Steel is the most sustainable building material available.
Steel comes from ore, which is a natural resource. Yet, it’s also one of the most abundantly available raw materials on earth, making up one-third of the earth’s mass.
Despite this, steel’s true sustainability lies in its recyclable and reusable nature. Steel has a handful of other sustainable properties as well.
Let’s appreciate how amazingly sustainable steel really is in five different ways!
Table of Contents
1. Steel Is Infinitely Recyclable
2. Steel Is Strong
3. Steel Is Fire-Resistant
4. Steel Is Impervious to Rot
5. Steel Is Insect-Resistant
6. How To Minimize the Environmental Impact of Structural Steel During the Design Process
7. Sustainability Improvements in Steelmaking
Steel is the most recycled material on earth. However, steel isn’t just recycled once. In fact, you can recycle steel over and over again.
The recycling facts on steel are amazing.
Let’s consider a few:
But the process of recycling steel does take time, energy, and money. Well, you don’t have to recycle structural steel.
You can simply reuse it.
It’s possible to disassemble steel structures from one location. You can then transport and reassemble them in another location.
Alternatively, you can maintain the steel frame while rebuilding the rest of the building for another purpose. You can easily reuse steel frame buildings in one industry for a completely different purpose in a whole other industry.
It’s also possible to reuse the disassembled pieces for scaffolding, shoring, and other non-structural uses.
We’ve already highlighted that steel comes from iron, which covers over ⅓ of the earth’s mass. Still, it ensures iron is non-depletable since it’s infinitely recyclable.
Recycling one pound of steel saves the need for 2,500 pounds of iron ore in the production process. This reduced need for raw materials is a very sustainable aspect of steel production.
The US is a leader in steel sustainability.
There are a lot of hot-rolled structural steel mills dedicated to pure recycled steel scrap. These reduce the environmental impact of the steel industry.
Another amazing aspect of steel is that no matter how many times you recycle it, it never loses any of its properties. So recycled steel is just as strong as virgin steel.
And, no waste from the fabrication, erection, or production of steel goes to the landfill. You can reuse or recycle all unused material from steel construction.
Even the dust particles with ferrous content are recycled back into the steel products. Meanwhile, you can sell the non-ferrous by-products to other industries to use in their products.
For this reason, the Life Cycle Assessment method (LCA) gives steel a much better score than other construction materials.
The LCA is a method used to determine a product’s overall environmental impact from the entire supply chain to every phase of its life. This includes recycling and structure design.
We make structural steel with high-strength steel. This process requires less material to meet load-bearing requirements. In turn, less material means less production of steel, which also means less C02 emissions.
How strong is steel, really?
The tensile strength of structural steel can reach well over 50,000 psi and is extremely durable. But stronger steel is available for even more durability if needed.
Steel is a very resilient material with an elasticity strength of up to 29,000 psi. These properties of steel give it the ability to sustain a higher amount of dead and live loads.
The strength of steel allows for the erection of taller buildings. It also enables steel structures to maintain their shape under extreme weather conditions.
Steel is a non-combustible material, which means it won’t catch fire. In fact, it can retain its strength and shape, even under extreme heat for a prolonged period.
Building frames made of steel can survive a fire if you follow building codes. Not to mention, you can make steel even more fire-resistant by applying a fire-protective coating.
The property loss of all commercial fires in the US reported to local fire departments in 2015-2019 amounted to over 3 billion dollars. With that in mind, opting for steel in the construction of your next project is a wise choice.
Unlike wood, steel doesn’t rot or warp when it gets wet. Steel is also impervious to fungi and other microorganisms.
Sure, steel can rust. Yet, there are options that you can take advantage of to prevent this from happening and even extend steel’s lifespan in wet conditions.
Stainless steel is highly rust-resistant and is often used for structures close to or under water.
Galvanized steel has a layer of zinc applied to the structure’s exterior. This provides a measure of protection against corrosion. Although it’ll eventually rust, it’ll take a significantly longer time.
With steel frames, there’s no need to worry about termites or other pests causing damage to your commercial building.
