How Far Can A Steel I-Beam Span?

Ossiana Tepfenhart
by Ossiana Tepfenhart
Steel beams are used to support all sorts of buildings, from modern homes to skyscrapers. Determining the span of a steel I-beam is a critical part of construction. Whether it be 8″ or 10″ wide, follow along as we explore the factors that determine how far a steel I-beam can span.

Steel beams are known for their strength, and for being used in major construction projects like skyscrapers and large-scale housing. They seem to be incredibly versatile and endlessly tall. However, there’s got to be a limit to everything, and that includes the size of steel beams. Steel I-beams, for example, are some of the most common beams you’ll find. Knowing how far you can go before you need another beam matters. So, how far can a steel I-beam span?

The distance an I beam can span is almost entirely reliant on the size of the beam. When it comes to residential projects like houses and smaller buildings, you can expect a steel beam to be eight inches wide. This allows it to span as much as 12 feet before you need another column. Some beams can be 10 inches wide, which will translate to a 14-foot span, at a bare minimum.

Knowing the distance that you can span your beams makes a huge impact on your construction planning, and not just because of the financials. The span of your steel beams can impact the overall architecture of your home and also cause you to work with more elements to keep your home stable. This guide will give you a basic tour of what to expect and how to calculate it out.

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Before We Begin: Is This A DIY Job?

Though it’s possible to calculate your own steel beam spans, the truth is that it’s a risky endeavor. Figuring out how much an I-beam can span is a structural engineering concept, and that’s a field that is fairly complex. So, while there are equations out there that you can use to calculate it on your own, the best thing you can do for your building project is to consult with a structural engineer.

Each building is different, and what may work for one house may not work with another. Knowing that, it’s better to take things on an individual level. We understand that it’s a pricey matter, but trust us when we say that it’s better to be safe than sorry. Messing around with steel beams and making the wrong choice can easily topple a house!

How Much Should Your I-Beams Span?

In order to understand how much a steel I-beam can span in your housing project, you’re going to have to do a little math. Thankfully, most companies that manufacture steel beams have a span chart that shows how much an I-beam can span based on the amount of weight that they will be carrying.

The amount of weight makes a huge difference on how much span your I-beams can offer, not to mention the size of the I-beams that you need. To find out what would work best for you, refer to a residential steel beam column and load table. These tables let you know how many steel beams you need to carry the weight of your home.

What’s The Maximum Span Of A Steel I-Beam?

This is a difficult question to answer, but the best way to explain it is that a longer beam will be able to span longer distances. It also matters if the beam in question is going to be used as a primary or secondary support for the house. For example, it’s possible for a 20-meter steel I-beam to span 75 meters if all the other elements in the home’s design line up properly.

Certain things can also help max out your span, including having grid floors and using ample support structures. By asking an engineer what can be done to improve the span of your I-beam, you will be able to cut down on construction costs without losing any stability in your home’s design.

Why Is It So Hard To Calculate Steel I-Beam Spans?

Steel beams are what make or break the structural integrity of your home. These are the beams that are going to be set into the foundation of your house and hold up all the wooden support beams that make your house stable. If a steel beam is misplaced, all the materials around it will start to weigh down on your supports, causing sagging…or worse, breaking.

The makeup of the beams as well as the physics behind the support is going to be a complex issue, even if you are working on a fairly simple-looking home. That’s why most professionals use structural engineering software like Staad Pro or ETabs to make sure they get the right beam span and size.

How Much Does A Steel Beam Cost To Install?

If you are looking to minimize the amount of money you spend on steel beams, you might be able to use grid flooring and other architectural tricks to do it. That being said, even with a lot of architectural support, you should expect to pay between $100 and $400 per foot to install a steel I-beam in your home.

Considering the average length of a steel beam, it’s safe to say that each beam can cost between $1,200 and $4,800 to install. However, the exact cost that you will incur will depend on who you hire to install it, the weight of the beam, as well as other construction aspects that could also play into it.

Which Is Stronger, An H-Beam Or An I-Beam?

If you’re concerned about an I-beam’s ability to carry your load, you may want to consider switching to an H-beam. H-beam supports often have a thicker steel web, which means they’re more capable of carrying large loads. H-beams are also built in a way that carries load more evenly when it comes to torsion, but are less resistant to pull and direct pressure.

Most of the time, using H-beams will cut down on construction time and costs. They also can take more force than I-beams can. However, I-beams are often better if you need to have lightweight structural work and if you need resistance to pull. If you aren’t sure which beam would be better for your project, asking a structural engineer can help.

Our Final Take

We’re not going to mince words on this one. Trying to figure out the span of a steel I-beam on a house is not something that a casual DIY enthusiast should attempt on their own. Even if you refer to one of the many charts offering span advice, there are so many different factors involved in designing a house’s skeleton that it just isn’t a good idea.

Most structural engineers rely on high-end planning software to gauge the maximum span of a steel I-beam. They also use this software to help them gauge which size beam works best with the project in mind. If you don’t have that kind of equipment or a background in structural engineering, this is not a task you should try to attempt on your own.

In terms of sheer curiosity, the amount of span that an I-beam can offer can be as far as 75 meters (or around 246 feet) in length, if you have a 60-foot steel beam. That being said, there are always new advances when it comes to structural engineering, so while spans might be limited right now, there’s no telling how far a beam will go in the future.

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Ossiana Tepfenhart
Ossiana Tepfenhart

Ossiana Tepfenhart is an expert writer, focusing on interior design and general home tips. Writing is her life, and it's what she does best. Her interests include art and real estate investments.

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