Practice exam question - slab on grade capillary break
How can you have a capillary break under a slab? The answer they give suggests the slab is hovering in the air. Also could have sworn the Amber Book said you can't have air gaps under a slab... or am I missing something?
In essence it's a vapor barrier, I think the wording is akward but capillary movement equates to water withch translates to a vapor barrier which goes between the under slab insulation and the slab itself in cold climates. Might be a case of trying not to use a word or phrase that doesn't lead you to an answer directly but at the same time making you think about the concepts of what they are asking. Also, there is no air break here, it's just graphichs so you can clearly see what they are trying to show. If you try and draw a vapor barrier in a detail and you don't seperate it from the adjacent solid lines, it will get lost when printed, then reprinted, then copied, ect.
I just want to say; option A is pretty much the only way i've ever physically seen slabs produced. imagine this as a constructability problem as well. usually the plastic barrier is the absolute last thing there; and they fill it with the slab ontop.
That being said; I think you're missing/messing up the term used. "capillary movement should be reduced" - this is done by the gravel. they're basically saying it just needs gravel to separate it from soil. Soil is notoriously wet... it sucks up water and if it's touching anything the water is going to move though it quickly.
And. i absolutely agree with you. a capillary brake is a poor term, they should be using the term weather barrier; water barrier; or waterproofing, or even the term "membrane" is much more "correct" than the term they used. This exam has some pretty serious errors when it comes to terminology and regional use. The writers try to make it the most generic phrasing possible. but it just comes across as unprofessional to me.
I guess the graphic give away would be generally speaking; a broken line represents waterproofing or membrane layers in most graphic conventions. that's what made it pop out to my eyes immediately
Sorry for being late to comment here: but A is pretty much how all slab on grades everywhere are constructed (minus the insulation in warm climates) so it's safe to just memorize this layering and call it a day. This will hold for all conditioned buildings.
(As an aside, there are only two exceptions I can think of, one common and the other very uncommon: (1) Unconditioned garages. These might not be insulated, and they might not have a vapor barrier (poly) or capillary break (crushed stone) under the slab -- garage uses are often considered not worth the trouble. (2) Ice skating rinks. There are a bunch of different ways of designing cold buildings, but if the ice is right over the concrete slab, the poly vapor barrier will need to be *under* the insulation, not over it. But apart from these exceptions, in all other contexts the vapor barrier under a slab will ALWAYS be in direct contact with the underside of the slab. Like I said, it's pretty safe to just memorize the assembly shown in "A".)
Anyway! Where this gets confusing is the terminology. Often people use the terms "vapor barrier" and "capillary break" interchangeably, but they're not quite the same thing. A vapor barrier prevents the transmission of water in the vapor form via molecular diffusion. A capillary break prevents liquid water from wicking through the pores of a material (think of dipping the edge of a paper towel into a cup of water).
In this example (and in real life) we use polyethylene sheeting under slabs. We often (usually) also include a bed of crushed stone under the polyethylene. The polyethylene is both a capillary break AND a vapor barrier. The crushed stone is a capillary break (because the spaces ("pores") between the stones are too big for the wicking effect to occur). Why, then, do we have two capillary breaks under slabs? Couldn't we just specify the poly without the crushed stone and call it a day? Yes! But the crushed stone is not terribly expensive and gives us more forgiveness in the assembly. Plus in addition to being a capillary break, it also acts like a big pad that redistributes water under a slab making it less likely we'll have water problems.
Another part of the question that's a bit confusing is the stated desire to include a "thermal break" under the slab. The insulation *is* a thermal break in that all insulation provides a thermal break, but I've literally never heard it referred to that way. We just call it insulation. The term "thermal break" is usually applied to systems where it's hard to make the insulation continuous like the frames of glazing systems or metal cladding attachments. In these cases we still call the insulation insulation and we call the small spacers or gaskets or "thingies" that provide small interruptions in otherwise continuous attachments "thermal breaks". So a thermally broken storefront glazing system will have little rubber or plastic spacers installed in between the frames separating the inside part of the frame from the outside part of the frame to reduce heat transfer. (Btw: the thermal breaks can be excellent... or not super terrific. Just because a system has them doesn't necessarily make it "good" or "efficient". In other words, sometimes a thermal break can make a glazing system or cladding attachment system a lot better, and sometimes it makes the system only a very little bit better.)
Oh! One more thing: it only looks like there’s an air gap under the slab in A. It’s just the graphic representation. (If there’s ever an intentional air gap in an assembly it will be called out). In reality, the insulation will sit right on the crushed stones, the poly vapor barrier (dashed line) will sit right over the insulation, and the slab will be in direct contact with the poly. In fact, the slab usually sticks to the poly. The question never specifically says the dashed line is poly - it calls it a capillary break (see my comments above) - but with very rare exception, it’s polyethylene. To get these types of slab questions right, you’ll want to know the layering of 99 percent of slab on grade assemblies (which is what’s represented in A, and the warm climate variation is exactly the same layering but without the insulation) and you’ll want to know that the poly is both a vapor barrier and capillary break and the crushed stone is a capillary break, too.
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