Precast Concrete: A Primer

Precast concrete has many advantages for construction of buildings because of its strength and durability. It’s not only used in many construction applications, but it might actually date all the way back to Roman times. This primer about precast concrete can help you learn what it is, what construction applications it has, and the benefits of using it instead of other materials

Precast Concrete: What Is It?

Precast concrete might have started with the Roman Empire. In Rome itself, an extensive network of subterranean tunnels were built, many of which are still around today. Their existence seems to imply the usage of precast building elements.

The known history of what is known as precast concrete started in 20th century England. John Alexander Brodie was an engineer who found that precast concrete components were able to come together in making a structure. He first patented the process for precast concrete paneled structures.

Philadelphia’s Walnut Lane Memorial Bridge is often considered the start of the American precast concrete industry. Precast concrete happens off the actual construction site. A mold is used somewhere else to pour the concrete instead of on-site molding.

Precast concrete gets poured into a steel or wooden mold that has rebar or wire mesh. If necessary, the mold might have pre-stressed cable in it, too.

It gets cured under controlled circumstances, typically a plant. Once it is ready, it undergoes transport to its construction site where it is put into place.

Not all precast concrete gets pre-stressed using cable reinforcement. This is often done for structures needing more strength. Rebar or wire puts tension into the concrete, and that tension isn’t released until the curing is finished. It’s this release of tension that transfers strength into the concrete, making it even stronger than before.

Compared to Standard Concrete

When compared to standard concrete, precast materials have numerous advantages. To start with, it is often faster to cure. They can also be more economical and stronger than standard concrete.

Precast concrete’s versatility might be the most advantageous thing about it compared to standard concrete. Users who pick it get to enjoy a wide variety of textures, forms, and colors. It’s useful in the integration of facades, and it often meets the compatibility requirements associated with historical structures. Precast concrete can be useful for anything from small sections up to long and open spans. When it is no longer needed, precast concrete can be something that gets recycled or repurposed after it is removed or replaced.

Advantages of Precast Concrete

Commercial and residential projects alike can be far more versatile in their planning and design. When precast concrete products show up on-site, they’re fully customized and ready for quick installation. Use them to expedite your project schedules and spend less money.

The advantages of precast concrete go past sheer convenience. Also consider these four advantages:

  1. Controlled Environment: Since precast concrete is made in totally controlled environments, outside variables simply don’t matter. Conventional concrete is at the mercy of weather, which can impact production timelines and product quality. Precast concrete has the benefit of a controlled climate in ideal conditions for consistent product.
  2. Efficiency: Another benefit of the controlled climate aspect is efficiency in the process. Precast concrete can be made in advance and then stored until needed on construction sites. This saves money and time given assembly line protocols that need less labor and logistics.
  3. Sustainability: Sustainable building developers love precast concrete for their LEED certifications, thanks to natural aggregates, including water, rock, sand, and gravel. The water used is recycled, and precast concrete has a thermal mass capable of slowly absorbing and releasing heat for energy efficiency. Making and using precast concrete has less environmental footprint in terms of resources and energy used.
  4. Versatility: This has already been alluded to, but it’s worth reinforcing, no concrete pun intended. Being able to shape precast concrete into different sizes, textures, and colors is why it can be used in so many different applications and industries.

Structures That Use Precast Concrete

Precast concrete is known for versatility and durability, so many structures that have to withstand both weather and traffic might use it, including:

  • Bridges: Precast concrete is still used in bridge construction today, for caps, deck slabs, arches, beams, girders, and more.
  • Catch Basins and Curb Inlets: Wastewater management relies on precast concrete for versatile and durable customization to meet local needs.
  • Culverts: Contemporary underground water infrastructure uses precast concrete often in various forms and functions to deliver water or prevent flooding.
  • Foundations: From mighty office buildings to simple residential homes, precast concrete might be used in just the foundations.
  • Parking Structures: Economy, installation, and durability all matter here, and precast concrete can be useful in accomplishing all three.
  • Retaining Walls: Necessary for shaping terrain and supporting homes and buildings, these walls can prevent flooding.
  • Sound Walls: Urban areas need noise barriers in tight spaces between communities and highways. Precast concrete can reduce noise pollution by up to half.

Buildings also use precast concrete for its sound-attenuating and fire-resistant properties. It also reduces moisture and engenders energy efficiency. For that, it might be used in buildings as varied as:

  • Educational Institutions: These usually need to be built on tight timelines in order to be ready for classes.
  • Hospitals: Medical centers of all kinds rely on strong foundations and customized layouts.
  • Multi-Unit Housing: Customization permits effective architectural design.
  • Office Buildings: Precast concrete allows for distinct designs.
  • Retail Centers: Urban retail centers might be more compact, but rural centers might be more spread out.

Picking Your Precast Concrete Manufacturer

Whether you want to build something that’s been done before or something entirely new, precast concrete has many uses. However, you would need to choose a manufacturer for it. If you don’t choose a reputable manufacturer, then you will miss out on the benefits, but they also need to be able to handle the work you need done within your budget, specifications, and deadlines.

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