Is Bigger Really Better?

Winter 2017

The differences between pavers and slabs aren’t just about size. When it comes to vehicular loads, thickness really matters

by David R. Smith

By

Is Bigger Really Better?

Project owners and designers specify segmental concrete paving slabs due to their unique visual appeal and finishes. Their large format often fits a particular dimensional module for the design of the project, complements the architectural character of adjacent buildings, or enhances the landscape architecture of the site. Some designers understate segmental pavement patterns by using paving slabs with fewer joints. In other situations, designers may mix smaller and larger slab units to create strong visual effects. While most applications are for at-grade or roof deck pedestrian uses, paving slabs are seeing increased use in areas with vehicular traffic. ICPI is engaged in field-testing research to assess the performance of slabs under vehicular loads.

When properly designed and constructed, paving slabs can withstand a limited amount of automobile and truck traffic. Unlike interlocking concrete pavements, slabs offer little to no vertical, horizontal or rotational interlock. Each unit bears applied loads and does not transfer applied loads to neighboring ones. Hence, their application to areas with limited vehicular traffic.

The load-carrying capacity of paving slabs and interlocking concrete pavements is put into perspective by reading ICPI Tech Spec 4 Structural Design of Interlocking Concrete Pavements and ASCE 58-16 Structural Design of Interlocking Concrete Pavement for Municipal Streets and Roadways. Both publications provide base thickness tables for pavements receiving up to 10 million 18,000 lb (80 kN) equivalent single axle loads or ESALs. Now underway, an emerging ICPI Tech Spec on structural design of paving slabs provides designs for up to 75,000 ESALs. This suggests that the structural capacity of paving slabs is less than 1% of that offered by interlocking concrete pavement. This further suggests that paving slabs should be exposed to limited vehicular traffic, and very few trucks per day.

Paving slabs are sometimes mistakenly called pavers. This misnomer has led to applying slabs under inappropriate vehicular applications in a few instances. To reduce confusion, the segmental concrete pavement industry is following other countries where product nomenclature and product standards specifically differentiate pavers from slabs. Figure 2 illustrates the difference.

A practical construction-related difference between concrete pavers and paving slabs is the former generally requires one hand to install a unit and the latter requires at least two hands to lift and place. In reality, most slab installations use clamps or vacuum equipment shown in Figure 3. Most commercial slab applications subject to trucks will be installed on a concrete base. Asphalt is generally not used as a base because it can’t be easily formed into an even surface.

PRODUCT STANDARDS

In the U.S., ASTM C1782 Standard Specification for Utility Segmental Concrete Paving Slabs defines them as having an exposed face area greater than 101 in.2 (0.065 m2) and a length divided by thickness of greater than four. The minimum thickness is 1.2 in. (30 mm), and maximum length and width dimensions are 48 in. (1,220 mm). C1782 was issued by ASTM in 2016. Units having a length divided by thickness of 4 or smaller with a minimum 2 3/8 in. (60 mm) thickness fall under ASTM C936 Standard Specification for Solid Concrete Interlocking Paving Units.

In Canada, Canadian Standards Association or CSA A231.1 Precast Concrete Paving Slabs defines their dimensional envelope with a face area greater than 139.5 in.2 (0.09 m2) and a length divided by thickness of greater than four. The minimum thickness is 1.2 in. (30 mm), and the maximum length and width dimensions are 39.37 in. (1,000 mm). This product standard was first issued by CSA in 1972. Units having a length divided by thickness of four or smaller with a minimum 2 3/8 in. (60 mm) thickness fall under CSA A231.2 Precast Concrete Pavers.

ASTM C1782 requires an average minimum flexural strength of 725 psi (5 MPa) with no individual unit less than 650 psi (4.5 MPa). The CSA standard requires a minimum average of 650 psi (4.5 MPa) with no individual unit less than 580 psi (4.0 MPa). A noteworthy aspect of the flexural strength is doubling the thickness of a paving slab increases the flexural strength by four times. This suggests that larger units may need to increase their thickness in order to withstand vehicular traffic. Some concrete paving slabs may use fibers to increase their flexural strength as well.



Freeze-thaw durability requirements in ASTM C1782 references ASTM C1645 Standard Test Method for Freeze-thaw and De-icing Salt Durability of Solid Concrete Interlocking Paving Units. This test method involves test specimens with a specified dimensional range from the corner of paving slabs. The specimens are immersed in water or a 3% saline solution and subjected up to 49 freeze-thaw cycles. The mass lost from the coupons are measured at 28 and 49 cycles. If no more than an average of 225 grams per square meter of surface area are lost after 28 cycles, the paving slab from which the specimen was cut passes this requirement. If not, the freeze-thaw cycles continue to a maximum of 49. If no more than an average of 500 grams per square meter of surface is lost after 49 cycles, the paving slabs pass this requirement. The lowest temperature in this test is 23° F or -5° C.

In the CSA test, the top of the paving slab is enclosed with a leak-proof compartment and the interior receives a 3% saline solution. See Figure 4. After completing 28 freeze-thaw cycles, the paving slabs pass the CSA requirement if the surface yields no more than an average loss of 300 grams per square meter of the inundated surface area or 500 grams lost for specimens with an architectural finish.

An architectural finish is wearing surface amended with face mix, ground (polished) or shot blasted treatments, formed (to look like stone per Figure 5), hammered and/or flame-treated to provide a more stone-like appearance. If the architectural paving units do not meet the mass lost requirement at 28 cycles, the freeze-thaw cycles continue until 49 cycles are completed. The paving slabs meet the durability requirements in CSA A231.1 when the average loss after 49 cycles does not exceed 800 grams per square meter or 1,200 grams for units with an architectural finish. The lowest temperature in this test method is more severe than C1782, i.e., 5° F or -15° C. 

Dimensional tolerances are similar in ASTM and CSA paving slab standards. Dimensional tolerances are determined from unit dimensions provided by the manufacturer for specific products. Tolerances for length, width and height and for convex and concave warpage are as follows:

  • Length and width: -0.04 and +0.08 in. (–1.0 and +2.0 mm)
  • For units over 24 in. (610 mm), ASTM C1782 allows -0.06 and +0.12 in. (-1.5 and +3 mm)
  • Height: ±0.12 in (±3.0 mm)
  • Concave/convex warpage for units up to and including 18 in. (450 mm) in length or width: ±2.0 mm; units over 18 in. (450 mm): ±3.0 mm

Paving slabs meeting these dimensional tolerances are loosely laid, or can be installed on a sand setting bed (i.e., sand-set) if tolerances are consistent. However, these tolerances are generally not suitable for precision sand-set, bitumen-set or pedestal-set (typically roof) applications. These installation methods require length, width, thickness and warpage tolerances not exceeding 0.06 in. (1.5 mm) than the specified dimensions. In some cases, paving units may require post-production grinding to achieve these tolerances. This treatment is sometimes called gauging. For additional information of bitumen-set applications, read ICPI Tech Spec 20 – Construction of Bituminous-Sand Set Interlocking Concrete Pavement.

Soon to move through the ASTM balloting process is a second paving slab standard. This one is called Standard Specification for Architectural Segmental Concrete Paving Units. The draft has flexural strength and freeze-thaw de-icer durability requirements identical to C1272. This new standard, however, has much closer dimensional tolerances not exceeding 0.06 in. (1.5 mm), making the units suitable for tightly-fitted sand-set applications, bitumen-set applications, and roof installations supported by pedestals. When this product standard is eventually approved by ASTM, there will be two paving slab product standards; one for mostly residential applications and selected commercial applications, and almost exclusively for high-end commercial applications.

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