Steel joist design

Tekla Structural Designer
Tekla Structural Designer

Steel joist design

Steel joist design overview

Steel joists, (or bar joists), are a specific type of members used in the United States. They are simply supported secondary members that do not support any other members - they only support loaded areas, i.e. slab and roof loads. Steel joists are constrained to standard types specified by the US Steel Joist Institute, and standardized in terms of span, depth and load carrying capacity.

In Tekla Structural Designer steel joist design is performed in accordance with the 44th Edition of the Steel Joist Institute (SJI) specification, which uses a similar approach to that embodied in AISC 360-05/10/16 LRFD and ASD.

Standard types

Steel joists are constrained to standard types specified by the Steel Joist Institute. They are standardized in terms of span, depth and load carrying capacity. There are four standard types of steel joist available in Tekla Structural Designer.

  • K series joists - parallel chord steel joists (2 variations; rod or angle webs) - depths 8" to 30" with spans up to 60ft.
    • Including 2.5 K series joist substitutes - a depth of 2.5in, intended to be used for spans up to 10ft.
  • KCS series joists - K series adapted and specially designed for constant moment/shear along length (position of point loads become irrelevant).
  • LH series joists - long span joists - depths 18" to 48" for clear spans up to 96ft.
  • DLH series joists - deep long span joists - depths 52" to 120" for clear spans up to 240ft.

Special Joists

"SP" suffixes can be added to K, LH and DLH Series joists. Special Joists can handle 'non-uniform' loading situations. They will attract loads and participate in the 3D structural analysis, but they cannot be checked or designed.

Joist Girders

These are provided as an option to support steel joists. They will attract loads and participate in the 3D structural analysis, but they cannot be checked or designed.

Assumptions and limitations

The following assumptions and limitations currently apply to the design of steel joists in Tekla Structural Designer:

  • All steel joists are considered as simply supported members.
  • Steel joists cannot be released axially.
  • Cantilevered joists cannot be defined.
  • Joist Girders are able to support other joists and brace members, other joists are only able to support brace members.
  • Joist inertia and area values are taken directly from the Steel Joist Institute tables, with the exception of Joist Girders for which you must provide the relevant data.
  • For all joist types. any resulting load, other then those in the major axis, that exceeds the user specified Ignore Forces Below setting on Design Options is reported as a Warning in the results viewer along with the type and value of force detected.
  • Design is currently beyond scope for SP joists and Joist Girders.
  • For all steel joists, it is assumed that the top chord is sufficiently braced against lateral torsional buckling.
  • There is no restriction on the minimum span for which a joist can be defined even though due to their open web nature joists can be almost impossible to fabricate for very small spans. The user should check the suitability of using such a joist in these situations.
  • For steel joists which support a generic concrete slab, it is assumed that the minimum concrete slab thickness of 2 inches (50mm) is present. (SJI Steel Joist Specification 5.9.2). This is not checked by Tekla Structural Designer.
  • In design, the user is expected to refer to the bridging requirements in the SJI Specification and decide the appropriate details for the relevant scenario. This is not checked by Tekla Structural Designer.
  • ‘Non uniform’ loads are accommodated by KCS joists. E.g. parapet snow drift load, partition walls. If no KCS joists can be found then SP joists can be used for these loads but these are not designed/checked.
  • Top chord extensions used as eaves and awnings are not designed.
  • Camber of the joists is not shown in the graphics nor handled by Tekla Structural Designer.
  • The design and specification of the joist seats (regular or sloping) is not handled by Tekla Structural Designer.
  • Double joist configurations cannot be defined in Tekla Structural Designer.
  • The design does not consider the minimum bearing requirements for K, KCS, LH or DLH joists – these are the responsibility of the designer/engineer.
  • Customisation of KCS joists to accommodate any applied concentrated loads is not considered byTekla Structural Designer.
  • Loadings for accessories to the joist are not included in the standard load tables. An allowance for this should be included by the designer in the loading of the model.
  • Steel joists are not designed for composite action and when supported by conventional composite a validation warning is issued. Composite Joists, CJ Series, cannot be defined in Tekla Structural Designer.
  • Moment connections at steel joist ends are not allowed.
  • Duct openings are stated in the standard Steel Joist Tables for standard panel sizes. Actual spacing and layout of the duct arrangements are beyond the scope of Tekla Structural Designer.
  • Fire resistance requirements are not designed nor checked in Tekla Structural Designer, the designer must ensure suitable compliance.
  • There is no design for net uplift currently although uplift can exist in a combination provided it is overcome by other gravity loads. The designer should ensure that any uplift due to Wind loads is accurate as the current version of the Wind Wizard does not determine wind forces for ‘Components and Cladding’.
  • Sloping joists are permitted providing the loading is normal to the joist and the span will be taken as the sloped length. However, joists with sloping top chords are not allowed.
  • SJI allows grades other than 50 ksi [345 MPa] to be used but the Safe Load Table values are based on 50 ksi [345 MPa]. Tekla Structural Designer defaults to Grade A992 – 50, it is the user's responsibility to check the suitability of this or any other grade they wish to use. No adjustment is made for higher or lower grades and this is entirely the designer’s call.


