What are the Different Types of Beam Design?

Sheri Cyprus

In structural engineering, beam analysis is crucial for building safety. There are many different types of beam design from which to choose. It can sometimes be challenging for even the most experienced engineer to decide on the best beam for each architectural structure. Beam choice must provide the most structural integrity possible. Different shapes, sizes, techniques and materials support different structural loads. The I-beam, flitch, cantilever and hip are some of the most commonly used types of beam design.

Cantilever beams are used in some bridge construction.
Cantilever beams are used in some bridge construction.

The hip type of beam is used mostly in the construction of residential roofs. Hip beams support the angled beam used in many house roof designs. The hip beam is designed to support a triangular-shaped load, such as that of a sloped or pitched roof frame.

Steel beams are manufactured in a number of shapes and lengths.
Steel beams are manufactured in a number of shapes and lengths.

Cantilever beams are used to suspend structures such as balconies. Most of the weight is distributed onto the foundation beams. This weight distribution permits a building extension such as a balcony to be safely supported. Cantilever beams are also sometimes referred to as an end load beam type since the loads are always supported mainly on one side. Some bridges are designed with cantilever beams in their construction.

Steel I-beam.
Steel I-beam.

Flitch beam design types are made from layers of wood and steel since they're designed to be strong as well as lightweight. Since flitch beams aren't made of solid steel, they're less expensive than pure metal varieties. A flitch beam type is used to nail into place on wood structures to provide extra support. Pure steel beams can't be nailed onto wood, so fitch beams have a distinct advantage over solid metal on wooden building exteriors. Flitch beams are designed to support vertical loads.

Cantilever bridges are designed to hold heavy loads, such as constant automobile traffic.
Cantilever bridges are designed to hold heavy loads, such as constant automobile traffic.

I-beams are by far the most common type of beam design used in construction; they're known as the universal beam. I-beams are columns that are straight in shape. They may be arranged into different support patterns that can form L, W, H and V shapes, among others. Rounded I-beams called C-channels may also be used in some specialty construction applications. I-beams may be used to create long spans of support in floors, walls and roofs.

Beam design software is an analytical tool used to help in the selection of appropriate beams for a particular structure. A beam calculator determines what load beams of a certain shape and size will support. The material and building technique information are inputted before being calculated by beam design software.

Most modern buildings uses steel beams down to their foundations.
Most modern buildings uses steel beams down to their foundations.

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Discussion Comments


I have a question, people. My partner has designed a column using the dimensions of 0.70 x 0.30 m and is composed of an I-beam not the conventional concrete with reinforcement bar columns here in our country. I was just wondering how safe or how valid that size is?

Based on a standard manufactured I-beam, it is completely out of range as I've researched because it is too long and out of proportion. My concern is that the longest span my partner has designed is 8 meters and the shortest is only 5 meters. Now our building looks like hundred columns because of that.

I need a proof it actually works or whether it can be made in actuality, and what will be the behavior of the column if we use the given size. By the way, the building is a five-story commercial, so may I ask what is the specific span based on the size given we will use?


@Frances2 - C-channel beams have a slope on the inner surfaces, so when you view one from its end, it looks like a “C”. They’re often used in the construction of trailer hitches. They’re good for adding strength to surfaces, too.

Last summer, I built a raised deck (a deck with a sitting space beneath it) and used C-channel beams to add stability to the floor. The deck is made of treated wood, which is fine, but since my family and I planned on playing under it all summer, I decided to strengthen it a bit.

With some silicone and galvanized screws, I attached several C-channel beams to the underside of my deck. They’re fastened with the open end of the “C” shape facing downward. In that position, C-channels add a surprising amount of support.


@qwertyq – Since you do some construction, maybe you can answer my question. The article says that curved I-beams called C-channels are used in special projects. What are some ways a C-channel can be used?


I help my dad out with his construction company on the weekends, and he uses a lot of t-beams in his projects. To my surprise, t-beams are usually just big slabs of concrete and are hardly ever shaped like the letter “T”.

T-beam design is done with almost the same procedure as a rectangular beam, but if you’re working with a beam that’s shaped like a “T”, the flanges have to be taken into consideration when you calculate the amount of weight the beam can support.

By the way, the flanges are those little arms sticking out from the top end of the “T”. T-beam design calculations are tough. I’m still learning how to do them correctly.

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