Career Development

10 Types of Steel Columns Used in Construction

May 6, 2021

Constructing buildings requires the use of a range of materials. It's important for construction workers to select the proper materials to ensure buildings and structures have the support they need. Many buildings require the use of steel beams in their construction In this article, we define what a steel column is and discuss common steel structures and steel column types.

Related: 64 Construction Terms and Definitions

What is a steel column?

A steel column is a vertical structure member used in construction to provide essential support. They may carry loads in compression or they may transfer loads from things like beams, ceilings, floor slabs or roof slabs to floors or foundations. Steel columns may also carry bending moments near cross-section axes.

While there are many types of materials used columns in construction, steel is a common choice. Its structure offers a more durable and flexible and stronger structure than concrete structure does. Also, steel columns are generally more lightweight and faster to construct than concrete columns.

There are a variety of types of steel columns in construction. Each type of column receives classification based on certain conditions. These classifications may include:

  • Columns based on construction material
  • Columns based on cross section or shape
  • Columns based on height of column and cross section
  • Columns based on shape
  • Columns based on slenderness ration
  • Columns based on types of loading
  • Columns classified as per lateral load resistivity
  • Columns without a specific classification

Related: 21 Types of Columns To Use in Construction

Steel column types

Here are some common types of steel columns:

Circular columns

Circular columns are columns classified based on their shape. These columns contain more than four longitudinal steel bars within them that act as a reinforcement bar. Circular columns often have a higher bending resistance than rectangular or square columns. Common uses of circular columns in construction include for piling and elevating buildings for aesthetic reasons, and construction workers often use them as bridge pillars.

Composite columns

Composite columns are a type of reinforcement column made of structural steel, concrete and reinforcement. They have a high load-carrying capacity and provide longitudinal reinforcement, and construction works often use them in high-rise building construction. Composite columns often have good fire performance, and they provide a high level of strength within a small cross section.

Related: What Does a Steel Erector Do?

L-shape columns

L-shape columns are a type of column classified based on their shape. These columns are easy to construct and cast, and the level of support they provide often makes them an excellent choice for buildings and other heavy structures. Construction workers use these columns in corners of boundary walls.

Short reinforced columns

Short reinforced columns are columns classified based on their slenderness. These columns have a slenderness ratio of less than 12 inches, and they contain steel bars. Short reinforced columns have some flexibility, and the loads they support vary and depend on factors like the strength of the materials and the dimension of the cross-section.

Spiral reinforced concrete columns

Spiral reinforced concrete columns are concrete reinforcement columns with an embedded steel mesh, which is called rebar, that provides reinforcement to the column's structure. These are cylindrical columns with a continuous helical bar wrapped around each column. The spiral structure of the column provides transverse support across the width of the structure.

Square or rectangular columns

Square or rectangular columns are columns classified based on their shape. They contain a minimum of four longitudinal steel beams to provide support. Square or rectangular columns often allow for easy shuttering, placing reinforcement and concrete pouring. This, combined with their general affordability, making them a popular choice in building construction.

Stub columns

Stub columns are columns classified based on their construction model. These columns rest on slabs rather than foundation footing to provide additional support. Construction workers may place these short columns either vertically or horizontally. While stub columns are often steel, they may also be concrete. An example of when you may see or use a stub column would be under overhead water tanks.

Related: How To Become a Steel Worker

Tension columns

Tension columns receive a classification based on their loading abilities. Tension columns are columns made of steel, concrete or other materials. However, these are not a commonly used type of column in construction. Construction workers generally use these columns in special circumstances, such as in bridge construction or continuing the full-height form of columns to foundation.

Tied reinforced concrete columns

Tied reinforced concrete columns are a type of reinforcement columns made of concrete with an embedded mesh, also known as rebar, that provides reinforcement. These columns have closed lateral ties uniformly spaced across them. However, the spacing of the ties is important. Ties must be far enough apart to not affect how the concrete sets but close enough to prevent structural failure.

T-shape columns

T-shape columns are a type of columns classified based on their shape. Construction workers may use these columns based on the requirements of their design. T-shape columns are most commonly used when constructing bridges.

Other types of steel structures

Construction workers often use steel for more than columns. For example, many construction workers use steel beams. Like columns, beams provide support by carrying force, loads and bending moments. However, steel beams are horizontal rather than vertical.

Common types of other steel structures may include:

  • Angle beams: Angle beams, or L-shaped beams, have two legs, which may be equal or unequal in length, that join to create a 90-degree angle.

  • Bearing piles: Bearing piles have an H-shape to transfer loads to provide a deep foundation system if a structure cannot have a shallow foundation.

  • C-shaped beams: C-shaped beams, also called C beams or structural C channels, feature a C-shaped cross-section with top and bottom flanges connected by a web structure.

  • Hollow steel section units: Hollow steel section units or structures contain metal with a hollow, tubular cross-section, and they may have a circular, elliptical, rectangular or square shape.

  • Pipes: Structural steel pipes are hollow, cylindrical tubes available in a range of sizes with a variety of construction applications and capabilities, such as providing strength and stability.

  • S-shaped beams: S-shaped beams, also called S beams or American standard beams, have a web connection between a rolled section and two narrow flanges parallel to one another.

  • T beam: A T beam, or a tee beam, has a T-shaped cross-section with a flange and a vertical web, and they can withstand large loads.

  • Universal beams: Universal beams, also called H beams or I beams, include two horizontal elements, called flanges. These allow them to resist bending movement because they're connected by a vertical element or web that resists force.

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