Right-sizing Under-slab Insulation

Structure Magazine, April 2014

Structure Magazine, April 2014

Originally published in Structure Magazine, Structural Economics section, April 2014

Structural Economics:  cost benefits, value engineering, economic analysis, life cycle costing and more…

Applying the Theory of Plates on Elastic Foundations to Save Material Costs.

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A common, simplifying assumption used for specifying polystyrene insulation under concrete slabs results in material costs that are significantly higher than necessary. Using a design equation based on a more rigorous analysis of the design conditions can help avoid over-engineering the insulation and save thousands of dollars on the project.

Rigid foam insulations, such as expanded polystyrene (EPS), have been used successfully under concrete slabs for more than 40 years. Such insulation helps reduce heat loss to the ground in residences, cold storage units, warehouses and other commercial, institutional and industrial structures.

The problem is that designers often do not adequately account for how the concrete slab and underlying subgrade interact. Many designers assume that a concentrated load applied to the slab transfers to the rigid foam subgrade through a triangular load path. This assumption, while not necessarily incorrect, can be very conservative.

Concrete slabs distribute loads in a more even fash- ion, which means that the insulation does not need as high a compressive resistance compared to the typical simplified approach. A more accurate approach to this problem is to use the Modulus of Subgrade Reaction (K) to determine the slab’s deflection and the resultant stress applied to the elastic insulation subgrade. The pressure beneath a given slab under a load can be determined using the following formula, found in the Theory of Plates on Elastic Foundations, as described by Timoshenko and Woinowsky-Krieger:

Pressure on the subgrade = (P/8)√(K/D) Where:

  • P = concentrated load on concrete slab in pounds
  • K = Subgrade reaction modulus of total EPS insulation in pounds per cubic inch (k/t)
  • k = Stiffness of one inch of EPS insulation in pounds per square inch
  • t = EPS insulation thickness in inches
  • D = Eh3 / 12(1-u2)
  • E = Modulus of elasticity of concrete in pounds per square inch (57000√ f’c)
  • f’c = specified concrete compressive strength in pounds per square inch
  • h = Thickness of concrete slab in inches
  • u = Poisson’s ratio for concrete (0.15)

An example illustrates the significant difference in the calculated results.

EPS insulation in an under-slab application

EPS insulation in an under-slab application

Take the case of a warehouse with a 6-inch-thick, 2,500-psi concrete slab on 2 inches of EPS insulation with a rated stiffness of 360 psi for one inch. Forklifts to be used in the building impart 8,000 pounds of force at the wheel, which has a 6-inch by 10-inch tire footprint on the slab. If the designer assumes that this load distributes at a 45-degree angle through the slab, the 8,000 pounds ends up distributed over approximately 396 square inches [(6 + 6 + 6)(6 + 10 + 6)] of the insulation’s surface, for an average pressure of 20.2 psi.

Taking into account the fact that concrete slabs distribute loads more evenly, using the Modulus of Subgrade Reaction method, the pressure on the insulation is actually much lower – approximately 1.85 psi. Since EPS insulation rated for 1.85 psi costs about 50% less than other rigid foam insulations rated for the much higher value of 20.2 psi, using the more precise method reduces insulation costs substantially. In fact, the 20.2 psi value is beyond the elastic range of the EPS material, and long-term creep effects must be taken into account when using that design approach. With:

P = 8000 pounds, h = 6 inches, f’c = 2,500 psi,

E = 57,000√ 2,500 = 2,850,000 psi, u = 0.15,

k = 360 psi for 1-inch EPS

K = 360 psi / 2 inches = 180 pci

D = Eh3/12(1-u2) = 2,850,000 (6)3/12(1–(0.15)2) = 52,480,818 lb-in

Pressure on EPS = (P/8)√(K/D) =

8000/8 √(180 / 52,480,818) = 1.85 psi.

The k value can be found by consulting the insulation manufacturer. One EPS insulation brand available throughout the U.S. has k values ranging from 360 to 1860 psi for one inch of insulation thickness. The specific value depends on the product type selected. Note that increasing the thickness of EPS insulation decreases the overall subgrade modulus.

