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Residential Steel Beams

Residential Steel Beams

Residential steel beam - There are quite a few in a home I built in Amberley Village, Ohio. The beams are 10 inches tall and weigh 31 pounds per linear foot. You can span up to 14 feet with these! © 2018 Tim Carter

A residential steel beam is very common in most homes. Most are 8 inches tall, but 10 or 12-inch-high beams allow you to span greater distances with fewer pesky columns.

Revised February 2018

Residential Steel Beam TIPS

  • Beams come in all sizes, thicknesses, weights, lengths and galvanized
  • Steel columns supporting beams should be welded and the columns filled with sand
  • Watch VIDEOS below about beams & columns!
  • Taller beams allow you to put columns farther apart
  • Structural engineers or architects must size beams
  • CLICK HERE to Get Tim's FREE & FUNNY Newsletter

DEAR TIM: My house plan calls for steel beams that will support the floor joists and even parts of a brick wall. Can I substitute wood beams for steel? Is a steel I beam hard to handle on the jobsite?

Do you think I can install one with some friends? How can you get the best steel beam prices as my budget is pretty tight? If I find a used steel beam, do you see any problems incorporating that into my new home? Steve B., Cinnaminson, NJ

Related Links

Column & Beam Construction - Use Steel and Wood

Beam Installation Basics - Be Careful!

DEAR STEVE: Steel I beams are pretty husky structural components used sparingly on a residential building site, because wood is the primary structural material found in most homes.

However, steel is a ho-hum material on a commercial or industrial construction project as it’s the mainstay of these larger projects where wood is scorned because of its inherent fire danger and limited characteristics as buildings get big.

Residential Steel Beam Video - Exposed Beams For Modern Look

This video has lots of great photos of steel beams used in homes. You may get inspiration from watching this. It's worth it.

CLICK HERE to get FREE & FAST BIDS from local structural engineers in your city or town.

Architects and engineers employ steel beam design in homes for both beams and columns because it’s so strong. You can typically hold up the same loads with wood, but you need more of it and usually the size of a wood beam is much larger than a steel I beam, that’s holding up the same amount of weight.

Termites and other wood-destroying insects don’t eat steel, so that’s a distinct advantage if you want certain parts of your home to remain standing.

You can substitute, in many cases, a wood beam for a structural steel beam. If you desire to do this, be sure you have a structural engineer, or an architect, specify the material and the needed supports.

If you do use steel, pay close attention to the connection details at the steel beam support. The connections between the beam and columns must be secure.

Steel is Heavy - Human Crane Lifts Kitchen Steel Beam Video

Watch this video to see how many men can lift a steel beam. Better have people you can TRUST doing this!

Don't rely on simple thin straps on top of columns that bend over the bottom flange of the beam. These tabs are just temporary measures until a welder shows up.

Do NOT Put Masonry On A Wood Beam

I would never install masonry on a wood beam. There's too great a chance the wood will deflect and cause failures in the masonry. What’s more, it may be a building-code violation in your area.

Steel beams, as you might suspect, are heavy. Steel beam dimensions and sizes are not the same. You can have two different beams that are nearly identical in height and length, but one may weigh twice as much as the other beam.

Typically, you’ll see beam sizes called out in numeric form like 8x17. Usually this means the steel beam is very close to 8 inches tall and weighs 17 pounds per linear foot. This is a very common size found in many residential homes. But you can get 8-inch-tall steel I-beams that weigh over 35 pounds per foot. I installed 10x31 beams in the last house I built for myself.

Two Men Setting a Residential Steel Beam

Watch these two corn-fed men put a steel beam in place in less than two minutes! WOW!

CLICK HERE to get FREE & FAST BIDS from local structural engineers in your city or town.

Taller Beams are Better

The issue with the typical 8x17 steel beams you find in many homes is they require support columns about every 8 feet on average. If you go to finish a basement, these columns are problematic.

You can avoid lots of columns by installing a taller beam. The taller the beam, say 10 or 12 inches rather than 8 inches, the greater the distance you can span between support posts. I had spans as great as 14 feet in my own basement using the 10x31 steel beams.

Heavier beams can sometimes span greater distances between posts. An 8x35 steel beam can carry more weight than an 8x17. A structural engineer or savvy architect can refer to his steel-beam guide and determine all of this for you.

CLICK HERE to get FREE & FAST BIDS from local STEEL-BEAM fabricators!

