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Steel vs. Concrete: Which is the Better Building Material?

Steel vs. Concrete: Which is the Better Building Material?

BlogDate: 02-08-2023 by: Ngoc Cam

Building reinforced concrete and steel frames is a popular choice in the construction field today. The frequently asked question is between steel and concrete: Which building material is better? To answer this, we also compare both materials' benefits, drawbacks, and suitability for the project.

1. Weight

Concrete structures have high compressive stress resistance, often used to make bridge girders, railway sleepers, power poles, gravity dams,... The reinforced concrete structures are bulky and can be up to 2700kg/m3.

Construction steel is made up of alloys, in which the main components include steel, carbon accounted for 0.02 - 2.06%, and other elements such as silicon, phosphorus, and sulfur. Depending on the chemical composition, each type of steel will have a different weight. However, the steel structures have a small, compact cross-section, which makes steel 60% lighter than concrete.

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2. Value

When choosing construction materials, investors will prioritize choosing those that are suitable for the project but have the most optimal cost. Steel can be recycled from readily available materials, which makes steel much cheaper than other materials. Lightweight, faster production and shipping time, saving labor costs.

Meanwhile, concrete is composed of many components, such as cement, sand, gravel, water, and various additives. The lengthy production and assembly process leads to higher concrete prices.

However, concrete prices are usually stable. Some studies show that since 2000, the price of concrete has increased steadily with the rate of inflation, making it easier for investors to control and better plan their purchases. Steel prices are more volatile than concrete due to the significant dependence on each country's market context and duty adjustments.

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3. Strength

The strength of a building material represents its capacity to resist crushing forces in the structure. The compressive strength of the material helps to withstand vertical loads without damage. Although concrete has impressive compressive strength, it is brittle and easily fractured under high tension. To overcome the above weakness, reinforcing bars are used to strengthen concrete.

The tensile and shear of steel is 8 times higher than that of concrete, and its resistance to compressive, tensile, and flexural stress is also better. Thanks to the advantage of the strength factor, steel has become one of the most used construction materials.

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4. Design

The basic properties of steel are ductility, hardness, durability, and resistance to oxidation from the environment. The ductility of steel depends on the carbon content present in the steel. The larger the ratio, the more complex the steel and vice versa. 

5. Safety

Concrete is considered a safe building material thanks to its ability to withstand harsh climatic conditions and environmental factors for a long time. However, the disadvantage of concrete is that if not handled properly, it will release a significant amount of carbon into the environment.

Compared to concrete, steel has a lightness and good ductility, which helps to increase absorption and reduce impact and destruction in earthquakes. The New York Times reported that steel structures can withstand earthquakes better than concrete structures.

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6. Fire resistance

Concrete and steel have different igniting temperatures, but when the fire temperature is reached, the materials will all be heated and spread, causing a big fire. Depending on the aggregate composition used, the compressive strength of concrete loses at temperatures between 800oF and 1200oF. Thanks to its insulating properties and poorer rate of heat transfer, concrete is more fire-resistant than steel. To overcome this situation, construction engineers will apply additional layers of fireproof paint, a cooling system, or a concrete cover to slow the rate of temperature rises in the structural steel elements of a building.

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7. Sustainability and environmental impact

Both concrete and steel are environmentally friendly materials due to their ability to be recycled and efficient to manufacture. Steel recycling only consumes 1/3 of the production energy compared to steel from iron ore without losing strength.

Concrete is also a highly sustainable material thanks to the production areas close to the construction site, which saves a lot of time and costs for transportation. In particular, concrete can be recycled to make gravel, aggregates, paving materials,..., so it will contribute to reducing waste in construction.

Hopefully, the sharing on the topic “Steel vs. Concrete: Which is the better building material” by MRS Steel has made it easy for you to choose the most suitable construction material. If you have any questions and need to consult products and import genuine steel from Vietnam, please contact us via Email: vanloc@mrssteel.com.vn for the best support from a team of MRS Steel experts.