Different Types of Steel Beams And Their Applications

Like ventilators provide life support in medicine, steel beams offer long-term structural support and stability for tall buildings and other structures during construction. If you are starting in the construction industry or are a veteran, it is only right that you know the different types of steel beams and their applications. Let’s dive right in!

What Are Steel Beams?

Steel beams are the backbones of any construction project, they are long metal bars that can carry heavy loads. They are designed to distribute the weight and forces on a structure, such as the weight of floors, walls, and roofs, as well as the external forces like wind and seismic activity. 

You may be wondering why constructors opt for steel beams; that is because they have a high strength-to-weight ratio. Steel is lightweight, incredibly strong, and can withstand heavy loads. This allows for the setting up of robust and durable structures without excessive weight, making them more cost-effective and easier to handle during construction.

Common Advantages of Steel Beams

Steel beams is leveraged for various projects, and they offer many benefits to constructors. Here are some advantages of steel beams:

  • Improved Strength: Steel beams support heavy loads over long spans without sagging or failing. This is one of their main characteristics, making them ideal for providing stability and structural integrity to various structures. 
  • Versatile: Steel beam’s versatility enables architects, builders, and engineers to create unique and innovative structures, optimizing space utilization and achieving architectural aesthetics.
  • Cost-Effective: While steel beams have a higher upfront cost than other materials, their long-term cost-effectiveness is the best part about utilizing them. They require minimal maintenance and replacement, so it is a great choice for saving on long-term costs. 
  • Easy Installation: Steel beams do not need to be manufactured on-site, ensuring proper manufacturing and easy installation. This feature enables them to reduce construction time. They are among the types of lightweight steel beams, so you don’t have to struggle while carrying them around. 
  • Resistance to Combustion: When it comes to construction, fire hazards are one of the pressing incidents that need mitigation. Luckily, steel beams do not burn or contribute to the spread of fire, so they provide a higher level of safety in case of fire incidents.
  • Environment-friendly: Steel beams can be recycled and repurposed, reducing the demand for raw materials and energy-intensive production processes, contributing to environmental conservation and reducing carbon footprint.
  • Durability: Steel beams are less susceptible to rotting, warping, or termite damage than wooden beams, ensuring structures’ longevity and reducing maintenance and replacement costs.

Advantages of Steel Beams

  • Structural Consistency: Steel beams are manufactured to precise specifications, ensuring uniformity and consistency in their structural properties. This consistency enhances the predictability of their performance, making engineering calculations and load distribution more reliable.
  • Flexibility in Design Changes: They can accommodate design changes or modifications during construction or future renovations. Steel beams can be easily modified or reinforced without compromising the structure’s integrity. This flexibility allows adaptability to evolving needs and reduces costs associated with major structural alterations.

Steel beams combine their strength with stringent quality control measures in manufacturing, ensuring structural stability and minimizing the risk of structural failure. They also resist external forces like earthquakes and strong winds, providing safer structures in seismic-prone or high-wind regions.

The Differences Between Steel Columns and Beams

Steel columns and steel beams are two different support systems for various construction needs, including bridges, industrial buildings, towers, stadia, and other structures. The table below delves deeper into the differences between steel columns and steel beams.

