Minimum Thickness of Concrete Elements

Minimum Thickness of Concrete

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The minimum thickness of concrete members is dependent on a few variables: the type of component (such as beams or slabs), the size of the aggregate used within the mix, whether there is any steel reinforcement, and standards for fire resistance. In the UK, the design of concrete is covered by Eurocode 2: Design of Concrete Structures (BS EN 1992-1-1:2004+A1:2014), which specifies minimum levels of thickness for various elements. Below you will find a quick summary of what the Eurocode says. (Note that the Eurocode may be updated, changed or withdrawn, so always check what standard applies before using any figures.)
  1. Slabs
  2. Beams
  3. Columns
  4. Reinforcement

Minimum Thickness Of Concrete Slabs

A slab is defined as a member where the panel dimension is not less than 5 times the overall slab thickness. Eurocode 2 states minimum thickness for floor slabs in buildings is 125mm. Other countries may use different minimums depending on their national standards.
thickness of concrete slab

However, if there is any reinforcement included within the slab, this thickness will increase to ensure there is adequate concrete cover to the reinforcement (see the Reinforcement section for how this is calculated). If you have more than one row of reinforcement, you’ll need to include the spacing between the bars in your calculation of the minimum thickness as well – see the diagram below.

minimum concrete cover in slab
Slab with Steel Reinforcement Sit. 1
Slab with reinforcement
Slab with Steel Reinforcement Sit. 2

Concrete Strength

The strength of your concrete will also affect the minimum thickness. Stronger grades of concrete can provide thinner slabs – up to a point. This is because they will be able to resist the loads on them better than weaker grades of concrete.

Support Conditions

Another factor in the minimum thickness of slabs is how the slab will be supported – i.e. is it a slab cast directly onto the ground, simply supported on beams or columns, continuously supported on one or both ends, or cantilevered. These support conditions affect the load-bearing capacity of the concrete. For example, if your concrete slab is cantilevered and is too thin, a heavy load applied to the unsupported end will break the cantilevered section. This is because the load-bearing capacity of the slab reduces the further away from the supported section it is. On a simply supported slab, the load-bearing capacity of the slab is lowest in the middle. See the diagrams below for how these two support conditions differ.

Cantilevered Slab thickness
Concrete slab supported on beams

Typical Situations

While there many variables in the minimum thickness of slabs, there are some standard thicknesses used for typical situations. It’s important to remember that these may not be appropriate for your loading conditions, however. See Table 7.4N in Eurocode 2 for more information.

N.B. Some of these situations, such as footpaths and patios, don’t contain structural members and are generally not designed by engineers, hence they are not subject to the Eurocode 2 regulations. These examples, however, are meant as ‘real world’ applications with suggestions as to what you could potentially use without expecting any problems. With that being said, and to avoid too much ambiguity, we’d advise a minimum of 125mm for all situations. 

Use

Thickness (mm)

Thickness (in.)

Footpaths

75mm

3”

Patios (foot traffic only)

100mm

4”

Driveways and parking areas

150mm

6”

Ground-bearing concrete floor slabs (residential construction)

100mm

4”

Simply supported slab, one- or two-way spanning

Length/20 (lightly stressed)

Length/14 (highly stressed)

One-way continuous slab

Length/26 x 1.3 (lightly stressed)

Length/18 x 1.3 (highly stressed)

Slab supported on columns without beams (flat slab)

Length/24 x 1.2 (lightly stressed)

Length/17 x 1.2 (highly stressed)

Cantilevered slab

Length/8 x 0.4 (lightly stressed)

Length/6 x 0.4 (highly stressed)

Minimum Thickness of Concrete Beams

Beams are defined as having a span not less than 3 times the overall section depth, though if this is the case they may be considered as a deep beam. Beams are typically the horizontal concrete members. They can have a square or rectangular cross-section, where the thickness refers to the same dimension as the height or depth.

Beams are similar to slabs in terms of minimum thicknesses, in that Eurocode 2 uses a length to depth ratio to determine the depth of the beam as per the following table. However, this applies only to beams with a rectangular cross-section, and are fairly conservative. That means that having a structural engineer calculate the required beam thickness may well result in a thinner beam than by using this table.

