The Difference Between An H-Beam And I-Beam

January 2, 2023 in Beams / Blog / Structural Steel
h beam vs i beam

Are you hearing conflicting advice about whether H-beams or I-beams are more appropriate for a project you’re working on? It happens, and while it’s frustrating to hunt down information you can trust, it’s crucial to be aware of the differences between the two. This way, you’ll be able to make the right choice for your project.

However, the truth can be deceptive when you compare H-beam vs I-beam supports. Honestly, the difficult choice ahead might be what led you to this article in the first place. Fret not, though. By the time you finish this article, you will understand why one type of beam may work better than the other for your construction project.

What Does a Beam Do?

Before jumping into the differences between an I-beam and an H-beam, it’s critical to understand what steel beams are generally used for. A beam is designed to support loads in a building that run perpendicular to the longitudinal axis. That means they run horizontally to the ground. If you’re a fan of home improvement shows, you’ll know that adding wood beams to residential homes became popular in recent years.

A column, on the other hand, supports loads in a building that run parallel to the longitudinal axis. These beams run vertically from the ground and bare the load on top of them. Depending on the structure you build, H-beams or I-beams may present you with better options.

What Is an H-Beam?

What is an H-beam? An h-beam is a steel structure that looks like its name suggests it should look: It’s a steel beam shaped like a capital H. This structural beam made from rolled steel provides an impressive amount of strength when used in commercial building projects.

Most of today’s steel buildings use H-beams. Unlike the alternative, these beams don’t taper off, and their surfaces remain parallel. They are also fabricated, unlike an I-beam. This means that they were not originally a single piece, but they were designed as build-up beams. Their flanges (the horizontal pieces) are welded to the web (the vertical piece) to create the shape of an H-beam. Because of the way they were built, they’re also known as “wide flange beams.”

The advantages of using H-beams include the following:

  • Reasonable strength-to-weight ratio
  • Optimal area distribution
  • Economical section steel that gives better mechanical properties

What Is an I-Beam?

What is an I-beam? An I-beam is also a steel structure that looks like its name suggests: It’s a steel beam with two horizontal planes (flanges) connected by a vertical section (or web). Much like the shape of a capital I, the height of the cross-section will be higher than the width of a flange. You will also notice tapered edges on the flanges with this type of steel beam. This unique look is part of what makes it easy to see the difference between an H-beam and an I-beam. While an H-beam is quite uniform in its shape, an I-beam will be taller than it is wide.

The tapering in an I-beam creates thinner slopes for the upper and lower flanges. You can expect a 1:6 ratio, which means the thin edges point toward the outside. Thicker I-beams exist on the market, but they’re known for having a shortage of torsion resistance. They don’t resist twisting as well as the standard I-beam or the H-beam.

I-beams, unlike H-beams, are made using only one piece of steel rather than welding three pieces together. The way I-beams are made gives them certain advantages over H-beams in some building situations, which we will cover later in this article.

What’s the Difference Between an I-Beam and H-Beam?

Depending on your project, one may weigh you down while the other may buckle under the pressure of the weight they’re supporting. Keep reading to learn about the key differences between the two beam types. This way, you’ll be able to make a more informed decision about which beam will best suit the needs of your project.

Which One Weighs More?

An H-beam will typically have more weight than an I-beam (as well as greater length), which means that an H-beam can support heavier loads than its counterpart. That’s not always what you’re looking for in a steel beam, however. Different structures won’t call for the use of H-beams because the extra weight on the wall can lead to structural problems. In cases where a beam’s weight is a concern, an I-beam presents a better option due to its lightweight design.

Which One Is Stronger?

An I-beam can be perfect for supporting loads that cause local buckling. Local buckling means that an individual portion cannot support its weight load and as a result, it becomes unstable and poses a threat to the integrity of the project as a whole.

Though I-beams can prevent local buckling, they will not be able to handle the same force as an H-beam due to their lighter design. Overall, the title of “Stronger Beam” goes to H-beams.

An H-beam’s durability comes from its strength-to-weight ratio in the cross-section. This optimized design means that these beam types have more strength against heavier loads. An H-beam can also be easier to weld, and because it has a large surface area in its cross-section, it earns a high strength rating.

What About the Beveling?

H-beams have a bevel where three pieces of steel join and look like one piece of solid metal (when we’re talking about high-quality, expertly-welded beams). I-beams do not have this type of bevel, as they’re made from a single piece of steel. I-beams are not fabricated by riveting sheets or welding. Milling or rolling creates shorter top and bottom flanges on I-beams.

What’s the Span?

H-beams cover spans of up to 330 feet.

I-beams cover spans that range from 33 to 100 feet.

That said, a single H-beam will cover a great distance, while construction teams using I-beams will need to use at least three units to equal the distance an H-beam can cover.

What Does the Web Center Look Like?

An H-beam’s central web has more thickness (usually equal to the length and thickness of the flanges), which means it has a sturdier construction. An I-beam’s central web is taller than the flanges are wide, so it isn’t as thick in the central web. This means that I-beams cannot handle the same amount of force as their counterpart.

What Do the Flanges Look Like?