Parameter Steel Columns Steel Beams
Purpose Vertical members, designed to support compressive loads and transfer weight from the structure above to the foundation. Horizontal or inclined members, designed to resist bending forces and transfer loads to the columns or walls.
Function Provide vertical support, stability, and load-bearing capacity to the structure. Provide horizontal support, distribute loads, and resist bending and deflection.
Shape Cylindrical or rectangular. Steel beams come in various shapes, such as U-channels, box beams, and I-beams.
Load Type Designed to withstand compressive loads and prevent buckling. Designed to withstand bending forces and distribute loads evenly.
Installation Installed vertically, from the foundation to the structure’s upper levels. Installed horizontally, connecting columns or walls and supporting floors or roofs.
Cross-Sectional Area Usually uniform throughout the length, with a constant shape and size. Varies along the length, with tapered or variable cross-sections to optimize the strength-to-weight ratio.
Connections Connected to the foundation and other structural members through base plates, anchor bolts, or welding. Connected to columns or walls through welding, bolting, or other fastening methods.
Stability Provide stability against vertical loads and prevent buckling or excessive deflection. Contribute to the structure’s stability against horizontal forces, such as wind or seismic loads.
Material Made of steel or steel-reinforced concrete. Steel
Design Considerations Factors like slenderness ratio, buckling resistance, and column design equations are essential considerations. Factors like moment of inertia, section modulus, and beam deflection calculations are crucial for design.
Common Applications Construction of high-rise buildings, bridges, and other structures requiring vertical support. Floor systems, roofs, bridges, and other applications require horizontal load distribution.

Classification of Steel Beams in Construction

The classification of the types of steel beams used in construction depends on many factors and the next section highlights the various types of steel beams used in construction; before that, here is a detailed description of these rankings: 

1. Support

Support refers to how the beams are anchored or connected to other structural elements. It is crucial to distribute the load and ensure the structure’s stability. This classification considers the specific requirements and design considerations of your construction project, including the span of the beam, the load it needs to bear, and structural arrangement. 

These supports are not fixated on one purpose because they have different sizes and shapes. These dimensions and designs determine whether the beam will be stagnant on two ends, free on one end, stuck on the other, or free on both ends.

2. Geometry

This classification covers the shape and profile of the steel beams. A steel beam’s geometry significantly impacts its structural behavior and how it distributes loads. Different geometric shapes offer varying strength, stiffness, and resistance levels to different forces.

The general factors to be considered when selecting a steel beam for your construction project include the magnitude and direction of the applied loads, the span length, the available space for installation, and the desired aesthetic appearance.

3. Cross-Section

The cross-sectional shape of a steel beam determines its structural behavior, load-carrying capacity, and resistance to bending and torsional forces. Common cross-sectional shapes of steel beams include rectangular, square, circular, T-shaped, and L-shaped, having unique properties and benefits, making them suitable for specific applications. For instance, circular beams are used in bridges and towers because they have high torsional resistance. 

Types of Steel Beams Based on Cross-Section

As discussed earlier, cross-section steel beams come in different forms with various advantages, including strength, versatility, and structural configurations. Keep reading to learn more about the various types of steel beams under this classification and their applications.

Types of Steel Beams Based on Cross-Section

1. I-Beams (Universal Beams) 

As the name implies, these types of structural steel beams have an “I” design that allows them to distribute loads evenly along their length, improving their efficiency for carrying loads longer. It makes them popular for structural integrity applications like bridges and building frames. 

They have a web and two flanges connecting them, and the web takes a vertical shape while the two flanges are horizontally positioned. The web is the main load-bearing component, while the flanges provide additional support. The market has no specific size and dimension of I-beams; you can get them in various widths and depths depending on your needs.

2. H-Beams

H-beams are made of hot-rolled structural steel—a material popular for exhibiting remarkable strength and durability. These beams also have a web carrying the load, while their legs (flanges) serve the purpose of strength contribution. 

One of the main benefits of steel beams is their ability to resist bending and other forces, and the shape of H-beams enables them to beat these conditions better than I-beams. Aside from their high tensile strength, they are also corrosion-resistant, particularly important for harsh environments.

They support elevated structures and can be  joined together by welding or bolting, offering flexibility and impressive support for floors, roofs, and other horizontal structures. 

3. W-Beams (Wide Flange Beams) 

All steel beams are carryable and hold substantial loads. However, some do better than others and wide flange beams are one of the pack leaders. They can distribute massive loads evenly, even better than I and H-beam steel while allowing constructors to carry them easily due to their shape and design. 

On the other hand, their web provides additional structural stability allowing them to resist bending and torsion forces. They can also be utilized as vertical columns, representing pillars for tall structures.

