Thoughts and perspectives from the team.

Is Concrete a Good Alternative to Steel for Above Ground Storage Tanks?

AUTHOR Kris Morse

PUBLISHED May 23, 2018

With the implementation of tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum, there has been a flurry of speculation on the impact it will have on the construction industry. The tariffs will make the cost of construction projects increase, which has some considering alternative materials for their tank project.

When considering the type of material to construct your above ground storage tank with, it is important to consider the various factors that will impact your decision.

Durability and Longevity of Concrete vs. Steel

One main complaint of concrete tanks is cracking, leaking, and the maintenance that is then required to correct these problems.

Concrete is not flexible, and is subject to expansion and contraction – caused by the changing temperatures or seismic activity – which overtime causes cracks and leaking. Cracks in concrete tanks can be repaired, but in some instances an expensive plastic liner is required. An untreated crack in concrete can lead to the growth of bacteria on the porous concrete which might compromise the sanitation of your tank.

The most significant advantage for choosing a steel tank over a concrete tank is the durability. Steel will flex but not crack like concrete tanks often will. A properly maintained above ground steel tank can last well over 100 years, whereas a concrete tank is estimated to have a lifespan of a maximum of 60 years.

The Cost of Concrete Tanks

Historically, concrete tanks have been an inexpensive alternative to steel tanks with lower initial investment cost. However, it is critical to think beyond the initial investment cost and consider the cost over the life cycle of the tank.

Then, there is the cost of the water that is lost, since concrete tanks are allowed and expected to leak. Treated, sanitized water is expensive and can adversely affect the surroundings of the tank through erosion and the killing of microorganisms in the environment.

The associated maintenance expenses, as well as the potential loss in revenue and usage from having your tank out of service, will add up. Since steel tanks have a longer life cycle, the overall cost spread across the life of the tank makes a steel tank the most attractive option, and is typically less expensive when compared to a concrete tank.

STI/SPFA has an online tool designed to calculate the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) to help assist you in calculating the lifetime cost/value of your water storage tank.

Flexibility and Customization

Steel tanks are custom designed to meet your specific needs. This allows you the ability to choose the exact dimension, style of roof and floor, and ability to add inlets, outlets, manways, roof hatches, and vents. After the steel tank is placed into service, if your needs for the tank change, it is easy to adapt and change components of the tank.

Making these adjustments in a concrete tank is difficult and very costly. As a result of a concrete tank being poured in place, moving it is impossible. On the contrary, due to the flexibility of a steel tank, relocating the tank can be easily performed.

Safety and Environmental Impact

Safety is the most important item to consider with your tank. If your industry requires you to have confidence in the sanitation level of the liquid in your tank, then steel is the way to go. Due to the porous conditions of concrete and its inevitable cracking, there is the potential for mold and bacterial growth and the leaching calcium found in the concrete. For this reason, some industries require steel tanks.

Steel is 100% recyclable. At the end of the steel tanks’ life, it can be recycled and repurposed. There are ways to recycle concrete, but it is a labor intensive process that might be cost prohibited.

With concrete, there are no great recycling options. The decreased environmental impact is better for the environment, preventing your used tank from going straight into the landfill – a win for everyone. More steel is recycled in America each year than paper, aluminum, glass and plastic combined.

Build the Right Tank

T BAILEY, INC. strongly believes in building tanks out of steel. Deciding to build your tank out of steel will be a decision you will not regret. T BAILEY, INC. can help work thru potential problems, deal with potential cost increases and help to value engineer the project to create the best solutions for you.

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