Rust Prevention for a Residential Steel Beam - Galvanize or Paint

If you're going to be using steel in a wet area and are worried about rust, you can order them hot-dipped galvanized. I worked with galvanized beams and columns for a job I did at an orphanage in Jamaica. The cost is higher, but if you need that rust protection, realize it's available.

If you can't afford galvanizing, then prime and finish paint the steel beams and columns before you install them. Put on three coats of paint for the best protection and use a special rust-preventative paint made for steel.

x-o rust paint and primer

Here's a spray paint that's great for steel beams and columns. It contains a metal primer. This brand also is available in quart or gallon cans if you have LOTS of steel to paint. CLICK THE IMAGE TO ORDER IT NOW.

But take a moment and do the math. Let’s say you have a ranch home and a 40-foot-long 8x17 beam is called for in the plans. You can have that beam delivered to your building site.

Don’t try lifting it yourself, as it weighs almost 700 pounds. A smaller beam that long presents handling challenges as well because it will be like a wet piece of spaghetti when you pick it up with all your friends. If you’ve never handled beams before, it’s best to work with smaller ones before trying to handle long pieces of steel.

Steel Is Cheap - Well Worth The Investment

Steel is a commodity, and its price fluctuates. The current steel beam price you have to pay for new steel may not be bad as you might think. Currently, the market is depressed and supply may be far greater than demand. You may be pleasantly surprised to discover that you can purchase a construction steel beam for not much money.

You may be able to find decent steel beams from a demolition contractor who routinely salvages them from buildings. They sell them for scrap, so the price you pay will usually be much less than that of a new beam. However, you have all sorts of challenges when dealing with used beams. You might not get the exact size you need, the beams can be bent and you have to figure out how to transport it to your job site. My guess is a demolition contractor is not set up to do this for you. But stranger things have happened.

At the end of the day when you compare all the costs involved in obtaining a used beam instead of a new one, you may discover there’s not that much of a difference in price. In any event, be sure the beams you use are primed and painted to prevent or minimize rust. Scroll up to get the best paint.

Steel Columns

I'd never use wood to support a steel column. It's best to use steel. Round steel columns are the universal standard in residential construction. The issue is in a fire, the steel columns can soften and the beam can collapse.

You can avoid steel columns from bending and failing in a fire by filling them with dry sand. Just order the steel column with a 1/2-inch hole drilled about two inches down from the top. Use a plastic tube and a funnel to pour the sand into the column.

Be sure you have a welder weld the steel column to the underside of the beam for the best connection. You can also have the steel fabricators drill holes in the bottom of the beam flange and bolt the column to the beam. You'll have to price out each option to see what's the most economical in your area.

If you decide to try to erect the steel yourself on a job site, be very aware of the dangers. The pockets in a poured concrete foundation are not that deep and if you’re not careful the beam can slide out of one end while you’re futzing with the other end of the beam.

To level beams in pockets you need solid-steel shims of different thicknesses. Never use wood shims, even treated lumber that is not supposed to rot. The heavy loads on the beam can compress the wood over time.

Steel beams can be blown over by wind if they are not secured. I’ve seen beams collapse after a rainstorm saturated clay soil causing it to expand and lift up columns that are supporting the beams. Hundreds of pounds of weight floating above your head and body on a construction site are never to be underestimated.

The size of steel beams and the size and spacing of the steel columns that support the beams needs to be done by a trained and educated professional. You can't guess and hope the beams and columns will work. Hire a structural engineer or an architect that has deep experience in sizing beams and columns when you decide to install or modify any you might be working with in your home.

Author's Notes

I received the following email from James Calhoun, who is an Architect. He wrote:

"Tim, something you might want to know. Most municipality building codes do now allow used structural elements, like old steel beams, to be placed into new constructions without certifications by an Architect or Engineer (who in their right mind would do that...) or a serious (50%) devaluation of the rated structural capability of the member. Otherwise, you did a good piece on the advantages of steel in residential structures. I design steel for homes all the time."

Thanks, James.

CLICK HERE to get FREE & FAST BIDS from local structural engineers in your city or town.

Column 818


31 Responses to Residential Steel Beams

  1. i'm curious if you can dig under a sinking solid foundation in several places and run steel i beams under the foundation in order to level foundation. seems like a better way of doing it than what i see locally. most of the homes in my neighborhood have cracked foundations, built in the late 60s in the highlands hills area southeast san antonio. have heard bad soil and also cheap construction from builders.

