• Lightweight aggregate concrete blocks for general use in building

    The blocks are made of ordinary Portland cement and one of the following lightweight aggregates: granulated blast-furnace slag, foamed blast-furnace slag, expanded clay or shale, or well burned furnace clinker. The usual mix is 1 part cement to 6 or 8 of aggregate by volume.

    Of the four lightweight aggregates noted, well burned furnace clinker produces the cheapest block which is about two-thirds the weight of a similar dense aggregate concrete block and is a considerably better thermal insulator. Blocks made from foamed blastfurnace slag are about twice the price of those made from furnace clinker, but they are only half the weight of a similar dense aggregate block and have good thermal insulating properties. The furnace clinker blocks are used extensively for walls of houses and the foamed blast-furnace slag blocks for walls of large framed buildings because of their lightness in weight.

  • Concrete blocks

    These are used extensively for both loadbearing and non-loadbearing walls, externally and internally. A concrete block wall can be laid in less time and may cost up to half as much as a similar brick wall. Lightweight aggregate concrete blocks have good insulating properties against transfer of heat and have been much used for the inner leaf of cavity walls with either a brick outer leaf or a concrete block outer leaf.

    A disadvantage of some concrete blocks, particularly lightweight aggregate blocks, as a wall unit is that they may suffer moisture movement which causes cracking of applied finishes such as plaster. To minimise cracking due to shrinkage by loss of water, vertical movement joints should be built into long block walls, subject to moisture movement, at intervals of up to twice the height of the wall. These movement joints may be either a continuous vertical joint filled with mastic or they may be formed in the bonding of the blocks.

    Because the block units are comparatively large, any settlement movement in a wall will show more pronounced cracking in mortar joints than is the case with the smaller brick wall unit.

    For some years it was fashionable to use concrete blocks as a fairface external wall finish. The blocks were accurately moulded to uniform sizes and made from aggregates to provide a variety of colours and textures. Blocks made to give an appearance of natural stone with plain or rugged exposed aggregate finish were used.

    These special blocks are less used that they were, particularly because of the fairly rapid deterioration in the appearance of the blocks due to irregular weather staining of smooth faced blocks and the patchy dirt staining of coarse textured blocks.

    Concrete blocks are manufactured from cement and either dense or lightweight aggregates as solid, cellular or hollow blocks as illustrated in Fig. 60. A cellular block has one or more holes or cavities that do not pass wholly through the block and a hollow block is one in which the holes pass through the block. The thicker blocks are made with cavities or holes to reduce weight and drying shrinkage.
    concrete blocks

    The most commonly used size of both dense and lightweight concrete blocks is 440 mm long x 215 mm high. The height of the block is chosen to coincide with three courses of brick for the convenience of building in wall ties and also bonding to brickwork. The length of the block is chosen for laying in stretcher bond.

    For the leaves of cavity walls and internal loadbearing walls 100 mm thick blocks are used. For non-loadbearing partition walls 60 or 75 mm thick lightweight aggregate blocks are used. Either 440 mm x 215 mm or 390 x 190 mm blocks may be used.

    Concrete blocks may be specified by their minimum average compressive strength for:

    (1) all blocks not less than 75 mm thick and
    (2) a maximum average transverse strength for blocks less than 75 mm thick, which are used for non-loadbearing partitions.
    The usual compressive strengths for blocks are 2.8, 3.5, 5.0, 7.0. 10.0, 15.0, 20.0 and 35.0 N/mm2. The compressive strength of blocks used for the walls of small buildings of up to three storeys, recommended in Approved Document A to the Building Regulations, is 2.8 and 7N/mm2, depending on the loads carried.

    Concrete blocks may also be classified in accordance with the aggregate used in making the block and some common uses.

  • Foundations and oversite concrete

    The trenches which have to be dug for the foundations of walls may be excavated by hand for single small buildings but where, for example, several houses are being built at the same time it is often economical to use mechanical trench diggers.

