Choosing the right building system can make all the difference when it comes to the structural integrity, cost-effectiveness, and long-term sustainability of your construction project.
Two popular options are steel and tubular building systems. Both offer unique benefits, but they suit different applications. Thus, understanding the key differences between them is crucial for selecting the best option for you.
In general, tubular building systems are ideal for sheds and carports, offering a cheaper alternative to steel. You could use them for single-story homes, but not for larger buildings. Meanwhile, steel building systems are perfect for large, load-bearing structures. Their applications are endless, from industrial and storage units to multiple story homes.
The table below shows a quick comparison between steel and tubular building systems:
|Characteristics||Steel Building Systems||Tubular Building Systems|
|Design flexibility||Multiple customization options||Fewer customization options|
|Applications||Warehouses, industrial facilities, agricultural buildings, residential buildings||Shades, greenhouses, garages, carports|
|Sustainability||More sustainable||Less sustainable|
|Code compliance||Generally compliant||Typically non-compliant|
What Are Steel Building Systems?
Steel building systems have become increasingly popular due to their strength, durability, and design versatility.
These systems are typically composed of pre-engineered, prefabricated steel components that can be customized to meet the specific needs of a construction project.
From industrial facilities and warehouses to agricultural buildings and commercial structures, steel building systems are employed across a diverse range of applications.
- Design flexibility
- Low maintenance
- Higher initial costs
- Corrosion susceptibility
- Limited insulation options
What Are Tubular Building Systems?
Tubular building systems have gained traction in the construction industry for their lightweight, cost-effective, and adaptable nature.
These systems utilize hollow, cylindrical steel or aluminum tubes as their primary structural elements, which can be easily assembled and disassembled to create various shapes and designs.
Tubular building systems are particularly popular for greenhouses and shed structures. However, they have a low load-bearing capacity and are not ideal for residential buildings.
- Lightweight and easy to transport
- Adaptability for different shapes and designs
- Lower load-bearing capacity
- Limited customization options
- Susceptibility to rust and corrosion
8 Key Differences Between Steel and Tubular Building Systems
Knowing the differences between steel and tubular building systems is the first step to choosing the right material for your project. Here’s an in-depth look at them.
1. Load-bearing capacity
Steel and tubular building systems offer unique load-bearing properties, making them suitable for different types of applications.
Steel building systems are known for their exceptional load-bearing capacity.
The high strength-to-weight ratio of steel allows these structures to support heavy loads, such as large roof spans, heavy equipment, or multiple building levels, without requiring additional support from columns or walls.
In tubular building systems, the hollow nature of the tubes results in a lower load-bearing capacity compared to traditional steel building systems.
These lighter and more flexible structures are not suitable for heavy-duty or multi-story applications.
However, the lower load-bearing capacity of tubular building systems can be sufficient for smaller, single-story buildings, greenhouses, and shade structures, where the demands on structural performance are less stringent.
Durability is a critical factor to consider when choosing a building system, as it directly impacts the structure’s longevity, maintenance requirements, and overall performance.
Steel building systems are renowned for their exceptional durability. These structures are capable of withstanding a wide range of natural forces, such as earthquakes, hurricanes, and heavy snow loads.
The material’s non-combustible nature also makes it less susceptible to fire damage, further enhancing its durability.
Tubular building systems are generally more lightweight and flexible than traditional steel building systems, which may affect their ability to resist extreme natural forces or heavy loads.
3. Design Flexibility
Design flexibility is another important aspect to consider when selecting a building system, as it impacts the architectural possibilities and the ease of accommodating project-specific requirements.
One of the key advantages of steel building systems is their design flexibility. The pre-engineered, prefabricated steel components can be easily customized to create a wide range of architectural designs.
Since steel’s load-bearing capacity makes it possible to install the structure without additional support from columns or walls, it makes it possible to create more open and flexible interior spaces.
This quality makes steel building systems particularly popular for industrial, commercial, and agricultural projects, where open floor plans or large clear spans are essential.
Moreover, steel building systems can easily accommodate changes or expansions in the future, as steel components can be added or reconfigured with relative ease. This adaptability allows the structure to evolve with changing needs or demands over time.
