Metal has been used in construction dating as early as the 1700s thanks to its strength, durability, and versatility. When it comes to choosing metal products for a construction project, the cost is a major consideration. However, simply comparing the upfront cost of different metal products is not enough to make an informed decision.

It is important to consider the initial cost, the long-term maintenance costs, and the end-of-life disposal cost to account for the overall lifecycle of the material. In this blog post, we will break down each of these factors to help you make a well-educated decision when choosing metals for your next construction project.

Initial Cost

The initial cost of a metal product is the most obvious factor to consider when comparing the cost-effectiveness of different options. The price of a metal product will depend on several factors:

  1. Type of metal used: Each metal has unique properties, including its availability and demand, both of which affect the price. Some metals are more abundant in the earth’s crust than others, making them easier and less expensive to extract and refine. In addition, if there is a high demand for a metal type across specific industries, the price of the metal will likely increase due to the competition, whereas metals in lower demand will likely be cheaper.
  2. Manufacturing processes: Products that require complex fabrication processes or specialized machinery will be more expensive to produce than products that can be made using simple manufacturing techniques. Similarly, products that need a high level of precision or tight tolerances require more time and effort to achieve the desired specifications, resulting in a higher expense.
  3. Size and complexity of the product: Larger or more complex products require more raw materials, skilled labor, excess time, and additional machinery to produce, leading to an increased price.

On top of the upfront cost of the product, you also must consider any costs associated with installation. For example, if a product requires special tools or equipment for installation or unique transportation due to its size or weight, this will add to the overall initial cost of the product.

Long-Term Maintenance Costs

To ensure that a metal product remains functional and aesthetically pleasing throughout its lifespan, it may be necessary to perform regular maintenance and make repairs or replacements as needed, which can impact the costs of the project over time. To make the best decision, consider the following factors:

  • Corrosion resistance: Metals that are more resistant to corrosion, such as stainless steel or aluminum, require less maintenance over time. On the other hand, for metals that are more susceptible to corrosion, such as iron or carbon steel, regular maintenance and coatings will be necessary to prevent corrosion and maintain the product’s functional capabilities.
  • Environment: If a metal product is used near salt water or in an industrial setting, frequent maintenance and coatings will likely be necessary to prevent corrosion. However, metal products used indoors or in a dry climate are less susceptive to corrosion and won’t require maintenance as often.
  • Level of use: Metal products that are used frequently will experience more wear and tear and require more frequent maintenance and repairs compared to metal products that don’t get as much use and will last longer without needing as much attention.

End-of-Life Disposal Cost

One cost that is often not considered at the beginning of a project but can impact the overall cost is end-of-life disposal costs. As you can guess, this refers to the costs associated with disposing of a metal product at the end of its lifespan.

For example, metals that are highly recyclable, such as aluminum or copper, can be melted down and reused to create new products, helping to lower the impact on the environment and reducing the cost of disposal. On the other hand, metals that need to be disposed of as waste, such as some alloys, must be dealt with in a way that minimizes their impact on the environment, increasing the cost of disposal.

In addition, you must consider whether a metal must be disposed of as hazardous or regular waste. Disposal of hazardous waste typically requires special handling and disposal methods, such as incineration or secure landfills, to ensure that the waste does not pose a risk to human health or the environment. This increases the end-of-life costs compared to regular waste which can be disposed of in regular landfills or recycling.

Popular Metal Product Comparisons

Comparing the cost-effectiveness of metal products isn’t always a simple process. To help you get started, here are a few examples of popular metal products used in construction and the characteristics that will help determine the overall cost of each option:

  • Steel: Steel is a popular metal product used in construction due to its strength and durability. The initial cost of steel is relatively low, but it requires frequent maintenance to protect against rust and corrosion. Steel is also a relatively heavy material, which can impact transportation and handling costs.
  • Aluminum: Aluminum is known for its lightweight, high resistance to corrosion, and versatility. Aluminum is often more expensive than steel, but its low weight makes it a more cost-effective option for many applications, particularly in large construction projects where the weight of the materials used is a significant factor. Aluminum is also a good choice for projects that require a high degree of corrosion resistance, as it is highly resistant to rust and other forms of corrosion.
  • Stainless Steel: Stainless steel is a popular choice for construction projects due to its resistance to corrosion and durability. But it is also a relatively expensive material, which can impact the initial cost of the product. However, the reduced need for maintenance over time can offset the higher upfront cost, making it more cost-effective in the long run.
  • Copper: Copper is known for its excellent electrical conductivity, resistance to corrosion, and high thermal conductivity. Copper is generally more expensive than steel or aluminum, and its high cost makes it a less cost-effective option for many construction projects. However, its exceptional conductivity and resistance to corrosion make it a popular choice for electrical wiring and plumbing applications, where it can offer significant benefits over other metal products.

At CMI, we have over 100 years of experience serving the construction industry and we offer a variety of metal products and capabilities. If you’d like to learn more about the different metal types or need further assistance deciding which material will prove the most cost-effective for your project, we’d be happy to help. Give us a call today.