Structural steel has become one of the most prevalent construction materials of the century, often seen as an extremely important component of modern buildings and housing. According to the World Steel Association, over 1,600 million tonnes were produced in 2016, 197 million more than the previous year. It’s become viable for any kind of project and offers several benefits, which many building plans rely on for structural safety.
The widespread adoption of steel has made it easy to find, both as a raw alloy and pre-made components. Fabricated parts will often be openly sold by suppliers (with many factories selling both locally and overseas), allowing beams and frames to be purchased directly. Thanks to this, companies can work under tighter deadlines and access a supply of steel parts anywhere in the world.
Steel parts can be ordered as soon as the architectural plan is agreed on, saving time that would be spent waiting for them to arrive at the site. This provides extra time to check measurements and find suitable storage, issues that could normally delay construction by several hours.
Its lightweight makes steel easy to transport over land and lift via a crane, reducing the amount of fuel wasted getting it to the site. In addition, this can make buildings far easier to take down: a prototype ProLogic warehouse was built at Heathrow to demonstrate how over 80% of the entire structure was reusable, which could be disassembled in a fraction of the time an average warehouse would take.
Low weight can aid in moving and rebuilding structures, as shown with the 9 Cambridge Avenue warehouse relocation: the warehouse itself was dismantled and rebuilt 1 mile away, using almost no steel except the existing components. This added mobility and versatility makes steel a very desirable building material for structures that have extra land for expansion.
As the desire for eco-friendly buildings increases, steel will become more convenient for construction projects. It can easily be recycled and doesn’t need to be permanently disposed of, so old buildings or temporary supports can be repurposed into new projects as needed. Roughly 97.5% of all steel from UK demolition sites is recovered and reused, according to data gathered by Steel Construction.
Recovered steel components that haven’t been damaged can be re-used in other projects, removing the cost of getting the alloy melted down and re-cut as a new part. If a building is being demolished and rebuilt, existing parts could be stripped out and repurposed to save money kept in storage for future projects or simply sold to another company as components (or raw alloy, if sold back to a steel fabrication company).
Due to its high strength-to-weight ratio, less steel is needed in a single support or beam, reducing material costs and improving its sustainable nature. It can withstand strong physical impacts and forces, keeping building occupants safe, but won’t wear away or need to be replaced afterwards. This extra strength can be retained through the design, rather than the amount of steel used. Steel I-beams are often used in modern construction since they’re lighter, stronger and less wasteful than any wooden beam of the same size.
The natural fire and rust resistance of alloy steel makes it viable for exterior structures, such as fire escapes or balcony supports – MIMA also suggest possible use as external walls to contain insulating materials.
Modern regulations are very specific about how efficient construction should be: these rules often have the added benefit of cutting maintenance or material costs in the long run. Concrete remains more consistent compared to the varying price of steel, but the costs of repairing and reinforcing a concrete beam or pillar will usually make steel cheaper over a building’s lifetime.
As mentioned earlier, steel is entirely reusable. It retains all of its properties, so a large amount of recovered steel could drastically reduce the cost of a new structure. A small study on the cost of a London office building revealed that steel composite was roughly 8% cheaper than concrete slabs across all ten storeys.
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Author Biography: Harry Steel is the Marketing Coordinator for Baileigh Industrial designers and manufacturers industrial metalworking and woodworking machinery.