Structural and non-structural cracks in concrete – know the difference

Structural and non-structural cracks in concrete differ primarily in their causes, implications, and the urgency of their repair.

Structural Cracks:

  1. Causes: These are typically caused by external loads, seismic activities, vibrations, or excessive force exceeding the concrete’s capacity. They can also result from design flaws, foundation settlement, or poor construction practices.
  2. Implications: Structural cracks directly affect the structural integrity of the concrete element. They can compromise the load-bearing capacity, leading to potential failure or collapse if not addressed promptly.
  3. Examples: Flexural cracks in beams, shear cracks in slabs, torsional cracks, and cracks due to foundation settlement.
  4. Repair Urgency: Repairs are usually urgent and essential to restore the structural integrity and safety of the structure.

Non-Structural Cracks:

  1. Causes: These cracks are usually due to factors such as thermal expansion and contraction, plastic shrinkage, drying shrinkage, and minor settlement. They can also result from chemical reactions within the concrete, like alkali-silica reaction.
  2. Implications: Non-structural cracks primarily affect the appearance and durability of the concrete. They may not pose an immediate threat to the structural integrity but can lead to problems like water ingress, corrosion of reinforcement, and reduced durability if left unaddressed.
  3. Examples: Crazing, map cracking, plastic shrinkage cracks, and drying shrinkage cracks.
  4. Repair Urgency: Repairs may not be immediately necessary but should be planned to prevent future damage and maintain the aesthetic and durability of the concrete.

Summary Table:

FeatureStructural CracksNon-Structural Cracks
CausesExternal loads, seismic activity, design flawsThermal changes, plastic and drying shrinkage, minor settlement
ImplicationsCompromise structural integrity, potential collapseAffect appearance, can lead to durability issues
ExamplesFlexural cracks, shear cracks, foundation settlement cracksCrazing, map cracking, shrinkage cracks
Repair UrgencyUrgent and essentialLess urgent, but necessary to prevent future damage