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Innovative Steel Beam Design Solves Construction Delays For Houston Industrial Project

The 220K SF industrial building under construction at Grand National Business Park in northwest Houston.

Construction projects across the U.S. have been struggling with long delays, but one Houston industrial project is running ahead of schedule thanks to an innovative new design that removes the need for difficult-to-obtain steel joist and joist girders.

Hines’ 110-acre Grand National Business Park in northwest Houston was facing a 10-month delivery delay to receive critical structural steel roof framing material for the eighth and last building in the business park, a 220K SF build-to-suit warehouse facility for Elliott Electric Supply.

Framing industrial buildings usually involves erecting steel tube columns with steel joists and joist girders at the roof. Nationally, the supply of those two materials has been extremely delayed as just two manufacturers dominate the market and their capacity was affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Hines and general contractor Arch-Con Corp. brought together a team that included Pinnacle Structural Engineers founding principal Don Greive and steel fabrication and erection company Postel Cos. to find a way to move forward with the building without steel joists or joist girders.

The team looked at other options for framing roofs, and it settled on a design that uses wide-flange steel beams — a different framing application that is often used to construct elevated floors rather than roof structures. Wide-flange beams were not only more available but cheaper than steel joists and steel girders.

“We went back and forth with Postel to make sure we were optimizing the design as much as possible. We knew there would be a time savings, but with market conditions, we were also able to get a cost savings,” Greive said in a press release.

The collaborative effort has resulted in Arch-Con tracking ahead of schedule for the project — an unusual position given that skyrocketing construction material costs and delivery delays have affected industrial projects across the country. Designed by Powers Brown Architecture, the project broke ground in April and is expected to reach completion by the end of 2021.

“Elliott Electric is the first warehouse/distribution project erected that I know of using this innovative design,” said Postel Cos. President Matt Postel, whose firm provides steel to contractors nationwide. “Now, I estimate that tens of millions of square feet have transitioned to using this method.”

That demand has caused longer delivery times for wide-flange steel, but Greive added he is now doing a study to price joist versus beam on almost every industrial project he is working on.

“We are continuing to tweak and fine-tune the solution as lead times and prices evolve and stabilize,” Postel said. “But this overall method is still the best option from a cost and lead-time perspective.”