How to Place Top & Bottom Reinforcement in Footings: Everything You Need to Know

Footing rebar placement
Footing rebar placement
Footing rebar placement | img src @cept university

How to Place Top & Bottom Reinforcement in Footings: Everything You Need to Know


When it comes to constructing concrete footings for any structure, the placement of top and bottom reinforcement is crucial for ensuring the strength and stability of the foundation. Properly placed reinforcement helps to prevent shifting and cracking caused by temperature changes and ground forces. In this comprehensive guide, we will cover everything you need to know about placing top and bottom reinforcement in footings to achieve the ultimate efficiency of your construction project.


Understanding the Importance of Concrete Footing Reinforcement

Before diving into the specifics of placing top and bottom reinforcement in footings, it’s important to understand why reinforcement is necessary in the first place. While concrete is an excellent material for compression strength, it is not as strong when subjected to forces that pull or shift, such as the movement of the earth. By reinforcing concrete footings with steel bars, also known as reinforcement or rebar for short, you can counteract the effects of these forces and ensure the stability and longevity of the structure being supported by the footings. This is because steel bars are stronger in resisting tensile forces than concrete.

Types of Rebar and Their Uses

Rebar comes in various shapes, sizes, and coatings to accommodate different types of concrete forms and reinforcement needs. The most common types of rebar used in footings are steel bars and steel mesh. Steel bars are typically used to provide vertical reinforcement, while steel mesh, resembling a fence, is used to reinforce concrete flooring. It’s important to choose the appropriate type of rebar based on the specific requirements of your construction project.

In addition to different shapes, rebar also comes with various coatings. Smooth rebar is not ideal for concrete reinforcement as it does not bond well with the material and can slip. Most rebars available have dimples or ribs, which provide better adhesion to concrete. Coatings such as epoxy, galvanized, and stainless steel are also available, each offering different levels of corrosion resistance and durability.

Rebar sizes are determined by the diameter of the rod, with each size numbered in increments of 1/8 inch. For example, #2 rebar has a diameter of 1/4 inch, #3 rebar has a diameter of 3/8 inch, and so on. The most commonly used rebar sizes for home construction projects are #3, #4, and #5.

Understanding Concrete Cover Requirements

Concrete cover refers to the thickness or amount of concrete placed between the reinforcing steel and the surface of the concrete member. It plays a critical role in protecting the rebar from corrosion and ensuring proper bonding between the steel and concrete. The American Concrete Institute (ACI) provides guidelines for minimum concrete cover requirements based on the specific conditions of the structure.

For concrete footings exposed to earth, a minimum concrete cover of 3 inches (i.e. 76mm) ( is typically required. If the concrete is exposed to weather or earth, but not in direct contact with the ground, the cover requirements may vary depending on the size of the rebar. For example, #6 bars and larger require a minimum cover of 2 inches, while #5 bars or smaller require a cover of 1 1/2 inches. In cases where the concrete is not exposed to weather or in contact with the ground, such as slabs, walls, and joists, the minimum cover can be as low as 1/2 inch for #14 and #18 bars.

It’s important to adhere to these minimum cover requirements to ensure the durability and structural integrity of the footings. Failure to provide adequate cover can lead to corrosion of the rebar and premature failure of the concrete.

Placement of Rebars in Footings

Proper placement of rebars in footings is essential for maximizing the load-carrying capacity of the structure and preventing structural failures. The general rule is to place the reinforcement at the tension side, which is typically the bottom of the footing. In square footings, rebars are uniformly placed in both directions, adhering to the spacing requirements specified by the ACI code, which typically limits the spacing to not more than 18 inches.

In rectangular footings, the placement of rebars in the long direction is also uniform, but the spacing may differ in the short direction. The ACI code requires a certain portion of the reinforcement in the short direction to be placed within a band equal to the width of the footing in that direction. The distribution ratio of length to the short side is calculated based on the aspect ratio of the footing.

It’s crucial to ensure the proper placement of rebars in footings to achieve the desired load-carrying capacity. Any deviation from the specified placement, such as lowering the top bars or raising the bottom bars by more than the allowed tolerance, can significantly reduce the footing’s strength.

Reinforcement Supports and Their Importance

Reinforcement in footings should never be placed directly in the soil or hard ground, as it is susceptible to corrosion. Additionally, placing rebars above the layer of fresh concrete and then pouring more concrete is also not acceptable, as it can cause the rebar to shift or change position. To ensure proper placement and support of the reinforcement, various types of rebar supports are used.

Bar supports, available in different sizes and materials such as steel wire, precast concrete, or plastic, are used to hold the reinforcing bars in place and maintain the required depth of cover. These supports, commonly referred to as chairs, come in various heights to accommodate specific reinforcing bar sizes and positions. It’s important to use appropriate bar supports to prevent the rebar from sagging or touching the ground during the concrete pouring process.

Proper Tying of Reinforcement

Tying the reinforcement is a crucial step in the construction process to secure the rebars in their designated positions and prevent displacement during concrete placement. Tie wire, typically made of black, soft, annealed wire, is used to tie the rebars together. The gauge of the tie wire may vary depending on the weight and size of the reinforcement.

When tying the rebars, it’s not necessary to tie every intersection. Tying every fourth or fifth intersection is generally sufficient to maintain the proper position of the rebar. Care must be taken to keep the ends of the tie wire away from the surface of the concrete, as they can rust and compromise the integrity of the structure.

Different tying techniques can be used depending on the situation and placement of the rebar. These techniques include snap ties, wrap and snap ties, saddle ties, wrap and saddle ties, and figure-eight ties. Each technique serves a specific purpose and ensures the secure fastening of the reinforcement.

Key Considerations for Placing Reinforcement in Footings

To ensure the successful placement of reinforcement in footings, there are several key considerations to keep in mind:

  1. Properly calculate the required amount of reinforcement based on the structural design and load requirements of the footings.
  2. Adhere to the minimum concrete cover requirements specified by the ACI code to protect the rebar from corrosion and ensure proper bonding.
  3. Follow the guidelines for reinforcement placement, spacing, and distribution ratios provided by the ACI code.
  4. Use appropriate bar supports to maintain the required depth of cover and prevent sagging or displacement of the reinforcement.
  5. Securely tie the rebars together using the appropriate tying technique and gauge of tie wire.
  6. Regularly inspect the placement of reinforcement during the construction process to ensure compliance with the design specifications and code requirements.

By carefully considering these factors and following best practices, you can achieve optimal efficiency and structural integrity in your concrete footings.


Placing top and bottom reinforcement in footings is a critical step in the construction process to ensure the stability and strength of the foundation. By understanding the importance of reinforcement, adhering to concrete cover requirements, properly placing rebars, using appropriate supports, and securely tying the reinforcement, you can achieve the desired load-carrying capacity and durability of your footings. Always consult the ACI code, BS code, Eurocode and/or other codes appropriate to your region and follow the guidelines specific to your construction project to ensure compliance and structural integrity.


Remember, the proper placement of reinforcement in footings is not only essential for the success of your construction project but also for the safety and longevity of the structures you build. So take the time to plan, calculate, and execute the placement of top and bottom reinforcement with precision and care.


Sunday Adoga

Sunday Adoga is a civil engineer, musician, producer, blogger, content creator and many more. He wants to use his God given talents for the transformation of the world in his own little way. For sponsorship, partnership, donations, structural & architectural designs, constructions and other business related information, feel free to reach out to him through the contact page.

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