Steel Framed Vs Load Bearing Structure: Know The Difference!

A combination of various components/elements connected/joined together in such a way to offer a useful function is called structure. These are often categorized according to the geometry by which they gain strength to withstand different types of loads. It is the structure’s geometrical configuration which determines its capacity to resist loads. The most common structures used in modern-day buildings are frames and walls. These are known popularly as framed and load bearing walls.
A framework or ‘skeleton’ of beams and columns of steel is used in a steel framed structure to carry the different loads down to the foundations. The wall themselves are load bearing in the load bearing structure. Typically these load-bearing walls are constructed in masonry but they can also be made of reinforced concrete. The walls here transfer the loads to the foundations.
The key difference between the configuration of the load bearing and the steel framed structure is that the members who are responsible for bearing and transferring the load to the foundation. Load-bearing members’ means walls carry load in a load-bearing structure, while in a steel framed structure, steel beam & columns carry the load and transfer it to foundation.
The fundamental differences between steel framed Vs load bearing structure are described below.

Steel Framed Vs Load Bearing Structure

Steel Framed Structure
Load Bearing Structure

01. Definition

  • A steel framed structure is a structure that is connected by a combination of structural steel components i.e. beam, column and slab to resist gravity and various lateral loads. Generally, these structures are used to resist the large forces, moments which evolve due to the loads applied. This is also known as beam column structure.
  • According to ‘Frederick S. Merritt and Jonathan T. Ricketts’[27] (Author of BUILDING DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION HANDBOOK), load bearing structure is the oldest and most common type of structure, and it is the structure in which the loads of the roofs as well as lateral loads such as wind, earthquake etc. are borne by walls, and through walls they are transferred to lower floor and lastly to foundations. It is also known as wall bearing structure.

02. Components

03. Load Transfer Path

  • Vertical load transfer path in a steel framed structure is from slab/floor to steel beams, beams to steel columns, and columns to load bearing footings, and then to soil.
  • Vertical load transfer path in load bearing system is from the slab/floor to walls and walls to load bearing footing i.e. soil.

04. Height of Structure

  • Multi storey buildings of any heights can be constructed.(Author of Building Construction Handbook), Such structures are typically built for offices, hotels, public buildings and include vertical circulation in the form of stairs and lifts up to 20% of the floor area.
  • Limited storey buildings can only be constructed. According to IS SP 62: 1997[151] (Handbook on Building Construction Practices (Excluding Electrical Work), For load-bearing structure, so far buildings up to 6 storeys have built up. In many countries, even 14 storeys have been constructed only with masonry.

05. Resistant to Earthquake

  • Steel framed structure is more stable and resistant to earthquake as the whole steel frame consisting of columns, beams and slabs functions as one entity. The horizontal load path, however, needs to be clearly defined, designed and detailed.
  • Load bearing structures are poor resistant to earthquake, since they are constructed with units of masonry such as stone, brick, and blocks bonded together. (If it is not done correctly.) But it works equally well for low-rise buildings. However, it needs careful designs and details.

06. Thickness of Wall

  • In steel framed structure all the walls are thinner.
  • In load bearing structure walls are thicker, and more thicker on lower stories.

07. Construction of Wall

  • In steel framed structures, walls are constructed after the steel frame gets ready.
  • In load bearing structure, beams and columns are not present. Therefore walls have to be built first.

08. Carpet Area Available

  • More carpet area is available in steel framed structures, as walls are thinner.
  • There is less carpet area available in load bearing structures, because the walls are thicker and thus planning efficiency of the carpet area is lower.

09. Popularity

  • Steel framed structure is the most used form of construction.
  • Rarely used form of construction. The load-bearing walls are the civilization’s earliest known form of construction.
Also Read: Where are the Steel Structure Buildings Recommended?

10. Excavation Required

  • Excavation required for this type of construction is less.
  • Excavation required for this type of construction is more.

11. Labour Required

  • It is less labour intensive, but it needs different skills.
  • It is more labour intensive.

12. Speed of Construction

  • The speed of construction is more, as it is made of steel.
  • The speed of construction is less, as it is made of small units of masonry i.e. bricks, stones, blocks.

13. Material Required

  • It is less material intensive and hence less in weight also. It consumes more steel.
  • It is more material intensive. Hence dead load i.e. weight is also more. However it consumes less steel.

