The Great Blizzard of 1888 in New York City was the final catalyst prompting city officials to move electrical wires underground, burying them in tunnels of asphalt and concrete. While not every American city has utilities underground, larger metropolitan areas are shifting to underground placement of utilities. Precast concrete vaults – 5-sided hollow structures topped with concrete and an access lid – were developed to facilitate underground utility projects. Concrete vaults are designed to protect and provide access to the critical connections and controls for not just electrical cables, but also for gas, steam and water system controls, fiber optic and telecommunication writing.
Advantages of Precast Concrete Vaults
Compared to steel, fiberglass or cast concrete vaults, precast options provide several advantages:
- the concrete strengthens over time
- vaults are non-combustible, maintaining structural integrity during fire
- the vault’s weight provides resistance to disruption due to changes in groundwater
- the non-toxic composition is environmentally friendly
- and vaults offer easy, cost-effective installation compared to cast concrete.
These advantages make precast concrete vaults a versatile solution for many underground (and several above ground) applications.
Uses for Precast Concrete Vaults
Concrete vaults are typically rectangular or square, but round and octagonal configurations are also available. In addition to supporting underground utility projects, concrete vaults have been used for:
A key element of stormwater management is controlling the flow of water runoff to reduce flash flooding, particularly in areas with large-scale business development such as buildings, parking lots, and roads. Using a precast concrete vault as an underground retention vessel enables water runoff to be captured and retained, then released in a controlled manner after the storm through outlet piping.
Precast concrete vaults are used early in the water treatment process as settling or sedimentation tanks. Additional vaults may be used for biological treatment and sludge storage.
Hazardous material containment
Any material – biological, chemical, radiological or physical – that can harm humans, animals or the environment on its own or through interaction with other elements is considered hazardous by the Institute of Hazardous Materials Management. A concrete value is used to enclose hazardous waste tanks, either above or below ground. These vaults are usually lined to prevent leaks and include saddles or cradles to support the tanks.
Product storage or caves
Among the less well-known applications for concrete vaults are industrial uses such as cheese production and wine-making.
- For optimum taste, cheese needs to be aged and stored with temperature and humidity control. A concrete vault insulates cheese from heat and air.
- The use of concrete vaults for wine-making is gaining attention. As with cheese, wine benefits from aging over time under temperature-controlled conditions. Because concrete holds up well underground, a precast vault gives customers a high-quality storage solution.
Precast Concrete Vault Designs
Sizes and shapes of concrete vaults are as varied as their uses. Standard sizes for various applications are as follows:
- Communications: lengths from 5 to 10 feet, widths from 4 to 24 feet.
- Electrical: from 2 to 8 feet long and 2 to 14 feet wide.
- Water Retention: 5,000 to 13,000-gallon capacity with lengths from 14 to 36 feet.
- Gas: from 3 to 18 feet long and 2 to 8 feet wide.
Custom sizes and designs for concrete vaults can be created at Columbia Precast Products to meet specific project requirements. Features beyond the basic vault structure include waterproof pipe preparation, coatings or linings, steps, ladders, and vents. Contact Columbia Precast Products to discuss your latest project and our precast concrete vault solutions and pricing.