Construction beams are a major part of many different types of construction projects, be they residential, commercial, or public. They provide support for floors and ceilings, and come in a variety of forms. Amateur builders are encouraged to consult with a structural engineer when attempting to decide what kinds of beams to use in their project. However, a general understanding of the types of beams available may prove helpful.
The best known type of construction beam is the I-beam, so named because of its shape when viewed from the side, reminiscent of the capital letter "I." I-beams are usually used in commercial construction, in everything from skyscrapers to stadiums, but can also be used in residential construction.
Hip beams provide support for other load-bearing beams in residential construction. The other beams branch off of the hip beam at the same angle. Hip beams are critical parts of most home roofs.
Flitch beams are hybrids of wood and metal, usually steel, layered atop one another. The wooden sections allow the beams to be nailed to other structures, while the metal parts provide greater strength and weight-bearing capabilities. Another advantage of flitch beams is that they are less expensive than beams constructed solely of metal.
Laminated lumber beams are made when several pieces of lumber are stacked atop one another. This lumber is almost always 2 inches in thickness. These types of beams are often used in public buildings.
These beams are similar in concept to laminated lumber beams. They are made of 1 3/4-inch-thick pieces of plywood. They are sometimes used to support exterior walls in buildings.
Box beams are made by taking a piece of plywood and nailing and/or gluing it to pieces of 2-by-4 or 2-by-6 lumber, in essence created a long box-like structure.
Timber beams are the most basic and most ancient form of beams. They are simply made from the trunk of a cut-down tree, and are used in traditional log cabins as well as building with post-and-beam style construction.
Cantilever beams are used in bay windows, bridges and balconies. They manage to redistribute the weight from whatever structure they are holding up to the main structural beams in the house or building to which they are connected.