What Are Beams & Columns in Structural Engineering?
Structural engineers need to factor in many aspects when determining an ideal building design. Stability is an essential factor in making sure that structures are secure and durable. Beams and columns are primary structural elements that support the entire weight of the building, along with environmental loads. They facilitate a firm load path between the structure’s weight and its foundation. While beams are horizontal load-bearing structures, columns are vertical support members.
Learn more about these components and how each one contributes to a sound structural design.
What Are Construction Beams?
Beams are, in general, horizontal structural elements that carry the building’s weight perpendicular to its longitudinal orientation. They support the load of a building’s ceilings, floors, and roofs. They stabilize the structure, resisting the bending and shear forces imposed by vertical loads. Ultimately, beams transfer these forces to the foundation, which releases them into the ground. Beams can be:
- Simply supported
Types of Structural Beams
When selecting a beam, structural engineers should consider beam size, shape, material, and type of load, which may include roof snow or other forms of environmental load. The following are the main types of beams, differentiated by their material and capabilities:
- Steel beams. Steel beams are durable, strong relative to their weight, recyclable, corrosion-resistant, and have high tensile strength. Standard sizes are available with the main cons being that they are less resistant to fire and can incur high maintenance costs.
- Reinforced concrete beams. The pros of reinforced concrete beams are that they are highly resistant to fire, durable, recyclable, and have high compressive strength. Potential downsides include high installation costs and design limits.
- Wood beams. Wood beams are more affordable and readily available. However, they have structural limitations, pose a fire risk, and can rot over time.
What Are Construction Columns?
Structural support columns are vertical structural elements whose primary role is to resist compressive, bending, and shear forces. Like beams, columns are mainly used to reinforce structures, supporting floors, roofs, and ceilings, and resist environmental forces. The supporting columns on the bottom floor of a multi-story building should bear the weight of all other floors. This is why it is important for the location of the building columns to be consistent on all floors.
Prior to selecting the design of the columns, construction engineers must first know the weight supported by the column. Other considerations include column size, shape, material, and the type of load it is expected to withstand, such as earthquake forces.
Types of Structural Columns
Three main types of columns on a building are:
- Steel columns. Steel columns are C-section, I-section, or hollow section. The main advantage of steel columns is that they are durable and recyclable.
- Reinforced concrete columns. Concrete columns can be rectangular, circular, or, depending on the application, be formed and poured into a variety of shapes. They are recyclable, fire-resistant, durable, and have high compressive strength. Disadvantages include a high initial investment and limits to design.
- Wood columns. Wood columns are widely available and low-cost compared to other column types. Cons of wood columns include structural limitations, the chance of wood rot, and fire risks.
Structural engineers can use composite structural members made of concrete and steel in high-story buildings where columns need to bear very heavy loads.
Structural Engineering, Design & Construction Management Services From EDC Management Corp.
Columns and beams are essential structural elements for buildings of all sizes. EDC Management Corp. is a one-stop solution for all your engineering, design, and project management needs. We provide customizable, cost-effective solutions to ensure ultimate customer satisfaction. Learn more about our engineering services or contact us today to learn more about our capabilities. If you have a project in mind, please request a quote.