The loads on the joist are from ‘one-way’ load decomposition. The joist is analyzed as a pin ended beam, only loads in the plane of the web are considered.

Joist Girders should only be used to support steel joists, and should therefore have regularly spaced point loads of similar magnitude along their length. As they are not designed or checked various types of loading could be present, so the user should verify that they have been used appropriately.

Steel Joists are essentially used to support full length uniformly distributed loads, however it is acceptable for the joist to be designed to support other load configurations. This requires the loading pattern on the joist to be assessed and classified into one of the following loading types: Uniform (or near uniform), Equivalent Uniform, or Non-Uniform.

The classification of loading type is made in accordance with the following methods:

Loading Type Method
  • No concentrated (point) loads are allowed.
  • Loads must be (member) Full UDL, UDL, VDL or Trapezoidal Load acting in the Major or Global Z directions.
  • Loads must be applied over the full length of the beam.
  • A percentage load tolerance is calculated and provided this is less than the uniform load tolerance specified in Design Settings, then the load combination is classified as ‘Uniform’.
Equivalent Uniform
  • Determine the position of the point of zero shear relative to the centre span point of the joist.
  • If the point of zero shear is located outside the maximum eccentricity of zero shear limit specified in Design Settings, then the procedure is ended and the load combination is classified as ‘Non-uniform’.
  • If the point of zero shear is located within the maximum eccentricity of zero shear limit then an ‘Equivalent Uniform’ load is established.
  • The equivalent uniform load is then used to calculate maximum shear force, bending moment and deflection. The percentage variation of these values to the actual values from the beam analysis is then calculated and compared with the equivalent load tolerance limit specified in Design Settings.
  • All loads not qualifying as ‘Uniform’ or ‘Equivalent Uniform’ to the above methods are considered as ‘Non-uniform’.
Note: It is possible for an individual loadcase e.g. Live to be classified as ‘Non-uniform’ which when combined with other loads becomes ‘Equivalent uniform’. Thus, when designing for strength (comparing with the ‘black value’ in the SJI Tables) the loading is valid whereas when checking the deflection (comparing with the ‘red value’ in the SJI tables) the service design could be invalid (Fail).

Concentrated Loads

All joists supporting concentrated loads require special treatment by the manufacturer/fabricator even if the loading configuration can be configured as ‘Uniform’ or ‘Equivalent Uniform’ since the joist design usually presumes that all concentrated loads are applied at panel points. It is common practice for “field installed members” to be located at all concentrated loads not occurring at panel points as illustrated below.

In Tekla Structural Designer concentrated loads on K, LH and DLH joists are limited to the maximum sum of concentrated loads limit specified in Design Settings. This value is unfactored and in the event that the sum of all unfactored point loads in all loadcases within a combination exceeds this value, the relevant load combination is classified as ‘Non-uniform’.


If (net) uplift is detected for a combination no design is performed for it and a warning message is displayed.

Note: If uplift exists in a loadcase but is ‘overcome’ by positive loading in another loadcase then the design is valid and no warning is displayed.

Joist member reports

Joist design results can be viewed on the screen and incorporated into member design reports. Joists are also included in material listing reports.

The member design report for steel joists is configurable, but limited to the following chapters:

Chapter Content
Design Summary
Design Calculations
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