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7 Advantages of Structural Steel Frame Construction

Published November 23, 2015 by Whirlwind Team

structural steel framing

Structural steel isn't just for skyscrapers, large agriculture buildings and garages. There are multiple reasons why steel makes an attractive building option from start to finish, not the least of which are:

  • Sustainability
  • Affordability
  • Durability

From full-throttle metal building projects, to hybrid construction projects that leverage the attributes of both wood and steel, the modern builder has a wealth of options to choose from.

Steel is a versatile building material, which has led to its inclusion in nearly every stage of the construction process from framing and floor joists, to roofing materials. Here are some of the main benefits that make structural steel such a reliable choice.

Steel is Lighter Than Wood

This may seem surprising at first, because if you weigh a 2x4 of wood and a 2x4 of steel, the steel will weigh more as the result of its density. When it comes to framing, however, The design of a steel I-beam will almost always cause it to be lighter than the lightest, structurally sound wood beam design. A steel I-beam weighs less than glulamsLVL, and Parallam beams.

In addition to decreasing the labor required to build with steel, the lighter-weight advantage reduces materials shipping costs, and can also simplify the design of a building's foundation and other structural support systems, which can further reduce project budgets.

You Can Build Faster With Steel

Time has always equaled money, but it seems like this high-tech era of ours has made it so that every clients wants their building to come in under budget and ahead of schedule. Fast-tracked projects can be a nightmare for architects and construction crews - namely because taking shortcuts can lead to unsafe building practices and a finished product that isn't up to snuff. That all changes with the addition of steel.

Steel parts are pre-engineered to a specific design inside the manufacturing plant and are shipped out, ready to be erected. This speeds up construction time significantly, making it possible to complete large-scale projects in a matter of weeks.

Because the fabrication process is highly quality-controlled, project managers can place their attention on other issues and the pre-cut, ready to assemble parts eliminate the need for measuring and cutting on site. This also takes the element of human error out of the equation, reducing the amount of time spent assembling something only to find out it needs to be re-measured, cut and installed again.

In addition to project time and budget issues, a faster construction timeline also reduces the amount of time your construction project impedes traffic, affects the flow into and out of surrounding businesses and any water or utility disruptions to nearby buildings.

Save Money With Steel

Much of the cost savings you'll gain can be inferred from the labor and cost benefits of decreased construction time. However, building with steel also saves money via other first time and lifetime savings.

  • Steel can be recycled. Rather than paying landfill fees for non-recyclable construction waste, your company will be able to recycle steel and metal building components. Due to public interest in decreasing unnecessary constuction waste, most waste removal companies have subsidized programs allowing them to pick up your steel and metal building waste at no cost to you.
  • Because steel is so durable, and requires so little maintenance, it is a more economic choice for building owners. Maintenance fees, repairs and replacements are minimal - even over the course of 50 years or more - saving building owners tens of thousands of dollars over the course of the building's lifetime.
  • Innovation in steel production, combined with greater competition to meet rising steel demands, has brought steel prices lower than they've been in twenty years. According to the American Institute of Steel Construction, "In 1980, 10 man-hours were required to produce a single ton of steel. Today that same ton of structural steel requires substantially less than a single man-hour." Thus, these cost savings can be being passed on to the consumer.
  • Due to a steel structures' almost unrivaled ability to withstand high winds, heavy snow loads, fire and seismic activities, combined with their resistance to pests and decay, insurance companies often offer lower premiums on policies underwritten for metal buildings.
  • Faster construction times means fewer interest payments to the lender, who typically requires that interest-payments are made through the duration of the construction process.

When bundled together, these cost-saving benefits make steel one of the most affordable building products on the market.

Steel is Incredibly Versatile

The versatility of steel is unrivaled. From the ability for structural steel to be molded into virtually any shape to its exterior ability to yield shingle-esque roofing patterns and wood-like siding, steel's versatility is part of what is making it such an attractive option for the residential construction market.

Architects and designers like steel's ability to let their artistic imaginations run wild, while still having the ability to design and construct a building that is both safe and resilient. This same durability is also what allows for the versatile design of large, clear span buildings such as airplane hangers, warehouses, agricultural buildings and indoor arenas. It also permits for the construction of skyscrapers, the tallest of which stands in Dubai at 2722.4 feet (829.8 m)  tall. The commercial sector no longer corners the market on steel buildings, either.

This same design versatility and flexibility is now being touted in the residential sector as well. Consider a family who wants to knock out a wall for a remodel or renovation, only to find that a load-bearing wood pillar is an essential component. Now, they have the option of running a steel beam across the ceiling, opening the space up and negating the need for a structural beam below the ceiling line. Additionally, steel and metal are used for siding and roofing materials that far outlast their wood counterparts.

Steel and Wood Hybridization

This is an area where hybridization comes into play as well. While most homeowners like the idea of steel's versatility and durability, they are wary of moving away from wood completely. As a result, many construction companies offer hybrid steel/wood buildings, which take advantage of the strength, durability and support benefits offered by steel, paired with the insulatory properties of wood.

This pairing of materials is so beneficial that the US Department of Housing and Urban Development has published a Hybrid Wood and Steel Details Building Guide to encourage urban developers to use structural steel in addition to traditional building materials.

It's Environmentally Friendly

Steel is made from recycled materials and can be recycled at the end of its lifespan, one of the many reasons why it can earn builders points toward major green building certification programs. According to the Steel Recycling Institute:

  • 80 million tons of steel are recycled each year, making it the world's most recycled product.
  • Since 1990, the steel industry has reduced energy intensity per ton of steel produced by 28% and CO2 emissions by 35% per ton of steel shipped.
  • Reductions in energy use and CO2 emissions are rapidly reaching the limits defined by the laws of physics.

When combined with other design enhancements, steel buildings are incredibly energy efficient. The connections between high-quality, prefabricated steel parts is so exact that with the addition of adequate insulation, they are air-tight and comfortable, ensuring the building has a completely sealed envelope. Roof panels are primed and ready to host a solar array and  cool metal roofing products dramatically decrease solar heat gain, further increasing energy savings.

This list of advantages of structural steel is dependent on two factors, however: the quality of the materials and the experience level of the builder. When these two pieces of the puzzle are in place, building owners benefit from an attractive and well-designed building that is both durable and sustainable.

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