Steel Beams

By HomeAdvisor

Updated October 11, 2017


Since the advent of steel I beam structures, the possibilities for what a building can be have vastly expanded. The steel beam is responsible for giving modern architecture the leeway it has and is used in nearly every new commercial construction.

It is not a far leap from using steel beams in commercial buildings to using them in a home. Indeed, some people have done just that. When you consider that a steel beam can hold many times the weight of a conventional wood beam, the idea doesn’t sound like a bad one. Some have estimated that steel beam construction will overtake wood framing in popularity over the next 20 years.

Ceiling Beams

In the vast majority of buildings, ceiling beams are used to hold up a roof. When these beams are made of wood, it takes quite a few of them to support the weight. In a steel framed structure, far fewer ceiling beams are necessary to carry the same load. This creates more space for insulation. Despite the smaller quantity of ceiling beams, a roof that is anchored to steel is also more stable than one that is anchored to wood.

Steel Beams in Walls

Once again, steel structures take up less space for framing than do traditional wooden houses. There is room for more insulation, plus more room for electrical wiring, plumbing, and heating or cooling ducts. The structure is again sounder than in a conventional wood home. Additionally, steel beams will not swell, warp, splinter, or rot. Plus, there are no bugs that feed on steel.

Natural Disasters and Fire

Another reason that people are leaning towards steel construction in residences is how well steel holds up under various environmental strains. One could spend a lifetime trying to get a steel beam to catch on fire; wood on the other hand tends to burn. Strong winds that might be able to flatten a wooden house will have much less of an effect on a steel building.

Some might be a bit apprehensive about living in a building full of metal during a lightning storm. The fact is, however, that lightning is just as likely to strike a wood structure as it is a steel one.

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All Steel Homes

There are a few companies on the market now that offer designs and materials to build homes that are completely made of steel from the roof to the siding. These homes look very much like any other house, both inside and out. An all-steel home design can be altered to have whatever floor plan you like. It can also have a conventional roof or conventional siding if it is desired. Steel homes are most often built on a slab foundation to lower the cost and labor, but they can also be made with a steel basement.

Cost Effectiveness

One might ask why people use wood at all, when steel construction has so many benefits. Most would say that the main reason is price. Many steel companies, however, say that a steel home can cost the same amount or even less than a traditional house. At the very least, you can put it to the test by requesting steam beam price estimates for each type of residential construction.


  1. Robert Miller, September 21:

    There is only one reason to suggest steel framed homes are being built on a slab instead of over a basement. Contractors in some areas are COST CUTTING, leaving out basements and they can get away with it. Those contractors are building high end looking 2 story brick homes with good curb appeal. Yes, a slab home cuts initial cost, but a home with a basement DOUBLES the main floor area at a fraction of the cost of above ground building. And the resale appeal and value far exceeds initial cost savings.

    AND 2. …you mention building a residential building on a steel foundation. It is less than prudent to build a residential basement out of STEEL. Why? …glad you asked. Steel tends to rust, rust, rust in a moist environment like a basement, where walls are in direct contact with ground. You might suggest waterproofing to keep out ground water and over active landscape watering. So now you are building a ship hull basement__if you can afford it. Still not good enough. Leakage isn’t the only issue. Basements of steel wick heat away rapidly to surrounding soil. Cooler inside steel surfaces condense moisture from the air and turn it into water to run down your steel frame members in your foundation walls. We glued cork to the inside hull surfaces when I built submarines. Your builder can’t afford this. Concrete is always better against mother earth. Steel frame inside the concrete envelope if you wish, instead of wood, but leave the foundation to a material that has lasted from the time of the ROMANS without deterioration. YOu need to scrub that steel foundation idea off your essay before you poison the steel frame appeal and your credibility.

    3. Steel frame homes don’t catch fire and burn___even when torched. 4. Steel framed homes are impervious to termites. They can’t chew thru steel and concrete. 6. And it doesn’t support mold and mildew like wood.

    7. Seismic activity: EARTHQUAKES. A steel framed structure can rock and roll and still remain sound and together much like a steel erector set tower when the giant hand jiggles and shakes it. The steel framed home protects the people inside when the wood frame house next door is twisted and flattened. 8. And what about tornado resistance? In a wood home, NAILS pull out as they do in an earthquake. Roofs lift off, and walls pull apart and collapse or fly away like a house of cards, or worse, into small pieces. Not so much with steel framed homes because they are screwed together. They resist 300 mile per hour winds much better than wood.

    BACK to our opening remarks about basements; Those cheap put up 2 story brick McMansions-ON-A-SLAB are being built today in tornado alley!! ___the one area of the country where John and Mary Q public would well and desperately choose the basement home over a cheap slab built MCMANSION if the builders would just build it. You cannot find a new basement home in TEXAS, OKLAHOMA … if the BUILDING OFFICIALS of those aspiring growing communities had the guts and vision they’d suggest to city council, yea, INSIST that they pass building ordinances to REQUIRE a basement in ALL NEW CONSTRUCTION. Your knee jerk reaction is: too costly! NOT SO! Those little 900 square ft split entry and 1050 sf shoe box homes of the 50’s and 80’s ALL had basements. The benefits especially safety, demand basements.

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