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Concrete blocks are made from cast concrete, i.e. Portland cement and aggregate, usually sand and fine gravel for high-density blocks. Lower density blocks may use industrial wastes as an aggregate. Lightweight blocks can also be produced using aerated concrete.
Those that use cinders (fly ash or bottom ash) are called cinder blocks in Canada, the US and New Zealand, breeze blocks (breeze is a synonym of ash) in the UK and New Zealand, hollow blocks in the Philippines and are also known as besser blocks or bricks in Australia. Clinker blocks use clinker as aggregate. In non-technical usage, the terms cinder block and breeze block are often generalized to cover all of these varieties.
Concrete blocks may be produced with hollow centres to reduce weight or improve insulation. The use of blockwork allows structures to be built in the traditional masonry style with layers (or courses) of staggered blocks. Blocks come in many sizes. In the US, with an R-Value of 1.11 the most common nominal size is 16 × 8 × 8 in (410 × 200 × 200 mm); the actual size is usually about 3⁄8 in (9.5 mm) smaller to allow for mortar joints. In Ireland and the UK, blocks are usually 440 × 215 × 100 mm (17.3 × 8.5 × 3.9 in) excluding mortar joints. In New Zealand, blocks are usually 390 × 190 × 190 mm (15.4 × 7.5 × 7.5 in) excluding mortar joints.
Block cores are typically tapered so that the top surface of the block (as laid) has a greater surface on which to spread a mortar bed. There may be two, three or four cores, although two cores are the most common configuration. The presence of a core allows steel reinforcing to be inserted into the assembly, greatly increasing its strength. Reinforced cores are filled with grout to secure the reinforcing in proper relationship to the structure, and to bond the block and reinforcing. The reinforcing is primarily used to impart greater tensile strength to the assembly, improving its ability to resist lateral forces such as wind load and seismic forces.
A variety of specialized shapes exist to allow special construction features. U-shaped blocks or notches allow the construction of bond beams or lintel assemblies, using horizontal reinforcing grouted into place in the cavity. Blocks with a channel on the end, known as "jamb blocks", allow doors to be secured to wall assemblies. Blocks with grooved ends permit the construction of control joints, allowing a filler material to be anchored between the un-mortared block ends. Other features, such as radiused corners known as "bullnoses" may be incorporated. A wide variety of decorative profiles also exist.
Concrete masonry units may be formulated with special aggregates to produce specific colors or textures for finish use. Special textures may be produced by splitting a ribbed or solid two-block unit; such factory-produced units are called "split-rib" or "split-face" blocks. Blocks may be scored by grooves the width of a mortar joint to simulate different block modules (e.g., an 8" x 16" block may be scored in the middle to simulate 8" x 8" masonry), with the grooves filled with mortar and struck to match the true joints.
Concrete block, when built in tandem with concrete columns and tie beams and reinforced with rebar, is a very common building material for the load-bearing walls of buildings, in what is termed "concrete block structure" (CBS) construction. American suburban houses typically employ a concrete foundation and slab with a concrete block wall on the perimeter. Large buildings typically use copious amounts of concrete block; for even larger buildings, concrete block supplements steel I-beams. Tilt-wall construction, however, is replacing CBS for some large structures.
Concrete masonry can be used as a structural element in addition to being used as an architectural element. Ungrouted, partially grouted, and fully grouted walls are the different types of walls allowed. Reinforcement bars can be used both vertically and horizontally inside the CMU to strengthen the wall and results in better structural performance. The cells in which the rebar is placed must be grouted for the bars to bond to the wall. For this reason, high seismic zones typically only allow fully grouted walls in their building codes. The American design code that guides design engineers in using CMU as a structural system is the Masonry Standards Joint Committee's Building Code Requirements & Specification for Masonry Structures (TMS 402/ACI 530/ASCE 5). The compressive strength of concrete masonry units and masonry walls varies from approximately 1,000 psi (7 MPa) to 5,000 psi (34 MPa) based on the type of concrete used to manufacture the unit, stacking orientation, the type of mortar used to build the wall, and other factors.
This gallery shows images of 200 series (190 x 190 x 390 full blocks) modular concrete blockwork used in residential construction in a cyclonic region of Northern Australia. Typically there is a vertical reinforced (N12 [1/2" or #4 U.S.] or N16 [5/8" or #5 U.S.] rebar) concrete core at every corner, alongside each opening and at 600 mm (24 in) centers elsewhere. Bond beams (typically 2/N12 [1/2" or #4 U.S.] rebar) occur continuously around perimeter and over all openings and under windows. Corefill concrete is typically 15 MPa (2,200 psi) compressive strength. For more photos of similar construction see hurricane-proof building.
Head-of-wall building joint.
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