Parking garages are very distinct structures form all the other structures out in the world. These structures have large beams and columns and thick slabs that are designed to withstand the daily weight of thousands of heavy vehicles. Furthermore, the vast majority of parking structures are open which means that they are in direct contact with the open air. The weather and chlorides that are present in the air can lead to long-term effects on the concrete. Due to the aforementioned, owners of concrete parking structures should take special care in monitoring the state of their structure. Naturally, timely corrective measures significantly add to the longevity of structures.
Cracks on your concrete parking structure
Cracks on concrete appear due to many different reasons. These reasons range from pouring a bad batch of concrete, to improper curing during the construction process. In other words, it’s those cracks that are caused by the constant movement, expansion, and contraction of the structure and the vehicle traffic.
If you are in a parking garage and you stand still while cars are passing by, you will likely feel yourself vibrating. Of course, this is normal and you shouldn’t be alarmed. The heat and cold cycles of day and night cause the structure to expand and contract. All these items come together to cause fissures in the concrete on a long-term basis. It is normal for a concrete parking structure to contain cracks. Small cracks typically do not constitute a serious structural problem although a review by a structural engineer is always recommended.
In any event, any type of crack should be filled at a minimum. Your structural engineer will be the person who determines which cracks are serious and which are not. Additionally, the engineer will be the professional that will not only quantify the amount of cracking but will also provide you with the best method of repair. Needless to say, engineers have the training and the experience to provide you with guidance on dealing with cracks. Furthermore, it is beyond the scope of this blog to instruct the regular layperson on the ins and outs of analyzing a structure.
Concrete spalls on your parking garage
As mentioned above, cracks can pose an immediate serious threat to the structural integrity of the parking structure. However, cracks can also cause long-term damage to the parking structure in the form of spalling. This spalling occurs when chlorides seep into the concrete and cause the reinforcing steel inside the concrete to rust, expand, and then rupture the concrete. Click here for our blog on the definition of a spall. This is of particular note in a parking structure that is not only open to the elements but also contains cracks where these chlorides can easily access the reinforcing steel and make it rust.
Damage to beams
Parking structures tend to have wide-open spaces. Engineers design parkings to have as few columns as possible so as to avoid any collisions with automobiles. This means that the engineers must design long beams that span from column to column. As you might have guessed, the longer the beam, the more stress it takes from the vehicles driving over it. At times, these beams show outward signs of stress by sagging and cracking. Concrete beams are critical structural elements in a parking garage. If you see widespread cracking on a beam, do not hesitate to contact a local structural engineer to inspect it. Depending on the size, location, and direction of the crack, it could be a tell-tale sign that there is a serious structural failure lurking.
Other types of repairs
If I were to provide a comprehensive list of all the issues that can arise in a concrete parking structure, this blog would be many more pages long. Cracking and spalling are by far the most common and prevalent issues in a concrete parking garage. To further illustrate, there are several other types of repairs that are typical and these are as follow:
Although parking garages are open structures, we still like to walk to our car without getting wet while we are still inside the structure. If cracks are large, they will let water seep down into the concrete slab and the water will eventually find its way downward by the force of gravity. Water that goes through concrete picks up chemicals that can consequently damage the nice paint job on your car. Furthermore, parking structures also have construction joints and caulk joints that can fail. If these joints are not properly maintained, they can also fail and cause water to seep to the interior of the structure.
Some parking structures are what we call “pre-cast” where many concrete pieces are brought in and welded together in the field. Each one of these concrete pieces has an “embed” which is a small steel plate where the different pieces make contact and where the welders make the connections to build the structure. These embeds can rust and sometimes fail. Needless to say, these failures can lead to catastrophic problems and even collapses. Although collapses are rare, the owners of these structures should be vigilant and have a professional make periodic inspections on the embeds.
In conclusion, parking structures are very unique types of structures. They are constantly exposed to the ravages of the weather. Also, they are subjected to extraordinary stresses from the vehicles that day-in and day-out travel through it. Eventually, failures in the form of cracking and spalling will appear and it is up to the owner of the parking structure to ensure that a maintenance regimen is applied in order to identify these anomalies and cure them. As mentioned above, a structural engineer is your best line of defense in providing guidance.
This guidance is on the form of an inspection to identify any cracking and spalling that has occurred. In fact, this professional can also help you in providing you with plans, specifications, and a protocol to perform these repairs. Engineers that specialize in concrete repair, such as G. Batista & Associates, can guide you through the entire process. This includes obtaining a suitable contractor to perform the repairs.
About The Author
Greg Batista, PE
Mr. Batista is the most recognized, authoritative, and award-winning engineer and contractor in Florida. Over his 30 year distinguished career, he has been both Engineer of Record and Contractor on thousands of jobs.