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Technical Papers

How Does Water Damage Cement Block and Concrete

Monday, January 16th, 2023 by Aaron Stull

How Does Water Damage Cement Block and Concrete - Image 1Water is essential to the process of concrete hardening, also known as curing. Concrete is made up of cement, water, and aggregate (such as sand or gravel). When water is added to cement, a chemical reaction known as hydration occurs, which causes the cement to harden and bind the aggregate together.

However, water can also cause concrete to break down over time. This is due to a process known as erosion, which occurs when water seeps into the concrete and begins to wash away the cement paste that binds the aggregate together. As the cement paste is washed away, the concrete becomes weaker and more susceptible to damage.

One major factor that contributes to erosion is the presence of water in the concrete's pores. Concrete is a porous material, meaning that it has tiny spaces or pores within it. These pores can become filled with water, which can then seep into the concrete and cause erosion. This is especially problematic in structures that are exposed to water, such as bridges or buildings near the ocean.  Additionally, foundations with poor drainage are very susceptible to cement damage. 

Another factor that can contribute to erosion is the presence of chemicals in the water that comes into contact with the concrete. These chemicals can react with the cement in the concrete, causing the cement to break down and weaken. This can happen when industrial or agricultural runoff containing chemicals comes into contact with the concrete.

Freeze-thaw cycles also cause concrete to break down. When water seeps into the concrete and then freezes, it expands and causes the concrete to crack. Over time, these cracks can become larger and more numerous, weakening the concrete and making it more susceptible to damage. This is a problem in areas with cold winters.

The porosity of the concrete is another factor that contributes to erosion. If the concrete is not properly mixed, the water will not fully hydrate the cement, leaving some cement paste in the pores. This excess paste will wash away with the water, weakening the concrete. Additionally, if the water to cement ratio is too high, the concrete will be more porous and thus more susceptible to erosion.

In conclusion, water is both essential to the hardening process of concrete but also can cause concrete to break down over time. Erosion can occur due to the presence of water in the concrete's pores, the presence of chemicals in the water, freeze-thaw cycles, and porosity of the concrete. Proper mixing and control of the water to cement ratio is essential in preventing erosion and ensuring the longevity of concrete structures.

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About the author
Aaron Stull is a second generation foundation repair specialist from the greater Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area.

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