  2. Hi Tim and others, I hope you are well.

    I'm working through your book Basic Structural Concepts, but I'm still stuck on how to specify the elements in my own steel structure.

    I'm building a very simple single-story 36sqm home/office with a roof terrace. Instead of concrete for the terrace, I'm using cement board (because it's a lot lighter) that will be sealed and covered with tiles.

    However, I have no idea how to work out what steel elements to use in the construction to support the weight of the terrace (and other live loads).

    Please can you recommend any (inexpensive) software that will allow me to draw in the design - of the columns and beams - and enter the overall load. And then calculate the minimum specifications of the steel members that will support the structure.

    Alternatively, is there a (layman's) book that explains how to calculate this roughly (not just a way to calculate the loads, but how to choose and position the individual steel members). I can always add in a 50% margin for safety in case I miscalculated or overlooked something.

  3. I want to obtain this house that was built in 1859 and the structure is pretty bad. I need to create a cantilevered overhang that will be approx. 4 feet wide by 28 feet long-- down one side of the house to allow for a proposed driveway. I was looking for someone in the Cleveland area who knows how to design and install steel I- beams in old Residential construction. I figure the house would need a complete skeleton of I-beams rising vertically from basement footers placed at equal distances from center of house and than capped off with horizontal I-beams - both of which will need to project 4 feet beyond to create a cantilevered (shelf) to support the existing 4 feet x 28 feet upstairs-- while the 4 feet by 28 feet lower section will be removed to make room for proposed driveway. It is really hard to find someone who is an engineer --who will look at old residential construction and blueprint this for the permit process, and erect it. Do you know of anyone who is qualified and willing to take on such a project? If so please forward them my e-mail address. Thank you, Al in Cleveland, Ohio

  4. hello, I would like to open a load bearing wall, I have a 2 story home, around 400 sq ft in each level, with 8 ft height ceiling, there are 2 metal I beams in the basement, in the center there is a lally metal column, and each beam is around 10 ft long, 8 inches height. I want to open the wall above, but just 14 ft long, there is a stair going to second fl in one corner, what size of I beam should I use to support the second fl, which has 2 bedrooms and 1 bath plus the roof. I will use the post to be sit on top of the i beams in the basement. thanks. and Happy New Year!!!

  5. Hi. Our basement has a 5 inch metal beam supporting one story above it. The metal story above it is about 22 by 22 feet. The beam originally spanned the 22 feet and had two metal posts holding it up at even intervals. Before we bought the house the previous owner had taken out one support beam leaving around 14 feet without any supports. So far there has been no sagging in the floor above, but I am still questioning if this seems like enough to support it. My husband things I'm too concerned and that if it were going to fail it would be sagging by now. He says because it's metal it should be fine he does not want to out a support beam back in and in fact covered up the original footing spot with flooring. Any advice?

  6. Hi. My builders have installed 2 steel beams in my loft, but I have learnt that a 4 inches brick wall will not support them. Is this true?

  7. Hi there. I bought a piece of property in callaway fl bay county that had a mobile home on it. I tore the mobile home down and built a house. However I left the I beam under it. Is it considered a house now or a mobile home. Thanks for that assistance

  8. I live in the Bronx I have an old home in need of a steel support beam. I have the beam n lolly columns just need them installed. Need holes drilled in foundation for Lollys.

  9. Hi - we have a steel joist with steel posts supporting it in our basement which is about 20 feet wide or so. The beam goes into the basement wall (cinder block) and supported by 4 steel posts. We'd really like to remove 1-2 of these posts if possible to free up the basement space. Where might I find more information on how many is actually needed to support our house (we have a 1400 sqft coloniel)?

  10. I have a 115 year old house that I need to lift so that I can redu the footings and perimeter foundation. It is a 2 story house, 2408 sqft per floor. What size I beams would I need to lift it. I was thinking of 3 beams, it is 47 ft by 49 ft that includes a porch that is in an L shape on 1 corner. Any help would be appreciated thanks.

  11. Hi Tim,

    Building a new house and architect drawings give us a wide space in the family kitchen and dining area. Steel is required to support the floor above and professional advice has suggested a 30inch beam which will not fit in the floor joists and we don't have high ceilings so will feel protruding if hanging down, obviously covered. Have you any suggestions as alternatives to retain large space and keep a flat ceiling? Cheers.

