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Steel buildings and metal buildings

Above: Steel buildings and metal buildings in Singapore Boat Quay

A steel building gets the name because:

These are two very different uses of steel (also called metal building).

Steel is an essential part of most modern building - even green buildings use steel for structural strength. Many amazing new designs with curves and odd shapes are only possibly because of advanced computer aided engineering (CAE) using steel.

Steel is often used for small practical or work buildings such as storage, office space and living space. Steel building kits are popular as it enables a fixed price quickly constructed building to be erected by a DIY or amateur builder. The competition for customers, and the recent cheapness of steel, has led to low prices.

Or small buildings can be pre-fabricated - they just need assembling onsite. This is popular for garages, sheds, store houses etc. and is the famous prefab building. Kits and prefabs are part of the same type of instant building.

Steel and iron is also used in RC - reinforced concrete - which is used to build high rise buildings, multistory car parks, bridges, barriers, and other high performance structures where strength and speedy construction is important.

Steel and metal buildings are often claimed to be green, as up to 60% of the material is from recycled sources, and the frame at the end of life, can be 100% recycled.

There is hardly any waste from a metal building, as the structure is optimised for strength. Often steel and metal buildings are sold by weight, so excess weight is reduced.

This is quite true. However usually the reason for choosing steel buildings is to do with strength and cheapness, not green principles. This is all fine as it shows how the market is moving to green approaches with changing building legislation (LEED, EcoHomes).

Conservatories and out-buildings can have a steel frame. More eco conscious builders use timber frame or even ICF - insulated concrete formwork - where plastic battens are filled with concrete to provide an insulated wall.

Metal (iron etc) can also be used but has rust problems.

Steel buildings have been adapted to different uses.

Steel was first used as a building material in the early 20th century. New York skyscrapers need only a mention!

As steel has got cheaper, it has become more popular. Nowadays computer aided design CAD is used to in effect custom make each structure.

Small steel or metal buildings can be self assembled or DIY (perhaps with a group of friends or relatives) and so is popular with self build enthusiasts. Large buildings use a skilled crew. Safety considerations are paramount. See our other article on Steel and metal building advice and tips >

Timber frame buildings can also be engineered offsite, although timber buildings can be made on the spot, a technique known as stick building.

Metal scaffolding on a storage site

Metal scaffolding on a storage site

Metal buildings and a crane on a storage site

Metal buildings and a crane on a storage site


Steel buildings are popular because:

Steel is a poor building material because:

Conducts heat too fast - 10 times more than a timber building. This is very important now environmental concerns are to the fore. To meet insulation standards, steel buildings have to insulate the frame - so adding to the process. Other building systems are naturally insulating.

Poor or inappropriate design can easily lead to water leaks and corrosion of iron and steel buildings.

Types of steel or metal building

Clearspan means what it says, the internal space is free of columns and the roof supports itself using overhead supporting beams. This is a feature of metal buildings as they are very strong and can support high weights. Although more expensive, clearspan buildings are obviously used for aircraft hangers, large garages or industrial spaces, warehouses, and sports stadia.

Often timber buildings use structural steel (RSJ - rolled steel joists) for support across open spaces.