Differences in strength between lab-cured concrete and in-situ concrete

October 11, 2023

Concrete is the bedrock of many construction projects. Yet, its efficacy lies in the meticulous process of 'curing'. This procedure involves maintaining the concrete's humidity and temperature for it to attain optimal strength. In this respect, the setting plays a crucial role. 

The two predominant settings being, an actual site (in situ) and a concrete testing lab. Let's explore how these curing conditions can affect the strength development of concrete.

Read more: We make comparisons between cube testing and cylinder testing as well as between using sensors and cube testing.

In Situ Curing vs Lab Curing: A Comparative Overview

The environment where curing takes place significantly influences concrete's strength. The comparison of in situ and lab curing concrete demonstrates this impact.

In Situ Curing

Curing at the construction site, or in situ curing, offers an authentic portrayal of how concrete behaves under actual conditions. Key aspects include:

  • Natural variability: The real-world conditions of temperature and humidity are unpredictable at outdoor sites. Such conditions have direct implications on the hydration process, an essential factor for the concrete's strength development.

  • True-to-life results: The variations faced in situ give a realistic picture of how concrete will perform, capturing the true essence of its strength and resilience.

Lab Curing Concrete

Conversely, a concrete testing lab presents an environment where conditions are closely regulated. Lab curing represents a somewhat artificial environment that might not capture the intricacies of real-world concrete strength development:

  • Controlled environment: Labs provide a controlled atmosphere where temperature and humidity are kept constant. This consistency aids the hydration process, leading to enhanced concrete strength. 

However, this doesn't necessarily reflect the unpredictable conditions concrete might face in the actual world. 

  • Standardised testing: Concrete samples cured in labs provide accurate results about their strength and durability inside the lab environment. It is noteworthy to mention that this might lead to an unrealistic portrayal of their strength and durability in actual conditions.

Read more: We explain three methods for measuring concrete maturity and discuss the benefits and challenges of cube testing.

How Do Curing Conditions Impact Strength Development?

When we compare in situ curing with lab curing concrete, the disparity in control over environmental factors manifests in the concrete's strength development. Here's how:

  • Hydration process: Proper hydration is critical for concrete strength. Inconsistent outdoor conditions can disrupt this process, leading to weaker concrete. Lab environments ensure optimal hydration, thereby maximising concrete strength.
  • Rate of strength development: Concrete cures differently in a controlled lab environment than from the variable conditions in-situ environment. Your pour might cure faster or slower.
  • Long-term durability: Lab-cured concrete generally exhibits higher long-term strength and durability, primarily due to optimal curing conditions.

The Significance of Concrete Testing Labs

A concrete testing lab is paramount in determining the strength and durability of the concrete. Lab curing concrete eliminates variables present at construction sites, ensuring an accurate assessment of the concrete's characteristics. This reliability is why lab tests are often preferred for critical projects where the strength of concrete is of paramount importance.

Important things to consider

While lab-cured concrete generally exhibits higher strength and durability, it doesn't imply that the same lab-tested concrete would react the same once on-site. This is why the lab results might not actually contribute with any useful information about how the concrete will perform in the real world. 

Instead of trying to measure the performance and strength of concrete in lab conditions to analyse its strength characteristics, one can use smart sensors. Sensors will provide results that reflect how the concrete performs in reality.

In conclusion, the curing conditions - whether in situ or in a concrete testing lab - significantly affect the strength development of concrete. Understanding these dynamics can help construction professionals understand how to optimize the construction process to ensure optimal strength and durability for their concrete structures.

Read more: Can you trust the maturity method and we explain AI and concrete maturity sensors.

Frequently asked questions

What gives concrete more strength?

The concrete’s strength is affected by the amount of cement that is included in the concrete mix. Different projects need different levels of strength in its concrete and with smart sensors you can get the data you need to optimise for just the right amount of cement to meet your project timeline without overdosing cement content.

What weakens concrete strength?

If the hydration and curing process is interrupted in any way it will prevent the concrete from reaching its full strength. This can happen if the wet concrete is exposed to too much water or if it dries out too fast.

Why use reinforced concrete instead of steel?

Reinforced concrete has a lot of benefits compared to other building materials. Compared to steel, reinforced concrete is more fireproof, flexible and also very cost effective.

Read more: We explain the Maturity Method, the maturity curve and how sensors improve the measurement of concrete maturity.

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