FAQ - Precast Concrete

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  • Is precast concrete a “green” building material?
  • Precast concrete contributes to green building practices in significant ways. Its inherent strength – 35 to 50 MPa – means precast concrete is extremely durable. Its mass can shift heating and cooling loads to help reduce mechanical system requirements. Because it is factory-made, precast concrete reduces construction waste, both in the factory and on the job site, and does not add to construction indoor air quality (IAQ) concerns. The load capacity and long spans of precast members help eliminate redundant structures, and precast readily accommodates recycled content.
  • What makes concrete so durable?
  • The primary ingredients of concrete, sand, gravel, and cement are mineral based. When mixed with water, the cement molecules chemically combine with the water to create a crystalline matrix of high compressive strength. This matrix binds the sand and gravel together, creating what is sometimes known as “liquid stone.” Unlike other construction materials, which rust, rot or otherwise degrade when in the presence of moisture, concrete actually gets stronger.
  • Is precast concrete different from other types of concrete?
  • Precast concrete is different because it is made in a factory by highly experienced personnel who apply stringent quality control measures. In the factory environment, precasters are able to achieve consistency in temperature and moisture and low water to cementing material ratios that are not possible in field fabricated concrete. Precast concrete easily achieves strengths of 35 to 50 MPa or more, whereas the strength of field-cast concrete is far lower due to changing personnel, water added to mix during travel and curing conditions at the site. Much more permeable than precast concrete, field-cast concrete is also more susceptible to moisture, chemical and mechanical damage.
  • What is the difference between concrete and cement?
  • While the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, concrete and cement are not the same. Concrete is a building material, a composite of sand, aggregates, cement and water plus other ingredients. Cement is a key ingredient of the concrete mix, typically comprising 10 to 12% of the volume of concrete.
  • What is “Portland” cement?
  • Portland cement, also known as hydraulic cement, is a typical ingredient of concrete. It was invented in the early nineteenth century and named for the fine building stones that were quarried in Portland, England. The innovation marked a milestone in construction history, as Portland cement created a far stronger bond than the plain crushed limestone of the day. Portland cement remains the best-performing and most economical binder for concrete mixes worldwide.
  • What does cement do to concrete?
  • Cement does what its name implies – it “cements” the sand, aggregates and other ingredients together. A fine powder usually gray or white in color, cement is “hydraulic,” meaning it is activated by water. As the concrete mix is agitated, cement helps to turn it into a flowable, formable emulsion, finally curing into the rock-like substance used for everything from simple sidewalks to sophisticated bridges and skyscrapers.
  • How is precast concrete made?
  • Precast concrete is made in a manufacturer’s plant or factory under controlled conditions. A dedicated batch plant produces a specially designed mix for structural and architectural products and systems. Sand and aggregates usually come from nearby quarries, while cement and other ingredients are usually supplied from local sources. The mixed concrete is placed around reinforcing and, often, prestressing strands that provide load-resisting force in the finished precast member. Factory production permits experienced workers to produce more in a given time frame, exercise a high degree of quality control, resulting in quality products containing high strength concrete of 35 to 50 MPa or more that is extremely durable and long lasting.
  • How is cement made?
  • Limestone along with small amounts sand and clay are quarried, usually near the cement plant. These ingredients are ground and blended together. The materials are then heated in a giant rotary kiln at temperatures of 1870°C (3400°F). The high temperature causes the limestone to undergo a chemical reaction that changes its properties, imparting its characteristics as a binder in concrete. During the firing process, an intermediate product called clinker is formed. Once cooled, the clinker is ground with a small amount of gypsum, forming the fine gray-colored powder called hydraulic (Portland) cement.
  • What is a green building?
  • The government defines green buildings as those that:
  • demonstrate the efficient use of energy, water and materials
  • limit their impact on the outdoor environment
  • provide a healthier indoor environment
  • Studies show that green buildings offer improved air quality and more access to daylight in addition to energy and cost savings. The CaGBC estimates that green buildings cost 8-9% less to operate, and have a 7.5% greater building value.
  • What is the difference between “Green” and “Sustainable”?
  • According to the CaGBC, “green” building practices can substantially reduce or eliminate negative environmental impacts and improve existing unsustainable design, construction and operational practices. Based on the Brundtland Commission’s definition of sustainable development, green building practices constitute one effective approach to sustainable development.
  • Why build a precast concrete home?
  • Concrete homes are extremely sound and durable. A total precast home is extremely mold and mildew resistant compared to a traditional wood or brick home. Total precast homes have no beams and columns in the basement which provides long clear spans for a very flexible design. Precast concrete homes have a very high fire rating and provide a great storm shelter because of their strength. Precast floors are great when combined with radiant heat.
  • Why use Prestressed Concrete vs Poured Concrete?
  • Prestressed concrete has very good crack control and strength to weight ratio. Precast concrete is able to create longer, thinner spans than poured concrete.
  • How are fire ratings calculated in concrete?
  • The most common practice is to follow the PCI Manual MNL 124, “Design for Fire Resistance of Prestressed Concrete.”
  • What are the benefits of a wall panel system?
  • Precast wall panels are an energy efficient alternative to steel and masonry, providing a hard wall and eliminating the need for exterior columns. Precast wall panels are not only energy efficient, but also mold and mildew resistant. Precast wall panels provide flexibility in the design phase of your home or building.

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