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steel and earthquake

Steel and Earthquake

There is a mistaken belief among some people that steel buildings do not do well in earthquakes. The truth is quite the opposite. In fact, steel buildings have a distinct edge over concrete in earthquakes. The reason, however, is counter-intuitive, and worth understanding.

We tend to think that the heavier and more rigid an object is, the stronger it is. This assumption is especially common regarding buildings, because our day-to-day experience validates it. If you’ve ever been in a wooden house during high wind, and heard the timbers creaking and groaning ominously, you might have wished the structure was concrete. We assume that the weight of concrete would help hold the house down, and the unbending nature of concrete would resist the swaying under the wind impact. That makes sense if the impacts are on the scale of a truck hitting a wall, or even a hurricane. 

However, an earthquake is different than other loads. It isn’t a surface force threatening to sweep the house off its foundation. The earth itself moves, moving the foundation of the building. It’s more like a strong bucking bronco, trying to shake the house off its back.  

Steel construction is lighter in weight than concrete, without compromising strength. It has less mass – and therefore less force – to damage itself under seismic shaking. It requires less earthquake resistance to be built into the superstructure and into the foundation, potentially lowering construction costs, too.

Moreover, steel makes a more resilient structure because it is a more ductile material, allowing it to bend considerably before breaking. It will respond better in an earthquake than a more brittle structure. In smaller seismic events, a steel building is more likely to snap back than it is to crack. Should the maximum seismic event for which the building is designed occur, there may be severe deformities, but it won’t undergo progressive collapse. 

Tekmetsan Steel Structures will meet or even exceed all local building codes including seismic codes. Let us know the location of your building and we will provide the ideal steel design for your building.