An H-beam has flanges at the top and bottom that extend further from the web than those of an I-beam. Though an I-beam also has top and bottom flanges, they’re not as wide as an H-beam’s flanges. They’re also shorter than an H-beam’s flanges. Shorter and thinner flanges might not sound desirable in plenty of situations, but again, the unique design of an I-beam gives it certain advantages over an H-beam.

When Should You Use H-Beams?

H-beams find most of their use in residential projects (like homes and apartment units, but they’re also perfect for the following builds:

  • Bridges: Beam bridges are simple structures that are supported by H-beams, depending on their load requirements. H-beams enable the weight to be distributed evenly throughout the beam, making them a better choice for the bridge, as the structure can now support more weight without any trouble.
  • Platforms: H-beams can be ideal when you’re on a construction site and you’re looking to give the structure greater durability and strength. When you’re considering H-beam vs I-beam, consider your construction requirements. H-beams are more suitable when you’re looking to build solid structures, like platforms.
  • Mezzanines: If you’re planning to build various intermediate floors in a building, you need beams that can hold the weight without looking too unsightly. H-beams are perfect for this because they enable even weight distribution and ultimate functionality without ruining the aesthetics of the mezzanine floor from any angle.
  • Trailers: Any trailer model requires a solid structure so that it can remain durable throughout the years. Just as beams in a building help support the roof and other physical components, beams in a trailer help ensure its structural integrity long-term.
  • Commercial Buildings: When you’re looking to ensure that the commercial building you’re constructing can withstand higher load requirements without any problems, using heavier and sturdier H-beams can be an ideal option. H-beams can ensure that your customers are also satisfied with the quality of the building.
  • Skyscrapers: High-rise buildings require innovative and creative ways to be supported while ensuring that they don’t lose their visual charm. When you’re looking to create the ideal skyscraper without various, unsightly supporting structures, using H-beams within the structural foundation can be ideal.
  • Industrial Complexes: All industrial processes require handling large volumes and weights almost daily. The key considerations when constructing such buildings are that
    1) they don’t fall under excessive weight and
    2) that they’re safe for the employees.
    H-beams are the ideal support to use for high-load and high-volume areas like industrial complexes.
  • Framing for Truck/Trailer Beds: Trucks need to handle a lot of volume and weight while transporting various goods across thousands of miles. Using H-beams to support these frames helps ensure that there are no accidents or adverse incidents that might otherwise occur when using weaker support beams.

Any job that calls for larger load-bearing will involve H-beams. Their broad surfaces make them perfect for connecting building components with high-strength bolts. While it’s difficult to generalize the appropriateness of each beam type, these supports often find their way into large-scale construction projects.

When Should You Use I-Beams?

I-beams give more flexible options for construction projects. You’ll find these beams used in the following ways:

  • Bridges: When you’re looking to build an aesthetically-focused bridge that doesn’t need to continuously handle extremely large loads of traffic, I-beams are ideal. The straight and narrow design can also ensure that the aesthetic integrity of the bridge is not compromised.
  • Support Beams in Steel Buildings: If you’re planning on putting multiple supporting beams within a steel building, you need to ensure they are evenly distributed. The main difference between I-beams and H-beam is that I-beams are more versatile and can be placed anywhere. This includes narrow steel buildings that are constrained by space limits but still need superior strength.
  • Elevators: Elevators are narrow areas that don’t have a ton of space. To ensure that they can handle a specific amount of weight without being compromised, you might want to utilize an I-beam’s support. I-beams can come up to 30 meters, which makes them ideal to use in elevators.
  • Support Columns: If you’re trying to maintain aesthetics and structural integrity, getting the versatile I-beams to be the supporting column is ideal. They can be fitted within any space without being too exposed.
  • Workplace Platforms: When you’re looking to install platforms into already existing workplaces, I-beams are the way to go. They don’t need much space and cause minimal disruption to the area.
  • Factories and Warehouses: Similar to H-beams, I-beams are ideal for high-load and high-volume places, especially areas where the space is too constrained for an H-beam.
  • Miscellaneous Civil Projects: Many civil projects utilize I-beams because of their versatility, eco-friendly features, and durability.
  • Framing for Truck/Trailer Beds: Many advanced trailer and truck models utilize I-beams instead of H-beams when they’re looking to insert multiple beams without ruining the aesthetic look of the model.

You can find I-beams in steel fabrication as well. For most construction projects, this type of support will be installed as the framework for buildings or trusses. Homeowners also install I-beams in basements to stabilize the basement walls without risking the area’s structural integrity.

The more I-beams used in a project, the fewer support structures are required. As a result, these beams offer tremendous time and money-saving benefits for the right building.

Still Debating About an H-Beam vs I-Beam?

It’s critical to know the differences between I-beam and H-beam supports for any construction project. Now that you’ve gained an education in H-beam vs I-beam 101, where do you go from here?

It doesn’t matter whether you’re starting a new construction project or modifying an existing building: You’re going to want advice, especially if you’re still not sure which beam you should use in your building project. Seek a professional in the industry who can provide sound recommendations that add value to your property. By trusting an expert in the field, you can rest assured that you’re making a choice that will support the integrity of your work.

Did you find this article useful and informative? Do you have more questions about steel products or services? Give us a call at 1-855-446-8735 or request a quote today.