Tubular building systems also offer a degree of design flexibility. The tubes used in these systems can be bent and assembled into a wide range of shapes and designs, providing architectural freedom for projects with unique or unconventional requirements.
However, the customization options for tubular building systems are typically more limited compared to traditional steel building systems. The lightweight nature of tubular building systems is not suitable for heavy-duty or multi-story applications, which can restrict the design possibilities in some cases.
The maintenance of a building system impacts the long-term costs and performance of a structure.
Thanks to their durability, steel building systems have low maintenance requirements. They are resistant to common issues that affect other building materials, such as pests, rot, and mold. This helps minimize the need for frequent maintenance and ensures the structure’s longevity.
However, steel building systems can be vulnerable to rust and corrosion, particularly in humid or corrosive environments.
To mitigate this risk and enhance the overall durability of the structure, it is essential to apply protective coatings or treatments to the steel components. Periodic inspections and maintenance, such as cleaning and repainting, may also be necessary to ensure the structure’s continued performance and longevity.
Like steel structures, tubular building systems are resistant to pests, rot, and mold, reducing the need for frequent maintenance. However, tubular building systems are more susceptible to rust and corrosion.
As with steel building systems, it is crucial to apply protective coatings or treatments to the tubes and conduct regular inspections and maintenance to ensure the structure’s long-term performance and durability.
Because of the thinner gauge of the tubes, tubular systems typically require more maintenance and repairs than steel systems.
5. Initial Costs
Steel building systems may have a higher initial cost compared to other building materials, including tubular systems.
On average, you can expect to pay between $10 and $25 per square foot for your steel building base alone, but the actual range can go up to $120 per square foot.
These costs are dictated by the price of steel which can fluctuate based on market conditions. Moreover, steel building systems often require specialized labor for assembly and construction, which can contribute to higher labor costs.
Tubular building systems often come with lower initial costs compared to traditional steel structures. The lightweight nature of the tubes reduces transportation and handling costs, while the ease of assembly can result in lower labor expenses.
Average tubular system costs vary from $8 to $17 per square foot. Similar to steel systems, tubular systems can cost more depending on design and actual labor.
As explained, steel building systems provide excellent load-bearing capacity, durability, and design flexibility, making them suitable for a wide range of applications.
Some common uses of steel building systems include industrial and commercial buildings, airplane hangars, maintenance facilities, and multi-story residential buildings.
Tubular building systems offer lightweight, cost-effective, and adaptable solutions for various applications. However, they are not suitable for residential use, except for tiny homes in areas where code buildings allow their use.
Typical applications of tubular structures include carports, pavilions, pergolas, and greenhouses.
Sustainability is an increasingly important consideration in the construction industry, as it impacts the long-term environmental footprint and resource efficiency of a building system.
Steel systems provide several advantages when it comes to sustainability, including recyclability, energy efficiency, and lifespan.
Tubular building systems deliver material efficiency and are also recyclable, but they are not as durable as steel. Thus, they have a greater environmental footprint.
8. Code Compliance
Lastly, local building codes and regulations are other critical factors you should be aware of.
Steel building systems are typically designed and engineered to comply with various local building codes and regulations, including those related to structural integrity, fire safety, and energy efficiency.
The strength, durability, and non-combustible nature of steel make it well-suited to meet or exceed these code requirements in most cases.
Tubular building systems can be designed to comply with most local building codes, but their lightweight structure and low load-bearing capacity can make it harder to obtain the necessary permits. Consulting a structural engineer is typically essential to ensure that your building is code-compliant.
Steel and tubular building systems offer unique advantages and challenges, making them suitable for different applications.
Steel building systems are known for their load-bearing capacity, durability, design flexibility, and ability to meet rigorous local code requirements. They are an ideal choice for heavy-duty or multi-story structures, as well as small buildings in seismic areas.
Tubular building systems offer lightweight, cost-effective, and adaptable solutions for lighter, single-story structures or projects with unique or unconventional designs. However, they are not the best choice for larger buildings, and they are not always code-compliant.