14. Corrosion Resistance

  • It is prone to corrosion, as whole frame is made of steel.
  • It is not affected by corrosion, as there is less steel.

15. Cost of Repair

  • The cost of repair is more.
  • The cost of repair is less.

16. Life of Structure

  • Life is reduced if not constructed with proper technique, and specifications i.e. codes are not strictly followed.
  • Unless certain norms are not violated, life isn’t much affected.

17. Worker Required for Construction

  • Only skilled worker are required for its construction.
  • Skilled as well as non-skilled worker can construct.

18. Uniformity of Wall

  • Wall thickness can be kept uniform throughout. Wall thickness remains the same, with height rise. Thus the plan dimension doesn’t change on different floors.
  • Wall thickness cannot always be kept same on the all floors. Wall thickness increases with height rise. Thus, the plan dimensions change on all floors.

19. Flexibility in Design

  • It is flexible in design as the position of walls can be changed. You can have more practical architectural design. Flexible use of the spaces. No necessity of constructing wall on wall.  Any wall can be to build anywhere. They can take any wall anywhere. And simplicity of use.
  • It is not flexible in design from architectural point of view, because you can’t remove / shift walls, hence it is less efficient. It is necessary to create wall over wall in load bearing construction, as walls are load bearing components. You cannot therefore change the position of the wall resulting in less flexibility in use.

20. Room Dimension

  • The dimension of room can be changed.
  • The dimensions of room cannot be changed as walls need to be above walls only.

21. Feasibility of Cantilever Elements

  • Cantilever element can be easily included in the system.
  • Inclusion of cantilever element in this system is a difficult job. In addition, it is only permitted for a short span.

22. Span in Structure

  • In case of a steel framed system it is possible to have large span areas. No span limitations i.e. room sizes.
  • The wide span areas are not feasible in the load bearing system. Span limitations i.e. room sizes remain.

23. Cost Variation According to Foundation Depth

  • Load bearing structure’s foundation cost is higher than the steel framed structure.

24. Flexibility in Construction

  • Construction of a load bearing structure is cumbersome, especially for earthquake resistant building.

25. Opening in Wall

  • In steel framed structure, large openings in walls are possible.
  • Limitations for providing openings in walls, which will affect the light and ventilation in building/home.

26. Design Complexity

  • Design of steel framed structure is not as simple as compared to load bearing structure. Design skills and sophisticated software tools are required.
  • Design of load bearing structure is simple.

27. Plant & Machines for Construction

  • Steel framed structures need expansive plant and machines for construction.
  • Load bearing structures can be built without costly plant and machines.

28. Use of Construction Based on Load Bearing Capacity of Soil

  • It is mainly used for high-rise buildings and low-rise buildings where there is no good soil available for resting load bearing, say up to 1.5 to 2.00 m and the cost of masonry unit is also higher at the same time. The ultimate design will depend on type of soil.
  • It is used in low rise buildings where good soil for foundation is available at 1.2 to 1.5 m. According to ‘Frederick S. Merritt and Jonathan T. Ricketts’[27] (Author of BUILDING DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION HANDBOOK), such construction is generally limited to relatively low height structures, because load-bearing walls become heavy in tall structures. Nevertheless, a wall bearing system can be beneficial for tall buildings when designed with reinforcement steel. It can only be constructed on hard strata.

29. Time for Completion

  • Normally, steel frame is constructed first and the external & partition walls are constructed later, thus speed is more.
  • Walls need to be constructed first as they support the slab/roof and therefore all walls have to be built simultaneously which is time consuming.

30. Alteration of Structural Element

  • The frame is an active structural element and all components are significant, and if any changes are made to the structural element, it may affect the safety of the building. Walls may however be changed.
  • Walls are the active structural elements and hence no change can be made in them at any time. Wall cannot be altered, removed, punctured.

To sum up, relative to the steel framed structures, the load bearing systems are economical. But it is only true, if the masonry units used in load bearing structures have low prices relative to the steel used in beam and column for steel framed structures, and the foundation depth is not more than 1.00 m to 1.2 m. When the structures are large and you need flexibility in construction, i.e. you don’t want a wall over the wall and if you have large span structures, steel framed structure is often preferred, as load bearing structures have many limitations. Load bearing construction is economical only when the bricks, stones and blocks are conveniently available at a reasonable price. We hope this blog will help you to choose the appropriate structural system for your home or next project as per your needs.

Do you have query?

Let our experts solve it for you while you rest

I need help to