No Columns, Please

In the client’s eyes, the vision for her home’s remodeling project was simple: Add a room with a long-span high ceiling but without any supporting columns obstructing the new space.

In the remodelers’ eyes, however, the project wasn’t quite as cut and dry as that. The Atlanta homeowner was looking to expand her 2,300-square-foot, mid-century modern ranch-style home with a space large enough to include a kitchen, living room and fireplace. It’s an issue many remodelers wrestle with: accommodating the homeowner’s desire to have a large roof span with no columns for an affordable price.

Unhappy with the quotes and options she was receiving, the homeowner let Kevin Buckley, owner of Atlanta-based Kevin Buckley Builders, take a look at the plans drawn up by an architect.

“I didn’t think they would work with the spans that she wanted,” Buckley explains. “I took the plans to my building materials dealer and had him take a look at them. He suggested using LiteSteel beam [LSB] for the span. So I asked him to spec it for the job and tell me what I had to do to make it work for the client.”

Made with 65 percent recycled material, LSB is a patented, cold-formed, lightweight steel structural beam designed for remodeling and residential and light-commercial construction projects. LSB can be hand-lifted by framers on a jobsite, eliminating the need of a crane for installation.

The homeowner wanted a smooth ceiling extending at a 20-degree angle down to the side of the house and as much open space as possible without any columns running down to the floor.

“She said, ‘Find a way to make this happen,’ so we did,” Buckley says. “We could have used heavier steel, but the expense of that and the welding involved would have been cost-prohibitive. We also could have used some LVLs, but then we’d need to run posts, and she didn’t want that.”

A 14-inch LSB spans the entire 26-foot depth of the great room while giving Buckley an extra 2 to 3 inches of clearance before he reached the windows. The beam provided the aesthetics the homeowner wanted, plus the structural support to make it happen.

The 26-foot span helped create a “split-roof,” allowing the roof on the right side of the home to sit about 3 feet higher than the left. Buckley also created an artificial eyebrow by taking advantage of the LSB’s ability to be welded when needed. Within the 3-foot space below the LSB, Buckley added clerestory windows that overlook the lower roof and allow natural light to enter the room.

“It’s a remodel, but it’s almost like new construction,” Buckley notes. “We took a ranch house and converted into a Frank Lloyd Wright-esque contemporary with offset gable roofs and clerestory windows. It’s pretty striking. It’s still technically a ranch, but the new addition is huge—like a gymnasium.”

Because the beam was positioned 25 feet in the air, Buckley and his team used a duct lift to hoist it. Once elevated, three framers moved it by hand into position and used joist hangers to secure it. Although it’s steel, LSB has the workability associated with wood.

“It allowed my framer, who doesn’t have a lot of steel experience, to do something that he couldn’t do otherwise,” Buckley remembers. “It really bridges the gap nicely because we can cut the steel on the jobsite with a steel-cutting circular saw and use self-tapping screws.”

The new addition measures 70 by 10 feet and brings the home from 2,300 to 3,000 square feet.

Being able to deliver the homeowner’s vision “made us look good to our client,” Buckley says. “No one else had proposed something like LSB to her, and we were able to make it happen when everyone else was giving her more complicated solutions that weren’t as appealing.”

Steve Staedler writes from Brookfield, Wis., about construction and design.