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Steel Versus Plastic

The best materials for raised flooring systems support flexible, fire-safe reusability. Gridd® is designed to provide the greatest sustainability.

Choosing the Best Material for Raised Flooring Systems

Raised flooring systems allow architects and designers to meet the ever changing power and data needs of property owners and their tenants. Sometimes referred to as access flooring, raised flooring systems create a 1.5” to 3” air space above the existing concrete slab. With the power and data systems underfoot, changes or upgrades can be done quickly without disturbing the wall and ceiling systems.

Today’s low-profile flooring systems provide the same benefits as old-fashioned computer floor systems, without the heavy panels, and intensive labor costs. Both create a hidden space for the massive amount of power and data cabling required while giving quick access for maintenance and upgrades. However, most computer floors also hid the cool air ducting system needed by 20th-century mainframe computers. As a result, most computer floors require a finish height of 12”-24” AFF (above the finished floor), compared to the maximum 3” gap of today’s raised flooring solutions.

As green building and future flexibility dominate the AEC industry, raised flooring systems provide a comprehensive solution for architects, engineers, builders, and property owners.

When the existing tenant needs changes or upgrades, facility teams and contractors can quickly access the power and data cabling infrastructure to perform the work.

If the building use changes over time, raised flooring allows an entire space or area to be reconfigured within weeks rather than months. Shorter timelines lead to lower construction or retrofit costs for the property owner.

Green building requires that materials be sustainable and recyclable, leaving two options for access flooring systems: steel or plastic.

Steel Versus Plastic in Raised Flooring Systems

While both materials are used extensively throughout the construction industry for their unique properties and advantages, here is a side-by-side comparison of steel versus plastic to help you choose the best materials for your raised flooring system.

Strength: Steel is the obvious choice for buildings, bridges, and other high-stress and high-load applications due to its superior strength. But steel is also ideal for light-duty applications, such as metal stud framing, suspended ceiling system components, and raised flooring systems.

Unlike steel, plastic cannot be used for structural elements such as beams or columns. But it’s common to find plastic products such as J-boxes (electrical/low voltage), pipes, conduits, flooring materials, and raised flooring systems on a commercial project.

Durability: Both materials should perform per the manufacturer’s claims when correctly installed and properly used. Because plastic is softer than steel, it is more prone to “flexing” during use and will wear down more quickly with constant or excessive use.  

Weight: Steel products are typically heavier than their plastic counterparts due to their greater mass. Plastic can be the better choice for applications where weight is a factor. However, when weight is not a primary concern, steel provides additional strength and stability compared to plastic.

Cost: Typically, steel products may cost more to manufacture compared to plastic. Plastic is more cost-effective in some cases, such as wire or cable sheathing. However, steel provides superior strength and durability for future flexibility and adaptability concerns. Steel products last longer because they are more durable.

Environmental Impact: Plastic’s environmental impact is much higher because of its petroleum base and non-biodegradable properties. Conversely, steel can be reused multiple times with little to no modification required.  Steel is also 100% recyclable and doesn’t lose its original properties during the recycling process.

Maintenance: When exposed to weather, steel requires regular maintenance to prevent corrosion, which is typically not a concern for plastic materials. When discussing raised flooring systems, corrosion is not a primary concern for designers or architects.

Design Flexibility: Steel’s rigidity limits its design flexibility to a certain extent. However, plastic can be molded into infinite shapes and sizes, making it a better choice to address design flexibility challenges.

Fire Safety:

Gridd Fire Rating for standard and reinforced systems

Meets ASTM A653 Steel
Class rating A
Flame Spread 5
Smoke Development 75

Competitor A

Meets NFPA 253 Class A rating as tested in accordance with ASTM E-648 Critical Radiant Flux

Competitor B

NFPA 253 Class I floor finish in accordance with ASTM E648
Bare steel panel – Class A Flame Spread
Resin Understructure – Class CC1 in accordance with ASTM D635
Smoke Development less than 75 (ASTM D2843)

Clearly, steel and plastic have specific advantages and disadvantages when used in building materials and products. Ultimately, the best material for a raised flooring system will require careful consideration of each factor outlined above and the specific project requirements.