There are no animals on this green earth that can harm steel. So even if the building sits unoccupied or is in a location known for pest issues, a steel commercial building won’t suffer these damages.
The way we make steel is a large proponent of its sustainability. But you can also improve on that by using sustainable design methods in the construction of your steel structure.
Here are five ways to incorporate sustainability into your design:
Who knows steel better than the fabricator?
That’s why it’s always a good idea to include him in the design of your structure.
The fabricator can give sound advice on how to optimize your structure’s design. For instance, they can help you choose the best steel grade and point out where you can reduce your steel usage while still meeting load requirements.
They’ll also know how to make your product more sustainable.
Some architects may steer towards a certain design or style with all their projects. However, this should be adaptable depending on what material you’re using for the frame.
Since steel has many beneficial properties to take advantage of, it’s wise for the building layout to do so.
With steel, the fewer beams needed, the better. You’ll also want to consider the efficiency of the connections between beams to create the design.
What happens when your design takes into consideration the material you’re using?
Well, you can further reduce your environmental impact by reducing the amount of material needed.
As we’ve discussed, the US has a much more sustainable steel industry than any other country. Therefore, there’s no need to source steel internationally.
If you do, your steel sustainability takes a major hit, as imported steel has a much higher environmental impact. On top of that, your steel will require transportation to your location, adding to the toll on the environment.
Sticking with domestic steel will greatly improve the sustainability of your steel project. But it can improve it even further.
You should also look for the closest steel fabricator to your project location to reduce transportation needs.
Ensure that you won’t have to look too far for your steel pieces by using the most common shapes of steel in your design.
This will ensure that your shapes are in stock and that no special rolling is necessary.
You can reduce the amount of steel needed to complete a project if you opt for higher-grade steel when necessary.
For example, you can upgrade your large columns and belt trusses from grade A992 to A913 grade 65. Doing so won’t increase your tonnage needed but will provide 15 extra ksi to these sections.
Of course, to maintain sustainability, you’ll want to ensure that you can source these higher-grade steels domestically.
When you reduce the amount of material required in your project design, you always add to its sustainability.
You can reduce your steel needs with many of the tactics mentioned above. For example, including the fabricator in your design process, considering steel’s properties, and using higher-grade steel.
The type of bracing system used can also reduce the amount of material needed for your steel framing. Moment framing is the most efficient, needing less material to meet load requirements. However, it comes with a higher production cost.
Cambering floor members can reduce the amount of material needed. Cambering is when you put just enough of a curve into the floor beam to increase the strength of that beam by causing a load deflection.
Composite design, especially for multi-story buildings, can reduce the material needed, reduce cost, and improve project schedules, making construction quick and sustainable.
Composite construction incorporates the steel beam with the concrete slab as one unit. As a result, you can reduce the amount needed for either material and use shear connectors to transfer the load evenly across the two materials.
The US has become the most energy-efficient steel manufacturer in the world. And we make more sustainable steel than all other countries put together.
We’ve always used recycled scrap steel to produce new steel in the steel industry, but even this isn’t carbon neutral.
So, to reduce the carbon footprint of steel even further, we’ve found a way to swap natural gas in manufacturing instead of coal and coke. This method emits less carbon dioxide.
We also use EAFs (electric arc furnaces) for energy, a cleaner way to produce steel. Again, these blast furnaces lower greenhouse gas emissions.
The US uses domestic iron ore pellets, producing fewer carbon emissions and fewer by-products like NOx, SO2, and particulate matter.
There have been some new developments in iron as well.
For one, next to the EAF steel plants, there are often gas-based iron reduction plants that produce two forms of cleaner iron:
The use of renewable energy sources to run these furnaces and iron reduction plants reduces the rate of energy consumption causing climate change.
Steel mills recycle all the water they use in production on a closed loop. This is another way steel production is improving to reduce its environmental impact.
Steel is a great choice for constructing larger projects due to its sustainable properties.
Choosing sustainable materials in your next commercial project helps you save money. But you can also feel good knowing you’re reducing the carbon footprint your project will leave on this planet.
Are you dedicated to using sustainable materials and methods for your next project? Are you also seeking a construction company that can match that dedication?