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H-beam vs I-beam Steel: 14 Differences Explained

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Key takeaways:

1. H-beam steel is characterized by its cross-sectional efficiency and versatility in applications, offering uniform flange thickness and the ability to withstand multidirectional forces, making it suitable for a broader range of structural roles including both beams and columns, unlike I-beam steel which is primarily used for bending components within the plane of the web due to its varying flange thickness and limited directional force resistance.

2. The design of H-beams provides superior mechanical properties and stability, allowing for lighter construction with the same specifications compared to I-beams, which translates into potential material savings and reduced construction time without compromising structural integrity.

3. The selection between H-beam and I-beam steel hinges on the specific requirements of the project, with H-beams being the preferred choice for load-bearing columns and applications demanding resistance to forces in multiple directions, while I-beams are more suited for projects where unidirectional bending is predominant and flange width is less critical.

H Beams vs I Beams

H-beam vs I-beam Steel

Here is a table comparing H-beam steel and I-beam steel:

FeatureI-beam SteelH-beam Steel
Cross-sectional DimensionsRelatively high and narrowEfficient and economical profile with a logically structured cross-section
ApplicationsUsed directly in components that bend within the plane of the web or as part of a lattice-type structural componentSuitable for a wide range of structural applications, including beams, axially compressed components, and bending components
Flange WidthSmallerWider
Suitability for Compression and BendingUnsuitable for axially compressed components or components bending perpendicular to the web planeSuitable for both axially compressed components and bending components
Force Bearing DirectionCan bear unidirectional forcesCan withstand forces in two directions
Stability in Steel Structure BuildingsInsufficient alone; even thickened I-beams can become unstable as load-bearing columnsStable in steel structure buildings
Use in Structural ComponentsOnly used for beamsSuitable for load-bearing columns in structures
Cross-sectional Mechanical PropertiesInferior to H-beamsSuperior to I-beams
Flange ThicknessVariable thickness, thicker near the web and thinner externallyUniform thickness
Manufacturing ProcessRolled sections with a 1:10 slope inside the flangesRolled sections or assembled sections welded from three plates. Requires an additional set of vertical rolls for rolling
Specific Types and UsesNot specified in detailCategorized into HW (roughly equal height and flange width, used as rigid steel columns), HM (height to flange width ratio of approximately 1.33 to 1.75, used as frame columns or beams), HN (height to flange width ratio of 2 or more, primarily used for beams)

Related reading: online H-beam & I-beam Weight Calculator

Differences Between H-beam and I-beam Steel

The Differences and Applications of H-beam and I-beam Steel

1. Cross-sectional Dimensions

I-beams, whether standard or lightweight, have relatively high and narrow cross-sectional dimensions. This results in a significant difference in the moment of inertia of the two main flanges. Therefore, they are generally used directly in components that bend within the plane of the web or as part of a lattice-type structural component. They are unsuitable for axially compressed components or components bending perpendicular to the web plane, limiting their application scope.

2. Applications

H-beam steel is a type of efficient and economical profile (along with cold-formed thin-walled steel, profiled steel sheets, etc.) with a logically structured cross-section, enabling steel to perform more effectively and increase its bearing capacity. Unlike standard I-beams, H-beams have wider flanges and usually parallel inner and outer surfaces, facilitating connections with high-strength bolts and other components. They come in a comprehensive range of sizes and models, making design and selection easier (except for I-beams used in crane beams).

3. Flange Width

H-beam steel has flanges of equal thickness, available in rolled sections or assembled sections welded from three plates. I-beams are rolled sections with a 1:10 slope inside the flanges due to production process variations. The rolling of H-beams, unlike standard I-beams which use a set of horizontal rolls, requires an additional set of vertical rolls due to their wider flanges and minimal (or no) slope. This makes the rolling process and equipment more complex than standard mills. The largest H-beam that can be produced domestically is 800mm high; anything larger is an assembled section.

4. Suitability for Compression and Bending

China’s national standard for hot-rolled H-beams (GB/T11263-1998) categorizes them into narrow flange, wide flange, and steel pile types, coded as hz, hk, and hu, respectively. Narrow flange H-beams are suitable for beams or bending components, while wide flange H-beams and H-piles are suitable for axially compressed components or bending components. Compared to I-beams, H-beams offer better performance in terms of weight, w, ix, and iy.