4. Channel Beams (C-Beams or U-Channels)

Channel beams have a design resembling the letter “C.” They are also known as C-beams or U-channels and have vast applications because of their unique shape consisting of a flat horizontal section, the web, and two vertical sections—flanges, all supporting high buildings and structures. 

In addition, C-beams are highly versatile, having vertical or horizontal installation options, depending on your project needs. This versatility supports building frames, machinery, and vehicle chassis. 

5. L-Angle Beams

With angle irons or bars as their common names, L-angle beams are formed by bending a metal, such as steel, into a right angle consisting of two flanges (legs) of equal or unequal lengths connected at a 90-degree angle. The corner where the two flanges or legs meet is called the vertex.

L-angle beams are strong and rigid, with the L-shape providing structural stability while allowing the beam to resist compressive and tensile forces effectively. This stability and rigidity make them ideal for heavy load support, construction frameworks, fabricating shelves, machinery support, the creation of bracing systems, and reinforcing structures. 

They also come in various shapes, thicknesses, and designs, with the metal’s dimension determining the beam’s strength and stiffness. L-beams are also easy to install, and they can be bolted, welded, or secured by various fastening methods.

6. T-Beams

T-beams or Tee beams consist of two flanges (legs) and a web. Unlike other beam types, their top leg is wider and thicker than the bottom leg, while the web connects the two beam legs to provide improved strength, rigidity, and support for the entire beam. 

They also efficiently use materials by distributing loads evenly and more effectively, allowing for longer spans and reduced structural depth than other steel beams, resulting in more flexible designs.

7. Hollow Structural Sections (HSS)

Hollow Structural Sections or tubes are tabular-shaped structural members made from steel and available in various shapes, including rectangular, square, and circular sections. Their walls are usually uniform in thickness and can be formed by hot-rolling or cold-forming. Cold-formed HSS are fabricated from flat steel strips, formed into the desired shape, and welded to create a closed tube. 

They have a high strength-to-weight ratio and a hollow-cross section providing excellent load-bearing capacity while minimizing the structure’s weight, making it ideal for automotive structures, building frames, stadia, bridges, and other applications with weight reduction as a prerequisite. 

The space in its interior allows for easy routing of utilities, like electrical wiring and plumbing, without needing additional wirings or conduits. They can also be used to improve the aesthetics of an environment since they can house light fixtures, display panels, and other decorative elements.

8. Plate Girder

Plate girders are made by welding multiple steel plates to create a single, large steel beam, resembling I-beam and H-beam configurations. Plate girders exhibit high strength and can span long distances without support, hence their application in bridge construction, industrial buildings, and large-scale infrastructure projects.

9. Box Steel Beams

These are structural beams with a hollow, box-like cross-section constructed by welding or bolting together steel plates to form a closed rectangular or square shape. The hollow design provides several benefits, including increased torsional rigidity and improved resistance to lateral forces.

Box steel beams offer a balance between strength and weight. The hollow section reduces the overall weight of the beam while maintaining structural integrity. This makes box beams suitable for applications where weight reduction is important, such as aerospace or automotive engineering.

Types of Steel Beams Based on Support

Differentiating the classes of steel beams can be challenging. However, this section explores them and their uses. Let’s delve in!

1. Simply Supported Beams

These types of beams have flanges (legs) on two of their ends but don’t have rotational restrictions. These support beams come in various forms, such as columns, walls, or other structural elements capable of providing vertical support.

They are free to rotate at their supports, meaning that the ends of the beam are allowed to pivot or rotate, which allows the beam to accommodate vertical deflections caused by the applied loads. 

The rotation of the supports generates both vertical and horizontal reactions, and it undergoes bending when subjected to loads. Simply supported beams are used in many settings and projects. For instance, they are often used to support building floor slabs or roof systems.

2. Fixed Beams

These types of steel beams are built-in and have legs providing support at both ends. However, they are more rigid, stagnant, and restrained from rotation because they are fixed or rigidly connected to their supports. Fixed beams can resist bending forces and bear heavier loads than simply supported beams. 

