Cement is one of the most widely used building materials in the world, and for good reason. It’s strong, durable, and versatile, making it the go-to choice for constructing everything from skyscrapers to sidewalks. But with climate change altering the weather patterns that concrete structures are exposed to, there are growing concerns about how these structures will hold up under increasingly extreme conditions.
Let’s explore the potential impact of climate change on the durability and longevity of cement structures.
The Impact of Extreme Weather Events
One of the most obvious ways in which climate change is affecting the weather patterns that concrete structures are exposed to is through more frequent and severe extreme weather events. From hurricanes to floods, these events can cause significant damage to buildings and infrastructure, including concrete structures. In many cases, the damage caused by these events can be catastrophic, leading to collapse or even complete failure of the structure.
One example of this is the recent floods in KwaZulu-Natal province in 2019, which caused extensive damage to buildings and infrastructure. The heavy rainfall and flooding resulted in collapsed bridges and roads, as well as damage to buildings and homes. Concrete structures, including buildings and retaining walls, were also impacted by the floods, as the prolonged exposure to water can weaken and wash away surrounding and base substrates (soil) which in turn may negatively affect the concrete element’s structural integrity. This highlights the need for improved infrastructure planning and design that takes into account the potential impacts of climate change and extreme weather events.
Changes is Precipitation Patterns
Another way in which climate change is affecting concrete structures is through changes in precipitation patterns. As the climate warms, some areas are experiencing more frequent and intense rainfalls and these conditions can have an impact on the durability and longevity of concrete structures.
Care should be taken in higher rainfall areas to prevent ingress of moisture that may affect and deteriorate steel reinforcing which in turn could lead to spalling.
Finally, rising temperatures are also having an impact on cement structures. As the climate warms, concrete is more susceptible to thermal expansion and contraction, which can cause cracking and other forms of damage. In addition, higher temperatures may increase the rate of evaporation, which in turn could lead to plastic shrinkage and or drying shrinkage cracks. Higher temperatures may also accelerate both open and setting times of concrete which in turn, could hamper the finishing process of concrete floors, plaster applications and shuttered applications to name a few.
What can be done?
As the impacts of climate change become more apparent, it’s clear that concrete structures will need to adapt to the changing weather patterns they are exposed to. By using the right cement product and building materials, we can ensure that structures remain durable and resilient in the face of changing environmental conditions.