete. Chloride ions are particularly aggressive for the corrosion of the carbon steel reinforcement bars and make up about 50% of these ions.

In the 1960s and 1970s it was also relatively common for Magnesite, a chloride rich carbonate mineral, to be used as a floor-topping material. This was done principally as a levelling and sound attenuating layer. However it is now known that when these materials came into contact with moisture it produced a weak solution of hydrochloric acid due to the presence of chlorides in the magnesite. Over a period of time (typically decades) the solution caused corrosion of the embedded steel rebars. This was most commonly found in wet areas or areas repeatedly exposed to moisture.

Alkali silica reaction[edit]

  1. ^ Day, p. 284[citation not found]
  2. ^ a b Encyclopædia Britannica - François Coignet
  3. ^ Condit, Carl W. (January 1968). "Technology and Culture". The First Reinforced-Concrete Skyscraper: The Ingalls Building in Cincinnati and Its Place in Structural History. 9 (1). doi:10.2307/3102041. Retrieved 20 February 2014. 
  4. ^ Mörsch, Emil (1909). Concrete-steel Construction: (Der Eisenbetonbau). The Engineering News Publishing Company. pp. 204–210. 
  5. ^ Collins, Peter (1920–1981). Concrete: The Vision of a New Architecture. McGill-Queen's University Press. pp. 58–60. ISBN 0-7735-2564-5. 
  6. ^ Condit, Carl W. (January 1968). "Technology and Culture". The First Reinforced-Concrete Skyscraper: The Ingalls Building in Cincinnati and Its Place in Structural History. 9 (1). doi:10.2307/3102041. Retrieved 20 February 2014. 
  7. ^ Mörsch, Emil (1909). Concrete-steel Construction: (Der Eisenbetonbau). The Engineering News Publishing Company. pp. 204–205. 
  8. ^ Collins, Peter (1920–1981). Concrete: The Vision of a New Architecture. McGill-Queen's University Press. pp. 61–64. ISBN 0-7735-2564-5. 
  9. ^ "Reinforcing Mesh For Concrete". 
  10. ^ Emerging Corrosion Control Technologies for Repair and Rehabilitation of Concrete Structures
  11. ^ article "Concrete Inhomogeneity of Vertical Cast-In-Situ Elements In Frame-Type Buildings".
  12. ^ "Effect of zinc phosphate chemical conversion coating on corrosion behaviour of mild steel in alkaline medium: protection of rebars in reinforced concrete" Sci. Technol. Adv. Mater. 9 (2008) 045009 (free download)
  13. ^ Nilson, Darwin , Dolan. Design of Concrete Structures. the MacGraw-Hill Education, 2003. p. 80-90.
  14. ^