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Prestressed concrete

Prestressed concrete, invented by Eugène Freyssinet in 1928, is a method for overcoming concrete's natural weakness in tension. It can be used to produce beams, floors or bridges with a longer span than is practical with ordinary reinforced concrete. Prestressing tendons (generally of high tensile steel cable or rods) are used to provide a clamping load which produces a compressive stress that offsets the tensile stress that the concrete compression member would otherwise experience due to a bending load. Traditional reinforced concrete is based on the use of steel reinforcement bars, rebar, inside poured concrete.

Prestressing can be accomplished in three ways: pre-tensioned concrete, and bonded or unbonded post-tensioned concrete.

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Pre-tensioned concrete

Pre-tensioned concrete is cast around already tensioned tendons. This method produces a good bond between the tendon and concrete, which both protects the tendon from corrosion and allows for direct transfer of tension. The cured concrete adheres and bonds to the bars and when the tension is released it is transferred to the concrete as compression by static friction. However, it requires stout anchoring points between which the tendon is to be stretched and the tendons are usually in a straight line. Thus, most pretensioned concrete elements are prefabricated in a factory and must be transported to the construction site, which limits their size. Pre-tensioned elements may be balcony elements, lintels, floor slabs, beams or foundation piles. An innovative bridge construction method using pre-stressing is described in stressed ribbon bridge.

Bonded post-tensioned concrete

Bonded post-tensioned concrete is the descriptive term for a method of applying compression after pouring concrete and the curing process (in situ). The concrete is cast around a plastic, steel or aluminium curved duct, to follow the area where otherwise tension would occur in the concrete element. A set of tendons are fished through the duct and the concrete is poured. Once the concrete has hardened, the tendons are tensioned by hydraulic jacks that react against the concrete member itself. When the tendons have stretched sufficiently, according to the design specifications (see Hooke's law), they are wedged in position and maintain tension after the jacks are removed, transferring pressure to the concrete. The duct is then grouted to protect the tendons from corrosion. This method is commonly used to create monolithic slabs for house construction in locations where expansive soils (such as adobe clay) create problems for the typical perimeter foundation. All stresses from seasonal expansion and contraction of the underlying soil are taken into the entire tensioned slab, which supports the building without significant flexure. Post-stressing is also used in the construction of various bridges, both after concrete is cured after support by falsework and by the assembly of prefabricated sections, as in the segmental bridge.The advantages of this system over unbonded post-tensioning are:

  1. Large reduction in traditional reinforcement requirements as tendons cannot destress in accidents.
  2. Tendons can be easily 'weaved' allowing a more efficient design approach.
  3. Higher ultimate strength due to bond generated between the strand and concrete.
  4. No long term issues with maintaining the integrity of the anchor/dead end.

Unbonded post-tensioned concrete

Unbonded post-tensioned concrete differs from bonded post-tensioning by providing each individual cable permanent freedom of movement relative to the concrete. To achieve this, each individual tendon is coated with a grease (generally lithium based) and covered by a plastic sheathing formed in an extrusion process. The transfer of tension to the concrete is achieved by the steel cable acting against steel anchors embedded in the perimeter of the slab. The main disadvantage over bonded post-tensioning is the fact that a cable can destress itself and burst out of the slab if damaged (such as during repair on the slab). The advantages of this system over bonded post-tensioning are:

  1. The ability to individually adjust cables based on poor field conditions (For example: shifting a group of 4 cables around an opening by placing 2 to either side).
  2. The procedure of post-stress grouting is eliminated.
  3. The ability to de-stress the tendons before attempting repair work.


Prestressed concrete is the predominating material for floors in high-rise buildings, foundations for residential buildings in soft soil areas, bridges and in the construction of water towers and water tanks. Post-tensioning is also used to reinforce the large concrete chambers in nuclear reactors. Unbonded post-tensioning tendons are commonly used in parking garages as barrier cable[citation needed]. Also, due to its ability to be stressed and then de-stressed, it can be used to temporarily repair a damaged building by holding up a damaged wall or floor until permanent repairs can be made. The advantages of prestressed concrete include lower construction costs; thinner slabs - especially important in high rise buildings in which floor thickness savings can translate into additional floors for the same (or lower) cost and fewer joints, since the distance that can be spanned by post-tensioned slabs exceeds that of reinforced constructions with the same thickness. Increasing span lengths increases the usable unencumbered floorspace in buildings; diminishing the number of joints leads to lower maintenance costs over the design life of a building, since joints are the major locus of weakness in concrete buildings. The first prestressed concrete bridge in North America was the Walnut Street Bridge in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was completed and opened to traffic in 1949.


    This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Prestressed_concrete". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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