Are steel buildings stronger than wood-framed buildings?

When you need to build a structure of any size, you want to ensure the construction is strong and your structure will stand the test of time - not to mention elements like wind, rain, snow, hail, heat and more. That desire for strengths brings up the question: What is stronger: steel buildings or wood buildings? A structural engineer would say that any material is as strong as it needs to be, that is, the framing is sized to be strong enough for the local climate and the building use. That answer leaves much to be desired when you want only the best as you consider metal building strength vs. traditional wood construction.

Yes, a structural engineer will say a material is as strong as it needs to be. However, steel is much stronger than wood per unit area - there's no denying it. This is the only simple and straightforward answer to the question: Are steel buildings stronger than wood-framed buildings?

To expand on that answer, know that a little bit of steel does the same job as a lot of wood. This makes sense when you consider the strength of steel vs. the strength of wood. Because a steel building needs regular beams, columns and girts to distribute and resist loads and to support the interior and exterior finishes, a typical steel building does tend to have more excess capacity than a wood building. 

This means added benefits to the builder who chooses metal building strength vs. traditional wood construction. In other words, a steel building is usually stronger than a wood building, and a steel building definitely offers more structural strength per dollar. There's conventional wisdom in some circles that steel is stronger than wood, but you'll also pay for that extra strength in the form of a larger budget for materials. However, that's not necessarily the case when you consider the amount of steel needed to construct the same design vs. wood construction. You might pay a little bit more per ounce of steel, but you'll need fewer ounces.

A steel building can be designed to support the loads from industrial equipment and fittings much less expensively and more easily than a wood building. That's what makes steel the go-to material for industrial and commercial buildings. The owners and operators of these structures demand a great deal from their facilities. They need to be able to use heavy equipment, place a lot of furniture and accommodate a lot of workers, materials or goods. Steel is the material that delivers that strength and confidence. 

A steel building can also be designed for a much greater height than a wood building. Imagine a major American city without steel. There would be no skyscrapers or office towers. There would be no large airports, stadiums or convention centers. You wouldn't be able to find a large shopping mall. Steel is what makes these enormous structures possible. Without steel, the Empire State Building would still be just a design - there would be no way to construct a building that tall of even one a fraction of its height.

Steel can span a longer distance than wood. It's possible to create a much larger open space with no supporting walls or columns using steel. When it comes to business needs, consider a large warehouse space or large meeting area in a corporate headquarters. Without the power and strength of steel, your business would have to fundamentally rethink its facilities and how it uses its space. There would simply be no possibility of constructing these large, wide, high spaces that we take for granted today.

Steel isn't flammable, while wood is, which means increased safety in steel structures. Perhaps you've heard of famous fires from the past, such as the ones that devastated Chicago in the 19th century, or the ones that tore through San Francisco following its famous earthquake in 1906, or even the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City that led to reforms in building codes. Even today in some developing countries, fires continue to be an issue. Why? Because in the 19th century and early 20th century, and even today, wood construction is far more commonplace than steel construction.  

In short, steel is simply more structurally efficient than wood. When you want to secure the power and strength of steel for your project, trust the team at MBMI. Contact us today about your steel construction needs.


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