Different Kinds of Beams

Written by giselle diamond
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  • Introduction

    Different Kinds of Beams

    When building, an engineer must take care in choosing the correct type of beam for each project. To ensure the safety and longevity of the building, an engineer will choose beams with the correct characteristics. The four main types of beams, cantilever, flitch, I-beam and hip, all provide different advantages. Each type can use different materials depending on the purpose and budget of a project.

    There are four main types of beams. (pile of l-beams image by Mikhail Tischenko from Fotolia.com)

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    Cantilever Beams

    An engineer will use a cantilever beam to extend a structure lacking support from underneath, such as the case for bridges, balconies and bay windows. The beam, anchored at one end to an existing foundation, then extends beyond the perimeter of the foundation without any support beneath. Made of strong materials, cantilever beams transfer the load to the foundation of the structure.

    Cantilever beams help support a structure. (balcon image by RAMON CAMI from Fotolia.com)

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    Flitch Beams

    A flitch beam, or steel flitch beam, consists of a hybrid beam made up of both steel and wood materials. Generally, a steel beam bolted to a wood beam and sometimes sandwiched between two creates a reinforced flitch beam. Combining the materials helps reduce both weight as well as costs, and allows for the nailing of the flitch beam to a wood structure already in place. Also a flitch beam can be used to provide additional support for a structure by reinforcing materials. Unlike the cantilever beams, flitch beams are intended for supporting vertical loads.

    Flitch beams are hybrids made up of both steel and wood. (concrete beams open to blue sky. image by Steve Johnson from Fotolia.com)

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    Engineers use I-beams, the most common of the four beams, in large commercial structures. The beam gets its name from the shape, with a long middle section with two perpendicular pieces, or flanges, on the end. This design allows for the beam to support vertical loads better than any other type of beam by distributing the weight along the flanges.

    I beams are used in large commercial structures. (echafaudage 1 image by Daniel sainthorant from Fotolia.com)

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    Hip Beam

    The popular choice in the construction of homes, particularly when building roofs, hip beams provide needed support in the framework of a roof. These beams, generally positioned along the corners of roofs, support other beams that branch off in the rafters of a house. After being nailed to ridge beams, hip beams create the framework of a roof. Rafters are added for additional support.

    Hip beams are used in roofs. (glass domed roof image by Yali Shi from Fotolia.com)

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