5. Force Bearing Direction

I-beams have smaller flange widths and greater heights, capable of bearing unidirectional forces.

6. Stability in Steel Structure Buildings

H-beams, with deeper grooves and thicker flanges, can withstand forces in two directions.

7. Use in Structural Components

With the development of steel structure buildings, I-beams alone are insufficient. Even thickened I-beams used as load-bearing columns can become unstable.

8. Cross-sectional Mechanical Properties

I-beams can only be used for beams, while H-beams are suitable for load-bearing columns in structures.

9. Flange Thickness

H-beams, with their cross-sectional mechanical properties superior to I-beams, are named for their resemblance to the letter “H.” Hot-rolled H-beams have wider flanges than I-beams, offering greater lateral stiffness and bending resistance. H-beams are lighter than I-beams of the same specifications. The manufacturing principle is well-explained, with noteworthy content.

10. Manufacturing Process

The flanges of I-beams vary in thickness, being thicker near the web and thinner externally; H-beam flanges have uniform thickness.

11. Specific Types and Uses

HW, HM, HN – H is the general term for H-beams, which are welded; HW, HM, HN are hot-rolled.

12. HW – Specific Use

HW indicates H-beams with roughly equal height and flange width; primarily used as rigid steel columns in reinforced concrete frame structures or as main columns in steel structures.

13. HM – Specific Use

HM indicates H-beams with a height to flange width ratio of approximately 1.33 to 1.75; mainly used in steel structures as frame columns or frame beams in dynamically loaded frameworks, such as equipment platforms.

14. HN – Specific Use

HN indicates H-beams with a height to flange width ratio of 2 or more; primarily used for beams, with I-beams serving a similar purpose as HN beams.

In the world of construction and engineering, H-beam and I-beam steel are two of the most commonly used structural support elements.

Both beams offer unique advantages and characteristics, making them suitable for a wide range of applications.

The importance of selecting the right beam for your project cannot be overstated, as this decision can significantly impact the project’s structural integrity, cost, and overall success.

It is frequently asked how to choose between I-beam and H-beam, since they appear similar in shape.

However, many experienced individuals in the construction industry struggle to provide a clear explanation.

Here is a more in-depth explanation.

As evident from their shapes, H-shaped steel and I-shaped steel are distinct from one another, as illustrated in the following figure:

What is H-beam Steel?

H-section steel is widely used in today’s steel structure buildings due to its many differences compared to I-beams.

Firstly, the flanges of H-beam steel are equal in size and parallel, whereas the flanges of I-beam steel have an inclination, generally 1:6, making the outside thin and the inside thick.

Additionally, the cross-section characteristics of H-beam steel are significantly better than those of traditional I-beam, channel steel, and angle steel. This steel is named after the letter “H” due to its cross-section shape being similar to this letter.

It is an economical type of steel with a more optimized section area distribution and more reasonable strength-to-weight ratio. H-beam steel is sometimes referred to as W-beam, meaning wide flange beam.

The two outside beams of H-beam steel have no slant, making the welding of this steel simpler than that of I-beam.

H-beam steel has better mechanical properties per unit weight, which can result in a reduction of material and construction time.

The cross-section of I-beam steel offers superior direct pressure bearing and tensile resistance, however, its section size is too narrow to resist twisting.

On the other hand, H-beam steel is the opposite. Both I-beam steel and H-beam steel have their advantages and disadvantages.

H-beam Steel

Types of H Beam Steel

H-beam is divided into four categories, represented by the following codes:

Equal Flange H-beam (HP), with the section height equal to the flange width

Wide Flange H-beam (HW), with a wider flange than HP, represented by the letter “W”

Middle Flange H-beam (HM), with a flange width-to-height ratio in the range of 1.33 to 1.75, represented by the letter “M”

Narrow Flange H-beam (HN), with a flange width-to-height ratio greater than or equal to 2, represented by the letter “N”

HW, HM, and HN are all types of H-beam. H-beam is welded, while HW, HM, and HN are hot-rolled.