Use

Thickness (mm)

Simply supported beam

Length/20 (lightly stressed)

Length/14 (highly stressed)

End span of continuous beam

Length/26 x 1.3 (lightly stressed)

Length/18 x 1.3 (highly stressed)

Interior span of beam

Length/30 x 1.5 (lightly stressed)

Length/20 x 1.5 (highly stressed)

Cantilevered beam

Length/8 x 0.4 (lightly stressed)

Length/6 x 0.4 (highly stressed)

concrete beam
Concrete Beam

Minimum Thickness of Concrete Columns

A column is defined as having a section depth no more than 4 times its width, and the height is a minimum of 3 times the section depth. Concrete columns tend to be specified as a minimum cross-sectional size (i.e. 225mm x 225mm is the minimum size) rather than a minimum depth, as they are vertical elements. However, column dimensions are based on the design requirements, loading, and column shape (circular, rectangular, square, polygonal) so it’s not possible to use a minimum size for these members.
Concrete Column Thickness
Concrete Column

Minimum Thickness of Concrete Reinforcement

Reinforcement within concrete needs an adequate amount of concrete laid over it (called cover) to ensure the reinforcement absorbs the stresses within the concrete by having a good bond with the concrete, but also to protect it from corrosion and provide adequate fire resistance. Cover is the distance between the surface of the reinforcement closest to the surface of the concrete and the surface of the concrete, whereas the distance between the bars is the spacing.
Minimum thickness cover in steel reinforcement
Concrete Element With Reinforcement

The density, quality and thickness of cover to reinforcement as well as the extent of cracking will all affect the corrosion protection and fire resistance of the concrete.

How to Calculate Cover Minimum Thickness

What we would normally think of as the cover “minimum thickness” is actually called the cover nominal thickness and is indicated on structural drawings. It is calculated by determining the minimum thickness plus a tolerance for any deviations.

Cnom = Cmin + ∆Cdev

Typically, the absolute minimum that this value will be is 20mm, which is made up of 10mm of minimum cover and 10mm of allowance for deviation. However, this can vary depending on the situation – if you are casting concrete direct onto the ground or using prestressed tendons, for example, then the cover will likely be increased.

The Minimum Cover Cmin

The minimum amount of cover (Cmin) is determined by comparing the minimum cover required to achieve a good bond between the concrete and reinforcement, and the minimum cover required for the environmental conditions (such as if the reinforcement is a prestressed tendon, the desired design working life, quality control of the concrete, etc.) The highest value of these two values is used, unless they are both less than 10mm, in which case 10mm is the minimum. And if there is an uneven surface that the concrete is being cast onto, such as exposed aggregate, the minimum cover should be increased by at least 5mm for a total of 15mm minimum cover. Similarly, if large aggregates are used in the concrete mix (32mm or greater nominal aggregate size) then the cover will also need to be increased by 5mm to allow for this.

The Cover Allowance ∆Cdev

Added to the minimum cover is an allowance for any deviation when the concrete is installed (∆cdev), much like a tolerance. This allows for any low spots in the concrete as it cures. The recommended value of cover allowance is 10mm according to Eurocode 2. However, in some situations, this value can be reduced or increased where the accepted deviation will be more or less than 10mm.

Reducing Cover Allowance

A good example for when the cover allowance would be reduced would be when precast concrete elements are being used, as the factory will typically have a high standard of quality control. In this case, the finished surface of the concrete might be accurate to within a few millimetres, so the cover allowance may be reduced to anywhere between 0-10mm. Similarly, if there is a rigorous quality management system in place that monitors the cover depth during fabrication, the cover allowance can be reduced to between 5-10mm.

Increasing Cover Allowance

On the other hand, if concrete is being cast against an uneven surface – such as onto the existing ground for example – the cover allowance needs to be increased to allow for greater differences in the surface. The recommended values in this instance are:

  • For concrete cast against prepared ground, including blinding: 40mm
  • For concrete cast directly against soil: 75mm

Other reasons why you might increase cover include the finish that needs to be achieved, such as ribbed finishes or leaving aggregates exposed.

Typical Minimum Cover Thicknesses

For concrete that isn’t designed by an engineer, the minimum cover for typical residential situations is given in the NHBC Standards. The current standards (2019 version) use these values:

Concrete Position

Minimum Cover (mm)

In contact with the ground

75

External conditions

50

Cast against a DPM on sand blinding

40

Against adequate blinding concrete

40

Protected or internal conditions

25

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