Although they are not commonly used, the placement of steel beams for structural support in residential construction is gaining in popularity due to the many advantages that steel offers over traditional wood.
Able to bear a greater load of weight with a smaller profile, steel beams are actually the standard in commercial and industrial construction. Fire-, pest-, and rot-resistant, installing one during a renovation, addition, or the new-construction phase of your home is an excellent way to increase the strength of your structure while opening walls and supporting heavier building materials such as masonry.
Steel beams need to be sized and installed by professionals—this is not a DIY project. A structural engineer should not only size your beams but also ensure that the placement is correct for both inspection and security purposes. Here are some things to think about that might affect the cost of your installation.
Beam Installation - Costs & Considerations
There are two major factors that influence the final cost of steel beam installation: the cost of the beam itself and the installation and labor costs associated with putting that beam where it needs to be in your structure.
The size and weight of the beam you need are clearly important factors that affect the price paid for the beam itself, separate from installation costs. However, steel is a commodity, which means that its prices fluctuate along with market conditions, making it near-impossible to tell what the price of a beam might be in a general sense.
In other words, steel prices are subject to the fluctuations of the steel market and worldwide demand, as expressed by the commodities arm of the stock exchange. Steel beam prices are thus heavily influenced by the supply and demand of the material itself along with associated commodities and the outlook for use in markets as far away as China. When there is a lot of steel available and not many people are using it, prices are low. When steel is limited or a lot of projects require it all at once, the opposite is true.
Since its last peak in 2008, the price of steel has dropped markedly from a high of $1265.00 per ton to a low, reached in the beginning of 2016, of only $90 per ton. This, of course, is the price of raw steel before it is formed into beams of a particular shape and density, but it is a good measurement of the relative price that homeowners can expect to pay compared to what the cost might have been just a few years ago.
While the cost of the I-beam itself can range from several hundred to several thousand dollars depending on size, strength, and market conditions, that is only a portion of the cost that homeowners can expect to pay for their installation. Other factors that impact the final price include:
The price of an engineer who views the site and plans to determine the proper size and strength of the beam needed, which costs $400-$600, on average for a project
The labor rate of the contractor or contractors who perform the installation, which takes about half a day per beam and costs around $200-$400 for each beam
The cost to deliver the beam and lift it into place (if this is not included in contractor pricing), which can cost from $600-$1,200 for labor and equipment rental per day to lift the beam into place.
Available in two major "designs," the most common structural beam used for residential projects is the I-beam. However, that beam comes in two distinct forms, the H-beam and the S-beam. The main determiner of price when it comes to a steel I-beams is not its design or length, however, but rather the height and weight per linear foot of the beam, expressed numerically. Therefore, an 8x17 I-beam is 8 inches high and weighs 17 pounds per linear foot. It will cost less than a 10x35 I-beam. Either beam can be cut to any length. However, it is important to note the differences and functions of the common beam designs to know which will work best for your particular project.
Also called "W" beams, the H-beam design is notable because it lacks any sort of tapered flange at the top and base, thus resembling the letter "H" when laid on its side. H-beams are generally wider than I-beams and conform to the standard specifications required for steel structural shapes that are used when framing commercial buildings. Because of this wider structure, H-beams of the same-density steel are much heavier than I-beams (meaning they have a higher linear weight) and, some people believe, stronger as a result. Because they are stronger, H-beams are able to bear weight at longer lengths for up to 330 feet.
S-beams are by far the more common beam used in residential construction. Notable for their tapered flanges at the top and base, these are also known as Junior beams. The tapered edges of the S-beam are said to supply greater strength at lighter densities. Ideally, this mix works well for smaller buildings where the structural support to the wall does not need to be as strong and too much support will create structural issues. S-beams are usually available in lengths up to 100 feet.
Anatomy of a Load Bearing Beam - Choosing the Right Beam for Your Job
The type of beam you need for your project, as well as the strength and weight required, is directly influenced by the work that the beam needs to perform within the building's structure. Remember, the structural beams of a building are incredibly important in the overall construction of any building, supporting walls and, if the beams are load-bearing, attached via joists to the wood of the floors and ceiling above them. Without this structural support, a building might literally cave in or crumble once weight, such as furniture or people walking, is applied to the structure.
All I-beams only support weight in one direction—vertically—because of their tapered ends. The main vertical section of the I-beam, known as the web, supports all the weight of the structure. It is the thickness of this web that determines the strength of the I-beam and the load it can bear. It is also important to note, however, that because these beams only provide vertical support, situations wherein horizontal pressure and support are needed in addition may require a different type of beam or structure in order to reinforce the building and save it from collapse.