Why and When to Use Reinforcement in Concrete Projects: A Complete Guide

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Concrete is a remarkable building material, known for its durability and versatility as a foundation to any building type. However, despite its many strengths, concrete does have a significant limitation: it is strong in compression but weak in tension. To counter this limitation, concrete is often reinforced with materials that are strong in tension, most commonly steel. This reinforcement lends additional strength and flexibility, making the concrete much more versatile and durable. But when should you use reinforced concrete, and why? Let’s dive in.

Why Reinforce Concrete?

Improved Tensile Strength

The most immediate benefit of reinforcing concrete is improved tensile strength. Steel reinforcement provides concrete with the flexibility to stretch without breaking, allowing it to withstand forces and conditions that would otherwise cause it to crack or fail.

Increased Load-Bearing Capacity

Reinforced concrete can carry heavier loads than plain concrete, making it ideal for structures that are subject to high stresses, like concrete bases

Enhanced Durability

Reinforcement can significantly extend the lifespan of a concrete structure. It not only makes the concrete stronger but also makes it more resilient to environmental factors like weather conditions and chemical attacks, heave and movement in the sub-base.

Reduced Thickness

Because reinforced concrete is stronger, the structural elements can often be thinner, resulting in material cost savings.

Flexibility in Design

The added strength from reinforcement allows for more ambitious and flexible architectural designs, enabling structures that would not be possible with plain concrete. This probably doesn’t affect concrete bases, but worthy of note.

Types of Reinforcement

Steel Bars (Rebar)

This is the most common form of reinforcement and is used in a variety of applications from building foundations to motorway bridges.


Wire mesh is often used in concrete slabs, and other flat structures where the primary concern is cracking due to temperature changes or settling. The one downside to mesh is that it is cumbersome to transport, handle and work with.


Fibres made from materials like glass, steel, or synthetic compounds can be mixed into the concrete to provide reinforcement. This is particularly useful for applications such as concrete bases and driveways, but is generally not as strong as traditional steel reinforcement mesh – however it is still extremely strong enough for typical domestic and light commercial uses.

When to Use Reinforced Concrete

Structural Elements

Any significant structural element that is subject to stresses, such as beams, columns, and slabs, should be reinforced to ensure they can safely bear the loads imposed upon them, however lets focus on concrete bases.

Slabs and Driveways

It’s hard to think of a use case where reinforcement could have negative impact on a concrete base. In almost all circumstances, it is advisable to introduce some form of reinforcement, and fibre is generally the ‘go-to’ choice of most ground-workers. Fibres are introduced at the concrete mixing stage and have little to no effect on the way the concrete is poured or laid.

Cost of Materials

The cost of reinforcement can differ depending on the materials used and the quantity of reinforcement required for the project. Generally, fibre reinforcement will add around 10% to the cost of the ready-mixed concrete – a small price to pay for the benefits of the product.

Proper Installation

Improperly installed reinforcement can compromise the structural integrity of the concrete. Rebar and mesh need to be supported so that the concrete encapsulates the steelwork entirely, otherwise failure or cracking of the concrete may occur down the line if the steel starts to swell due to rusting. Fibre however, doesn’t have these associated risks, and can be considered as an additive to the concrete mix.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I Add Reinforcement to Existing Concrete?

Reinforcement is generally added when the concrete is being poured. Adding reinforcement to existing concrete structures is possible but complex and often involves structural assessments and specialized techniques.

Is Reinforced Concrete Maintenance-Free?

While it’s more durable, reinforced concrete is not entirely maintenance-free in mesh or rebar form. It should be regularly inspected for signs of wear or damage, especially in environments that can lead to corrosion of the steel reinforcement. Fibre doesn’t carry these risks.


Reinforced concrete offers a range of benefits that make it the material of choice for many construction projects. From increased tensile strength to greater load-bearing capacities and improved durability, the advantages are clear. However, proper material selection and installation are crucial for maximizing these benefits.

Whether you are building a simple garden shed or laying a driveway, understanding when and why to use reinforced concrete can make a significant difference in the longevity, safety, and success of your project. So, the next time you’re involved in a concrete project, consider whether reinforcement could be beneficial. Chances are, it will be.

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