Pretensioning and Post tensioning of concrete: A comparison

June 12, 2023

Concrete structures dominate our modern built environment. Skyscrapers, bridges, tunnels, or just the humble suburban house — they all owe their strength and durability to concrete. However, it isn't just regular concrete that upholds these impressive structures. It's a more robust form, one that's been reinforced using tensioned steel strands or bars, known as tendons. 

This reinforcement technique is the backbone of our contemporary concrete constructions, giving rise to two pivotal methods: pretensioning and post-tensioning.

Read more: We explain modular construction and its advantages as well as its environmental benefits

Why is it important to know the differences?

Understanding the difference between these two methods, their benefits, their processes, and their most suitable applications is vital for anyone venturing into the realm of construction. Whether you're an architect, a civil engineer, a project manager, or a curious mind wanting to understand the skeleton of your surrounding buildings, this comprehensive comparison will unravel the mysteries of pretensioning and post-tensioning. 

With this knowledge, you can make informed decisions that will enhance the safety, efficiency, and aesthetics of your construction projects. So let's dive into the world of

pretensioning and post tensioning of concrete.

Understanding Pretensioning

Pretensioning is a method in which concrete is cast around steel tendons. This form of pre-stressing lends increased strength and durability. The process involves:

  1. Tensioning the steel tendons before casting the concrete.
  2. Allowing the concrete to harden while maintaining the tension.
  3. Transferring the tension to the concrete once it has hardened.

This transfer results in compression, which enhances the overall strength of the structure. This makes pretensioning perfect for construction processes where high tensile strength is required. Commonly, it's applied in the manufacture of beams, panels, and slabs for building and bridge construction.

Read more: Learn more about modular house construction and how it compares to traditional construction.

Appreciating Post-Tensioning

Post-tensioning, on the other hand, is the process of applying tension to the tendons after the concrete has hardened. The "post-tensioning slab method" is popular for its flexibility and adaptability. Here's how it works:

  1. The concrete is cast around a plastic, steel or aluminium duct, containing the tendons.
  2. Once the concrete hardens, tension is applied.
  3. Grout is then injected into the duct to bond the tendon with the concrete.

Post-tensioning allows for thinner slabs and longer span lengths between supports. This method has gained widespread application in large-scale projects, such as skyscrapers, bridges, and sports facilities. Read more about post tensioning in our article.

Construction workers walking across a construction site

Pretensioning and Post Tensioning of Concrete: A Comparative Look

When we compare pretensioning and post tensioning of concrete, it becomes clear that each has its own set of advantages.

Efficiency in Material Use

  1. Pretensioning often requires less concrete and steel due to high initial compression. This can result in cost-effective structures.
  2. Post-tensioning, allows for thinner, more flexible structures which can also lead to material and cost savings.

Structural Benefits

  1. Pretensioned concrete components are often more robust and capable of withstanding higher loads.
  2. Post-tensioned concrete offers greater flexibility, allowing for design creativity, especially in projects with unique architectural requirements.

Construction Site

  1. Pretensioning is typically done off-site, which can reduce construction time.
  2. Post-tensioning is generally performed on-site, allowing for adjustments as the construction progresses.


In essence, both pretensioning and post-tensioning are crucial techniques in modern construction, each providing their own unique benefits. The choice between the two often depends on the specific needs and constraints of a project. Always ensure you evaluate the demands and specifications of your project before selecting a tensioning technique.

The efficient use of pretensioning and post tensioning of concrete can undeniably result in durable, cost-effective, and aesthetically pleasing structures. Both techniques have revolutionised the way we approach the construction of concrete structures, making our buildings safer, longer-lasting, and more visually appealing.

Read more: We explain how much post-tensioning costs.

Common Dangers of Pretensioning and Post Tensioning

There is one very obvious danger with using both pretensioning and post tensioning. Stressing can not only cause concrete to crack, but can also cause bursts and make cables snap. As a result it's really important to stress at exactly the right time, which is exactly once concrete has reached the right compressive strength.

A safe way to overcome this dangerous problem is to use concrete sensors that will tell you the in-situ strength of the concrete. By using data from such wireless sensors you can figure out remotely exactly when it is time to stress.

Frequently asked questions

What is the difference between prestressing and pretensioning?

Prestressing is a method used in structural engineering to counteract the stresses that result from loads applied to concrete structures, improving their resistance to tension. Pretensioning is a specific type of prestressing where steel wires or strands are tensioned before the concrete is cast. Post-tensioning is also a method of prestressing. 

What are the advantages of PT slab?

The main advantages of the post-tensioning slab method are the durability and the fact that it makes it possible to lessen the use of materials. By minimizing the use of construction materials and making the concrete slab more long-lasting we make the concreting process more enrironmentally friendly.

Is post tension slab better than reinforced concrete?

A post-tensioned slab is less likely to crack and break compared to a conventionally reinforced concrete slab. But the choice between them should depend on the specific requirements of the project.

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