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Steel Building vs. Metal Building- What is the Difference?

Let’s say you want a new pre-engineered building for your business, church or farm. Should you purchase a steel building or a metal building? Is there a difference? The terms “steel” and “metal” are used synonymously in the construction industry – but should they be?

Let’s start with definitions:

  • Metal –a solid material that is typically hard, shiny, malleable, fusible, and ductile, with good electrical and thermal conductivity (e.g., iron, gold, silver, copper, and aluminum, and alloys such as brass and steel).
  • Steel –a hard, strong, gray or bluish-gray alloy of iron with carbon and usually other elements, used extensively as a structural and fabricating material.

The meaning of steel is rather straight forward. It is an alloy, or combination, of primarily iron and carbon. You will find both iron (Fe) and carbon (C) listed in the periodic table (You remember the periodic table from high school chemistry right?).

Explanation of Metal Building vs Steel Building from TylerBuilding.com

You will not, however, find steel on the periodic table. That’s because steel is an alloy – not an element. You can mine the Earth all your life and you will never find a steel deposit. That’s because steel is not a natural material. It is man-made by heating the appropriate ingredients to super high temperatures until they are molten.

Steel is the stuff that is created in steel mills and turned into buildings, automobiles, refrigerators, ships, etc.

Metal has a much broader meaning. There are currently 91 metal elements. Some of the metal elements you may have heard of are: lead, aluminum, uranium, tin, iron, nickel, copper, zinc, silver, and gold. All of these elements are found in the Earth’s crust. Iron ore is mined extensively around the planet for the purpose of making steel.

In addition to metal elements, the definition for metal also includes alloys – and steel is an alloy. So it is safe to say that all steel is metal, but not all metals are steel. No one is likely build a zinc skyscraper or a nickel ship yet both of these materials are metals.

So should you purchase a steel building or metal building? It doesn’t matter. Use either term and you will be correct.


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