What are the benefits of building with steel?

With my practice work for the MA I am looking at designing affordable modular housing. When I first mentioned this to my MA tutor he said look at Walter Segal and wooden beams, but something in the back of my mind was telling me to work with steel.

So when I saw an article in a Grand Design’s magazine, I thought I would give it a read and see the benefits or disadvantages of working with steel.

Within the article it spoke about many people going for the timber beam options. I can see why as it has many imperfections and also feels warmer and more homely. Part of me is also saying within an interior you would prefer to see wooden beams more than a large metal beam spanning across your head and I often associate metal with more commercial buildings.

So what are the advantages of steel and advantages of steel, and how do these compare to timber:

–          The first large advantage of steel is its strength. Steel beams can span larger areas and be dramatic cantilevers, which mean you can use them for large open plan spaces.  This can be done in timber, but this has to be especially made in most cases often using glulam. Glulam is when strips of timber are glued together to create strong pieces of timber, but these are often bulky. But steel packs more strength into its size.

One example of a building that uses steel for its strength, is the Apapthaus by Alan Dawson something I have blogged earlier about. Alan developed his home using a steel frame, the strength of the frame he used made it possible for none of the internal walls to be structural.

–           Another advantage of steel is that it’s easier to make shapes and curves, without jeopardising the strength. Shapes can be created using wood but would take alot more time as you would have to carve the shape, and if you had to do more than one it could be difficult to get them exactly the same.

–          With steel beams you’re able to hollow out the centre which could be used to hold pipes, services and wires saving space in other areas. When the centres are hollowed out in steel you wouldn’t really jeopardise the beams strength, but in the case of a wooden beam I personally feel you would.

–          One of the disadvantages of steel is that it’s heavier, this means that it’s alot harder to move into position and you would have to use a crane or a hoist. Timber on the otherhand is lighter than steel and therefore you could possibly move this by hand depending on the size.

–          Steel beams are often produced off site, this means there is initially less to do on-site. But you can also prepare timber beams off site too. But if there is an error on site and a alteration needs doing it would be alot harder to do this with steel and timber is more forgiving to mistakes and design.

–          Steel also doesn’t expand and contract as much as timber, but it still does slightly, so you can’t rule out the chance of movement. Some many think that steel doesn’t need protecting from the elements, but it does. One of the problems is rust, which can be caused when steel is not protecting. But another issue happens when moisture is absorbed through walls which can cause corrosion.

–          Lastly another disadvantage against steel is that it’s more expensive than timber. But this can depend on size, usage and the amount you need.

So what do I think about steel and timber?

For my design I am trying to develop a series of modules which form a home. You will be able to add other modules to the home to create more space as and when you need them, as I want to create a home that can be adjusted to change with peoples lifestyle.

I therefore think on one hand steel would be my safer option as this would allow larger spans. Another reason why I like steel, is because I would be able to run all the services, pipes and wires through a void within the beam, which would save space. I also like the example or Alan Dawson where because of the steel frame he eliminated the need for internal walls. Within my design I would like internal walls to be an option, not a necessity and therefore feel this would give me the best option.

But I am having one reservation about using steel as this is more expensive than using timber. This is mainly due to one of my main objectives for the design is to be affordable. I believe using timber would help reduce costs, but the question is how much by?

2 Responses to “What are the benefits of building with steel?”
  1. Gerardo says:

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  2. Hi colleagues, pleasant piece of writing and good arguments
    commented here, I am truly enjoying by these.

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