3. Composite Beams

They are made of steel and concrete materials working together to improve resistance to breaking and bending forces. The steel component carries the most tension forces, while the concrete provides compressive strength. 

The steel and concrete components are connected through shear connectors such as headed studs or connectors with embossments. These connectors enable the transfer of forces between the steel and concrete. 

4. Cantilever Beams

Various types of steel beams have different end-to-end support; some are free, while some are fixed. This class of beams has a fixed and a free end. Cantilever beams are designed to resist bending and shear forces through the fixed end and can support loads applied at the other end.

They are used in various applications requiring structural overhangs or extended types of steel beam sections. Examples include balconies, canopy roofs, and certain types of bridges. Cantilever beams offer architectural flexibility, as they can create visually appealing designs and maximize usable space.

5. Continuous Beams

Talking about beams with multiple support, continuous beams are among this class and have up to three supports. Unlike simply supported beams, continuous beams do not have free ends. The supports, also known as intermediate supports, prevent rotation and provide additional load transfer points along the beam’s length.

Multiple supports in continuous beams allow a more even distribution of loads and bending moments. Continuous beams are often used in long-span structures, such as bridges, large buildings, and floor systems.

6. Over-Hanging Beams

These beams come in various designs, but the one you choose depends on the level of support and load distribution you need. They are often used in building designs where extensions or protrusions are desired. 

For example, they can create covered walkways, bay windows, or architectural features. The design considerations for overhanging beams depend on the type of beam used, the magnitude and location of applied loads, and the required level of stability and aesthetics.

7. Double Over-Hanging Beams

Similar to overhanging beams, they are designed as simply supported or cantilever beams and provide additional support on both beam ends and space for specific architectural or functional purposes. 

They are often used in structures where a symmetrical extension is desired on both ends. They can be seen in architectural designs incorporating overhangs, balconies, or canopies. Their design considers the applied loads, beam dimensions, material properties, and the level of stability required to ensure structural integrity and proper load distribution.

8. Trussed Steel Beams

Trussed steel beams are structural elements combined with diagonal triangulated members. They provide additional support and stiffness to the beam. They are formed by connecting steel members in a triangular or truss-like configuration for transfer forces and resisting both tension and compression efficiency. 

Types of Steel Beams Based on Geometry

As stated earlier, the classification of steel beams based on geometry refers to the beams’ shape, structure, and profile. Under geometry, the steel beams come in straight, curved, or tapered shapes. Here’s a detailed overview of these beams.

1. Straight Beam

A straight beam has a linear shape with a consistent cross-section along its entire length and is constructed from steel, wood, or reinforced concrete. Straight steel beams can resist various loads and forces, such as the weight of a structure, live loads, and wind.

When it comes to their position, straight beams do not have a one-size-fit process. Therefore they can be horizontally positioned or integrated vertically to support various structures. They support bridges, industrial buildings, rooftops, and dams.

2. Curved Beam

Unlike straight beams, curved beams are intentionally designed with a curved profile, which can be a circular arc, an ellipse, or a more complex curve. Curved beams offer unique advantages in terms of both aesthetics and structural performance.

Curved beams enhance the visual appeal and create a sense of elegance, lending buildings or structures a distinctive and captivating appearance. From grand arches and vaulted ceilings to gracefully curved bridges, these elements add architectural interest and contribute to the overall beauty of the design.

Their curved shape helps distribute loads and forces more efficiently, improving load-bearing capacity. They can better withstand certain forces, such as the thrust in an arch, by transforming the applied forces into compression forces along the curve. 

3. Tapered Beam

A tapered beam is a beam that gradually changes its cross-sectional dimensions along its length. It starts with a larger cross-section at one end and narrows to a smaller cross-section at the other. Tapered beams are designed to optimize structural performance and address specific engineering requirements.