Using the above method to determine the pressure that a slab transfers to the subgrade allows for proper specification of rigid foam insulation and avoids over-engineering the insulation for compressive strength. In the example application discussed in this article, the simplifying assumption of triangular load transfer through a concrete slab results in a compressive force on the insulation 11 times higher than the result from the more rigorous (but not much more complicated) analysis. Specifying higher compressive resistance insulation than necessary not only is overly conservative for the given design, it also does not improve the insulation’s thermal performance, and the cost to the project is excessive and unnecessary. It is a lose-lose scenario.

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Joe Pasma

Joe Pasma, Insulfoam Technical Manager

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Geofoam Saves Time, Money During Three Projects

Originally posted on Better Roads Magazine

I-80 / I-65 Interchange, Gary, Indiana

I-80 / I-65 Interchange, Gary, Indiana

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has promoted the use of expanded polystyrene (EPS) geofoam as a lightweight embankment soil alternative for a number of years.  In a 2006 report, the agency’s Technical Service Team described the material as a “field-tested, budget-friendly winner.”  Why?  FHWA engineers list the following benefits:

  • Accelerated construction
  • Payroll, transportation and equipment cost savings
  • Reduced labor time for construction
  • Exerts little or no lateral load on retaining structures
  • Easily constructed in limited right-of-way situations
  • Allows application in adverse weather conditions.
Trinidad

Trinidad

The material is approximately 100 times lighter than soil, which save time.  Additionally, a single truck can carry approximately 120 cubic yards of goefoam versus 12 dump truck loads needed for an equivalent volume of earthen fill.  This reduces hauling costs, both in fuel and labor.  Geofoam is easy to install by hand, so it reduces expenses for heavy equipment.

Following is a discussion of tangible benefits derived from geofoam usage in real-world applications such as:

I-80 / I-65 interchange, Gary, Indiana:  FHWA recommended a net-zero load methodology for the roadbed to prevent post-construction settlement.

To reduce the amount of excavation of the high-organic content soils, the contractor, Walsh Construction, used EPS geofoam blocks.  A six-member crew installed 700 cubic yards of geofoam in one week working four- to five-hour days. The geofoam was delivered to the job site on 32 flatbed truckloads, whereas traditional fills would have required more than 400 dump trucks in the highly congested project area leading into and out of metro Chicago.

Highway Interchange, Valsayn, Trinidad:  The project team for an interchange between Trinidad’s Churchill-Roosevelt Highway (CRH) and Uriah Butler Highway (UBH), the island nation’s primary highways, used an EPS geofoam sub-base to solve an engineering challenge and save time in the process.

Highway geometry required placing new lanes adjacent to both sides of an existing fly-over ramp’s support pier. The grade for the lanes required placement of about 10 feet of embankment fill on top of the pier’s pile cap. Engineers determined that traditional fills would have caused unacceptable settlement of the compressive layers located below the fill.

To build the embankment while keeping loads down on the pile cap, Vinci Construction Grands Projets specified EPS geofoam as a lightweight fill, which provided an alternative to building a concrete slab founded on piles to support the load from the road and transfer it away from the pier pile cap. No heavy equipment was needed for the fill placement, as crews were able to install the geofoam blocks by hand.

The geofoam resulted in lower and smoother post-construction differential settlements of the roadway in both the transversal and longitudinal directions. It also eliminated the need for additional geotechnical investigation for potential additional piles. The ability to place the EPS geofoam during the rainy season was crucial to keeping the project on schedule. Crews placed 2,100 cubic yards of EPS geofoam in only 3.5 days.

Lake Cataouatche Pump Station Bridge, New Orleans, Louisiana:  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers used EPS geofoam when it needed to build a service bridge over above-ground outlet pipes at the Lake Cataouatche pump station near New Orleans.

The bridge abutments are over extremely soft soil (compressible peat). A traditional soil embankment would have added substantial load to the underlying soils. To minimize loads on the soft soils, the project team used EPS geofoam under the bridge abutments.

Final thoughts

In addition to being lightweight, EPS geofoam has predictable elastic behavior and will not decompose. Further, unlike other lightweight fills such as shredded tires or wood chips, EPS geofoam blocks are homogenous, which provides uniform load transfer and eliminates differential settlement. All of these factors combine to make the material an ideal choice in many road sub-base applications at the federal, state and local levels.

INSULFOAM GEOFOAM QUESTIONS?

Nico Sutmoller, Insulfoam Geofoam Specialist

Nico Sutmoller, Insulfoam Geofoam Specialist

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