Aggregate Loading

Aggregate Loading in Nosing Materials of Parking Deck Expansion Joint Systems

So you’ve endured the usual parade of expansion joint manufacturers and their reps through your office.  The purpose of these visits is, of course, to get you to specify or buy their joint systems.  Seeing a difference between systems and sorting out the litany of claims for performance is exhausting.

As you wade through the information, however, one topic that should come up (and raise it if it doesn’t) is aggregate loading.

As you already know, the rubber extrusion of these “membrane/nosing” systems is locked into the blockout at the concrete slab edge with a nosing material.  The nosing material is usually a mix of a flexible resin and an aggregate filler.

The aggregate serves two desirable functions:

  1. it improves the compressive strength of the nosing material, and
  2. it extends the yield of the resin.
  1. Compressive strength is necessary to resist the effects of suddenly applied vehicle loads especially during braking, turning, and under acceleration from a standstill.
  2. Extending the yield is good for the customer because it brings the cost of the system down by thinning out the very-expensive resin.  Extending the yield as much as possible is a hidden temptation for manufacturers because it translates into lower cost and higher profit.

Succumbing to the temptation to over-extend resins with aggregate has disastrous effects on performance of the nosing material in this application.

The Negative Effects of Heavy Aggregate Loading are:

  1. Brittleness
  2. Propagation of snow plow impact into bond lines causing extensive failure
  3. Inability of material to handle concrete flexing–resulting in cracking and leaking
  4. Inability of material to handle differential expansion–resulting in cracking and leaking
  5. Cracking over time caused by normal traffic–resulting in leaking
  6. Installation difficulties including: long mix times, difficulty achieving proper aggregate wetting-out, labor-intensive troweling, and rough appearance.

Some suppliers are loading as much as one part resin to 4 1/2 and even SIX parts aggregate.  Not only this, but the choice of large mesh aggregate makes the problem worse.  EMSEAL chooses to supply a washed, dried, dust-free, fine (30 mesh) sand for compressive strength, combined with a chopped glass fiber (for extension without sacrificing flexibility).  As you can imagine, this is more costly to us than an aggregate of blended mesh sands and inexpensive gravel, but the absence of call backs easily justifies the choice.

You may have heard differing interpretations of EMSEAL’s claims of what constitutes “conservative aggregate loading”.  You may also have been told that EMSEAL is vague about its loading ratios.  If you read our literature, however, you will see that we clearly state our aggregate loading by volume AND weight so as to avoid confusion.  Here’s what our guide spec for our Thermaflex systems say:

Ratio by Weight of  Liquid Resin to Aggregate | Not to Exceed 1:1.6
Ratio by Volume of Liquid Resin to Aggregate | Not to Exceed 1: 1.3

Take your pick.  Either way, if your supplier is giving you more than two parts aggregate to one part resin you are sacrificing a balance of hardness, strength, flexibility and durability that has set the standard for cold-applied nosing material over 15 years of supply.

You may also have heard that, in the opinion of others, EMSEAL’s nosing material is “too soft”.  Once again we would point to the fact that over 25 years and hundreds of thousands of feet of successful installation, “too soft” has never caused a problem with performance.

Compressive Strength

In response to this article you may also have heard that the heavily aggregate loaded resins of others feature compressive strengths that are nearly three times that of EMSEAL’s, or that the excessive loading is desirable to achieve coefficients of expansion similar to that of concrete.

Firstly, these comments validate the fact that the materials are excessively loaded–the more sand you add the higher the compressive strength, the more sand you add the closer the coefficient of expansion of the material is to concrete.  The coefficient of expansion argument is irrelevant as the flexibility imparted by a proper balance of physical properties will easily handle the longitudinal expansion of the concrete along a deck edge.

Secondly, the admission of heavy loading through excessively high compression strength values illustrates the failure to achieve balance in hardness, flexibility and strength.   This balance is necessary to handle the forces and wear of expected traffic while also being forgiving of more rigorous activities.  If compressive strength and thermal coefficient of expansion were the deciding physicals in the successful nosing material performance then why not simply use concrete to lock the expansion joint down?  The answer is that concrete, like excessively loaded nosing resin, is too brittle and lacks the balance of physicals needed in the application.

A nosing material with say 2000 psi compressive strength readings may withstand the localized impact of a ball drop test, but it is unlikely to be forgiving of errant snow-plow hits.  While it is not expected that any supplier warrant materials against snow-plow activity that violates National Parking Association standards, we do live in a real world.  The occasional hit of a non-rubber tipped blade is likely.  When this occurs the conservatively-loaded nosing material will, through its lower compressive strength, absorb the shock; and as a consequence of its “softness” and strength shave away slightly at the point of impact if necessary.  This means that the shock is not propagated to the bondline and that watertightness is preserved.   By contrast, field evidence shows that high-compressive strength materials will shatter, crack and shock the bondline over an area considerably in excess of the point of impact.

For a company like EMSEAL that has supplied the same conservatively-loaded nosing resin for more than 25 years, the discussion of aggregate loading is easy.  This track record of success is matched only by that of others in earlier times who, while still supplying their proven hot-applied nosing, boasted decades of justifiable successful performance. As worker health and safety concerns posed by hot-applied systems pushed the pursuit of a reliable cold-applied system and for others who are new to the game with “me too” products, or who are riding on the laurels of previous employers, or who have changed their formulas as often as three times in the last 8 years, this conversation is more difficult.

Many specifiers of parking deck systems have a minimum 5-year proving period for the acceptance of new products.  EMSEAL has always respected this timeframe and proved ourselves worthy of acceptance into the specifications of these firms over time.  These specifiers would serve their clients well to remove those from their specs who have not met this proving period with their materials, or who have changed their formulas inside this timeframe.

Thank you for your consideration and continued support of EMSEAL’s products.  As we move forward, one satisfied building owner at a time, we find validation in our shared approach and in the words of a nineteenth century observer of society and the construction arts, John Ruskin:

“It is unwise to pay too much, but it’s worse to pay too little.  When you pay too much you lose a little money—that is all.  When you pay too little you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the things it was bought to do.  The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot.  It can’t be done.  If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run, and if you do that you will have enough to pay for something better.”

Effects of Aggregate Loading

Heavily Loaded: A sample of heavily loaded resin shows the abundance of aggregate. This makes the nosing material very dry, very hard, very brittle, and very likely to fail under snow-plow impact, deflection of the deck, and differential expansion in relation to the concrete and/or simply as a consequence of normal traffic over time.

When snow plows hit heavily-aggregate-loaded nosings they shatter and send the shock into the adjacent nosing resulting in widespread damage.

Conservatively Loaded: A sample of lightly loaded resin shows a good balance of aggregates and resin. The result is sufficient compressive strength to resist plow impact, and withstand traffic rigors, while not sacrificing flexibility.

When snow plows hit conservatively loaded nosing, it shaves locally, dissipates the shock, and leaves the joint functional and watertight.

Inspection in June, 2004 of 8-year old Thermaflex nosing material at Ronald Reagan International Airport, Middle/North parking garage, shows localized shaving of nosing material to the right of the leading edge of the tire. Caused by errrant snow-plowing the impact scarring is superficial and repairable and the joint remains watertight.

Within one winter of installation, heavily-aggregate loaded nosing showed evidence of lack of forgiveness to errant snow-plow activity. Shock propagation through the rigid nosing material caused bond-line failure far beyond the point of impact and in addition caused severe damage to the punched flanges of the sealing extrusion.

Link to Parking Deck Joint Selection Guide