Steel Frame Construction

Steel frame construction is less common in the United Kingdom than timber frame or brick and block building, but it does have a number of advantages.

In most self-built residential properties which use steel materials, a technique called ‘light gauge steel construction’ is used. This is similar to creating a timber frame, but instead of using wood two by fours, light gauge steel members are used and sheets of 1-3mm thick sheets of steel are bent into Z-sections or C-sections.

How Does it Work?

More often used in the construction of high-rise buildings and skyscrapers, steel frame construction involves creating a ‘skeleton’ frame of steel columns and beams, which are laid out in a grid which will then take the weight of floors, walls, ceilings and roofs. Not only are these steel frames lightweight, but they are also extremely strong and very flexible – it’s this ability to bend and deform without sudden collapse which makes steel frame construction such a popular choice in earthquake-prone countries.

Because it is lightweight, a steel frame puts less load on the foundations and this can be an important factor if you’re building on brownfield or infill sites. In most cases the frame will be constructed off-site and can be very quickly installed, meaning shorter construction times and some potentially big cost savings. The floors used in a steel framed construction will generally be pre-cast concrete or composite floor slabs, while the steel walls can be fully insulated.

The Advantages

Steel frame constructions have a number of clear advantages:

  • Quick and easy to build – Unlike brick and block structures which must be assembled on-site and can take weeks or months to complete, steel structures are quick to put up. The skeleton frame and floors are generally constructed off-site and then slotted into place with relative ease, saving both time and money.
  • Easy to shape – Given the flexibility of the steel sheets used, they can be bent into any desired shape, allowing for much more creative architecture.
  • Less pressure on foundations – The lightweight nature of steel means there is less of a load on the foundations. This is particularly important if you’re building on brownfield or infill sites.
  • A wide range of joining methods are available – Bolting, welding and riveting can all be used to join separate elements of the building together, giving much greater choice over construction methods.

The Disadvantages

As always, there’s a down side:

  • Susceptibility to fire – Steel framed buildings are susceptible to fire and lose strength at high temperatures, meaning they will begin to bow and collapse.
  • Prone to corrosion – Steel frames are prone to corrosion in humid or particularly saline air, meaning they’re not a good choice for those living in coastal areas.