How to Avoid Post-Tensioning Stressing Pockets Problems

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1. TN Grout Pocket

For post-tensioned (PT) concrete structures with single strand unbonded tendons, protection of the exposed stressing end of the tendons can become a significant maintenance item, sometimes within a few years after original construction. The anchorages at the stressing end of the tendons are located in recessed pockets, typically at exposed slab edges or beam ends. Encapsulated PT systems include grease caps that fit over the tendon tails at the anchorages to form a tight seal. During new construction, the pockets are typically filled with a trowel-applied non-shrink grout that is nonmetallic and chloride-free, or precast PT plugs are used. The trowel-applied patches are prone to cracking at their perimeter and debonding from the pocket.

The contributing factors to a patch failure: pocket surface contamination and lack of surface preparation; poor mixing and application techniques of patch materials; incomplete filling of pockets; and excessive shrinkage due to inappropriate curing techniques and/or use of inferior shrinkage-prone repair materials. Incomplete filling of pockets can also occur if the tendon tail is not cut sufficiently short in the pocket to properly seat the grease cap onto the tendon. As a result of these failures, the de-bonded patches can loosen and become a potential falling debris hazard. Further, there is an increased risk for tendon corrosion due to moisture leaching into the pocket, particularly if the grease cap was not fully seated or was neglected to be installed at all.

It is very important to seal the PT stressing pockets as soon as possible after the stressing records have been approved to minimize the risk of any possible corrosion. The most effective way to manage deterioration of a structure is to keep up with its maintenance. This includes practices to limit moisture and ensure adequate drainage and waterproofing by protecting expansion joints and seals. To add longevity to the stressing pockets, you could apply a waterproofing coating over and around the stressing pockets after the grout has cured to better protect the system. This would need to be done after the grout has fully cured.

Replacing deteriorated grout or PT plugs and implementing protocols to prevent mechanical damage to tendons prolongs the durability of the structure. Just like your car needs regular maintenance and oil changes, your building will need to have regular inspections and maintenance as well.


New Construction: How to Properly Cut the Tail of a Post-Tension Tendon and Finish the Pocket to Prevent Damage and Corrosion

The Post-Tensioning Institute (PTI) specifies three steps in this process:

1.) Cutting the Tendon Tail

    1. Cut the tendon tails within 1 working day after acceptance of stressing records by the Engineer of Record (EOR). The strand tails are to project beyond the wedges no less than 0.50 in., no more than 0.75 in., or as specified by the PT supplier to accommodate proper seating of the encapsulation caps.
    2. Ways to cut the cable:
      • Oxyacetylene Torch
      • Abrasive Cutting Wheel
      • Pocket Shear
      • Plasma Cutter
    3. A qualified inspector shall verify that tendon tail cutting was completed within the specified time frame and that tendon tail lengths are within specified tolerances.


2.) Installing the Encapsulation Cap

    1. Install the encapsulation cap as soon as practical but not to exceed 8 hours after cutting off tendon tails. (Do not install grease cap when the strand end is still hot.)
    2. The encapsulation cap shall be filled with an approved PT coating material. Installation of the encapsulation cap within the prescribed period of time shall be inspected by a qualified inspector.


3.1) Grouting Wedge Pockets

    1. Fill the stressing pocket with nonmetallic, nonshrink grout within 1 day after tendon tail cutting. The patch material shall be a high-quality premixed, cementitious, chloride-free nonmetallic, nonshrink grout, mixed with limited amount of water per manufacturers’ recommendation for use as repair material. The material shall be submitted to the EOR for review and approval prior to use.
    2. The patch material shall not be installed until the stressing pocket has been cleaned with a wire brush or similar to ensure the proper bond of the patch material; a bonding agent may be applied.
    3. The patch material shall be suitably packed into the stressing pocket and struck-off flush with the outer face of the member.
    4. Installation of the nonmetallic, nonshrink grout within the prescribed period of time shall be inspected by a qualified inspector.
    5. The inspector shall submit a report to the EOR containing data on the three steps of the finishing operation: 1) cutting the tendon tail; 2) installing the encapsulation cap; and 3) filling the stressing pocket.


3.2) If Using PT Plugs Instead of Grout

    1. Use a reaming tool to clean the inside pocket. Drill out the hole until reamer is flush with the slab edge. Do not use a high-speed drill. Start drill before entering the pocket to prevent drill from jamming.
    2. Blow out hole to remove all debris.
    3. Install grease cap.
    4. Use PT plug checker to ensure the plug will clear the grease cap and sit flush with the slab edge.
    5. Using a high-strength, non-sag, 2-part epoxy to dispense enough epoxy to cover several holes. (You will use about .5 oz per plug.) Mix together with a brush and apply a liberal amount to the side of the PT plug.
    6. Insert PT plug into pocket.
    7. Thoroughly coat the face of PT plug and surrounding area with the epoxy to finish the seal.


Repairing a Post-Tension Stressing Pocket

Once you have identified a pocket that needs repair, typically by a visual inspection or surface sounding (tapping a hammer on the concrete and checking for voids. A void will have a hollower sound to it) you can proceed with the guidelines for repairing the stressing pockets.

  1. Chip out and remove existing grout and grease cap from the stress pocket. Concrete inside pocket will need to be roughened up in order for the new grout to form a bond to the old grout. You can achieve this by using a Dremel tool or stiff wire brush.
  2. Clean stress pocket. Stressing pockets must be free from any grease, form release agents, dirt, loose concrete, or any deleterious material. Blow or vacuum out the concrete dust and debris. A bonding agent may be applied for better adhesion.
  3. Measure strand tail and cut if too long. The tail should be no longer than 3/4” from the end of the wedge so the grease cap will fit securely on and not be in the way of a good seal with the grout.
  4. Install new grease cap to seal the strand end. The grease cap protects the strand from water intrusion.
  5. Grout stress pocket with the appropriate grout and smooth flush with surface edge ensuring there are no air pockets and voids.
  6. After grout has fully cured you can apply a waterproofing over the area to improve the durability of the repair.


Repair grouts are designed specifically for filling concrete voids in vertical and overhead applications and are suitable for filling single-strand stressing pockets of PT tendons. It is very important to follow the manufacturer’s mixing recommendations; adding too much or too little water will weaken the mixture, and it will not be able to withstand the elements as it was intended.

In conclusion, regular inspections and maintenance are essential to manage the deterioration of a structure. This includes practices to limit moisture and ensure adequate drainage and waterproofing by protecting expansion joints and seals. By following these guidelines, PT stressing pocket problems can be minimized.

Further Reading

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Rick Thompson CEO

Rick Thompson has over 40 years of post-tensioning experience. He runs a variety of projects while efficiently using the latest construction methods to increase probability, quality, and service for your project.

He has extensive experience in post-tensioning and is considered a leading authority on post-tensioning procedures. He is highly skilled in dealing effectively with a wide range of projects, working under high pressure, and defining objectives, assessing requirements, and resolving problems.

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John Pagano Senior Estimator & Project Manager

John was a structural carpenter for 22 years before moving into the post-tensioning industry in 2005 to work as an estimator for Rick Thompson. With skilled guidance, he acquired the skills and knowledge to work with clients and guide them through the supply process for many successful commercial projects.

He was later invited to join a new structural steel firm where he worked as a construction manager then fabrication shop engineer. In 2018, he moved over to Post Tensioning Solutions to work side-by-side again with his mentor, Rick Thompson.

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