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Durability testing has been undertaken by commercial laboratories for more than 10 years but the properties have become more widely specified and tested during the past 3 years. It has been found, however, that testing done in different laboratories gave a wide range of results, and it was decided to visit the laboratories to correct any poor testing practices or deviations from procedures that may have been introduced. It is of concern, however, that while the results obtained from testing laboratories may differ significantly, very little concrete is found to be unsuitable by the durability testing methods, to the extent that it has had to be demolished or to require further treatment. The following are some of the problems that were encountered during those visits and are given in point form for ease of access.

The test methods used for the carrying out of the tests are currently awaiting SANS approval. The method used for the laboratory visits is that issued by the University of Cape Town in 2009 (Ver. 1.0 25 Feb 2009). The methods published by the C&CI (Version: 28 May) have also been taken into account, but some small variations have been noted.

In order to predict the long-term durability of a structure it is necessary to estimate the quality of the protection given to the steel reinforcement by the concrete in the cover zone. A sample with certain dimensions etc must be taken from this cover concrete, either directly, or from a specimen that represents this concrete, made from concrete identical to that in the structure. Concrete taken from a prepared specimen will not however, represent the same workmanship defeats that almost inevitably occur with in situ concrete and could introduce different variables. Storage of panels was random and in some instances, faces were in contact, and in others were exposed. This will have affected the extent of curing on each face, particularly if discs were taken from both ends of the core. Concrete specimens in the form of cast panels was observed to have many workmanship defects while that in cubes appeared to be of a higher standard. Research has shown that durability in vertical structures in excess of about 2 m high, decreases markedly as samples are taken closer to

the top, due to channels formed by bleed water migrating upwards. The selection of drilling location is therefore, important in a structure and that choice is not available in a relatively smaller panel or cube.

Discs of 30 2 mm were cut from the end of the core after discarding the outer 5 mm as being inferior material. The thickness of the disks has then to be measured in four locations on the perimeter within 0.02 mm, and the average thickness is used in calculation. One interpretation of the thickness tolerance then is that the disc may differ from one location on the circumference to another by 4 mm which is well within the allowance of 5 out of square. Discs that have differed in excess of 2 mm have been found and it is difficult to quantify the average within 0.02 mm. The significance on the test result would be to make the disc appear more permeable. Discs are frequently damaged during the cutting process where the cutting saw blade exits the concrete and chips the sharp edge, or dislodges aggregates that are not securely held in the matrix, due possibly to a weak IFZ caused by bleeding. In some cases, this chipping was observed to be between 5 and 10 % of the disc surface area. The texture of the concrete exposed by chipping is different from the cut face. It was noted that where the core was tightly clamped and could not be rotated during cutting, that the damage to the disc was greater than occurred in those laboratories where the core was clamped less rigidly. All discs have to be marked with reference numbers and a means of identifying the disc face closest to the outside. This was done with a conventional marking pen but the ink was considered to be a coating that could influence the measurement of permeability or absorption, and marking has been changed to the side of the disc.


In several laboratories, there was a distinct variation between the pressure reading on the bourdon and electronic gauges with the electronic gauges reading a lower pressure. In some cases, the pressure in the laboratory oxygen cylinders was lower than that required for the test and cylinders could not be properly pressurised. A lower pressure in the cylinder during this test would have had the effect of lowering the rate at which the pressure dropped and influenced the permeability index to make the concrete apparently more impermeable. Only electronic measurements were recorded and used for calculation. Some of the laboratory testers were found to be placing the discs in the testing cylinders with the outer face, facing away from the pressurised oxygen. This would have skewed the result so that the concrete

appeared to be more impermeable, as the face then in contact with the oxygen, would have been better cured. Sealing of the permeameter is extremely important to ensure that no oxygen may escape around the edges of the disc. Without exception, all laboratories visited had tightened the clamp on top of the permeameter by hand and varying degrees of seal had been achieved. The test method calls for hand tightening followed by one and a half turns with a suitable spanner. (This requirement has been omitted in the C&CI publications but is considered essential to achieve a uniform seal with no leaks)


Most of the laboratories visited supported the discs on sheets of paper towels. It is important that all air bubbles trapped under the paper towels be excluded by running fingers over the saturated paper or using a small roller. Laboratories also used pins or rods to support discs, both of which were permitted in the test method. It was noted that the pins used were drawing pins with rounded heads that tilted when the disc was placed on them, with a resultant variation in the depth of solution to which the disc was exposed. Two laboratories had taken the title of the test literally and had used water for the test and not a calcium hydroxide solution. Laboratory premises used for the tests had not been temperature controlled and visits made in the summer months had meant that laboratory temperatures were high and outside of the range at which the solution was to be maintained i.e. 23 2 C. The surface tension of water, that is responsible for the rise of the solution into the capillaries in the disc, varies in accordance with temperature and will be lower at higher temperatures. This test is sensitive to temperature, and a high temperature will make the concrete appear to have a lower sorptivity than it may have in a standardised temperature range. Discs with chipped or broken edges would not have had an area exposed to the solution that corresponded to the calculated area. A smaller exposed area would have given a result indicating a less permeable concrete than was actually the case.

None of the laboratories visited had the means of measuring ambient temperature or humidity. The requirement that the samples may be dried without a desiccator if the relative humidity was higher than 60 % could be achieved in most Gauteng laboratories but could not be achieved under coastal conditions. All of the test methods call for testing to be done in a controlled environment, as the tests are humidity and temperature sensitive.

Many of the laboratories relied on the operators cell phone to act as a stop watch. These stop watches were not calibrated and some very difficult to read. No calibration certificates were held by any of the laboratories to show that the measure of pressure for the oxygen permeability test was accurate, and the discrepancy between the mechanical and electronic measurement was significant. No indication of the frequency of testing was available and had become a very random period. Discretion by the laboratory in the use of samples was limited. It was noted that sample drilling was not done over obvious cracks which were avoided. A disc with an obvious bleeding channel or crack, or which had been badly chipped was not discarded as no guidance on the use of such a disc was given. Both of the tests considered simply took an average value of four tests. There was no test for validity such as that used on the cube test so that one of the results could be discarded as being unsuitable. There is a statistical test to verify data collected for one sample, but no method to assess whether one of four results was an outlier, and should not be used, perhaps because of an isolated crack, etc.

CONCLUSIONS Some means of ensuring the durability of a reinforced concrete structure has to be put in place to assist the designer to protect his clients asset both from collapse and from early deterioration that may well prove more costly to repair than the original construction. The three tests that have been developed in South Africa are internationally ground breaking in their concept and thorough forethought. If they are to be successfully implemented, an in-depth training programme must be undertaken, along with equipment calibration and assessment of ambient conditions under which the tests are performed.