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Old 08-10-2014, 10:55 AM   #1
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How to size a steel beam?


Hi,

I have a 3-fam in Somerville, MA, and I want to replace a bearing wall with a beam in my kitchen, which has recently been demo'd to the studs.

I was told that LVLs would be 18" height, which would basically mean I'd have to duck my head when walking around the room, so, we've been looking at steel, which I understand does not require as much height.

I've been having a really hard time finding someone to spec out a steel beam. When asking GCs about height of the beam, I've been given various estimates between 2 and 14 inches. Some GCs have told me I need a structural engineer, others have told me that the place I buy it from will do it for free, one guy even told me that the city of Somerville will do it for you if you ask. So I tried all of these avenues.

The engineers have quoted me between $250 and $2000 so i don't know what to do about that. The steel beam places I found all say they don't spec out the beams they just deliver them. And the city of Somerville said I was off my rocker.

Any advice out there for how the heck to get the correct answer?

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Old 08-10-2014, 11:56 AM   #2
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How to size a steel beam?


You need the services of a structural engineer, bite the bullet and proceed.

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Old 08-10-2014, 12:36 PM   #3
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How to size a steel beam?


There are many steel suppliers in MA, however my experience has been that they do not perform structural calculations for residential projects, they just deliver whatever you order. So my experience has been identical to yours. As to sizing the beam, that is almost always done by a structural engineer, usually one who works for the GC (any GC involved in this type of work on a regular basis has a structural engineer they go to when they install steel beams). If they don't have structural engineer on call, you need a different GC.

As to the GC's who estimated 2 - 14 inches, any decent GC who has performed this type of work before should know approximately what size beam they need, based on previous projects. Only the structural engineer can tell exactly what size beam is needed, based on detailed calculations of the load and the geometry of the house, which of course requires a site visit to verify geometry. The structural engineer will also need to specify the required footings and supports for the beam. But almost always, the GC hires the engineer, and rolls the cost up into the project. You will not know the exact cost of the engineer, but typically it is somewhere in the $1000 range or higher. Much of that cost is the need for a site visit, the liability insurance the engineer needs to carry, and the need to prepare stamped plans that are used to pull the permit (I strongly recommend that you GET A PERMIT for this type of work). My suggestion is you find a GC experienced in this type of work, who has their own engineer on call to make the site visit, do the calcs, and prepare the drawing.
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Old 08-10-2014, 12:58 PM   #4
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How to size a steel beam?


Thanks Daniel! I was actually trying to contact you directly as it is obvious from reading this forum that you are quite knowledgeable, but, the site wouldn't let me

My GC is good, he just hasn't done a steel beam before, always LVL. We do have a permit.
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Old 08-10-2014, 04:15 PM   #5
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How to size a steel beam?


LVL's are very good, but they are always deeper than a steel I beam. I used a steel I beam in my kitchen for just the reason you mentioned, I wanted the least deep possible beam. In my particular case, an 11 foot opening that supported a living room floor above, and was supported on posts to the basement, required a 6 inch deep steel I beam. Of course your situation will be different, but that is at least one data point you can compare to. Many GC's lack experience with steel for residential use, so they are often uncomfortable with the requirements for connections to the posts. If you are going to use a GC who has not done steel before, make sure the structural engineer they use walks them through the connection process, which typically requires a positive connection between the steel I beam and the posts, often done using lag bolts if the posts are wood, or a welded on bracket if the posts are steel columns.
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Old 08-10-2014, 11:48 PM   #6
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How to size a steel beam?


I recently removed a bearing wall and carried the weight with three 12" LVL,s. Rather than lose that much head room I cut the joists in both sides and slipped my LVL beam between and hung the joists with hangers. Now my 12" beam only protrudes about 3".
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Old 08-11-2014, 12:00 AM   #7
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How to size a steel beam?


While a steel beam can be 'smaller', it has it's own set of issues. I used one....and the time , labor and expense involved would tend to make me think I would have been better off with the 3 PSL beams vs the one steel beam.

And....I have the advantage of knowing how to weld and have the place to do the work.









See those threaded studs on the sides? That is to hold the beams so I have something to nail the Simpson hangers on. You can't just 'nail' a hanger on a steel beam. Everything is either welded or bolted on.
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Old 08-11-2014, 04:11 PM   #8
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How to size a steel beam?


I have a steel I beam in the living room, 18' open span with second floor on top. Came in on a truck from shawmut metal products in swansea, ma. With the truck guy and my brother in law, we picked it up, carried it inside, and set it in place on triple two bye six jack studs each end, no issues. It's been a while but my recollection is that it was like 8". And just did a garage door opening for an 18' door required a double lvl, 16" high. So yes, you should save on the height requirement. Ron
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Old 08-12-2014, 04:21 PM   #9
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How to size a steel beam?


My contractor put in a double 17" LVL x 20'. Cut in to the joists so it only comes down 10" or so. We chose LVL vs steel because the LVL could be hid into the wall we were supporting (less than a 2x4) avoiding a bump out.

I had to pull the permits as a homeowner as he was out of state, the city required stamped plans for me to pull the permit. Cost about $1200 to do but worth it as the house lines were tricky for the architect (let alone a GC). The architect was in Newton if you need him.

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