We have a steel seawall that is capped by a steel H-beam approx 2ft wide with a "lip" on each side of about 4 inches deep. The metal is approx 1/2in thick. We would like to fill the beam level with concrete to make a walkway. We are concerned about rainwater getting under the concrete and freeze/thaw issues. The beam does not have any drain holes and is basically level -- drilling drain holes is possible but difficult due to thickness of beam. Can we just pour concrete to fill? Do we need to drill drain holes? Should we coat the beam with something before concrete? Should we utilize foam spacers along the "lip" and seal them after concrete hardens?Steel H Beam

  • Fresh or salt water ? it will make a big difference in how fast the steel corrodes. Traditionally the steel would have been galvanized or zinc rich primer applied before installation. I think high build epoxy would be recommended at this point. It will be damp , I doubt that drain holes would make much difference. Corrosion of steel rebar inside concrete is one of the largest infrastructure problems today. Jun 11, 2020 at 20:08
  • I would not be so concerned with freeze thaw cycles with this being a sea wall I live in the Pacific Northwest and we do have freezes that freeze ponds every few years but a hard freeze enough to do damage there would not be a normal issue. If you don’t have to take your boat out just go ahead and fill it. You could use additional zinc primers but the metal has a basic weldable coating. With the beams we embed in concrete we don’t usually do anything.
    – Ed Beal
    Jun 12, 2020 at 14:48
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    Honestly, I'd suggest filling it with some sort of gravel as a decorative edging to the concrete walkway next to it. Yes, the gravel will be kicked out over time and need to be "topped up", but it would eliminate all the issues of such a thin pour in a tiny space. Packing it with polymetric sand after the gravel goes in would help a lot in retaining the gravel.
    – FreeMan
    Jul 13, 2020 at 13:43
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    I’m voting to close this question because it has nothing to do with Home Improvement. Jul 13, 2020 at 14:44
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    It's landscaping related, and we've had plenty of landscape questions.
    – FreeMan
    Jul 13, 2020 at 15:04

1 Answer 1


With a concrete thickness of only about 100mm, it is not easy to get it right — that is pretty close to the limit of what is reasonably possible. Some points to consider:

  • The concrete recipe is critical, and you should hire professionals for this by buying the fresh concrete ready to pour directly into the form. Assuming that's sea water (containing lots of chlorides), the concrete will extremely exposed to freeze/thaw issues and the mix needs to be exactly right. This aspect is not diy-territory in my opinion.

  • Drain holes won't do anything until after the concrete is heavily cracked. Don't bother drilling those.

  • As for coating, you probably won't have to do anything. The optimal steel surface for cast-in steel items is usually no coating at all, so you shouldn't add anything. Whether the existing paint job is suitable for being in contact with fresh concrete is hard to tell, but that is unlikely to be a problem.

  • You will need to reinforce the concrete to limit the cracking. Cracks will allow water and chlorides to penetrate into the concrete, which is what will eventually cause the damage. You can't avoid cracks entirely, but with appropriate reinforcement, you can ensure that the cracks will be small enough to not a problem. The appropriate amount of reinforcement will depend on the exact concrete recipe, so hire an engineer to do the calculation. As an approximate guide, I suggest 12mm bars per 200mm in both directions (must be welded fabric) with a minimum cover of 40mm. The requirements to the concrete cover on the rebars is what makes this thickness problematic. And a minimum cover of 60mm would be a better choice. The cracks will primarily come from shrinkage and thermal movements in the concrete during the hardening phase.

  • You should give the upper face a small slope to the side, so water can run off. 1:20 will be excellent but even 1:50 will increase the lifetime dramatically.

  • It might be better to extend the concrete off the sides of the beam, so the steel and concrete joint doesn't meet on the upper face, as that will expose the joint to water. If you don't do that, I suggest placing 20mm by 20mm spacers at the top of the concrete/steel interface, and later fill that joint with a bitumen based joint sealant. This is in order to prevent water from seeping down along the interface between the two materials.

  • Ideally, you would ensure that the concrete isn't able to slide along the very smooth steel surface (from shrinkage and thermal movements). The standard method would be welding headed shear studs onto the steel beam, but with a thickness of only 100mm, that isn't really possible. Any small steel items welded onto the beam will help, though, for example small 20mm by 20mm by 20mm steel cubes spaced regularly. You should expect to have to remove the coating on the steel locally before welding, as otherwise you may get various toxic fumes.

  • Your suggestion for rebar is, "12mm bars per 200mm in both directions". Does that mean 12mm rebar in a 200 x 200 mm grid, or something else entirely?
    – FreeMan
    Jul 13, 2020 at 13:41
  • Yes, that's it.
    – ingenørd
    Jul 13, 2020 at 16:06
  • You may want to reword that a bit to make it more clear. It took several rereads to suss that out...
    – FreeMan
    Jul 13, 2020 at 16:09

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