Ground-bearing slabs, also known as “on-ground” or “slab-on-grade”, are commonly used for ground floors on domestic and some commercial applications. It is an economical and quick construction method for sites that have non-reactive soil and little slope.

For ground-bearing slabs, it is important to design the slab around the type of soil, since some soils such as clay are too dynamic to support a slab consistently across its entire area. This results in cracking and deformation, potentially leading to structural failure of any members attached to the floor, such as wall studs.

Levelling the site before pouring concrete is an important step, as sloping ground will cause the concrete to cure unevenly and will result in differential expansion. In some cases, a naturally sloping site may be levelled simply by removing soil from the uphill site. If a site has a more significant grade, it may be a candidate for the “cut and fill” method, where soil from the higher ground is removed, and the lower ground is built up with fill.

In addition to filling the downhill side, this area of the slab may be supported on concrete piers which extend into the ground. In this case, the fill material is less important structurally as the dead weight of the slab is supported by the piers. However, the fill material is still necessary to support the curing concrete and its reinforcement.

There are two common methods of filling – controlled fill and rolled fill.

  • Controlled fill: Fill material is compacted in several layers by a vibrating plate or roller. Sand fills areas up to around 800 mm deep, and clay may be used to fill areas up to 400 mm deep. However, clay is much more reactive than sand, so it should be used sparingly and carefully. Clay must be moist during compaction to homogenise it.
  • Rolled fill: Fill is repeatedly compacted by an excavator, but this method of compaction is less effective than a vibrator or roller. Thus, the regulations on maximum depth are typically stricter.

Proper curing of ground-bearing concrete is necessary to obtain adequate strength. Since these slabs are inevitably poured on-site (rather than precast as some suspended slabs are), it can be difficult to control conditions to optimize the curing process. This is usually aided by a membrane, either plastic (temporary) or a liquid compound (permanent).

Ground-bearing slabs are usually supplemented with some form of reinforcement, often steel rebar. However, in some cases such as concrete roads, it is acceptable to use an unreinforced slab if it is adequately engineered.

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