How Steel is Used in Construction
Steel is one of the leading materials used in building today because of its properties. Steel is a very durable yet versatile material. It can be worked into many different shapes without losing any of its strength, too. Unlike some materials, though, steel remains very affordable and is made from iron and other source materials that are fairly abundant.
Because of its versatility, steel is used in many different parts of a construction project. It may be used in building large footers and support frames for buildings.
In residential construction, steel beams can support sinking foundations or be used to support the roof. Of course, steel isn’t limited to use in buildings. It’s also used in other forms of infrastructure, including railways, bridges, parks, and many other items.
Even when a building is constructed from mostly concrete or other materials, steel typically forms the frame or is used for reinforcement. Even many of the smallest parts used in construction, including plates, screws, and bolts, can be made from steel.
In addition to steel beams and other internal items, steel can be used externally. Almost a third of all sheeting products are made out of steel. These steel sheets can be used for roofing, as ceilings or walls, and as cladding for the building’s exterior or other projects.
Steel can even be used for the flooring and is often done in factories and other manufacturing and industrial areas.
What Are the Advantages of Using Steel?
Now that you know how steel is used in construction, let’s look at the advantages of using it. As already mentioned, it is a very durable and versatile material. However, there’s more to steel than just its properties.
Weather Does Not Affect Its Use
First, there’s the fact that steel typically isn’t affected by the temperature. It can be used year-round without any concern as to the weather. A steel structure can be built in the rain, the scorching heat, or the freezing snow.
Some construction materials require time to set or need to be poured at specific temperatures, but steel has none of those limitations. Excessive moisture will also not affect the installation of steel. However, it can lead to corrosion if the steel is not treated or is not an alloy.
It Takes Less Time to Build Steel Frames
Steel is also an easy material to work with. Steel frames and supports can be put up quickly. There’s no setting time as there is with concrete. Typically, using steel over other materials reduces construction time by as much as 40%. Part of this has to do with the durability of steel. Since it can carry a large amount of weight, a steel frame doesn’t require as many ground support beams. Meaning you don’t have to prepare the ground for as many footings.
Since steel is also lighter than other construction materials like concrete, the foundation doesn’t have to support a large amount of weight. This reduces the time and resources needed to build up the foundation.
In addition to the shorter timespan needed to install steel, the overall manufacturing process is faster. Steel materials can be quickly fabricated at off-site locations and then shipped to the job site. This helps reduce the amount of equipment needed on-site, which in turn reduces costs.
One steel fabrication shop can produce materials for multiple job sites at once, cutting down on the number of trained employees and equipment needed.
It Allows for Last-Minute Plan Changes
The versatility of steel allows for last-minute changes to the blueprints or plans without a significant redesign of the entire structure. For example, suppose the architect decides that a building needs additional floors. In that case, the in-progress construction doesn’t have to be torn down and rebuilt.
Instead, you add additional cover plates, composite steel beams, and other reinforcements. This can even be done after the building is complete. However, providing this extra reinforcement is not as easy at this point in the structure’s life.
Steel is Flame-Resistant and Earthquake-Resistant
Many materials can be affected by fire or high temperatures, but not steel. It is flame-resistant and is often used to create saferooms and protect parts of the building from fire.
Using steel in a project can reduce the need for additional flame-resistant materials, reducing the overall cost. While there are some issues with steel and heat, the metal itself does not catch fire and will not burn.
In addition to being flame-resistant, steel is an excellent material to use in areas that see frequent earthquakes. This is because the metal is flexible and ductile. When an earthquake occurs and the structure shifts, steel can shift and flex with the load.
Other materials that are not as flexible and crumble, causing the entire building to collapse. Steel holds up to earthquakes and high winds that cause buildings to move and put their frames under vertical and lateral load shifts.
It Combines Form with Function
In addition to its numerous structural benefits, steel can also actually be very aesthetically pleasing. It can be used to create art. Because it can be shaped into many forms without losing its durability, it can be used to create unique structures and shapes.
Several artists use steel in their sculptures, but it can be beautiful when incorporated into buildings, bridges, and other structures.
Fewer Supports Are Needed
One of the reasons why steel is used in residential properties and in commercial spaces is that it allows for open areas with fewer support columns. Homeowners often want open floor plans, but that isn’t always possible with older construction methods.
Steel posts and beams can create these open spaces, reducing the number of walls in a home and giving it the open feel homeowners want.
In commercial buildings, this can be seen in even larger spaces. Steel beams can allow for open spaces that stretch for 150 feet or more. By minimizing the number of steel supports, these structures also allow for more flexible space.
Walls can be added to make the flow of the space more efficient instead of being added to provide structural support.
What Are the Disadvantages of Steel?
While steel has many advantages, there are also a number of disadvantages when using steel in construction. When making the decision on using steel in construction, consider the advantages above and the disadvantages below before deciding whether or not it is right for your project.
One of the biggest issues is corrosion if you are using steel aside from stainless steel. Plain steel can rust over time because it is comprised of iron.
As mentioned above, this can be an issue if you are installing steel during the rain or if the material frequently comes into contact with moisture. To combat this, you need to either apply a protective coating to the steel or use an alloy. To combat rust, steel is often mixed with a rust-resistant material such as nickel, titanium, or aluminum.
While using the protective coating is a solution, if you have to use standard steel, note that it can be expensive.
Maintenance Can Be Costly
If you don’t use a steel alloy, you will find that combating rust and corrosion will affect your bottom line. In addition to the cost of painting the frame in the corrosion-resistant coating, you will need to refresh this coating on your steel supports regularly. If you don’t, you do increase the risk that the materials around the steel frame may combust during a fire.
The cost of maintenance, especially if it isn’t easy to access the steel frame of a structure, can add up quickly.
Steel Conducts Heat
While steel itself is flame-resistant, it does conduct heat. This means anything touching the steel may catch on fire quickly. While you may not have to do anything to make a steel structure fire-resistant, you will need to make sure the other materials you use in the structure are.
Also, be aware that steel can buckle at very high temperatures. This means that you will need to have sprinklers installed to protect your steel supports. You may also need to make use of fireproof coatings to help reduce the temperature of your steel frame, even if the steel itself won’t catch fire.
Steel Can Become Fatigued
Over time, steel frames can become fatigued. This is because the tensile strength of steel can vary greatly, leaving some of your steel elements under an excessive amount of tension. Over time, this tension can wear down the steel, leading to damage. Steel can also fracture, which can result in buckling.
While damaged steel cannot typically be repaired, you can add additional supports to help carry the load. This may not always be possible, however, due to the structure’s frame.