Steel is well known around the world as one of the strongest, most accessible and one of the most sustainable building materials that can be used. In the UK alone, more than 7 million tonnes of steel were produced in 2019 and in the USA, that figure is over 100 million tonnes. This adds up to what makes it comfortably one of the most used materials in the world.
Advantages and disadvantages of using steel
Steel itself holds many crucial advantages across countless industries across the globe. There is a wide range of reasons that the use of steel currently dominates the construction industry and is heavily prominent across many industries today. This is mainly due to steel’s strength, accessibility and sustainability as a material.
However, some key disadvantages to using steel may make other materials seem more appealing in certain situations. In this article, we will explore both the advantages and disadvantages of using steel and, ultimately, if it should be your material of choice in the future.
Of all the metals used in construction, steel is one of the most sustainable options. Not only is it infinitely recyclable, but it has a lower embodied energy impact than concrete and it also generates less waste. It is also built to last, giving the product a long life span in comparison to some other construction materials.
Additionally, we are proud to be the only UK manufacturer of steel open mesh flooring and panels, which are made at our factory in Middlesbrough, UK. By manufacturing in the UK, we are minimising the carbon footprint of our products.
Disadvantage: Heat Resistance
While steel is incredibly strong and highly reliable, its main disadvantage when compared to steel is that Steel is a metal susceptible to becoming compromised when exposed to high heat. When severely overheated, steel becomes structurally unsound and becomes a hazard, especially when used in construction.
Concrete has a much higher heat resistance level, meaning that concrete is seen as safer regarding heat resistance.
Advantage: Built for Strength
As you can imagine, steel is a solid material, which is the primary reason it is used as a reliable resource in the construction industry. Steel is a much stronger material than iron and is much more durable than many types of iron. This makes it ideal for building bridges and buildings that are going to be under constant stress levels.
Steel has been found to have a strength level similar to concrete, making it an ideal building tool in the modern world. Steel as a building tool is also a prefabricated material; quality is ensured due to thorough checks before it leaves the factory. The high levels of strength that using steel brings make it an increasingly suitable option when considering how buildings should be constructed.
Disadvantage: Fireproofing Costs
As mentioned in the previous disadvantage, steel is not as reliable as other materials when handling high temperatures caused by fire. As a result, steel needs to be fireproofed at a high cost to ensure a suitable level of protection from fire and extreme heat.
A feature of steel is that it is an excellent conductor. As such, it can transfer heat throughout the inner core and increase the risk of fires breaking out throughout the building. As a result, extra costs need to be factored into the cost of steel to ensure this doesn’t happen.
A major advantage that steel holds over other building materials is that it is a highly efficient material if a significant building project needs to be completed quicker than usual. Building with steel requires approximately 70% fewer working hours to complete a job than working with concrete.
Steel is also significantly lighter than concrete while maintaining similar strength levels. Due to this, building with steel takes significant amounts of pressure away from building foundations. This makes the building safer as a whole as there is less risk of the foundation becoming compromised. This also means less material is required for the foundation and makes the building more economically efficient overall.
The major knock-on effect of this is that buildings can be commissioned at a much quicker rate. As such, more buildings can be constructed at a cheaper rate while not compromising build quality.
Disadvantage: Aesthetic Appearance of Steel
Steel is the preferred aesthetic in buildings with a more corporate or modern look and suits its purpose quite well. However, many office buildings and residential areas utilise concrete much more as these types of buildings are seen as traditionally much more aesthetically pleasing.
Cladding is used in many steel buildings in residential areas to bring some of the traditional aesthetic back while also utilising the steel structure. A high cost is attributed to this cladding to protect the steel structure itself and help with this aesthetic problem.
Advantage: Flexibility and Adaptability
It is in the nature of a Steel compound to be flexible. Steel is an adaptable material that can be moulded into many shapes and sizes, giving it a key advantage over other materials. With a degree of flexibility, steel allows for more structural stability. It reduces the risk of structures built with the material becoming compromised due to external forces. Instead, it can move with any external motion.
Steel is also an extremely versatile material and allows architects to create bold designs across a wide range of structures. The use of steel brings these to life in a way that was not previously possible with other materials.
Advantage: Speed & Quality
As mentioned, steel structures to be used in buildings are pre-constructed in factories. Another significant advantage is the sheer speed at which steel is produced while maintaining the quality demanded.
Steel’s only disadvantage against concrete is that it is less flame and heat resistant, meaning it loses its structural stability at lower temperatures. However, modern steel is now covered with refractory material to ensure corrosion and mould, further strengthening its properties.
With significant infrastructure advancements across the UK and the world, steel is the driving force toward high-quality buildings that can be built significantly quicker than the materials it has taken over.
Steel has many uses across countless industries and is regarded as one of the most innovative and reliable materials used today. Its strength, flexibility and efficiency make it one of the biggest breakthroughs in a long time, regarding construction and building maintenance. This solidifies steel as an excellent, durable and versatile material.
If you have any questions about the uses of steel, or you have a project planned and would like to speak with us, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We are more than happy to answer any questions you may have.