Building Services Integration in Steel Construction

Published March 1, 2017 by Whirlwind Team

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Over the decades, service integration has become a critical part of metal building construction, from the introduction of plumbing and ventilation to today’s need for extensive cabling and wiring for information technology.

In addition to services the building’s occupants use daily and, pretty much, take for granted, there is also the need to integrate fire protection services and onsite energy generation.

All of these services can be effectively integrated into new steel construction through early, thorough planning and knowledge of the use of the building once complete and into the foreseeable future.


Save with service integration in your steel building

Service integration does something else as well…it saves costs on energy use and can even impact the number of floors within a specific building height. Floor to floor height is reduced in some forms of service integration which reduces the amount of external cladding needed, reduces heat loss through the building envelope, and provide space for extra floors without increasing the height of the building.

Floor zones are also reduced with steel and composite structural design that integrates services within the depth of the structure, which helps where building height restrictions are in force and during renovations in existing buildings.

Brief list of services

Here is a list of potential services commonly integrated into today’s steel structures:

  • Fire protection systems, active and passive
  • Electrical and data communication systems
  • Plumbing, including water, sanitation, and natural gas
  • Lighting
  • HVAC equipment and air distribution
  • Vertical lift machinery, elevators, and escalators
  • Low or zero carbon technologies for onsite energy generation

Methods of service integration

Services can be distributed vertically, horizontally, or a bit of both.

Vertical distribution provides continuous service routes free of interruption. However, you must maintain a constant cross-section of routes as well. One recommendation for vertical distribution is to provide separate routes for different services. At a minimum, you need two: one for electronics and a second for water pipes. Most buildings will require more than that.

Horizontal distribution has the benefit of minimizing space requirements while keeping easy access for maintenance and repairs. Horizontal distribution also prevents smoke from passing through the service routes between floors.

Horizontal distribution can place services within a minimal structural zone, so they pass underneath the floor. Services can also be placed within the structural zone where you have large openings within the steel beams. Long span steel construction is particularly suited for this.

  • Traditional construction locates services in a horizontal layer below the floor system and completely separates services from the structure itself. Services are built in using short spans and shallow construction depths designed to provide a flat floor and flexible horizontal service distribution.
  • Partial service integration involves a floor supported by beams between which some services can be placed. Ductwork and pipes still pass underneath the beams.
  • Full-service integration provides structure and service placement within the same horizontal plane.  If the beams are deep enough, services can be passed through at planned locations.
  • Long span construction with service integration involves long span beams designed for a ceiling to floor depth that is less than traditional construction. When carefully planned and laid out, you can provide highly flexible service distribution and convenient future maintenance. Cellular beams are a popular choice for long span service integration; cables, service ducts, and pipes can be run through the openings in the beam.
  • Underfloor HVAC distribution takes the distribution and terminal equipment out of the ceiling and places it under the floor along with water distribution. The ceiling void is left for lights and sprinkler systems. However, underfloor air distribution, while providing increased air velocities, is also noisier, so you may want to keep this method in reserve for unoccupied areas such as server rooms.

If there is enough space under the floor, power, telecommunications, and information technology cables and wires can be incorporated into a single plenum accessible through an opening in the raised floor. Underfloor service integration can also expose the floor slab to be used as part of the thermal capacity of the building.

Factors that influence service requirements

The types of services you need to integrate depend on a number of factors.

One is the building location. You need to consider the variation in climate generally and throughout the days and seasons. Solar radiation, humidity, and air temperatures all impact energy usage. The height of the building and the prevailing wind patterns also govern certain choices, as does the solar gain typically found on the southern facade.

Whether the new structure is to be surrounded by other buildings can affect these same choices. Nearby structures reduce light penetration and impact wind patterns as well as ventilation conditions. Of course, all local and national regulations must be followed and will also impact service integration and requirements.

Other factors that come into play are:

  • Building use
  • Building shape
  • Building form
  • Building mass
  • Construction materials
  • Thermal insulation levels

Steel framing options

  • Composite construction, where steel beams act structurally within a lightly reinforced concrete slab on steel decking provides twice the strength of a non-composite beam with up to four times the stiffness. You can have more space and flexibility in service placement within the same overall floor height.
  • Shallow floors provide minimal structural depths and the best flexibility of service placement and access. Floor systems with integrated floor beams supported on a wide bottom flange can use three different materials. You can use precast concrete units, deep deck composite slab, or shallow deck composite slab.
  • Medium span systems provide the most efficient layout with secondary beams supporting the slab and spanning between the primary beams. Long span construction, in column free structures, is becoming one of the most popular types of construction. It allows a service zone of 400 to 450mm within the structural depth. You have a choice of beams from cellular and haunched to composite trusses and other long span systems.
  • Composite beams with web openings provide room for rectangular or circular openings to be cut into the web away from the supports. You can customize the opening sizes for various service integration strategies.

Comfort, convenience, and safety are three hallmarks of service integration. Flexible steel construction options exist to provide multiple methods of placing cables, pipes, ductwork, and wiring to support owner needs, fire protection, and energy conservation.

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