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The Importance of Air Bubbles in Concrete: Size Matters!

Air bubbles in concrete play a crucial role in its freeze-thaw durability. Contrary to common perception, these bubbles are not construction mistakes or aesthetic flaws but are actually essential for the concrete's integrity. However, it's important to note that not all bubbles are created equal.



Smaller air bubbles are particularly important as they provide superior protection compared to larger ones. Projects with predominantly small bubbles have demonstrated better long-term durability compared to those with predominantly large bubbles. This is because when water within the concrete freezes, it tries to expand and escape, and if it can't reach a boundary (like a small bubble), it can cause cracks and damage the concrete.

Adding air to concrete is crucial for its freeze-thaw resistance. However, it's a common misconception that the volume of air in the concrete directly determines its performance. In reality, the size of the bubbles is a more important factor. Many specifications focus solely on the volume of air, simplifying it to a percentage requirement, such as 6% air in the concrete.


It's worth noting that early research by Paul Klieger in the 1950s contributed significantly to incorporating air bubbles in concrete. However, today's concrete mixtures are more complex, often incorporating various chemicals and additives to enhance properties.

To assess the air void system in concrete, a hardened air void analysis is typically conducted. This involves examining polished concrete under a microscope and measuring intersecting lines (chords) to determine bubble characteristics.


The spacing factor, introduced by TC Powers in 1949, provides a useful metric for evaluating air void spacing. A lower spacing factor (less than 0.008") indicates desirable spacing according to ACI 201 guidelines. Considering the spacing factor alongside air content is critical for achieving optimal freeze-thaw durability.


Air content alone is an insufficient measure of freeze-thaw durability. The size of the bubbles also plays a significant role. Mixtures with larger bubbles require higher air contents to achieve the desired spacing.




In conclusion, it's important to update specifications and move beyond solely focusing on air volume. Understanding the size of bubbles in concrete is vital for achieving optimal freeze-thaw durability. While regular hardened air void analyses may not always be practical, advancements in tools and techniques can help evaluate bubble characteristics more efficiently.

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