Tapering reduces the weight of the beam while maintaining its strength. Reducing the cross-sectional area gradually eliminates excess material, resulting in a lighter structure, which is significant in applications such as aerospace engineering or long-span bridges. Tapering also redistributes load. 

Common Types of Columns in Construction

Columns are cylindrical or rectangular and constructed using concrete, steel, or composite materials. They are installed regularly and are integral to various structures, including buildings, bridges, and industrial facilities. Here are the various types of columns in construction. 

  • Square or Rectangular Columns: They have a cross-section that is either square or rectangular. These columns are easy to construct, provide stability, and offer a uniform load-bearing capacity. 
  • Circular Columns: Known as cylindrical columns have a round cross-section. They are often preferred in architectural designs due to their aesthetic appeal. Circular columns distribute loads uniformly, provide structural strength, and withstand significant forces. 
  • Composite Columns: Are constructed using a combination of different materials,  steel, and concrete. These columns leverage the favorable properties of both materials to achieve enhanced strength, load-bearing capacity, and durability. 
  • Tapered Columns: Feature a non-uniform cross-section that gradually changes size from the base to the top. The tapering design helps distribute the load more effectively, with a wider base providing increased stability. 
  • Fluted Columns: Exhibit vertical grooves or ridges along their length, creating a decorative effect. The fluting adds an aesthetic touch and enhances the column’s strength and stiffness. 

Columns are used in multi-story buildings, industrial structures, bridges, stadia, monuments, and classical architectural styles, such as Greek and Roman designs.

Types of Steel Beam Failure and How to Prevent Them

Steel beam failure can occur for various reasons, but some common types of steel beam failure include buckling, shear failure, and excessive deflection. By understanding these failures, you can take preventive measures to ensure the structural integrity of steel beams. Some of these failures and their precautions include:

Types of Steel Beam

  • Buckling: Buckling happens when a steel beam fails under compressive loads, causing it to bend or buckle sideways. To prevent buckling, use design techniques such as increasing the beam’s width or thickness, adding stiffeners or braces, or using sections with higher resistance to buckling. Proper bracing and support systems are also essential to prevent buckling in steel beams.
  • Shear Failure: Shear failure occurs when the forces acting parallel to the plane of the beam exceed its capacity to resist them. This leads to a sliding or tearing of the beam. To prevent shear failure, reinforce the beam with shear connectors like studs or shear reinforcement bars. 

Also, while many may ignore this, ensuring that the beam’s design considers the anticipated shear forces and provides sufficient reinforcement or steel plates to resist them is essential.

  • Excessive Deflection: Excessive deflection refers to excessive bending or sagging of the steel beam beyond acceptable limits. By selecting appropriate beam sizes, using stiffer sections, or incorporating additional supports, you can control deflection within permissible limits and maintain its structural integrity and stability.

In addition to specific measures for each type of failure, ensuring the use of high-quality steel materials and verifying their compliance with relevant standards is crucial. Regular inspections during fabrication and construction help identify defects or issues early on.

What Are Supports and Reactions in Steel Beams

Supports in steel beams refer to the points or locations where the beam is fixed or restrained. They provide resistance against applied loads and help maintain the stability of the beam. On the flip side, reactions are the forces and moments developed at the supports of a steel beam in response to applied loads. 

These forces and moments are equal in magnitude and opposite in direction to the external loads acting on the beam. Reactions include vertical forces (upward or downward), horizontal forces (sideways), and moments (rotational forces).

Types of Supports and Reactions in Steel Beams

Understanding the types of supports and reactions in steel beams is crucial for ensuring steel beam systems’ structural integrity, stability, and performance. Here are the various support steel beams:

  • Fixed Support: A fixed support is like a rigid connection that prevents beam movement in any direction. It offers maximum resistance to both vertical and horizontal forces. The beam is held at fixed support and cannot rotate or translate.
  • Pinned Support: Talking about steel beams with one free and another fixed end. Pinned support represents such a class; they allow movement on the free end but do not on the other end. Pinned supports are often used when a beam transfers loads and accommodates rotational movement.
  • Roller Support: On the flip side, roller supports allow horizontal movement but restrict vertical rotation. It provides vertical support while allowing the beam to expand or contract horizontally due to temperature changes. Roller supports are used in situations where beams need to be able to move horizontally without restraint.
  • Free Support: A simple or free support allows the beam to move horizontally and vertically freely. It does not provide any resistance to translation or rotation. Free supports are used at the ends of beams where the beam can move and rotate without any restrictions.

