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October 2007 – Steel more cost effective than concrete

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Good news on the costs front comes from the latest update of the Cost Comparison study that Corus has produced since 1995.  The updated study, incorporating prices current in the second quarter of 2007, shows that steel framing solutions are still more cost effective than concrete alternatives. The independently produced study, carried out by Davis Langdon, Arup and MACE, shows that steel frames have been less expensive than concrete alternatives throughout the period since 1995. The competitive gap between the two can be seen progressively widening as steel gets more cost effective and concrete more expensive in real terms for most of the period.

Concrete is 24% more expensive in real terms now than in 1995 whereas steel shows only a 17% increase for the two buildings examined for the study, a 2,600 square metre office in Manchester and an 18,000 square metre prestige office building in central London.

The study shows that the cost gap between steel and concrete based framing systems has barely altered in the past two or three years, after widening in favour of steel over the previous ten years or so. This study is based on a developer’s specification for buildings that are of a type actually being built today. Readers of the construction press might remember some misleading advertising earlier this year that suggested concrete was cheaper – but this was due to careful selection of buildings employing a grid that is not in fact a significant part of the market.

The study provides good reason to explain why steel continues to make increases in market share in key areas. The most recent market shares survey earlier this year showed that steel had a 73% share of the market for multi storey commercial buildings.

Having won the cost argument so convincingly over such a prolonged period, the constructional steelwork sector is now turning its attention to demonstrating to clients and designers that steel also has the strongest sustainability case of framing materials. If the long term sustainability advantages of steel were calculated and factored into the cost equation then the case for steel would be even more overwhelming than the market already thinks it is.

Sustainability Charter

The BCSA’s Sustainability Charter, which allows members to demonstrate their sustainability credentials to clients, is going from strength to strength. Another two companies have achieved Gold Charter Status, Severfield-Reeve Structures and Richard Lees Decking, with Barnshaw Section Benders achieving Silver status and Concrete and Timber Services achieving Member status. This brings the total number of Charter members to 17.

Those who join up formally declare to embrace a wide range of sustainability promoting policies across their businesses. For example, they agree to operate their businesses in efficient and financially sustainable ways, which benefits clients who value stability in their suppliers. They work to optimise the impact of manufacturing and construction activities on the eco-efficiency of steel construction throughout its life cycle. They work towards increasing the efficiency of use of resources and energy in steel construction by promoting recovery, re-use and recycling of steel.

Many steelwork contractors who have not yet signed up to the Charter can argue that this is how they operate anyway. That is accepted, but you still have to prove your sustainability credentials to a sceptical world. Being a part of the BCSA’s Sustainability Charter is one of the best ways to be able to do that.

Nick Barrett

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