For those people who use and install structural building products, particularly load bearing steel lintels and prestressed concrete lintels, you probably already know the main differences between the two types. You will also be aware of the advantages of steel over concrete lintels.
But is there more to concrete, and are there circumstances in which it may be preferred?
In a word, yes.
As a manufacturer of both, we make no bones about the strengths of one over the other; in fact, we are arguably best placed to objectively look at each type.
However, there are some cases where a concrete lintel is the preferred option and good reasons in certain situations to specify a concrete lintel instead of a steel lintel.
The biggest and most obvious reason to specify or select a concrete lintel is a financial one. Concrete is effectively a commodity and as such a concrete lintel usually costs the builder or installer a lot less than a steel lintel version. We always encourage those buying and using lintels to understand the load values, but if it simply comes down to price, concrete is usually more favourable.
It is not a myth that steel lintels are stronger than concrete; this is generally the case, but it is a little more complicated.
A high strength prestressed concrete lintel can often offer better supporting properties than a similar steel version at certain lengths and can be considerably cheaper. It is always best practice to look at the load span tables of the lintels or to ask the manufacturers technical team before choosing a lintel.
Steel lintels are used with a polystyrene inner to reduce cold bridging in walls. Concrete lintels however, can offer superior thermal properties, and in certain circumstances can almost totally eliminate cold bridging. This can be achieved through the use of a combined steel and concrete lintel, which can be at a much-reduced cost than a thermally broken steel lintel.
Steel lintels are designed not to be seen. They are generally installed between brick and blockwork, and covered from underneath. A fair faced concrete lintel is a high performance prestressed concrete lintel with a type C finish. This means it can be installed in ‘visible’ areas and can be painted by the user or installer for even more flexibility.
Talking of flexibility – concrete lintels can be cut on site to allow the installer to manipulate the lintel for their purpose.
In coastal areas, sometimes classed as MX4 areas, steel lintels can erode due to the salt levels in the atmosphere. To prevent this, the specification of a stainless steel lintel is often required, again often at great expense. A potential alternative can be a fair faced concrete lintel or a combination or hybrid lintel which is less susceptible to the effects of the salt in the air.
In some cases when building under ground level, a concrete lintel is the preferred option to a steel lintel. Galvanised steel will be vulnerable to moisture and potentially rust, whereas the steel in a prestressed concrete lintel is protected by the concrete.
As with any structural building component, it is always advisable to consult technical teams and engineers on the most appropriate product to use in the specific situation. Lintels are no different, and our technical and specification teams can advise on the best, most cost-effective solution; be it prestressed concrete or a steel lintel.