    If the trenches are of any depth it may be necessary to fix temporary timber supports to stop the sides of the trench from falling in. The nature of the soil being excavated mainly determines the depth of trench for which timber supports to the sides should be used.

    Soft granular soils readily crumble and the sides of trenches in such soil may have to be supported for the full depth of the trench. The sides of trenches in clay soil do not usually require support for some depth, say up to 1.5 m, particularly in dry weather. In rainy weather, if the bottom of the trench in clay soil gets filled with water, the water may wash out the clay from the sides at the bottom of the trench and the whole of the sides above may cave in.

    The purpose of temporary timbering supports to trenches is to uphold the sides of the excavation as necessary to avoid collapse of the sides, which may endanger the lives of those working in the trench, and to avoid the wasteful labour of constantly clearing falling earth from the trench bottoms.
    The material most used for temporary support for the sides of excavations for strip foundations is rough sawn timber. The timbers used are square section struts, across the width of the trench, supporting open poling boards, close poling boards and walings or poling boards and sheeting.

    Whichever system of timbering is used there should be as few struts, that is horizontal members, fixed across the width of the trench as possible as these obstruct ease of working in the trench. Struts should be cut to fit tightly between poling or waling boards and secured in position so that they are not easily knocked out of place.

    For excavations more than 1.5 m deep in compact clay soils it is generally sufficient to use a comparatively open timbering system as the sides of clay will not readily fall in unless very wet or supporting heavy nearby loads. A system of struts between poling boards spaced at about 1.8 m intervals as illustrated in Fig. 39 will usually suffice.
    Struts and poling boards

    Where the soil is soft, such as soft clay or sand, it will be necessary to use more closely spaced poling boards to prevent the sides of the trench between the struts from falling in. To support the poling boards horizontal walings are strutted across the trench, as illustrated in Fig. 40.
    Struts waling and poling boards
    For trenches in dry granular soil it may be necessary to use sheeting to the whole of the sides of trenches. Rough timber sheeting boards are fixed along the length and up the sides of the trench to which poling boards are strutted, as illustrated in Fig. 41.
    Struts poling boards and sheeting
    The three basic arrangements of timber supports for trenches are indicative of some common system used and the sizes given are those that might be used.

  • Resistance to the passage of heat

    The requirements of the Building Regulations and practical advice in Approved Document L include provision for insulation to some ground floors. The requirement is that ground floors should have a maximum insulation value (U value) of 0.45 W/m2K. Some ground floor slabs that are larger than 10 m in both length and breadth may not need the addition of an insulating layer to provide the U value of 0.45.

    Of the heat that is transferred through a solid, ground supported floor a significant part of the transfer occurs around the perimeter of the floor to the ground below, foundation walls and ground around the edges of the floor, so that the cost of insulating the whole floor is seldom justified. Insulation around or under the edges of a solid floor will significantly reduce heat losses to the extent that overall insulation is unnecessary.
    In the CIBS guide to the thermal properties of building structures, the U value of an uninsulated solid floor 20 x 20 m on plan, with four edges exposed, is given as 0.36 W/m2K and one 10 x 10 m as 0.6W/m2K. The 20 x 20 floor has a U value below that in the requirement of the Building Regulations and will not require insulation. The U value of a 10 m2 floor can be reduced by the use of edge insulation. With edge insulation of a metre deep all around and under the floor, the U value can be reduced to 0.48W/m2K which is somewhat higher than the U value in the requirement of the Building Regulations and may necessitate some small overall insulation. This is the basis for the assumption that floor slabs that are larger than 10 m in both length and width may not need an overall insulation layer.
    Edge insulation under concrete
    To reduce heat losses through thermal bridges around the edges of solid floors that do not need overall insulation, and so minimise problems of condensation and mould growth, it may be wise to build in edge insulation, particularly where the wall insulation is not carried down below the ground floor slab. Edge insulation is formed either as a vertical strip between the edge of the slab and the wall or under the slab around the edges of the floor as illustrated in Fig. 32. The depth or width of the strips of insulation vary from 0.25 m to 1 m and the thickness of the insulation will be similar to that needed for overall insulation.
    Perimeter insulation to ground slab
    The only practical way of improving the insulation of a solid ground floor to the required U value is to add a layer of some material with a high insulation value to the floor. The layer of insulation may be laid below a chipboard or plywood panel floor finish or below a timber boarded finish or below the screed finish to a floor or under the concrete floor slab. With insulation under the screed or slab it is important that the density of the insulation board is sufficient to support the load of the floor itself and imposed loads on the floor. A density of at least 16kg/m3 is recommended for domestic buildings.

