Steel Beams Vs. Laminate

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Most buildings are constructed with either wooden or metal studs, but alternatives are available, including laminated beams. Also referred to as glulam, these beams are made of glued laminated timber that can mimic and even exceed the strength and performance of natural lumber.

Strength

  • Laminated beams are stronger and more versatile than other natural wood used in the construction process. On a pound-for-pound basis, Glulam is also stronger than steel, according to the Engineered Wood Association. This strength makes laminated beams a logical choice for various types of projects. The association provides a table in its Engineered Wood Systems publication that indicates which equivalent beams can be substituted for wood and steel counterparts.

Flexibility

  • Laminated beams provide more flexibility as a building material. Their versatility makes them desirable for building projects such as commercial roofing systems, complex arches and bridges. Of course, these types of projects can also be completed with steel, but the weight of steel makes it less than desirable for certain projects. In terms of appearance, laminated beams can be manufactured to meet the needs of the builder to provide visual appeal.

Substitution

  • Laminate beams can be substituted for steel beams in most any type of project. The substitution process involves finding the appropriate size of laminate beam based on the recommendations made by the manufacturer or professional organizations such as the Engineered Wood Association. It might not be possible or practical to substitute laminate for steel in all instances. Final selection of material is also based on other factors such as availability and cost.

Safety

  • Given that the strength of laminate beams compares well with the strength of treated lumber and steel beams, they provide a safe alternative as a building material. Steel beams do, however, have an advantage in their added resistance to heat and fire. Laminate beams do not provide the same resistance.

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