Design of a Demountable Steel Timber Floor System

Design Rules and Recommendations for the Application of a Demountable Steel Timber Floor System

More Info


With the effects of climate change being more and more frequent, the European union, and other governments world-wide are looking for sustainable alternatives for processes and products that are part of the daily requirements of people. Among these requirements, the construction industry plays a vital role, as it accounts for the consumption of about 50% of the total raw materials. In
line with its targets of 100% recycling by 2050, the industry in Europe, and particularly in the Netherlands is shifting towards the use of circular and sustainable construction products. This thesis investigates into both these aspects: Circularity by addressing the requirements for demountable structural elements, thus providing scope for reusing, and Sustainability by addressing the impact of substituting concrete and steel with timber products.

Structural timber products obtained from sustainable forestry are considered as eco-friendly construction products. The benefits are two-fold: First of all, it is produced or grown naturally, and thus avoids the emission of harmful gases during production. Second, growing timber products helps in CO2 storage for the duration of the technical service life of the product. Thus, increasing the market share of timber products in the construction industry can play a huge and decisive role to achieve the targets of sustainability.

The focus of this thesis is on steel-timber floor systems i.e., a floor system with timber slabs supported by steel beams. There are many timber products available that can be used as slabs, as a substitute to hollow core slabs and steel-concrete composite slabs, which are the conventional solutions for floor systems in the Netherlands (the former more than the latter). Owing to the disadvantage of timber in stiffness, coupled with the effects of creep, steel beams are considered for traversing larger spans.

From the plethora of steel and timber products that can be coupled together to form a floor system, the best solution is obtained with the help of a Multi Criteria Analysis. This is done by scoring the different floor systems on the aspects of utility, circularity and sustainability. The obtained solution is a conventional non-integrated floor system with Lignatur surface elements as the slab, supported by steel I beams. Lignatur elements are box-shaped slabs that can span over large
distances typically required for office use. Being made of sawn timber, it boasts the advantage of being more sustainable than other timber products made of cross laminated timber and laminated veneer lumber. I beams were found to perform better than other steel beams, posing as more accessible for demounting, over the other beams.

With the help of a case study, the benefits of the chosen steel-timber floor system were evaluated and compared against the hollow core slabs and steel-concrete composite slabs. Owing to the lightweight nature of timber, the chosen floor system was approximately 45% lighter than hollow core slabs, and 25% lighter than composite slabs. They were comparable in terms of floor height,
to the composite slabs.

The main benefit was the fact that the use of concrete and/or steel could be substituted with the use of timber slabs, and the supporting steel frame could be lighter owing to the lightweight nature of timber. A life cycle analysis was done to compare the different floor systems. Due to the use of sustainably produced timber, the steel-timber floor system had the least environment impact. Considering the effects of carbon storage meant that the total environmental footprint of the floor system could be negative. On further analysis, by excluding the benefit of carbon storage, the steel-timber floor system was still found to have the least impact (39% lesser than hollow core slabs, 31% lesser than steel-concrete composite slabs).

Another aspect that was investigated in this thesis was whether the consideration of composite action (similar to that in steel-concrete) could lead to any benefits i.e., composite action between the timber slab and the supporting steel beam. Based on the calculations in the case study, it was concluded that there were no such benefits i.e., the reduction in size of the steel beams was not
enough to justify the use of added shear connectors.

Another limitation of timber was found to be its lack of reusability. Being a biomaterial, timber is associated with a large reduction in strength for each reuse (although this reduction cannot be quantified using the present state of the art). Other materials such as steel and concrete do not experience this strength loss, and thus assume to have better performance than timber regarding this aspect.

The main barrier for implementing a steel-timber floor system would be in terms of costs. Though not explicitly investigated into in this thesis, it is expected to be more than that for its conventional counterparts. Currently, hollow core slabs are the most widely used, in the Netherlands, which is mainly owed to its low costs. Thus, the circulation of a product is closely related to its costs in the
market. By showing light on the benefits of the steel-timber floor system, it is expected that the results of this thesis will help the industry shift to the more responsible choice, in the near future. Wider circulation of steel-timber floors can help in reducing its costs, thus making it more desirable.