The Importance of Structural Steel When Constructing Buildings

Steel is a popular material for use in the construction of buildings, it is strong, durable, and widely available. In 2016, over 1,600 million tonnes of steel were produced, mainly for building construction, and this figure has continued to rise year on year.

While steel is used in modern building design, steel construction in fact dates back a couple of centuries. Let’s take a brief look at the history of steel construction and the importance of this material in the present day.

The use of steel in building construction coincides with the beginning of steel being used for other innovations such as railway development. However, in the early 1800s, steel was very expensive in comparison to other metals and so it was reserved for watches and swords, and wrought iron was more popular for building with.

By the middle of the century, English steelworker Sir Henry Bessemer invented a method that made steel production much more efficient and affordable. Bessemer was initially tasked with designing durable canons for the British Navy and found steel to be the best material for the job.

He found a new way to develop steel using oxygen, making it far more affordable to produce, and as a result steel construction soon became possible for people all around the world.

In the United States, steel construction suddenly became a more mainstream option following the devastating Great Chicago Fire of 1871, as timber frames were commonly used at the time thousands of homes were destroyed by the flames.

As the city was rebuilt and developers wanted to make buildings much higher, steel became the obvious choice for building frames. It was in that city in 1890 that the first all steel-framed skyscraper was unveiled, with 10 stories this building was valued at $1 million dollars.

From then on steel framed buildings began to be erected in all major cities in the United States. In 1916, a 60 story skyscraper was unveiled in New York and by the middle of the 1900s, hundreds of thousands of Americans were working in production at steel mills.

One of the biggest advantages of using steel for building structures is its low weight which makes it easily transportable and maneuverable around building sites using cranes. It also means that structures can be taken down more easily than other building types if required.

It is likely that steel will continue to be a popular building material in the future due to its sustainability. Sustainability is a huge problem in the worldwide construction industry with material wastage and habitat destruction having a devastating impact on the planet.

When a building is demolished the steel is nearly always taken from it for use on other projects, due to its durability it is able to last a long time and doesn’t need to be thrown away. It can be melted down and re-cut for use on any other kind of steel construction.

This is also much more cost-effective for builders than sourcing all their raw materials for a new build from scratch and saves time.

Costs are also considerably cheaper when you compare steel to other building materials such as slabs, which cost around 8 percent more for large builds. The price variability of steel is higher than concrete generally, however, in the long term, it saves cash as a steel beam needs far less maintenance than a concrete beam over time.

Structural steel is an essential material in a world where there is a constant demand for the quick construction of safe and affordable properties. Its use will continue to rise as the focus on sustainability and efficiency become higher priorities in the industry.

- by Matt Watts

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