Why Is The US Facing Steel Shortages? Tips To Cope With It

The US commercial construction industry has been experiencing a surge in demand in recent years, driven by the growth of the economy, the expansion of businesses, and the need for new infrastructure. This has led to a high demand for building materials, with steel being one of the most important and sought-after resources.

But the industry faces unprecedented challenges due to steel shortages affecting project timelines and budgets. In this article, we’ll delve deeper into the causes of the steel shortage in the US, explore its implications for the commercial construction industry, and provide tips on how to cope with the situation to keep your project on track. So, grab a cup of coffee and read on to learn more.

Why Is The US Facing Steel Shortages? Tips To Cope With It

Table of Contents

Why Steel?

When it comes to construction materials, steel stands out as one of the most sought-after options due to its strength, durability, and versatility. Compared to other materials such as wood or concrete, steel is a more efficient and cost-effective solution for commercial construction projects, especially for high-rise buildings and other large structures.

Steel is also essential for many mechanical and electrical systems used in buildings, including HVAC systems, elevators, and escalators.

Reasons for Steel Shortages in the US Commercial Construction Industry

There are several reasons for the steel shortages that the US is currently experiencing, which can be grouped into supply-side and demand-side factors.

Also Read: How to avoid delays in construction projects? – 6 Ingenious Tips

1. Supply-side Factors

The primary reason for steel shortages is the pandemic, which has disrupted global supply chains and caused delays in transportation and production. Steel mills have been operating at reduced capacity due to the pandemic, causing a bottleneck in the supply chain. According to a report by S&P Global Platts, global crude steel production fell by 1.9% in 2020 due to the pandemic, with China being the only major producer to increase output.

Another factor affecting the steel supply is the weather-related events that have occurred in recent years, such as hurricanes and wildfires. These events have disrupted supply chains, damaged infrastructure, and caused delays in transportation and production.

2. Demand-side Factors

The US commercial construction industry is experiencing high demand, increasing the need for building materials, including steel. According to a Dodge Data & Analytics report, the US commercial construction projects were up by 4% in 2021, driven by increased warehouses, distribution centers, offices, and hotels.

The growth of the e-commerce industry is also contributing to the demand for steel. The increasing trend of online shopping has led to the construction of more warehouses and distribution centers, which require a significant amount of steel. Even large U.S companies need to look to local suppliers for buying steel as supply and demand constraints remain a challenge due to the commercial construction backlog.

Here are some of the reasons why the US is currently experiencing a steel shortage in the commercial construction industry:

1. Disruption of Global Supply Chains

The pandemic has caused shutdowns and travel restrictions, slowing down the production and transportation of materials. This has led to significant delays and shortages of steel and other building materials.

Also Read: 14 Construction Safety Tips for Your First Commercial Building

2. High Demand in Other Countries

China, India, and other countries have a high demand for steel, creating competition for limited supplies. This has put additional pressure on the already strained supply chain.

3. Backlog of Commercial Construction Projects

Despite the pandemic, the commercial construction industry has remained busy, with many projects being delayed rather than canceled. This has resulted in a backlog of projects, further driving up the demand for steel.

4. Tariffs and Trade Policies

Tariffs and trade policies have also contributed to the steel shortage, as they can limit the supply of imported steel and increase prices for domestic steel.

5. Labor Shortages

Labor shortages in the manufacturing and transportation industries have also contributed to the steel shortage, making it more challenging to produce and deliver steel products on time.

Impact of Steel Shortages on Commercial Construction Projects

The steel shortage has significantly impacted commercial construction projects, affecting project schedules, budgets, and overall feasibility. Here are some of the ways that the steel shortage can impact your commercial construction project:

Also Read: How to avoid delays in construction projects? – 6 Ingenious Tips

1. Delays

The shortage of steel has created significant delays in the delivery of steel products, leading to further delays in project timelines. This can be particularly challenging when working on a project with tight deadlines.

2. Increasing Cost

The price of steel has increased significantly due to the shortage, which can impact your project’s overall cost. The cost has increased by as much as 40% in some cases, which can add up quickly, especially for large projects.

