# Is steel a steal?

Not today, but check back later.

Why? well, we’re talking about commodities. The prices change and sometimes rapidly. Right now, steel has been skyrocketing. In 2002, the question of steel versus wood as a structural choice was easy – steel all the way. That has changed in more recent years, however, you’ll see that it has actually caught up with lumber (which has also skyrocketed in its own markets in recent years)

First of all, you buy steel by weight. The industry works in dollars per ton, so take your 20-foot long w10x49 steel i-beam and multiply like this:

Figure the weight of the steel: 20’ (length of the beam) x49#/ft (from the spec W10x49 – the 10 is inches height and the 49 is pounds per foot) = 980 lbs.

Convert to tons: 980lbs/2000lbs/ton = .49 tons

Multiply by the price per ton: .49 tonsx\$2000/ton = \$980 (today the average price is \$2000 per ton – or \$1 per pound — Isn’t that convenient?)

Local suppliers may charge additional fees for their services. This is material only – not labor to install. Spanning 20 feet with wood could easily be a 24” deep glulam or deeper (depends on the load configuration). Today, you can source a beam like that for around \$40 to \$50 per linear foot, so at the high end, the cost of wood or steel would be a wash. However, lumber and steel prices cycle and vary (see below).

“Prices for shop-fabricated structural steel that is primed and delivered to the job site increased by nearly 40% during 2004 caused by global influences, real and imagined. Prices then settled down to an annual increase of about 8% for 2005, 2006, and 2007. We forecast that fabricated structural steel prices will increase by about 10% during 2008, having already increased 5% year to date.”

Source: The Means Report