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Joist vs. Beam: Know the Difference

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By Shumaila Saeed || Updated on December 25, 2023
A joist is a horizontal structure in flooring or ceilings for support, while a beam is a main horizontal structural member that carries loads, often found in roofs, bridges, or floors.
Joist vs. Beam

Key Differences

A joist is specifically used in floor and ceiling frameworks, providing support and stability. A beam, however, is a primary load-bearing element, integral to the overall structure of a building, bridge, or similar construction.
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Nov 28, 2023
Joists are designed to distribute weight across a floor or ceiling, typically supporting flooring material. Beams are engineered to carry significant loads, often transferring weight to columns or foundations.
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Joists are generally smaller and numerous, making up a repetitive framework. Beams are larger, fewer in number, and serve as the main structural support in construction.
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In many structures, joists rest on or are connected to beams, which in turn are supported by columns or walls. Beams can be independent structural elements or part of a larger framework.
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Nov 28, 2023
Both joists and beams come in various materials like wood, steel, or concrete, and their design varies based on architectural requirements. However, beams are typically more robust due to their critical load-bearing function.
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Comparison Chart

Structural Role

Support floors and ceilings
Main horizontal support, carrying heavy loads
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Placement in Structure

Horizontal in floors and ceilings
Horizontal in roofs, floors, bridges
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Load and Function

Distributes weight across a surface
Carries significant weight to columns or foundations
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Size and Frequency

Smaller, more numerous
Larger, fewer in number
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Interaction with Others

Often rest on or connect to beams
Support or are supported by columns, walls
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Joist and Beam Definitions

Joist

Horizontal support in floors/ceilings
The carpenters installed new joists in the floor.
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Nov 23, 2023

Beam

Carries loads to columns or walls
A steel beam transferred the roof's weight to the walls.
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Nov 23, 2023

Joist

Typically smaller than beams
The joists were less robust than the main beams.
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Nov 23, 2023

Beam

Larger and fewer than joists
Each beam in the structure was carefully placed.
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Nov 23, 2023

Joist

Support for decking or flooring material
The deck's durability depends on its joists.
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Nov 23, 2023
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Beam

A squared-off log or a large, oblong piece of timber, metal, or stone used especially as a horizontal support in construction.
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Oct 19, 2023

Joist

Member of a framing system
Each joist was carefully measured for the framework.
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Nov 23, 2023

Beam

A transverse structural member of a ship's frame, used to support a deck and to brace the sides against stress.
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Oct 19, 2023

Joist

Any of the wood, steel, or concrete beams set parallel from wall to wall or across or abutting girders to support a floor or ceiling.
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Oct 19, 2023

Beam

The breadth of a ship at the widest point.
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Oct 19, 2023

Joist

To construct with joists.
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Oct 19, 2023

Beam

The side of a ship
Sighted land off the starboard beam.
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Joist

A piece of timber or steel laid horizontally, or nearly so, to which the planks of the floor, or the laths or furring strips of a ceiling, are nailed.
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Oct 19, 2023

Beam

(Informal) The widest part of a person's hips
Broad in the beam.
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Joist

(transitive) To fit or furnish with joists.
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Beam

A steel tube or wooden roller on which the warp is wound in a loom.
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Joist

To fit or furnish with joists.
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Beam

An oscillating lever connected to an engine piston rod and used to transmit power to the crankshaft.
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Joist

Beam used to support floors or roofs
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Beam

The bar of a balance from which weighing pans are suspended.
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Joist

Parallel, repetitive structural elements
Joists were spaced evenly for stability.
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Nov 23, 2023

Beam

(Sports) A balance beam.
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Oct 19, 2023

Beam

The main horizontal bar on a plow to which the share, coulter, and handles are attached.
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Oct 19, 2023

Beam

One of the main stems of a deer's antlers.
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Beam

A ray or shaft of light.
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Beam

