Multiple Benefits Suggest Steel Construction’s Time Has Arrived

Did you catch the news over the weekend? Hurricanes Marco and Laura were poised to unleash a twin bill of destruction across Louisiana. In California, lighting and wind storms threatened to intensify hundreds of already-raging wildfires. Iowans continued tallying damages from this month’s derecho, which left many buildings in tatters. And in North Carolina, news arrived that early August’s earthquake was the state’s worst in 96 years.

Now another question.

Are you surprised by the growing interest in steel construction?

Once, when folks thought of steel buildings, many conjured images of cheap, hastily-built and uninviting structures existing solely to save on construction budgets. But if you equate steel with the squat, World War II-era Quonset Hut, it’s time to catch up on today’s durable, economical and, yes, beautiful commercial and residential steel buildings. In fact, steel delivers many qualities that fit perfectly with modern construction priorities, from storm resistance to energy efficiency, design aesthetics and fast construction.

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The Washington, D.C.-based Steel Framing Alliance, whose purview covers commercial and residential building, enumerates the benefits of steel framing. Steel stands as the most cost-effective mid-rise building material. Its building schedule affords greater predictability and is shorter as well. Steel doesn’t burn nor contribute to the spread of fire, a welcome attribute in an era of increasingly prevalent Western wildfires. Because it is inorganic, it will not rot, warp or split or crack. And because it is produced in accordance with national standards, steel offers consistent quality that isn’t subject to regional variations.

Steel saves time and money for the builder as well. Off-site panelization means less time wasted on the job site. Steel construction results in only about 2% of material being lost to job site scrap and waste, a far lower percentage than that of lumber. And for the consumer, the advantages are many. They include safer structures that age more slowly and require less maintenance, are impervious to fire, termites and mold and result in lower likelihood of damage from earthquakes or wind storms of the kind making headlines this month.

Aesthetic appeal

Another eye-opener about today’s steel structures is that, whether they are residential or commercial, they can be as visually appealing as they are strong, efficient, and fire, mold- and weather-resistant. That fact was literally brought home to Tim and Jen Beatty, who after some initial indecision chose to have Laguna Niguel, Calif.-based EcoSteel build a custom, steel-fabricated FEMA Flood Zone and hurricane-resistant main home, guest house and garage on the waterfront near Kiawah Island in Charleston County, S.C.

“Originally, we were not sure we wanted steel material for building until we learned of the significant limitations of wood,” Tim Beatty recalls. “We needed to figure out a different way to approach our build. We then realized that hurricane rating and earthquake safety was already built into steel material. Steel offered an enhanced product and a wider design concept in relation to all aspects of our build. Steel is excellent for wind beam material. Steel allowed us to build a home with greater than 60% window load.”

Moreover, steel allowed the couple to avoid concerns about termite treatments or walls rotting from moisture. “We enjoy excellent fire protection as well,” Beatty says. “From all the benefits it is providing, sometimes we feel bad others haven’t considered a material that made our modern glass, concrete and steel home a beautiful reality.”

Shorter timeline

Steel’s ability to function beautifully isn’t limited to residential construction. The E.J. Basler Company, which operates a high-volume machine shop in the near-in Chicago suburb of Schiller Park, Ill. discovered the material’s applicability when officials commissioned EcoSteel and architect Marc Amstadter of Amstadter Architects to replace its long-time industrial warehouse with an entirely new structure. The result is a campus-style, 30,000-square-foot advanced manufacturing facility that combined quick construction, striking appearance and the ability to scale with the company’s growth over time.

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