Agora Architecture


How Will Steel Tariffs Affect Your Project?

Webb Brown Academic Center -Cowley College

Webb Brown Academic Center -Cowley College

If you are confused (or terrified) by the information about the costs of steel tariffs, perhaps we can help.

The bad news: construction costs have been going up (8.8% for all goods used in construction from May 2017 to May 2018), and it seems steel costs will make these costs even higher (steel mill products have increased 10.5% from May 2017 to May 2018). As these numbers are only through May and do not include the imposed tariffs on Canada, the EU, and Mexico, these tariffs will likely drive the costs higher.[1]

There is good news, though! The example below illustrates that construction costs associated with the increased price of steel have a relatively low impact on the overall building construction cost—generally less than 1%!


A new 100,000 GSF academic building with a structural steel frame of 15 lbs/sf located in the Mid-Atlantic Region

·         Total cost of building at $350/sf:  $350/sf x 100,000 sf = $35M

·         Total quantity of structural steel in the building: 15 lbs/sf x 100,000 sf = 1.5M lbs (750 tn)

·         Cost of raw steel = $800/tn 

·         Cost of structural steel (including raw steel costs): $4,000/tn*

·         Total cost of structural steel in the building: 750 tn x $4,000/tn = $3M (9% of total building cost)

Apply 25% tariff to the raw steel portion of the structural steel only:

·         Total cost increase due to tariff: 25% x $800/tn x 750 tn = $150,000 (0.43% of total building cost)

**Based on MGAC benchmark data[2]

Technology and Innovations Center - Cowley College Sumner Campus

Technology and Innovations Center - Cowley College Sumner Campus


Even MORE good news—your architect can help keep your steel costs down in the design phase. Though this is always something Agora tries to do, clients are becoming more conscientious of this fact. We work with amazing Structural Engineers who not only guide us in efficient structural building shape and design, but are very good at placing properly sized structure to ensure a comfortable, aesthetically pleasing, and most of all SAFE building.

There is no doubt that contractors are feeling the pinch of increasing steel prices, especially in projects already under construction. From a building owner’s perspective, however, the overall cost increases are minimal when compared to the cost of the whole project. If you’d like more info, take a look at the links in the footnotes.

Shindigs Bar and Grill - Winfield, KS

Shindigs Bar and Grill - Winfield, KS


[1] (June 15, 2018) Metals and lumber prices hit double-digit increases. Retrieved from ,

[2] Butcher, N. (April 6, 2018). The Steel Tariff and Construction Cost: Putting It Into Context. Archinect News. Retrieved from

Written by Karen Klein, Project Architect