Steel has been used in commercial building construction since the late 1800s in Chicago. Previously, cast iron was used. They discovered that concrete-cast steel beams allowed them to frame taller, more fire-resistant buildings than cast iron. Steel (an alloy of iron and carbon) has since become the best commercial building material and is intimately linked to economic health. In fact, many experts use the steel industry to gauge the economy’s health. Steel has a long history in construction, but is it still the best choice?
Steel firm stock prices are falling, therefore it’s not surprising that many are questioning if steel is still a good building material. The current economic downturn hit the steel industry hard. Building projects have slowed, causing layoffs at American steel companies like Butler Manufacturing. A lack of construction equals fewer production jobs, and steel companies are no exception.
Steel is becoming more expensive due to rising iron and coal prices. While steel remains popular, other building materials are gaining ground.
New Building Materials
However, materials like engineered wood and metal composites are becoming more widespread in modern construction projects.
Wood is a durable, renewable resource, and engineered timber is gaining traction as a steel substitute.
Composite materials like FRP and alternative metal alloys are becoming more prevalent in commercial buildings. Composites are more durable than steel, and repairing them takes less expensive and less heavy machinery. These new materials have a high initial cost. Because FRP and other composites are new, they cost more to manufacture than steel components.
Steel is increasing prominence in home construction. Traditionally, wood was favored over steel for framing residential buildings, but steel’s endurance has some builders reconsidering.
Cons of employing steel in home building are cost and energy. Steel is becoming more ubiquitous in residential constructions, but steel framing contractors are still scarce in many places. A 2002 US Department of Housing research built a steel and a wood home to evaluate expenses. The steel home was 14% more expensive and took 14% longer to build.
As a result, steel parts are sturdier without being heavier. That makes steel constructions more resistant to tornadoes, earthquakes, and other natural disasters than wood. Steel is also more resistant to fire and termites than wood.
Pros and Cons
Steel in buildings has a few drawbacks. Steel will rust in humid environments, coastal areas, and even moist spaces like bathrooms unless it is protected with anti-corrosive coatings. Steel also conducts heat and cold well, making it unsuitable for insulation. Energy efficient steel buildings demand extra insulation.
Steel is used in green building projects because it is durable and renewable. Steel is durable and widely utilized in green building projects with other eco-friendly materials. Unlike plastic, steel does not lose quality when recycled. Steel construction also produces less waste than wood since the offcuts can simply be welded together and used to complete smaller operations.
Despite its flaws, steel is still the chosen material for commercial and residential building framing.