If you watched Episode 2 of ‘Grand Designs: The Street’, you will have seen the construction of The Barn House. Inspired by agricultural buildings, this steel structure design enabled self-builder James to create his dream home. The open plan design would not have been possible with other building methods.
As local structural engineers, we are familiar with steel-framed buildings. The majority tend to be for commercial, industrial or agricultural use, yet steel structure design is gaining popularity for residential developments. We wouldn’t recommend it for every project, but it could certainly be more widely used.
The reasons that steel structure design is gaining popularity
Steel is stronger and lighter than the equivalent load-bearing reinforced concrete, masonry or wooden structures. This high strength to weight ratio brings stability to the building, with considerably smaller structural section sizes than other construction materials.
When parts of the steel structural design will be exposed to the elements, they can be galvanised or stainless steel to make it weather resistant. Fire retardant applications can also be applied to meet the necessary fire resistance requirements.
Awareness of the impact of the built environment is one reason that steel construction is on the rise. The metal can be recycled many times over without compromising its composition. At present, around 96% of all steel components removed from building sites are recycled. It really does contribute to the circular economy.
Speed of Construction
Steel structures are fabricated off-site, in highly controlled conditions. They rely on accurate measurements, as each section is cut with precision. At the point when the site is prepared for the steel structure, it can be brought on-site and erected. Accurate plans will enable it to fit together with relative ease.
Long span steel supports produce large, column-free internal spaces. These allow a building to be divided with non-structural walls, partitions or screens. These solutions can be altered to adapt to changing requirements, without the need for major renovations.
The challenges of Steel Structure Design
As structural and civil engineer consultants, we are well aware that every construction material has its challenges.
As we’ve already eluded to above, precision planning is important when working with steel. With timber-framed construction, if the tolerance is out, timber beams can easily be cut on site, but steel may have to return to the manufacturer for any adjustments. Structural steelwork can be cut / welded / adjusted on site to suit, but this can be costly and require specialist contractors.
Another issue is that steel is a thermal conductor. When working with this material, insulation measures to counter the issue have to be addressed.
It is also important to note that steel is not a stand-alone building material. It provides the structural skeleton of the building, but other materials have to be incorporated as part of the construction process.
Illustrating the Diversity of Steel Structures
RWA Consulting has provided structural engineer services on a variety of steel structure design projects. We have selected a few examples to illustrate the diversity of this building material:
The development of a football ground: https://rwaconsulting.co.uk/steel-structural-design/
A luxurious residential property in Cookham, near Maidenhead: https://www.imko.co.uk/projects/orchard-dene/
The construction of a Buckinghamshire village hall: http://www.hazlemereparishcouncil.org.uk/facilities/hazlemere-memorial-hall/
If you would like to discuss the suitability of using steel in the construction of your industrial, agricultural, commercial, community or residential build, please get in touch with Buckinghamshire’s RWA Consulting on 01296 624924. Our local structural engineers are happy to discuss plans and provide advice at the initial planning stages.