Ever since the first skyscrapers went up in Chicago during the late 1800s, steel has been a major component in commercial building construction.Before that, builders used cast iron. But they found that structural steel beams set in concrete allowed them to frame tall buildings that were more fire resistant and more structurally sound than cast iron. Steel has a long history in the construction industry, but is it still the best material for building?
Prices for steel company stocks are dropping, so it's not surprising that there's a question as to whether steel is still an ideal material for construction projects. The steel industry was not immune to the effects of the recent economic downturn. Steel is also getting more expensive because of the price of raw materials for making steel, iron and coal, are on the rise. And while steel is still popular, other construction materials are giving it a run for its money.
New Building Materials
While no one alternative has become a standard to replace steel, materials like engineered timber and metal composites are becoming more common in new construction projects.Timber companies tout wood as a durable, renewable resource, and engineered timber is gaining some traction as an alternative to steel.
Composite materials like Fiber Reinforced Plastics (FRP) and alternative metal alloys are gaining popularity in commercial construction, as well. Composites can be more durable than steel, and repairing damaged composite components is often less costly and requires less heavy machinery . The big drawback with these alternative materials right now is the cost. Because FRP and other composites are relatively new, they're still costlier to produce than steel components.
In residential construction, steel is actually gaining popularity. In the past, builders preferred wood over steel for framing residential buildings, but its durability has some builders looking to steel as an alternative.
Steel's Pros and Cons
There are a couple of problems with using steel in construction. In very humid areas, coastal regions, or even in rooms like the bathroom that get very moist, steel will corrode unless builders use extra coatings of anti-corrosives to protect it . Also, since steel conducts heat and cold well, it's not ideal from an insulation standpoint. To make a steel building energy efficient requires additional insulation.
Green builders use steel in eco-friendly construction projects because of its durability and renewability. There's also less waste associated with steel construction compared to wood, because you can weld small "offcuts" together to do smaller jobs
Despite a few drawbacks, steel is still the preferred material for framing commercial buildings and is gaining popularity