Why Steel Is the Best Material for Raised Flooring Systems

Most access flooring systems are installed in commercial buildings and are accessible to the public. As a result, life safety becomes a critical factor as architects, engineers, and designers decide between plastic or steel raised flooring systems. 

Plastic is a petroleum-based product, which contributes to the flame spread and smoke developed during a fire. Since plastic has a low melting point, once the fire temperature exceeds 150°F, the plastic components melt and quickly become fuel for the fire. 

Conversely, steel is a non-combustible and highly fire-resistive material. With a melting point of 1300°-1500°F, mild steel retains its strength and rigidity under the most demanding circumstances. And unlike the plastic options, steel doesn’t provide additional fuel for a fire.

In the event of a fire, steel components are superior to plastic ones.

In addition to public safety, the raised flooring system must adequately support the stationery loads of furnishings and equipment and the temporary loads created by foot traffic moving throughout the space. 

The steel and plastic raised flooring options can easily handle nominal foot traffic loads. However, steel’s added strength and rigidity are ideal for specialized applications such as casinos, medical facilities, museums, airports, and educational environments that experience high foot traffic on a daily basis.

Steel access flooring systems require virtually no maintenance after the initial installation. Because plastic is softer than steel, it is more susceptible to daily wear and tear effects. As a result, plastic options can require more periodic repairs, adjustments, or component replacement.

Both plastic and galvanized steel are humidity and moisture-resistant materials. Either option suits damp or wet conditions, such as basements or buildings with fire sprinkler systems. 

Steel products may be repeatedly reused without losing their original strength and durability, making it the smart choice for a product that is both sustainable and environmentally friendly.

As a result, steel meets the sustainable building material criteria for green building projects and the adoption of a circular economy¹. Choosing a steel access flooring system, like Gridd®, can add valuable points to your LEED score for new builds or renovation projects.

How the Gridd® Adaptive Cabling Distribution® System Works

Unlike many other systems, Gridd offers a true low-profile design that creates an air space of 1.6′-2.75″ above the existing concrete slab to maintain the maximum ceiling height possible.

Made entirely in the US with 100% USA steel, Gridd complies with all federal requirements for the Buy American Act2. Under this new law, products and materials used on government funded construction projects must meet two new criteria.

  1. More than 50% of parts and components must be made within the US.
  2. Materials and products must be manufactured/assembled within the boundaries of the US.

Gridd also requires no special fasteners or tools for the original installation and subsequent upgrades. As a result, Gridd is entirely reconfigurable to meet tenants’ changing power and data needs while minimizing future construction costs for property owners. Gridd can also be uninstalled and reinstalled should a company ever need to move to a different physical location.

While most raised flooring systems can handle data cabling requirements, access to power has already been integrated into the Gridd systems. Depending on the project size and power requirements, access to power has already been integrated into the Gridd Systems. Gridd Power is a power distribution solution installed within the cable management flooring system. Depending on the project size and power requirements, there are two distribution systems available: track distribution and field wired.

The track distribution system provides the equivalent of a 50A three phase subpanel in the floor. All electrical components connect with a tap-off whip.

Branch Circuit Field Wired components provide good flexibility and come in 2 options:

– Field wired where the electrician provides the wiring method and all connections are completed in the field.

– Factory supplied MC cable in pre-determined lengths with spin lock connectors that can carry 1 or 2 circuits. 
Floor boxes and furniture mounted receptacle and data modules are connected with spin lock fittings. 

To simplify future upgrades and changes, the Gridd® Mobile app incorporates AR (Augmented Reality) to create a road map for facility management teams, contractors, and third-party suppliers/vendors on their smartphones or other mobile devices. This virtual roadmap eliminates the need to refer to physical archive files and printed as-built drawings for reference, as every power and data cable run and connection point within the room is visible and can be updated via the Gridd Mobile app. 

To learn more about the award-winning Gridd Adaptive Cabling Distribution System and how this system can address your specific project needs for flexibility and sustainability, please contact a Gridd Advisor.

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