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Structural engineers must consider many things when endeavouring to make structural designs a reality. One of the most important considerations will be stability. Stability is essential when ensuring that structures are safe and long-lasting.

Beams and columns are two key structural elements that play an important role in supporting the building’s weight and creating a safe load path from the slab to the structure’s foundations.

Here, we delve into what beams and columns actually are and explore why they are vital components in structural engineering.

Beams

Beams are horizontal rods or planks that carry loads perpendicular to their longitudinal direction. They are supported at both ends of installation and transfer loads from slab to column.

Location

These structural elements are used to support the weight of a building’s walls, ceilings and roofs; they help distribute the weight to a structure’s vertical load-bearing supports.

Design

The design of a beam will need to be carefully considered by a structural engineer. They are trained to calculate the loads acting on the beam and will choose an appropriate beam size, shape and material to accommodate the forces and stresses on the structure. Beam dimensions are also allocated according to the value of the internal forces located on them.

Material

For new builds, the most common types of materials used to make beams include reinforced concrete, steel, grouted masonry and wood. A structural engineer will select the material based on cost, geometry and fire rating, among other things.

A red ceiling supported by steel beams

Columns

Like beams, columns are used in structural support. Essentially, columns are vertical structures that transmit compressive loads.

Columns support the floor or roof beams and the columns on the floors above; bottom floor columns must be strong enough to carry the accumulative weight of every floor above it. They will transfer loads from the slab and beams to the foundations and soil beneath.

Location

For the most effective support, columns should be placed consistently on all floors, if possible. This will increase the stability of the lowest set of columns.

Design

Structural engineers must calculate the weight supported by the column before choosing an appropriate design. Like with beams, column design will depend on the load values extruding vertical forces. The effects of lateral forces due to wind and earthquakes must also be taken into account when determining the size and dimensions of the column.

Material

There are two main materials used in modern column construction:

1. Steel
2. Concrete

Steel columns can be split into three types, including the C-section, I-section and hollow section.

Concrete columns can be designed with either rectangular or circular sections.

Composite columns made with both steel and concrete are used in multi-story buildings where the loads on the columns are very large.

concrete columns

Why are they Important?

Columns and Beams have been used in construction since the Ancient world. Ancient Egyptians knew the importance of these supports, and the modern-day column-beam-slab system has been adapted from the first basic beams and columns.

Ultimately, your structure would not remain upright if it did not have beams and columns to support its weight.

The intricacies of structural engineering are complex, but hopefully, we have provided a rudimentary guide to these structural elements.

If your latest project needs the support of an experienced structural engineer, Martin Perry Associates offers a range of services that might be right for you. For expert beam design or property guidance, get in touch with us today to see how we could help.