3. Limited Availability

The availability of steel has become increasingly limited, making it difficult to secure the necessary materials for your project. This can create uncertainty and risk, making it more challenging to manage your project effectively.

4. Quality Issues

The shortage of steel can also impact the quality of the materials used in your project. Suppliers may be forced to cut corners to meet demand, leading to lower-quality materials that may not meet your project specifications.

Tips to Cope With Steel Shortages for Your Commercial Construction Project

If you are a commercial construction contractor, you may face a challenge affecting the entire industry: the steel shortage. Steel is one of the most widely used materials in construction, and its demand has increased rapidly. Still, due to various factors such as supply chain disruptions, trade restrictions, environmental regulations, and labor shortages, the production and availability of steel have been declining. This has led to higher prices, longer lead times, and lower quality for steel products.

How can you cope with this situation and keep your projects on track? Here are some tips to help you:

1. Plan Ahead and Order Early

One of the best ways to cope with steel shortages to avoid delays and cost overruns is to plan ahead and order your materials early. That way, you can ensure that your project stays on schedule. You should work closely with your steel supplier to determine the lead time for ordering and delivery and factor this into your project timeline.

This will give you more time to secure your supply, negotiate better prices and avoid rush fees. You may also consider ordering extra steel for potential shortages or defects.

2. Consider Alternative Materials

Another way to deal with the steel shortage is to be flexible and adaptable in your project design and execution. You may have to adjust your specifications, materials, or methods to suit the availability and quality of steel.

For example, you could use aluminum, which is lighter and easier to work with than steel. Another option is to use precast concrete, which can be manufactured off-site and transported to the construction site.

3. Source From Local Suppliers

Due to the commercial construction backlog, even large US companies must look to local suppliers as supply and demand constraints stay the same. By sourcing from local suppliers, you can reduce the lead time for ordering and delivery and avoid delays caused by global supply chain disruptions. Local suppliers also better understand the local market, which can help you find the right products for your project.

4. Communicate With Your Contractor and Suppliers

Effective communication is crucial in mitigating the impact of steel shortages on your commercial construction project. You should regularly contact your contractor and suppliers to ensure everyone knows the situation and can work together to find solutions.

You should also be prepared to adjust your project timeline and budget as needed to account for any delays or cost increases caused by the shortage.

5. Hire a Project Manager

Regardless of the state of your construction project, an experienced project manager can be a vital addition to your team. Managing a project of this magnitude requires you to deal with the everyday operations of your business.

A project manager can help in that regard by coordinating with your suppliers, contractors, subcontractors, and stakeholders, monitoring your budget and schedule, and handling any issues or changes that may arise along the way.

6. Consider Pre-Fabrication

Pre-fabrication is a process where building components are manufactured off-site and assembled on-site. This method can help reduce the need for steel on-site, as many components can be made from other materials. Pre-fabrication can also help reduce project timelines and costs by reducing the need for on-site construction.

Steel frame construction is also a popular way of using steel elements such as beams and columns as part of the construction process. It is not only simple to build, but it also allows for modular and prefabricated construction.

This lightweight framing system is widely used in various structural configurations, including rigid frame structural systems, shear wall systems, braced-frame, wall-frame, etc.

Wood or timber structure is another lightweight material. The issue with wood is its combustibility. Living in a wooden house cannot protect your assets from fire. So, steel frame houses are ideal in this situation.


The demand for steel in the US commercial construction industry is at an all-time high, driven by economic growth, population growth, urbanization, and increased investment in infrastructure projects. Yet, the recent steel shortages caused by supply chain disruptions have made it challenging for commercial construction companies to source the necessary materials for their projects.

Despite these challenges, there are steps that companies can take to mitigate the impact of steel shortages and keep their projects on track, such as diversifying their supply chain and partnering with reliable local suppliers. By being proactive and adaptable, commercial construction companies can overcome these challenges and continue to meet the growing demand for steel in the industry.

Saad Iqbal is a professional civil engineering and freelance write. He's passionate about structures, construction management, and home improvement topics. He's been working as a Senior Engineer in a consultant firm for over 8 years. Besides he loves writing informative and in-depth content focused on construction and home-related topics. You can catch him at his linkedin page or reach out via our contact us page.

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