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What are Expansion Joints?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated: May 17, 2024

Expansion joints are devices that are used to allow for the heat-induced expansion and reduction that takes place in various states of weather. They are often used in the construction of bridges and sidewalks. The joints proper may be something as simple as a caulk filled area that will give without coming open during climate changes, or some type of interlocking metal device that allows the teeth in the joint to move in response to changes in temperature and humidity levels. Expansion joints are usually placed at strategic points in the construction, making it possible for the sections to expand and contract slightly without weakening the overall structure.

Along with use in sections of sidewalks and bridges, expansion joints also are used with railway tracks. As with bridges, the joints are placed at key locations along the tracks and allow the metal tracks to undergo contraction and expansion as the weather changes. The end result is that the tracks remain intact and aligned properly. Using these types of joints for railway tracks helps to minimize the expense of maintenance of railways, allowing railroads to focus on other areas of operation.

In a like manner, expansion joints also are helpful with piping systems. The ability to expand and contract as climate conditions move from hot to cold helps to ensure that the system remains functional, even in extreme weather conditions.

The concept of expansion joints is utilized in many different types of construction. Even walls composed of construction materials like brick or concrete blocks are routinely outfitted with these joints today. This approach can help minimize cracking in the veneer of the wall, much in the same way that the inclusion of expansion joints between sections of a sidewalk help to cut down on cracks by providing room for the materials to expand and contract.

There is no doubt that the inclusion of expansion joints in construction and plumbing systems can make a huge difference in the life of the many different building designs. By providing a simple means of allowing room for natural expansion and contraction of the materials, the pressure on the overall structure is reduced. With less incidence of cracking or leakage, these joints more than pay for themselves in a short period of time.

About Mechanics is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including About Mechanics, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By Acolyte — On Jun 02, 2011

@anon153386 - I found some pics and that stuff does look good but isn't it the same as caulk? Maybe just specialized for outdoors?

By anon153386 — On Feb 17, 2011

Then there's driveway expansion joint products like Gap Armour, the Stronger Driveway-Gap Filler. Commercial grade but looks amazing in your driveways and sidewalks.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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