HW is mainly used for steel core columns in reinforced concrete frame structures, also known as stiffened steel columns. It is primarily used as a column in steel structures.

HM is mainly used as a frame beam in steel structures that bear dynamic loads, such as equipment platforms. The flange width-to-height ratio of HM is roughly between 1.33 and 1.75.

HN is mainly used as a beam. Its purpose is similar to that of I-beam. The flange width-to-height ratio of HN is greater than or equal to 2.

What Is I-beam Steel?

I-beam steel, as its name suggests, is a type of steel that has a cross-section resembling the letter “I. The inner surface of the top and bottom flanges of the I-beam are sloped, typically at a 1:6 ratio, making the flanges thin on the outside and thick on the inside.

This results in a cross-section with vastly different characteristics in the two main planes, making it difficult to fully utilize its strength in practical applications.

Despite the presence of thicker I-beams in the market, the I-beam’s structure inherently limits its resistance to torsion.

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14 thoughts on “H-beam vs I-beam Steel: 14 Differences Explained”

  1. Very informative and technical comparison between the two steel sections which are most commonly used in the industry.

  2. As a historian who regularly deals with technology and industrial-related artifacts, I found this piece to be quite informative. Thank you. But a quick question…. I understand the structural differences between an H-beam vs an I-beam (i.e., tapered flanges on the I-beam), but is there an expectation regarding the width of the flange on an H-beam? Which, more specifically, is to ask if the flange needs to be as wide as the web is deep? Or can the flange width be less than the depth of the web? Thanks very much!

    1. Well, the different types of H beam got different standard, for W-section, web:flange almost 1:1, for M-section, web:flange=1.33 – 1.75, for N-section, web:flange≥2. So, yes, flange can be less than the depth of the web.

  3. thomas müller

    im afraid the expanation ist not quite correct.
    I-beam ist the definition of the din (germany) for many decades and replaced the older term doppel-t. its used for the closed calibre products and the open calibres as well. (paralell and sloped). the newer term “h” ist a european definition for the closed calibres, for the open calibres (sloped) remains the i-term (less important in use).
    there is no connection between the shape of the letter and the shape of the form (sloped, paralell flanges).
    for me the i-termination is the logical one for all series because theese beams are nearly for 99,9 % used as a “i” (upright), extremely seldom as a “h” horizontally because of the “widerstandsmoment” (don´t know the correct translation) ;-)
    hello from cologne, thomas müller, dipl.-ing.

  4. ibrahim khalaileh

    Dear Sir
    Im looking for H beam steel material alloy steel or recomended steel for manufacuring plat foarm for truck
    heavy eweight

  5. Brian Full Blown Concrete

    #1. H beams are welded.
    #2. I beams are not welded
    #3. H beams are heavier
    #4. I beams are lighter
    #5. When the heavy H beams are used horizontally to support cantilevered concrete, unnecessary weight is being placed on the structures foundation which could create loading bearing issues in the foundation. While H beams are good for load bearing columns, they wreak havoc when used horizontally due to their sheer wieght alone.

  6. Building a small “over a creek” bridge. Width 12 feet. Crossing length 10 1/2 feet.

    Need 2 I-beams 12 feet long by 2 to 3″ high, AND 5 crossing beams 10 1/2″ long by 4″ or 6″ high…topping will be 3″ x12″ wide x 12″ long center cut oak planks.

    Your suggestions, and quote, please. Bob Heltman [email protected]

  7. HI
    WE WANT TO BUILD 16 MTR X 60MTR X 7 MTR HEIGHT SHEAD WITH H BEAM AND TRI -ANGLE
    WHICH KIND OF H-BEAM AND ANGLE SUGGEST BY YOU.?
    AND TOTAL HOW MANY KG STEEL NEEDED?

  8. I am wanting to replace a header for a garage door (18’ door). Presently the header is 2” x 12” lumber sandwiched together.
    It is 11.5” tall I need something 4” to 5” tall that will support the load.
    I am thinking H or I beams
    What are your thoughts??

  9. We have to barns 45′ apart, we want to connect them with a roof only using a H-Beam 45′ long, what size H-Beam would we need ? It will carry trusses, lath & metal roofing.

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