Looking for dry and safe structures? Waterproof your concrete!

Posted by Raphael Breiner - 22 November, 2019

Concrete is the number one building material in the world because it is strong, durable, and can provide a safe and comfortable environment in which to live and work. Many structures, such as our homes and offices, have concrete as the foundation, floor, and wall elements. Over their lifetime, these elements have the potential to be exposed to rain or groundwater. Because concrete is absorptive, porous, and susceptible to cracking, any water that penetrates through concrete acts as a carrier for deleterious materials that can lead to premature deterioration, thus shortening a structure’s service life. In addition, the living environment can be compromised by water penetration which can cause damage to its contents, and lead to high humidity levels, mold, and mildew, affecting the well-being and comfort of the inhabitants.

How can we protect concrete structures from water damage? Master Builders Solutions offers various solutions to help keep structures dry and safe.

Managing water infiltration in concrete

After the concrete is placed, the first line of defense against water infiltration above grade is to divert rainwater away from structures by sloping the finished-grade or abutting pavement away from the structure.

Additionally, the use of externally-applied coatings or membranes below grade and using drain boards against the outer side of poured concrete or block walls can be utilized in combination with appropriate drain tile, and vapor barriers beneath concrete floors to effectively repel and divert unwanted water into swales, ravines, or storm sewers.

Preventing water infiltration with a good concrete mixture

Typically, good quality, uncracked concrete will not permit the passage of water. Therefore, it is important to start with a good quality concrete mixture that has a low water content (e.g. water/cement ratio < 0.55) and a minimum compressive strength of 30 MPa. The permeability of concrete can be reduced further to enhance its water tightness, that is, its "waterproofing" performance, as discussed below.


Concrete with "watertight" performance can be obtained by:

  • reducing the total amount of water used in the mixture
  • using supplementary cementitious materials (SCM) such as fly ash, slag cement, natural pozzolans (calcined clay), high-reactive metakaolin, and silica fume
  • adding integral waterproofing admixture


Working with low water-content concrete

To facilitate concrete placement, consolidation, and finishing in concretes with relatively low water content, water-reducing admixtures may be required. Master Builders Solutions offers a wide range of water-reducing admixtures, including mid-range water-reducing admixtures like MasterPolyheed and high-range water-reducing admixtures like MasterGlenium or MasterEase. Fly ash, slag cement and natural pozzolans are cost-effective SCMs that can be used to reduce concrete permeability. However, their availability may be limited in some areas. High-reactive metakaolin and silica fume (MasterLife MS products) also provide significant reductions in permeability, thus are routinely chosen for enhancing the overall durability of concrete.

Crystalline capillary technology to prevent water infiltration

To further address water infiltration, integral waterproofing admixtures, typically crystalline capillary-based such as MasterLife WP 1000, are available. Crystalline capillary admixtures react in concrete in the presence of moisture to form insoluble crystalline products that fill fine pores and help to seal hairline cracks. Their ability to seal hairline cracks has led to increased acceptance and their widespread use in various concrete applications.

Preventing drying shrinkage that can cause concrete to crack

An often-overlooked factor is that even high-quality concrete, can crack and have widths beyond the narrow hairline cracks that crystalline capillary admixtures can help seal, and thus allow water penetration and leakage if exposed to water. A major cause of concrete cracking is shrinkage. To minimize cracking, Master Builders Solutions recommends the use of either a shrinkage-reducing admixture of the MasterLife SRA 900 series or an expansion agent like MasterLife SRA 150, depending on the application.

Combination of external and integral solutions

Cracking can also occur if other potential durability issues, including corrosion of steel reinforcement, are not addressed. In steel-reinforced structures exposed to chlorides in service, the use of a corrosion-inhibiting admixture of the MasterLife CI series is recommended to minimize corrosion cracking potential.

There are multiple options to consider for waterproofing concrete structures, each option has performance limitations. When designing and building a watertight concrete structure, the most effective waterproofing strategy is to use a combination of external water-repelling barriers, integral waterproofing of the concrete with an appropriate admixture solution, and proper drainage for water. This systems approach will help ensure a dry, comfortable structure and avoid inevitable, time-consuming, and costly options to remedy leakages after the fact.

Topics: Expert Insights


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