The true heavyweights in commercial construction materials are steel and concrete. There’s little argument there. Each have their own distinct properties and advantages that make them excellent choices in general.
However, when comparing a range of issues, advantages and specific requirements at the broadest levels, the properties of steel surpass concrete. Following are just some of the areas of comparison where steel has a decided advantage.
Quick analysis of steel versus concrete
Faster Schedule, Lower Cost
Steel is well known as a time-saving construction material. It’s faster to erect than concrete, especially when employing systems construction. This simply means that all structural steel frames and bracing are engineered to specific project requirements and are factory-fabricated to fit together perfectly, as opposed to requiring field modifications. This allows significant efficiencies in construction. Concrete, on the other hand, is weather sensitive and cure time can be detrimental to schedules. Of course, a reduced erection schedule means reduced overhead and labor costs.
“In fact, prefabrication can compress the steel erection portion of a project by 40-50%.”John Cross, Vice President of Marketing for American Institute of Steel Construction, Chicago
Superior Strength-to-Weight Ratio
Steel’s great strength, uniformity, light weight, and ease of use make it an ideal material for many different types of structures. Because of its superior strength, steel can also support long spans, providing for much wider, column-free, open-bay footprints.
Exceptional Ductility Under Stress
Ductility is a highly desirable property of steel and a considerable advantage over concrete. It refers to the ability of a material to deform under high tensile stresses and extreme pressure without fracturing or failing. Steel’s capacity to yield and recover (bend without breaking) is second to none – a significant advantage in seismic zone durability and performance.
Material Quality Consistency
Structural steel members are engineered and manufactured off-site in factories providing better quality control, whereas pouring of concrete on-site is subject to labor intensive systems as well as potential inconsistency in material makeup and weather conditions that may ultimately impact the overall quality.
More Flexible for Expansion
Concrete is hard and messy to dismantle as compared to steel. With steel, possible expansions can be designed into the original building so the additional weight of an expansion can be accommodated. It allows expansions to be accomplished with minimal disruptions to existing operations. Steel’s flexibility also makes it a preferred choice of architects because it allows for more versatile design options.
75% of all Butler steel is made from recycled steel. Due to its magnetic properties, steel is easy to separate from other debris, making the recycling process more efficient. It is the only building material that can be recycled over and over without ever losing quality. Concrete can only be reused in a downgraded form, such as a filling material. And, because pre-engineered steel is designed before you get to the jobsite, there is less waste or need for material to be discarded.
If you’re in the very early stages of construction planning or you’re weighing various building design options, it may be well worth your time to find out if steel is a more practical, reliable and affordable material choice for your project.
Butler Manufacturing™ is a building-solutions company providing the design, manufacture, and marketing of metal building systems for commercial construction. Butler goes beyond the manufacture of steel building systems by offering full-service turnkey construction solutions.