With endless recyclability, durability, and eco-friendliness, building with steel frames helps achieve a more sustainable construction future. Using steel frames in your next building project ensures a quicker build whilst you use less energy and greener materials with a longer lifespan.
In building design and construction, sustainability has become a key element in helping companies reduce resources. It has also played an important role in maintaining a high-quality indoor environment for employees. With sustainable building practices, harmful impacts on the environment are effectively minimised. In turn, these practices lead to better health and more productivity.
According to the 2020 UN Environment’s Global Status Report, buildings and construction are responsible for 38% of energy use around the world – the highest ever recorded. They also account for almost 40% of CO2 emissions resulting from energy combustions, industrial processes, and other energy-related impacts.
Adopting sustainable building practices is possible in Australia but comes with several challenges, including affordability. But there is light at the end of the tunnel: using steel frames.
Is Steel a Sustainable Building Material?
The answer to the question above is “yes,” but it comes with nuances that should be considered. Steel requires a ton of energy to produce. Therefore, if you simply take in the production process, steel is not a good option if you wish to focus on sustainability.
However, steel stands out for its durability. It can weather the storm (literally), withstand heavy loads and erosion, and even resist fires. Regarding sustainability, up to 97% of end-of-life steel can be recycled and reused, making it one of the most recycled construction materials around.
Benefits of Steel Frame Construction for Sustainability
Using steel frames and the material itself for building offers many benefits supporting sustainability. The following characteristics further prove that steel is a significant contributor towards achieving a more resource-optimised and eco-friendly practice in construction:
Lower Carbon Footprint
Compared to other commonly used building materials, steel has a much lower carbon footprint during its manufacturing process. It’s important to note, however, that steel production is not without carbon emissions. But the amount can be reduced through various means, including processing using energy-efficient technologies like wind, solar, and other renewable energy sources.
Steel buildings do not have to be built on site, allowing for a more precise manufacturing technique, unlike other materials. Building offsite also helps minimise material waste whilst speeding up the construction process.
Let’s not forget that steel structures can be built to have natural ventilation and lighting, further decreasing the demand for more electricity use.
Reduced Construction Site Impact
Steel frames are generally lightweight, which not only encourages design flexibility and versatility but also helps reduce site impact. When used for suspended flooring systems, steel frames do not require as much earth excavation, which makes construction faster in sloping, uneven, or challenging ground.
No Additional Treatment Required
Steel easily resists termite attacks. Unlike wood, you do not need to treat the material with any anti-pest chemicals, which are typically harmful to human and environmental health.
Plus, steel is inorganic, which means it will not degrade no matter how long it has been erected. Therefore, you do not have to treat it with anti-warping, cracking, or shrinking. The material will not contaminate groundwater and the earth with noxious chemicals and Volatile Organic Compounds.
Longevity and Durability
Steel can last several decades when properly designed, constructed, and maintained. That’s why, even though the material may be slightly more expensive than others, most designers and builders prefer to use it.
Steel is also known for its structural integrity, thanks to its strength and rigidity. It does not falter even under extreme weather conditions and when exposed to earthquakes and other challenges. Steel can resist deformation, as well, even when under stress and heavy loads. These reasons are why many modern buildings utilise steel frames.
When a building has reached its useful life, steel is generally gathered and repurposed. The beauty of recycling steel is that the material keeps its inherent qualities, meaning its strength and durability do not decline.
How Steel Frames Can Be Sustainably Recycled
Recycling steel frames undergoes a specific process, starting with collection. Scrap steel is gathered from various entities, including demolition sites, construction sites, end-of-life buildings and products like appliances and vehicles.
The next step is to sort the scrap steel, grouping the collected materials based on their type, composition, and other factors. Magnets are often used to determine which are iron and non-iron-based. From here, shredding will follow, where metal sheets, beams, and frames are fed into a powerful shredding machine with hammers or rotating blades.
Once the steel is divided into smaller, more manageable pieces, it is then melted in large, high-heat electric arc furnaces. Any impurities will be removed, and refining agents may be added later, along with alloying elements. Finally, cast steel will be sent to rolling mills to shape the material into desired products.
With endless recyclability, durability, and eco-friendliness, building with steel helps achieve a more sustainable construction future. Using steel in your next building project ensures a quicker build whilst you use less energy and greener materials with a longer lifespan.
- Is steel sustainable in construction?
Yes, steel is considered sustainable in many ways, such as resource efficiency, meaning you require less compared to other materials for the same structural integrity. It is also incredibly durable, with a long lifespan even when exposed to harsh weather conditions.
- Is steel recyclable?
Yes, steel can be recycled multiple times, and the material will not lose its inherent properties.
- Is steel the most sustainable building material?
Arguably, steel is considered the most sustainable metal. However, some may contend with the claim that it is more sustainable than others, such as bendable concrete, mycelium, and bamboo. Still, no one can deny that the sturdiness and essential properties of steel make it one of the world’s most sustainable building materials.