When do I need a steel beam?

When do I need a steel beam

Steels beams are widely used in commercial construction projects due to their versatility, strength and affordability.

Although the material has many positive benefits for use in all construction, steel usage in residential properties is still a relatively new concept.

Prior to steel, wooden beams and concrete were the materials of choice for housebuilders, as the support required for residential homes was much smaller than that of a larger, commercial building.

But with the recent popularity of home extensions, loft conversions and other interior design trends such as open plan living and bi-fold doors, steel beams have become a popular component across residential builds.

With all these modern interior design elements being incorporated into today’s homes, steel beams have since been utilised to make these contemporary features a reality.

They help brace the open spaces that are popular into today’s homes whilst conforming to the strict regulations for building regulations health and safety.

Due to the array of benefits steel is becoming the go-to choice for many architects and structural engineers who will be your main advisors on which materials to use when designing/building your home.

For some aspects of your build, steel may be the only choice that will enable you to achieve your dream design but in other areas, you may have a choice to make. So it is worth considering the many benefits of using steel for your project.

What are the benefits of using steel beams?

Steel beams have now become the main structural component in the construction of buildings, particularly in extensions and other modern design features.

This is because steel is quick, strong, cost-effective, versatile and safe.

Steel can hold large loads compared with its relative size, create open spaces, apex windows, support a whole glass wall, taking up minimum space all whilst ensuring walls are stable and able to withstand the weight of the structure.

Alongside this advantage, there are a number of other ways in which a steel beam can be of benefit to your construction project.

These include:


One of the most important advantages to steel being used in construction is its versatility.

From extensions to foundations, residential to commercial properties, the design possibilities of steel are vast, making it a popular choice from everyone to home renovators, architects and structural engineers.

A steel structure can be fabricated for your projects design and structural needs and it can be altered and added to.

Different options can be utilised to work into the design, for example, if a large beam is needed then sometimes if there is not enough space in a roof, then a smaller beam can be used and strengthened by fabrication practices such as connecting two beams together or welding on additions.


As a material, although steel has many advantages, it’s also typically much cheaper than other construction materials.

Alongside its initial cost, it also has a much longer lifespan than other materials, and with its composition also making it very easy to maintain, additional cost isn’t required for its maintenance. 

However, the real cost-saving comes due to the lack of time it takes to erect on site.

As a fabricated product steel is fabricated in a factory accurately and then brought to site ready to be erected and bolted together without any further work.

This saves labour costs onsite and on costly delays due to our notorious British weather by getting you in the dry as quickly as possible.

Speed of construction

With the development of steel fabrication technology, the building of steel beams is a relatively quick and easy process for fabricators.

Many fabricators have the capacity to accurately fabricate to a percentage of a millimetre and can produce hundreds of tonnes of steelwork on a weekly basis.

The concept of pre-fab is thought of as relatively new in the residential construction sector but steel is the traditional pre-fabricated building material.

All steel beams and connections can be pre-fabricated by your chosen fabricator and delivered in next to no time ready to put in position and bolt together onsite.

That’s it and you’re done moving on to the next stage of your project saving time and, most importantly, money.


Steel also offers safety to construction too, its composition means it is fire and mould resistant naturally and when treated is also rust-resistant and lasts longer than most other building products.

Steel is also highly regulated in the UK and due to its composition, it can be more accurately tested for its structural capabilities making it the more reliable and safer option to trust the structural capacity of any building to.

Alongside offering safety, due to the fact steel is a manufactured product and is so highly regulated it is now believed that around 90% of all structural steel is recycled. Scrap is turned into new and re-used!

This means it is one of the most environmentally conscious building materials on the market, as well as being the safest.

How far can a steel I-beam span without support?

As steel beams are not a standardised product this question, although asked regularly, has the same answer to ‘how long is a piece of string?’

The length a beam can span depends on two factors:

  • the size of the beam itself
  • and the weight/force it has to support

Steel work can be fabricated to span huge expanses, just look at every bridge you’ve ever crossed. 

As a standard the larger the beam the larger the expanse it can span without support but for domestic construction projects, larger beams are somewhat impractical and can’t always be utilised to support a heavier weight.

They can be a hassle to incorporate into residential designs as they can’t be manoeuvred easily without the use of heavy machinery, or without the addition of larger columns or padstone.

However, there is always a get around. Smaller beams can be strengthened in order to span areas they wouldn’t normally be viable for by using clever engineering and fabrication.

For example, two small beams can be bolted together or a flat steel plate can be welded to an existing single beam to strengthen the weight/force you can bear on it and the span it can cover.

None of this is something you need to worry about though! Once you have gone through the process of having your project designed by an architect you will be advised to use a structural engineer.

They will look at your design and work out what structural elements such as steel beams you will need and they will provide drawings to show where and what these steel elements need to be. You don’t need to worry about it!

All you need to do is pass us on these drawings and we can quote you from these.

With 30 years of experience in working with structural steel, we can be on hand to give you the knowledge and assistance you will need to bring any sized construction project to life.

To speak with a member of our team for advice or support on the steel components needed for your domestic construction project, please feel free to contact us today on 01384 389096 or email us at info@steelsdirect.co.uk.