The longterm effects of cold weather on concrete | Converge.io

April 14, 2023

Cold climates can have significant long-term effects on concrete. Understanding these effects is crucial for ensuring the integrity and performance of concrete structures in cold environments. In this article, we will discuss the long-term effects of cold climates on concrete, including the effect of temperature on concrete strength, the effect of cold weather on concrete, and the question of whether concrete will crack in cold weather.

Read more: Learn how to measure the temperature of concrete and the long-term effects of hot climates on concrete

The 4 main long-term effects of cold climate on concrete

Cold climates can have several long-term effects on concrete, such as:

1. Freezing and thawing cycles

When exposed to cold temperatures, the water within the concrete's pore structure can freeze and expand, causing internal pressure that can lead to cracking and scaling. Some ways to address this issue include:

  1. Utilizing air-entraining admixtures to create tiny air bubbles within the concrete, allowing for the expansion of freezing water without causing damage
  2. Ensuring proper curing and sealing to minimize moisture ingress into the concrete

2. Slower strength gain

Cold weather can slow down the hydration process, which is necessary for concrete to gain strength. To ensure adequate strength development in cold weather, consider the following:

  1. Employing proper curing methods, such as insulation or heated enclosures, to maintain appropriate temperatures during the curing process
  2. Utilizing accelerators or other admixtures to speed up the hydration process

3. Carbonation

In cold climates, the combination of low temperatures and high humidity can increase the rate of carbonation, which can lead to a reduction in alkalinity and potential corrosion of reinforcing steel. To mitigate this issue, consider:

  1. Using corrosion-resistant reinforcing steel or applying corrosion-inhibiting coatings
  2. Implementing proper maintenance and inspection practices to identify and address signs of corrosion

4. Increased susceptibility to chemical attack

Cold weather can lead to an increased risk of chemical attack, such as deicing salts penetrating the concrete surface and causing damage. To minimize this risk, consider:

  1. Using a low-permeability concrete mix to limit the ingress of harmful chemicals
  2. Applying a protective sealer or coating to the concrete surface

Read more: Read up on underwater concreting, placing concrete in rainy weather and concreting in humid climates.

Concrete road covered in snow

How to prolong the lifespan of concrete in cold climates

To ensure the longevity and performance of concrete structures in cold climates, it is essential to adopt appropriate measures and techniques. Here are some key strategies for dealing with the effect of cold weather on concrete. 

Mix Design

Choose the right concrete mix to account for the challenges posed by cold temperatures, such as freeze-thaw cycles and slower strength gain. Consider the following when designing the mix:

  1. Incorporate air-entraining admixtures to improve freeze-thaw resistance
  2. Utilize supplementary cementitious materials, such as fly ash or slag, to enhance durability and reduce permeability
  3. Select appropriate aggregates and cementitious materials to minimize the risk of chemical attack

Curing Techniques

Implement proper curing techniques to ensure the strength and durability of concrete in cold weather. This may involve:

  1. Maintaining appropriate temperatures during the curing process using insulation, heated enclosures, or other temperature control methods
  2. Monitoring the concrete's temperature and moisture levels during curing and making adjustments as needed to ensure optimal conditions

Construction Practices

Employ suitable construction practices to enhance the performance of concrete in cold climates, such as:

  1. Scheduling concrete pours during warmer periods of the day or season
  2. Ensuring proper concrete cover over reinforcing steel to provide adequate protection against corrosion and carbonation

Maintenance

Conduct regular inspection and maintenance to preserve the structural integrity of concrete structures in cold climates:

  1. Regularly check the concrete for indications of wear or decay, like cracks, surface flaking, or rust
  2. Quickly resolve any detected problems by filling cracks, fixing damaged sections, or using protective coating where necessary

Read more: We help you figure out what weather is best for concreting and give you our best tips for concreting in hot weather

Frequently asked questions

Does concrete take longer to cure in cold weather?

Yes, concrete takes longer to cure in cold weather because the low temperatures slow down the chemical reactions needed for it to harden.

How do you protect concrete in the winter?

One method to protect concrete in the winter is to cover it up with thermal blankets to seal in the heat that occurs during the hydration process. Learn more about how to protect concrete from both rain and frost and what happens to concrete if it freezes in our articles. 

Does cold weather cause concrete to crack?

Will concrete crack in cold weather? Yes, cold weather can cause concrete to crack due to the freezing and thawing cycles. When water inside the concrete freezes, it expands and creates internal pressure, which may result in cracks or scaling.

Read more: Check out our guide about how to pour concrete in freezing conditions.

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