  12. You should make a visit to southeastern Mexico where virtually all residential construction is done with concrete and rebar, sometimes with i-beams as well. As I write this, two albanils (concrete guys) are putting 2 steel beams up to support part of my concrete-and-rock roof. The beams were removed from another part of the house, sandblasted down to bright silver steel, then painted with a 3-part marine anti-rust primer.
    Once they are in place, the guys will cage the beams in primed rebar, build a wood box around it all, then bang two holes thru the roof and pour in wet concrete to encase it.
    We're 100 yards from the Gulf of Mexico, so painting rebar and beams is critical.
    By the way, even kitchen/bathroom cabinets and shelves are built in place with concrete here. If you're really into construction a visit would be interesting!

  13. Lost my home to the march 2016 flood. My grandfather had built or home in62' house has seen water 5 times since 1962. I made the decision to level the house after this last floors ood.the carport has 3 steel beams that run horizontal. I left the carport standing. The house was over 5,000 sq ft living. Don't ask me, crazy right. My daughter and I dispertly need to leave our temporary living place. Is it possible to utilize the 3 exciting beams and built off that?

    • I'd just read my "Rust Paint" columns here on my website. Your challenge will be painting all surfaces of the beam.

      Sandblasting is the way pros get rid of rust before they repaint.

  14. Is an I beam my only hope to open a 25 foot area (replacing a load bearing wall /dead load?) I don't want columns.

    • Yes you can get the beam, but now all that weight has to go down the walls, the walls now has to be re enforce, but then there are also the footings to be re enforce ..........can cost alot depending on how much weight we talking about holding up, its never just the beam and wham bam thank you mam

  15. We are extending our kitchen and our family room 9ft into our backyard. Both kitchen and family room are sharing the same space 13ft x 36ft. They are on the first floor below our master bedroom and master bathroom. Our project is to extends both rooms into our backyard by 9ft. The new kitchen and family room will be 22ft x 42ft. Will it be possible to use the steel beam and avoid post in the middle of the space? I got different feedback from different architects. Some said it was possible while some said it wasn't.

    • Oh simple.

      How much load is on the beam? Where are the loads concentrated? How much room is there for the beam? What kind of access is there to the job site to lift and place the beam?

      Can you see why it's impossible for anyone other than a structural engineer to size the beam? Don't try to do this yourself and for goodness sake don't take any information from an invisible person on the internet and use it to size the beam.

      An engineer needs to look at your plan, make calculations, and come back with an additional plan showing how the beam is placed, supported, and connected to everything.

      There's no digital magic wand that gives you this information.

  16. I am looking to buy an acre of land that has a rising elevation from the road to cliffs at the back of the property. I want to use a very simple steel beam construction for a glassed in structure (think Ferris Buehler's Day Off) on the hillside between the cliffs and road below. How difficult is placing vertical steel columns & beams in an off-grid location?

    • You don't need electricity to place steel columns and beams. Everything can be fabricated with special bolts as are modern skyscrapers.

      Good luck with this project. You'll need a top-rate builder.

  17. My father suddenly passed away just over 2yrs now & I got his house & I'm trying to fix it up cuz the east wall is blowing in & leaks water. It is butted up against the driveway. Do I have to do wall anchors or can I get some I-Beams & slowly push it back with hydraulic Jack's & than anchoring those beam's into the cement floor & the wooden floor headers above?! I am desperately in need of some cheap solution for I have no financial help available, I am a only child & I have no credit (not bad, not good -- just no credit) (but the house is paid off)

    • Sara,

      Sorry you had to send your dad back to Heaven. Been there done that with both my parents.

      There are methods of installing small 4-inch i-beams that connect to the floor joists above and are put into holes in the concrete slab below to stabilize bowed foundation walls. Unfortunately, it's expensive to have this done by others, but with determination it is a DIY job.

  18. To the questions asked by Jason, Neither of these situations is acceptable. The beams MUST be centered over the support column, the shorter beam that is not in the pocket is clearly NOT supporting anything at all, this is not acceptable. The beams must be connected together and they MUST be connected to the column either by bolting or welding. There is another issue that was not questioned, the two beams are different heights, so it would appear that the floor above will NOT be flat, this will cause installation problems when the finished floor is installed. I have to wonder how many other screw ups this builder has left that Jason does not understand. He needs to get a knowledgeable inspector in there to see what other screw ups there are.

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