Concrete rot or concrete cancer

If you want a job for life, it could be painting the Sydney Harbor Bridge – when you’re done, you’ll probably have to start over at the other end. Painting continues to prevent the steel from corroding, and steel corrosion causes concrete rot, also called concrete cancer or spalling.

How does concrete “rott”?

Concrete is used in most commercial and residential buildings for a wide variety of applications such as ceilings, stairs, posts and columns, support beams, balconies and porches, walls, pathways and swimming pools. Huge amounts of concrete are used in structures such as bridges, shipyards and high-rise buildings. The concrete is generally reinforced with steel bars or chicken wire, and in the larger settlements significant amounts of steel are required for added strength.

The enemies of reinforced concrete are water and air. If these elements gain access to the steel trapped in the concrete, it can corrode – the steel expands as it collapses, breaking the surrounding concrete. When the concrete cracks and crumbles, there is an even greater opportunity for water and air to come into contact with the rebar and the process intensifies. There are obvious safety issues as the structural integrity of the concrete is reduced.

How to recognize concrete rot

It can happen unseen within the concrete, but as it goes further it becomes more obvious. You may notice rust spots running down the concrete, or the concrete may be chipping, cracking, or crumbling. In extreme cases, large parts of the concrete fall off and expose the rusted reinforcement steel. Follow-up can involve significant and expensive corrective action.

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A professional building inspection can identify the problem or warn of potential future problems. There may be water pooling somewhere, small cracks in the concrete, or rebar too close to the concrete surface. Prevention is certainly better than cure for concrete rot – it can be as simple as improving drainage, painting a surface, or sealing cracks with some type of grout or epoxy filler. If you have concerns about concrete rot, it pays to seek expert advice.

I like being by the sea

Well, most of us do, but here concrete rot can be even more prevalent as chlorides react more aggressively with the rebar in the humid, salty air. Concrete rot is a pervasive problem in oceanfront locations and property owners must be constantly on the lookout for signs of deterioration and ensure protective measures are in place.

The same goes for chlorides, which are associated with chlorine in swimming pools or saltwater pools.

Also, in beach blocks, there is often moisture near the ground surface and water can penetrate the structure. Large buildings with basements or underground garages can have the same problem with groundwater infiltration.

In summary, concrete rot is a common problem. It can cause significant structural damage that can be difficult and expensive to repair. It’s not always easy to spot, can have serious safety implications, and can be avoided with expert advice and the use of the right materials and appropriate design guidelines.