Steel vs. Concrete Beams: Pros and Cons

Structural engineers must consider numerous factors while bringing structural ideas to life. Stabilization is one of the most critical aspects of ensuring that constructions are safe and long-lasting.

One of the critical structural components in constructing a safe load path to transfer weight and forces on a building to the foundations and into the ground is the beam. Beams are horizontal structural components that can withstand vertical loads, lateral movements, and bending. They are structural components that can withstand impact load and transfer loads perpendicular to their longitudinal direction.

Purpose of beams

We use beams to:

  • Support weight of floors, ceilings and roofs of a building
  • Counter bending moment and shear forces
  • Connect the structure together
  • Provide a uniform distribution of loads

Steel vs. Concrete Beams

When deciding which structural materials to utilize, keep in mind that the decision should base on the project’s specifications. Budget, sturdiness, and fire resistance are all factors that might affect the material used for the beams. Steel and concrete will be tested against each other to see which is superior for your project. Concrete is a typical building material. However, steel is getting popular because of its speed and flexibility in construction.

Environmental problems are connected with concrete and steel-framed structures, including a high embodied energy in the manufacturing process. Steel is recognized for its quick construction on-site, despite its long lead time. Steel, on the other hand, needs fire protection, but concrete already has it. Steel can be prefabricated so that thin-film intumescent coatings can be applied offsite.


The cost of reinforced concrete is generally higher than the cost of structural steel. Steel, an iron alloy, is less expensive to produce. Concrete, on the other hand, does not experience significant price fluctuations over time, unlike steel. Because of its durability and fire resistance, concrete is a superior option when it comes to insurance. Concrete has cheaper premiums, but steel has a higher premium since it is less fire-resistant.

The overall cost of building construction materials has dramatically increased. The cost of ready-mix concrete has mainly remained steady. Even the increased use of steel in buildings and special constructions has limited influence on reinforced concrete construction projects. Concrete has a significant cost advantage in that its price is essentially constant. On the other hand, concrete requires continual maintenance and repairs, resulting in additional expenditures over time.


Tensile strength is one of steel’s most appealing qualities. The capacity of a substance to endure being stretched or pulled is referred to as tensile strength. Concrete’s tremendous compressive strength compensates for its lack of tensile strength (the ability to resist being reduced in size due to pressure applied). Concrete must be reinforced with steel rebar to increase its strength (this type of concrete is known as reinforced concrete).


Extreme weather changes, chemicals, salt water, moisture, solar radiation, and corrosion are all resistant to reinforced concrete. The rebar in reinforced concrete must not come into touch with anything that may corrode it. Steel is prone to rot when it is exposed to water.

Fire Resistance

Concrete’s chemical composition makes it fire resistant. Steel is also generally fire-resistant, but it can be weakened by exposure to extremely high temperatures. According to a study, Lighter concrete can survive flames better due to its insulating properties and lower heat transfer rate. When these materials are subjected to extremely high temperatures, their strength is weakened. There are solutions to make steel more fire-resistant, for example: applying fire-resistive coatings.

Steel is a non-combustible substance by nature. Its strength, however, can be severely harmed when heated to higher temperatures. As an outcome, different fire-resistant compounds must be applied to steel to increase safety. Concrete is naturally fire-resistant due to its composition. Many of the other components used in building construction are not fire-resistant when concrete is applied. To avoid difficulties in the overall structure, professionals should follow all safety standards during the construction process.


Both materials can be recycled, which is excellent news for the environment. Around 85% of all steel used globally is recycled, and approximately 90% of structural steel used today is recycled steel. Recycled concrete may be used to create future mix designs.

Today’s structural steel is made from recycled steel. Steel may be used and altered numerous times without compromising its structural integrity due to its extended lifespan. Structural steel has a low environmental effect when it is correctly produced, constructed, and treated.  Concrete contains natural components that are beneficial to our environment that decreasing pollution. Crushed concrete can be utilized in future mixes.

This sort of recycling can help to minimize the amount of concrete that ends up in landfills. With all of these considerations in mind, both steel and concrete offer benefits and drawbacks. The project’s purpose or objectives will eventually determine the material that will be utilized for the structure. Weigh the advantages and disadvantages to determine which aspect is more important and acceptable for your budget and project.

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