Structural steel beams are being placed within the flooring of a commercial building.

When beginning an industrial construction project, one of the most fundamental choices is the building material to use. With several options on the market, understanding the capabilities, costs and overall impacts of each can be a daunting task. The two most common options are concrete and steel. Both materials have advantages and disadvantages to weigh when deciding which is the best fit.

The following sections will compare these materials in-depth, delving into their basic properties, performance factors and compliance with building codes. By the end of this guide, you will be better equipped to decide whether to use structural concrete or steel for your future construction projects.

A Comparison of Strength and Durability

When it comes to structural integrity, the strength and longevity of construction materials matter tremendously. Concrete and steel each offer durable performance in properly engineered structures but have different uses overall based on factors like aesthetics, construction methods, costs and building functions.

In terms of compressive strength, concrete outperforms steel. Typical structural concrete mixtures exhibit compressive strength ranging from 3,000 psi to over 8,000 psi, depending on the mix design. While still very strong in compression, steel generally sees values between 20,000 and 40,000 psi. 

Steel has far greater capabilities for tensile strength with high-grade structural steel averaging around 60,000 psi in tension, whereas even steel-reinforced concrete typically only reaches 300-700 psi. Shear strength favors steel as well.



Concrete provides excellent fire resistance thanks to its non-combustible composition. It also transmits heat slowly, delaying structural failures by hours, even in raging blazes. Concrete equally resists hurricane, tornado and earthquake forces when steel reinforcement is included.

Steel remains vulnerable to fire exposure without specialized insulation coatings. However, thanks to their corrosion and oxidation resistance, galvanized and stainless steel alloys stand up incredibly well to general weathering action. Steel construction has achieved 100+ year lifespans in buildings where regular maintenance preserved the original steelwork’s integrity.


Construction Considerations

The constructability of a building significantly impacts overall cost and schedule outcomes. Concrete and steel each carry unique complexity factors surrounding the physical construction process.

Regarding speed, structural steel buildings can frame up quite rapidly with pre-fabricated members and experienced crews. However, concrete scheduling allows flexibility by pouring sections as the forms and rebar are ready.

On design complexity, concrete enables:

  • Freeform shapes via custom forms
  • Pattern stamping and etching options
  • Exposed ceilings and walls as decorative focal points

Steel can accommodate:

  • Efficient long-span beams and open floor plans
  • Intricate architectural steelwork as visual centerpieces

For availability, established concrete contractors operate widely, given concrete’s ubiquitous use. However, structural steel erection crews require specialized techniques, equipment and experience. Careful planning and scheduling ensure crews are secured.

In summary, each material carries its own nuances across constructability considerations. When selected appropriately and installed by qualified contractors, both steel and concrete can achieve excellent results.


Optimized Performance Across Building Uses

A building is being constructed with structural steel beams.


The intended building use and occupancy come into play when weighing structural material choices. Both concrete and steel structures carry advantageous inherent traits that lend themselves well to certain environments over others.

For building types, concrete structures promote quietness through solid mass, which blocks sound transmission for privacy. Structural engineering in commercial buildings uses steel’s long-span capabilities, enabling flexible room layouts. Residential projects emphasize resilience against seismic events and fires, often leading designers to reinforced concrete buildings yet light steel infill wall solutions also supply essential housing performance.

Looking at industry-specific demands:

  • Steel structures efficiently meet strength-to-weight demands in high-tech manufacturing facilities and adapt floorplans as needs evolve.
  • Prefabricated concrete buildings avert delays for fast-tracked power generation projects.
  • Intricately welded and sealed stainless steel processes enable sterile finishes in biopharmaceutical production.

In summary, the construction process behind quality concrete builds or properly planned structural steel solutions focuses on meeting individualized building use priorities. Selecting optimal structural engineering systems rests heavily on building use priorities.


Codes and Standards

All structures must achieve compliance with the governing building codes and standards to gain permit approvals for construction. Both concrete and steel carry considerations across key code requirements.

The International Building Code (IBC) mandates minimum fire resistance ratings for building-type occupancy classes. Non-combustible concrete inherently meets most ratings. Steel members require dense fireproofing coatings to achieve certified ratings, whether with concrete, fiber blankets or other solutions.

Seismic design categories are also linked to occupancy class and soil types according to IBC’s standards. Concrete shear walls excel, as do properly braced and connected steel moment frames. Wind loading factors by geography and risks drive structural member sizing as well. Coastal zones often necessitate extra robustness. Generally, concrete and steel prove code-compliant as primary or composite structural systems.

The expertise of structural engineers optimizes concrete or steel structural solutions to efficiently satisfy strength, serviceability, safety and energy efficiencies through detailed analysis of applicable international, national, state and local building codes. This ensures regulatory approvals while targeting sustainability certifications.


Trusted Expertise Delivering Concrete and Steel Solutions

At SW Funk Industrial Contractors, we have built a reputation for reliable, high-quality concrete construction and steel fabrication and erection since our founding over 40 years ago. As steadfast believers in the ethos “Safe + Accurate + Reliable = Trusted,” every team member receives over 80 hours of safety training annually to promote an unparalleled safety-first culture. We aim to deliver seamless customer experiences through dedicated employee expertise.

Our industrial concrete crews specialize in the following:

  • Precision anchor bolt layouts
  • Massive foundation pours
  • Intricate formed details
  • Concrete repair and resurfacing

We also offer full-scope structural steel solutions, including:

  • Catwalks, platforms and stairs
  • Pipe racks and support structures
  • Custom fabrications and installations
  • Structural repairs

What truly sets SW Funk Industrial Contractors apart is our ability to safely execute complex industrial concrete and steel projects without disrupting clients’ existing operations. We own all necessary equipment in-house and leverage logistical ingenuity to conquer access, space, and scheduling obstacles through creative engineered lift plans.

As a certified AISC steel fabricator, our veteran project teams handle everything from welding intricacies to navigating active pharmaceutical cleanrooms without compromising production. We aim to be long-term partners delivering reliable results again and again.

Contact us today to discuss your upcoming industrial construction needs and discover what the SW Funk Industrial Contractors difference can do for you!