Wide Flange Beams in Light Frame Construction

How did that beam get so big? This is what I had to ask myself when I finished sizing and detailing a steel beam that was supposed to fit within the floor joist depth for a flush ceiling. We were removing an unreinforced masonry bearing wall and installing a new wide flange beam to support the existing floor joists as part of a seismic retrofit and remodel. Since the floor joists spliced over the existing bearing wall, it would have been much easier to simply install a new beam below the joists.

Beam below joists
Beam below joists

The architect did not want the beam installed below the framing, as it would protrude too much. Steel design offers multiple wide flange sections that will work for a given loading. For this particular design, I could use a W24x55, a W16x67 or a W14x90. Each has about the same strength (section modulus, Sxx) and stiffness (moment of inertia, Ixx). Without constraints, you would select the lightest section that works. Space limitations that require a shallower beam result in increased beam weight (and cost).

Beam flush with ceiling
Beam flush with ceiling
Framing hung off beam
Framing hung off beam

I proposed two solutions for installing the beam in the floor space and hanging the joists off a nailer. One option allowed the steel beam to extend below the floor joists, while the other used a heavier, shallower beam to fit within the space. The owner wanted a flat ceiling and did not mind the added cost for the beam, which weighed about 60% more than the optimum beam size.

Regardless of space constraints for the design of a steel beam, structural engineers need to specify an appropriate hanger for connecting to the steel beam. Simpson Strong-Tie has many suitable top flange hangers. Most common are hangers that are attached to a wood nailer. Many top flange hangers may also be welded to the beam. Not every nailer solution is rated for uplift, so choose a hanger that meets your requirements. Uplift for welded hangers is addressed in a Simpson Strong-Tie® technical bulletin, T-WELDUPLFT.

Hanger Install
Hanger Install
Nailer Table
Nailer Table

Installers may also wish to connect the hangers using powder-actuated fasteners in lieu of welding. Allowable loads for several of our top flange hangers are addressed in an engineering letter, ITS, MIT, LBV, and BA Hangers Installed on a Steel Header with Powder-Actuated Fasteners.

Of course, as with all of our hanger loads, we created those loads by running a lot of tests.

BA, MIT and ITS Hanger Tests
BA, MIT and ITS Hanger Tests

What are your thoughts on beam selection and installation? Let us know in the comments below.

Paul McEntee

Author: Paul McEntee

A couple of years back we hosted a “Take your daughter or son to work day,” which was a great opportunity for our children to find out what their parents did. We had different activities for the kids to learn about careers and the importance of education in opening up career opportunities. People often ask me what I do for Simpson Strong-Tie and I sometimes laugh about how my son Ryan responded to a questionnaire he filled out that day:

Q.   What is your mom/dad's job?
A.   Goes and gets coffee and sits at his desk

Q.   What does your mom/dad actually do at work?
A.   Walks in the test lab and checks things

When I am not checking things in the lab or sitting at my desk drinking coffee, I manage Engineering Research and Development for Simpson Strong-Tie, focusing on new product development for connectors and lateral systems.

I graduated from the University of California at Berkeley and I am a licensed Civil and Structural Engineer in California. Prior to joining Simpson Strong-Tie, I worked for 10 years as a consulting structural engineer designing commercial, industrial, multi-family, mixed-use and retail projects. I was fortunate in those years to work at a great engineering firm that did a lot of everything. This allowed me to gain experience designing with wood, structural steel, concrete, concrete block and cold-formed steel as well as working on many seismic retrofits of historic unreinforced masonry buildings.