There are many practical instances in which steel frame buildings make more sense than structures made from brick or stone. They can be cheaper and faster to assemble, they offer a utility that may be entirely adequate for your needs and they can be useful in holding firm when the ground beneath you is anything but.
While the last of these may be useful in places prone to subsidence, as we covered in a previous blog, there is another situation where they can be ideal: locations prone to coastal erosion.
Earlier this year, the village of Hemsby in Norfolk saw three properties lost and two more left teetering on the brink, drawing attention to the issue of coastal erosion. This is nothing new, of course; down the ages, hundreds of towns and villages on the east coast of England have been lost to the sea, most famously Dunwich in Suffolk during the 13th and 14th centuries.
That does pose some questions about whether there is anything that can be done about the issue, while there are also widespread fears that climate change could accelerate the phenomenon due to higher sea levels and more frequent and severe storms.
Nor is this just an east coast problem, with a recent drop-in event in Morecambe taking place to reveal to the public plans to deal with these issues in the bay, which opens out into the Irish Sea on the west coast.
For properties so close to crumbling coastlines, steel frame buildings make perfect sense. The problem with brick-and-mortar buildings being so close to the encroaching sea is obvious, as the ground will give way beneath them, foundations crumble, and it is costly and technically difficult to disassemble and rebuild it at a safer inland spot.
Steel frame structures do not have the same problem. They don’t need the same foundations, and as they are built in kit form they can be taken down and put back together again at another location when required. In the meantime, they can be in place to make the most of an available piece of land before it becomes the next victim of the sea.
This can be very useful if where you live or have a business (or both) has been identified as an area at particular risk. This will be better understood over the coming years, as the Norwich-based University of East Anglia is working with North Norfolk District Council and the British Geological Survey on an in-depth study of coastal erosion.
While 28 per cent of the coastline of England and Wales experiences coastal erosion of at least 10 cm a year, the problem is particularly acute in Norfolk with its softer soil and the way cliffs tend to collapse.
As such the study may help understand these processes better and provide data that can be used to guide planning and construction decisions. But even so, using potentially movable steel structures could be the best way of using the land while it is there without losing everything in a future spring storm.