    The advantage of laying the insulation below the floor slab is that the high density slab, which warms and cools slowly (slow thermal response) in response to changes in temperature of the constant low output heating systems, will not lose heat to the ground. The damp-proof membrane may be laid under or over the insulation layer or under the floor screed. The damp-proof membrane should be under insulation that absorbs water and may be over insulation with low water absorption and high resistance to ground contaminants.

    With the insulation layer and the dpm below the concrete floor slab it is necessary to continue the dpm and insulation up vertically around the edges of the slab to unite with the dpc in walls as illustrated in Fig. 33.
    One method of determining the required thickness of insulation is to use a thickness of insulation related to the U value of the chosen insulation material, as for example thicknesses of 25 mm for a U value of 0.02W/m2K, 37 mm for 0.03 W/m2K, 49 mm for 0.04W/m2K and 60 mm for 0.05 W/m2K, ignoring the inherent resistance of the floor.
    dpm under insulation and screed

    Another more exacting method is to calculate the required thickness related to the actual size of the floor and its uninsulated U value, taken from a table in the CIBS guide to the thermal properties of building structures. For example, from the CIBS table the U value of a solid floor 10 x 6 m, with four edges exposed is 0.74W/m2K.
    Resistance to the passage of heat
    These thicknesses are appreciably less than those given by the first method, shown in brackets.
    Where the wall insulation is in the cavity or on the inside face of the wall it is necessary to avoid a cold bridge across the foundation wall and the edges of the slab, by fitting insulation around the edges of the slab or by continuing the insulation down inside the cavity, as illustrated in Fig. 34.
    An advantage of fitting the dpm above the insulation is that it can be used to secure the upstand edge insulation in place while concrete is being placed.
    dpm under insulation and screed2
    The disadvantage of the dpm being below the concrete floor slab is that it will prevent the wet concrete drying out below and so lengthen the time required for it to adequately dry out, to up to 6 months. A concrete floor slab that has not been sufficiently dried out may adversely affect water sensitive floor finishes such as wood.

    The advantage of laying the insulation layer under the screed is that it can be laid inside a sheltered building on a dried slab after the roof is finished and that the dpm, whether over or under the insulation layer, can more readily be joined to the dpc in walls, as illustrated in Fig. 34. Where the wall insulation is in the cavity it should be continued down below the floor slab to minimise the cold bridge across the wall to the screed as illustrated in Fig. 34.
    dpm under insulation and screed21
    If the dpm is laid below the insulation it is necessary to spread a separating layer over the insulation to prevent wet screed running into the joints between the insulation boards. The separating layer should be building paper or 500 gauge polythene sheet.

    To avoid damage to the insulation layer and the dpm it is necessary to take care in tipping, spreading and compacting wet concrete or screed. Scaffold boards should be used for harrowing and tipping concrete and screed and a light mesh of chicken wire can be used over separating layers or dpms over insulation under screeds as added protection.

  • Bitumen sheet

    Sheets of bitumen with hessian, fibre or mineral fibre base are spread on the concrete oversite or on a blinding of stiff concrete below the concrete, in a single layer with the joints between adjacent sheets lapped 75 mm. The joints are then sealed with a gas torch which melts the bitumen in the overlap of the sheets sufficient to bond them together. Alternatively the lap is made with hot bitumen spread between the overlap of the sheets which are then pressed together to make a damp-proof joint. The bonded sheets may be carried across adjacent walls as a dpc, or up against the walls and then across as dpc where the membrane and dpc are at different levels.