A concentrated stream of particles or a similar propagation of waves
A beam of protons.
A beam of light.
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Beam

A radio beam.
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Beam

To radiate light; shine.
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Beam

To smile expansively.
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Beam

To emit or transmit
Beam a message via satellite.
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Beam

To express by means of a radiant smile
He beamed his approval of the new idea.
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Beam

Any large piece of timber or iron long in proportion to its thickness, and prepared for use.
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Beam

One of the principal horizontal structural members, usually of steel, timber, or concrete, of a building; one of the transverse members of a ship's frame on which the decks are laid — supported at the sides by knees in wooden ships and by stringers in steel ones.
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Beam

(nautical) The maximum width of a vessel (note that a vessel with a beam of 15 foot can also be said to be 15 foot abeam).
This ship has more beam than that one.
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Oct 19, 2023

Beam

(nautical) The direction across a vessel, perpendicular to fore-and-aft.
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Oct 19, 2023

Beam

The crossbar of a mechanical balance, from the ends of which the scales are suspended.
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Beam

The principal stem of the antler of a deer.
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Beam

(literary) The pole of a carriage or chariot.
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Oct 19, 2023

Beam

(textiles) A cylinder of wood, making part of a loom, on which weavers wind the warp before weaving and the cylinder on which the cloth is rolled, as it is woven.
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Oct 19, 2023

Beam

The straight part or shank of an anchor.
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Beam

The central bar of a plow, to which the handles and colter are secured, and to the end of which are attached the oxen or horses that draw it.
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Beam

In steam engines, a heavy iron lever having an oscillating motion on a central axis, one end of which is connected with the piston rod from which it receives motion, and the other with the crank of the wheel shaft.
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Oct 19, 2023

Beam

A ray or collection of approximately parallel rays emitted from the sun or other luminous body.
A beam of light
A beam of energy
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Oct 19, 2023

Beam

(figuratively) A ray; a gleam.
A beam of hope, or of comfort
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Oct 19, 2023

Beam

One of the long feathers in the wing of a hawk.
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Oct 19, 2023

Beam

(music) A horizontal bar which connects the stems of two or more notes to group them and to indicate metric value.
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Oct 19, 2023

Beam

(railway) An elevated rectangular dirt pile used to cheaply build an elevated portion of a railway.
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Oct 19, 2023

Beam

(gymnastics) balance beam
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Beam

(ambitransitive) To emit beams of light; to shine; to radiate.
To beam forth light
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Beam

To smile broadly or especially cheerfully.
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Beam

(transitive) To furnish or supply with beams.
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Beam

(transitive) To give the appearance of beams to.
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Beam

To transmit matter or information via a high-tech wireless mechanism.
Beam me up, Scotty; there's no intelligent life down here.
The injured crewmembers were immediately beamed to sickbay.
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Beam

To transmit, especially by direct wireless means such as infrared.
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Beam

To stretch something (for example, an animal hide) on a beam.
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Beam

To put (something) on a beam.
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Beam

To connect (musical notes) with a beam, or thick line, in music notation.
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Oct 19, 2023

Beam

Any large piece of timber or iron long in proportion to its thickness, and prepared for use.
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Oct 19, 2023

Beam

One of the principal horizontal timbers of a building or ship.
The beams of a vessel are strong pieces of timber stretching across from side to side to support the decks.
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Oct 19, 2023

Beam

The width of a vessel; as, one vessel is said to have more beam than another.
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Oct 19, 2023

Beam

The bar of a balance, from the ends of which the scales are suspended.
The doubtful beam long nods from side to side.
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Oct 19, 2023

Beam

The principal stem or horn of a stag or other deer, which bears the antlers, or branches.
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Oct 19, 2023

Beam

The pole of a carriage.
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Oct 19, 2023

Beam

A cylinder of wood, making part of a loom, on which weavers wind the warp before weaving; also, the cylinder on which the cloth is rolled, as it is woven; one being called the fore beam, the other the back beam.
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Oct 19, 2023

