Pros and Cons of Using Steel in Building Residential Structures

Since the dawn of civilisation, society has looked for the perfect construction material to make their houses with. Something that was easily sourced, malleable enough to readily shape and strong enough to survive the elements.

The advent of steel appeared to solve many of these issues and has been used throughout the world to transform the way we live. However, there’s both benefits and drawbacks to using steel. Here’s some of the biggest ones to consider when constructing with steel.

Steel frame house

Pros

  • Safety and durability: Steel is widely regarded as an incredibly safe material to work with for residential construction. Unlike wood, it does not splinter or warp which means it can be safely secured away during construction.
  • Reduced construction costs: Advances in steel fabrication techniques mean that pieces can come premade to a certain specification, so that on-site rework will not be required to make it the right size. This greatly reduces labour costs and the potential for structural integrity weaknesses to be introduced into the construction.
  • Lightness is key: Steel beams and girders, while not exactly something that should be lifted by hand, are comparatively lightweight compared to their wood counterparts. This makes transporting steel cost effective across vast distances, which is essential in a country like Australia.
  • Recyclability: Several million tons of steel undergo a recycling process every year, being reshaped into new forms that are just as durable and tough as originally sourced materials.

Steel frame building

Cons

While there are many advantages to using steel, there some downsides to its usage that need to be considered before building steel structures.

  • Fire damage: While steel itself isn’t flammable, it is an excellent conductor of heat. This means that if fire comes into contact with it, the fire can spread to any material the steel touches. Additionally, extreme heat can warp or weaken steel to threaten the structural integrity of the residential dwelling. To combat this, engineers use special fireproof coatings like concrete or mineral coatings to prevent the steel from reaching the temperature required to ignite adjacent materials.
  • Susceptibility to the elements: Electrochemical oxidation, or rusting, occurs when untreated steel is exposed to the elements for an extended period of time. This weakens the cohesiveness of the material and makes it brittle. To combat this, specialised surface coatings and application methods are applied to the steel surface to prevent it from making direct contact with oxygen. Methods include coal tar painting, dry abrasive blasting or the application of titanium, nickel or aluminium alloys.
  • Long-term fatigue: Applying excessive tension can weaken, or fatigue, steel elements. This can be seen in large structures that have variations of tensile strength applied to them such as a tall, narrow house that is subject to strong winds which push it around from various directions. Engineers need to be mindful that outside forces are applied to a structure evenly, so that no one steel element takes more tensile tension than another.

Steel frame house

ShapeCUT has been in the business of transforming steel for every application imaginable since 1994. To find out more about how we can shape your next project, contact ShapeCUT today.