Humans have used concrete to install staircases in and outside their homes and build residences for centuries. Roman concrete was used in making the Pantheon in 128 C.E. This architectural masterpiece, touted as the Eighth Wonder of the World, remains intact today.
Elsewhere, concrete stairs are common in commercial buildings with heavy foot traffic—from malls to museums and airport terminals.
Besides being incredibly sturdy, commercial concrete stairs offer multiple benefits to establishment owners. But they do have downsides compared to other materials. Read on to learn about their pros and cons.
The pros of using commercial concrete stairs
Traditional concrete uses three primary components: aggregates, water, and powdered cement. But various technologies in the concrete industry have made this construction material better than others. Such advancements have driven the demand for concrete higher. For instance, the ready-mix concrete market was valued at USD$844 billion in 2022.
1. They are cost-effective
While upfront prices for concrete may not be the cheapest compared to other materials used in commercial stairs, for instance, steel, businesses can save in insurance, ownership, and maintenance costs.
The study, “Survey of Insurance Costs for Multifamily Buildings Constructed with Wood frames and Concrete,” by Boston College, discovered that builder’s risk insurance for concrete buildings was up to 72% cheaper, while commercial property insurance for such structures was up to 65% lower compared to others.
High durability, resilience, and longevity make concrete the most cost-effective construction material. Unlike wood, it requires virtually zero upkeep and maintenance work.
2. They are long-lasting
One of the latest technologies in the concrete industry is the creation of ultra-high-performance concrete (UHPC). Besides the common materials indicated above, this new material features polyester and steel fibers, making it more durable.
Accordingly, UHPC could last up to 75 years, up to three years more than traditional concrete, which remains functional until 25 years maximum.
The market value for ultra-high-performance concrete is projected to grow cumulatively to over 7% from 2018 to 2028. This proves that concrete remains one of the most preferred construction materials, and we’ll continue seeing them in and out of commercial and residential buildings in years to come.
3. They are time–saving
Pre-cast concrete dramatically cuts stairs construction and installation times, including the costs. Instead of pouring concrete and waiting for it to cure, pre-cast concrete stairs are manufactured off-site and delivered for easy assembly.
4. They are versatile
While some of the most stylish concrete stairs are made from concrete alone, they can be mixed with other materials to create commercial and residential stairways. Steel, wood, marble, and glass can be used alongside concrete for a more attractive building design.
Additionally, construction technologies allow concrete to be molded into various shapes and sizes, making them a good choice for making modern-looking stairways. Some builders can layer epoxy to boost durability, while others customize them to mimic a marble look for a more aesthetic design.
5. They are fire-resistant
This construction material is non-combustible and has low thermal conductivity, making it an effective fire-retardant. Thus, unlike wood or steel, which could melt, burn, or disintegrate in fires, concrete is impervious to blazes.
This primary characteristic makes concrete the best choice for protecting a building and its occupants. Moreover, concrete stairways are inherently rougher than other materials, and some contractors reinforce them with anti-slip paint to lower accident risks.
The cons of using commercial concrete stairs
Despite these advantages, there are a few reasons why contractors may look away and use other materials in their stairway projects. Below are some of the downsides to using them.
1. Significant repairs may be challenging
Minor cracks and dents can easily be repaired. Even some skilled homeowners do it themselves.
However, concrete stairways can be challenging to restore for significant structural issues. An entire replacement instead of sectional repair may be required in such cases.
The quality of raw materials, the improper mixing of water, cement, and aggregates, compaction, and curing processes, among others, negatively impact concrete strength. You could face significant issues if you don’t pick a reputable contractor from the get-go.
2. Installing attachments can be difficult
Commercial buildings must comply with local and other safety regulations, including the International Building Code (IBC). This foundation law and other laws form the bases for state building codes. In most cases, railing height, distance, and other measurements allow optimal safety for building occupants and guests, including disabled persons.
Because of its strength and rigidity, contractors may find attaching railings to the concrete challenging once it dries. Hence, while commercial and residential concrete stairways can seamlessly connect you from one section to another, installing bars and other attachments may not be as easy.
3. Commercial concrete stairs are heavy
A dense material, concrete can be heavy to transport, which may slightly add to the transportation costs. On-site, lifting and moving pre-cast concrete will require heavy equipment.
Similarly, adding a concrete stairway to an old building may put unnecessary load on the walls or excessive weight on a building’s overall load capacity.
Strength, durability, resistance to fire and harsh elements, and low maintenance costs are the main draws in using concrete for stairway constructions. On the other hand, its weight, rigidity, and sensitivity to procedures like mixing, curing, and drying are the main drawbacks.
Before embarking on your next stairway construction project, weighing the pros and cons of using each option is crucial to arrive at an informed decision.