Here are the key reactions in steel beams:

  • Vertical Reactions: Vertical reactions are the upward or downward forces exerted by the supports on the beam to counterbalance the applied vertical loads. These reactions prevent the beam from sinking or lifting at the supports.
  • Horizontal Reactions: Horizontal reactions are sideways forces developed at the supports due to horizontal loads acting on the beam. These reactions provide resistance against lateral forces and help maintain the stability of the beam.
  • Moment Reactions: Moment reactions, also known as rotational forces, occur when there is a tendency for the beam to rotate at the supports. These reactions counterbalance the moments caused by applied loads, preventing excessive rotation and maintaining the beam’s stability.

Factors to Consider When Selecting the Appropriate Steel Beam For Your Construction Project

Various factors influence your steel beam’s ability to carry heavy loads while maintaining its performance for longer. Here are some important points to remember when purchasing a steel beam for your construction project:

  • Span Length: The span length refers to the distance between the supports or columns where the steel beam will be installed. Longer spans require beams with higher load-bearing capabilities and greater stiffness to prevent sagging or deflection. Consider the specific requirements of your project and consult structural engineering guidelines to determine the appropriate beam size and type for the given span length.
  • Beam Shape and Size: Another important factor to consider when choosing a steel beam for your project is the shape and size since they are flexible and manufacturers produce them into I-beams,  U-channels, H-beams, and W-beams, etc. 
  • Material Grade: Steel beams are available in different material grades and it influences the beam’s strength, ductility, and corrosion resistance. Consider the environmental conditions and potential exposure to factors like moisture, chemicals, or extreme temperatures when selecting the material grade for your project.
  • Construction: The construction method you decide on can affect the choice of the steel beam. For example, if you opt for bolted connections, you may need to consider beams with specific features, such as pre-drilled holes or flanges designed for bolting. On the flip side, if you plan to use welded connections, the beam must be compatible with welding techniques. 

Factors to Consider When Selecting the Appropriate Steel Beam For Your Construction Project


1. What Is the Strongest Type of Steel Beam?

The strongest type of steel beam used in construction is the Wide Flange (WF) or H-beam. This steel beam is easy to carry and offers excellent load-bearing capacity and structural integrity due to its wide flange and tapered shape, distributing weight evenly along its length.

2. Types of Steel Beams Connection

Some common types of steel beam connections include 

  • Welded connections,
  • Bolted connections, and 
  • Moment connections. 

Welded connections involve fusing the beams using welding techniques. Bolted connections use bolts and nuts to connect the beams with the help of pre-drilled holes. While moment connections provide greater stability and rigidity by using additional plates and welds.

3. Where Can I Find Steel Beams For Sale?

Looking for top-quality steel beams for your construction project? Toulian Metal is the leading provider of premium steel beams, ensuring exceptional strength, mechanical integrity, reliability, and performance.

Toulian understands the importance of timely delivery and using the right materials to build a solid foundation for your structures. Their steel beams are meticulously crafted using state-of-the-art technology and the highest-grade materials, guaranteeing unparalleled durability and structural integrity.

Don’t settle for anything less than the best. Choose Toulian Metal for all your steel beam needs and experience the difference that top-notch quality can make in your construction projects. Visit their website to explore the vast collection of steel beams and take the first step towards building excellence!

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Whether you need stainless steel materials for your business or fabrication projects, TuoLian is your best supplier. You can find all types, grades, and thicknesses based on your needs. Guaranteed that we provide the best quality at a reasonable cost.
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