    The polythene or polyester film and self-adhesive rubber/bitumen compound sheets, described in Volume 4 under ‘Tanking’, can also be used as damp-proof membranes, with the purpose cut, shaped cloaks and gussets for upstand edges and angles. This type of membrane is particularly useful where the membrane is below the level of the dpc in walls.

    Bitumen sheets, which may be damaged on building sites, should be covered for protection as soon as possible by the screed or site concrete.

  • Damp-proof membrane below a floor screed

    The oversite concrete is laid during the early stages of the erection of buildings. It is practice to lay floor finishes to solid ground floors after the roof is on and wet trades such as plastering are completed to avoid damage to floor finishes. By this time the site concrete will have thoroughly dried out. A layer of fine grained material such as sand and cement is usually spread and levelled over the surface of the dry concrete to provide a true level surface for a floor finish. As the wet finishing layer, called a screed, will not strongly adhere to dry concrete it is made at least 65 mm thick so that it does not dry too quickly and crack. Electric conduits and water service pipes are commonly run in the underside of the screed.

    As an alternative to under concrete or surface damp-proof membranes a damp-proof membrane may be sandwiched between the site concrete and the floor screed, as illustrated in Fig. 28. At the junction of wall and floor the membrane overlaps the damp-proof course in the wall.

    Damp proof membrane below floor screed

  • Damp-proof membrane below site concrete

    The obvious place to use a continuous damp-proof membrane is under the oversite concrete. The membrane is spread on a layer of comparatively dry concrete, clinker or ash which is spread and levelled over the hardcore as illustrated in Fig. 26. The edges of the membrane are turned up the face of external and internal walls ready for concrete laying so that it may unite and overlap the dpc in walls.
    damp proof membrane
    The membrane should be spread with some care to ensure that thin membranes are not punctured by sharp, upstanding particles in the blinding and that the edge upstands are kept in place as the concrete is laid.
    The advantage of a damp-proof membrane under the site concrete is that it will be protected from damage during subsequent building operations. A disadvantage is that the membrane will delay the drying out of the oversite concrete that can only lose moisture by upwards evaporation to air.
    Where underfloor heating is used the membrane should be under the concrete.

  • Damp-proof Membrane

    Concrete is spread oversite as a solid base for floors and as a barrier to moisture rising from the ground. Concrete is to some degree permeable to water and will absorb moisture from the ground; a damp oversite concrete slab will be cold and draw appreciable heat from rooms.

    A requirement of the Building Regulations is that floors shall adequately resist the passage of moisture to the inside of the building. As concrete is permeable to moisture, it is generally necessary to use a damp-proof membrane under, in or on top of ground supported floor slabs as an effective barrier to moisture rising from the ground. The membrane should be continuous with the damp-proof course in walls, as a barrier to moisture rising between the edges of the concrete slab and walls.

    A damp-proof membrane should be impermeable to water in either liquid or vapour form and be tough enough to withstand possible damage during the laying of screeds, concrete or floor finishes. The damp-proof membrane may be on top, sandwiched in or under the concrete slab.
    Being impermeable to water the membrane will delay the drying out of wet concrete to ground if it is under the concrete, and of screeds to concrete if it is on top of the concrete.

  • Sulphate resisting Portland cement

    This cement has a reduced content of aluminates that combine with soluble sulphates in some soils and is used for concrete in contact with those soils.

  • Ready-mixed concrete

    The very many ready-mixed concrete plants in the United Kingdom
    are able to supply to all but the most isolated building sites. These plants prepare carefully controlled concrete mixes which are delivered to site by lorries on which the concrete is churned to delay setting.

    Because of the convenience and the close control of these mixes, much of the concrete used in building today is provided by ready-mixed suppliers. To order ready-mixed concrete it is only necessary to specify the prescribed mix, for example CI OP, the cement, type and size of aggregate and workability, that is medium or high workability, depending on the ease with which the concrete can be placed and compacted.