Steel vs concrete, how they stack up against the elements

In the past, human beings built their community structures from a variety of materials: wood and stone, for example, or even mud, with a little bit of straw or dung to make the compound stick. But in the era of skyscrapers and hospitals, shopping malls and universities, engineers rely primarily on concrete and steel to complete their architectural visions.

With multiple advantages associated with either material, the differences between steel and concrete can be difficult to appreciate. The following is a side-by-side presentation that compares their various capabilities.

Wind Resistance
Steel structures can withstand winds up to 90 MPH. With modification, that durability can be increased. Still, it hardly compares with the wind resistance of concrete, which does just fine in winds up to 150 MPH, and has been known to withstand winds of up to 200 MPH.

Wind-Driven Debris Resistance
In a hurricane or tornado, even the most common objects – a splintered piece of 2X4, a spatula, a garbage can – become missiles. In a recent study, lightweight steel and wood stud walls offered little or no resistance to a 2X4 fired through the air at hurricane-propelled speeds. By contrast, the concrete wall systems included in the test sustained no structural damage.

Abrasion Resistance
Steel is made up of multiple layers that can be nicked, scratched, or even penetrated. Penetration to the outside coating soon spreads to the surrounding area. Worse, penetration to the galvanized layer will cause the actual metal substrate to deteriorate.

By comparison, concrete is almost impervious to abrasion. On the outside chance that the material is nicked or penetrated, the damage is localized and unlikely to spread.

Ballistic Resistance
Without additional reinforcement, even steel walls with 12 GA interlocking panels provide poor protection. Penetration to the interior of the structure is, in most cases, inevitable.

In the event of a heist or out-and-out siege, concrete walls are Level 4 Bullet Proof – industry lingo that denotes excellent protection against even a .30 caliber round.

Corrosion Resistance
Oxygen and steel react, causing rust to form. Rust threatens the stability and integrity of the material and ultimately leads to product failure. In highly corrosive areas, steel requires a thick, severe duty coating system to withstand the elements. Even then, its resilience and performance is dependent upon proper preparation of the substrate.

Concrete is unlikely to corrode, but when it does, it is often due to the corrosion taking place around a steel product in contact with the concrete. Corrosion of embedded metals in concrete can be greatly reduced by placing crack-free concrete with low permeability and sufficient cover around the metal.

Thermal Resistance
Steel requires added batt, board, foam or other insulation barrier to increase and meet most fire codes. Concrete likewise requires added batt, board, foam or other insulation barrier, but it is generally, by itself more resistant to the ravages of fire.

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