When Does Concrete Construction Make The Most Sense?

Steel may be a popular construction material, but many other factors make concrete tilt-up construction a better choice. A Houston concrete contractor knows when to recommend concrete for the kind of building you have in mind.

The size of the building is usually the predominant factor. Steel is always the cheapest option for structures measuring under 50,000 square feet because the considerable “open the door” costs of renting a crane and other sundry expenses preclude the use of any material except steel. However, projects that are larger than 50,000 square feet offset the extra costs due to the speed of concrete tilt-up construction. Bigger buildings make concrete a more advantageous choice since the lower price of concrete and the increasingly diminished cost of items like a crane add up to a better deal.

A steel building kit is less expensive than a tiltwall concrete building, but modifications or customizations are not included in the original cost. A Houston foundation contractor will add the expenses of the concrete underpinning plus building permits, erection costs, local taxes, wiring, ductwork, interior finishing and environmental controls.

Location is another consideration when deciding between steel buildings and concrete structures. In some cases, Houston metal buildings are not even an option. There are less stringent code restrictions in sparsely populated regions and agricultural areas. If a building is in a heavily populated area, fire codes, building permits and municipal standards are stricter. Fire codes require steel buildings to be spaced farther apart than concrete tilt-up structures, which means more land is necessary for the original construction. In municipalities, steel buildings tend to be on the outskirts of town, and concrete tiltwall buildings are more common in urban areas.

Steel structures have much more restrictive code limitations because they do not provide the type of fire protection that a concrete building does. Steel may not be flammable, but it is not really fireproof. It can become distorted or lose its tensile strength when exposed to excessive heat. In fact, external heat can damage property inside a building that has steel walls even though steel buildings are designed with a variety of heat-reducing technologies, including fire-retarding panels, blankets and sprays. A 6.5-inch concrete wall, on the other hand, can resist fire for four hours or longer. The people and property within a tiltwall or other concrete building are protected better than those in a steel structure.

How the building will be used is another consideration that must be kept in mind when selecting steel or concrete. If the intended use is as a workshop, airplane hangar or storage unit, steel is a good choice. Concrete is a better solution for buildings that will have higher traffic, such as museums, schools, courthouses, post offices or other types of government buildings.

Concrete walls can withstand the rigors of hurricanes or earthquakes better than steel walls. Concrete is also less likely to be damaged by internal incidents, such as forklift or truck collisions. If a forklift rams into a steel wall, the entire wall will probably have to be replaced. A concrete wall can be repaired more easily and less expensively. This is important if you are planning to build a warehouse with a loading dock that will be used continuously by fork lifts and tractor trailers.

Security is another reason to choose concrete. Prisons, defense buildings and other structures that require strict, absolute protection can rely on solid concrete to keep unwanted people from entering. Steel is relatively porous when compared to concrete.

Concrete requires less upkeep, and it does not rot, rust or corrode. It also resists insect infestations. Tiltwall buildings erected over 80 years ago are still intact with few signs of wear. Negligible maintenance and the lower price of insuring concrete buildings decreases the overall cost of using the building. Additionally, concrete buildings hold their value when they are resold. Steel buildings have their place, but concrete is the best choice for larger structures that have high traffic and a long life expectancy.