Beam

The straight part or shank of an anchor.
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Oct 19, 2023

Beam

The main part of a plow, to which the handles and colter are secured, and to the end of which are attached the oxen or horses that draw it.
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Beam

A heavy iron lever having an oscillating motion on a central axis, one end of which is connected with the piston rod from which it receives motion, and the other with the crank of the wheel shaft; - called also working beam or walking beam.
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Oct 19, 2023

Beam

A ray or collection of parallel rays emitted from the sun or other luminous body; as, a beam of light, or of heat.
How far that little candle throws his beams!
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Oct 19, 2023

Beam

A ray; a gleam; as, a beam of comfort.
Mercy with her genial beam.
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Oct 19, 2023

Beam

One of the long feathers in the wing of a hawk; - called also beam feather.
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Oct 19, 2023

Beam

To send forth; to emit; - followed ordinarily by forth; as, to beam forth light.
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Oct 19, 2023

Beam

To emit beams of light.
He beamed, the daystar of the rising age.
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Oct 19, 2023

Beam

A signal transmitted along a narrow path; guides pilots in darkness or bad weather
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Beam

Long thick piece of wood or metal or concrete, etc., used in construction
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Beam

A column of light (as from a beacon)
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Beam

A group of nearly parallel lines of electromagnetic radiation
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Beam

(nautical) breadth amidships
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Beam

A gymnastic apparatus used by women gymnasts
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Beam

Smile radiantly; express joy through one's facial expression
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Oct 19, 2023

Beam

Emit light; be bright, as of the sun or a light;
The sun shone bright that day
The fire beamed on their faces
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Oct 19, 2023

Beam

Express with a beaming face or smile;
He beamed his approval
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Oct 19, 2023

Beam

Broadcast over the airwaves, as in radio or television;
We cannot air this X-rated song
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Oct 19, 2023

Beam

Especially of the complexion: show a strong bright color, such as red or pink;
Her face glowed when she came out of the sauna
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Oct 19, 2023

Beam

Experience a feeling of well-being or happiness, as from good health or an intense emotion;
She was beaming with joy
Her face radiated with happiness
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Oct 19, 2023

Beam

Primary horizontal support structure
The beam was crucial for the building's stability.
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Nov 23, 2023

Beam

Integral in roofs, bridges, or floors
The bridge's beams were inspected for safety.
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Nov 23, 2023

Beam

Can be made of wood, steel, or concrete
Concrete beams formed the foundation of the skyscraper.
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Nov 23, 2023

Repeatedly Asked Queries

Can joists support a building structure?

They support floors and ceilings but are not primary load-bearing like beams.
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Nov 28, 2023

What is the main difference between a joist and a beam?

A joist supports floors and ceilings, while a beam is a main load-bearing element.
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Nov 28, 2023

How are joists and beams connected?

Joists often rest on or are connected to beams for support.
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Nov 28, 2023

Do joists need to be treated for outdoor use?

If used outdoors, like in decks, they should be treated for weather resistance.
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Nov 28, 2023

How long can beams span without support?

Span length varies based on material strength and the load they carry.
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Nov 28, 2023

Are beams always made of steel?

Beams can be made of various materials, including wood, steel, and concrete.
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Nov 28, 2023

Is the size of joists standardized?

The size can vary based on the building design and load requirements.
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Nov 28, 2023

Are beams visible in finished buildings?

Sometimes, especially in industrial or contemporary designs.
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Nov 28, 2023

Can joists be replaced or repaired?

Yes, but it typically requires professional assessment and work.
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Nov 28, 2023

What factors affect the choice of beam material?

Load requirements, architectural design, and environmental conditions.
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Nov 28, 2023

Do joists help in insulation?

They can play a role in housing insulation materials, especially in ceilings.
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Nov 28, 2023

Can beams be used in residential construction?

Yes, beams are used in various types of construction, including residential.
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Nov 28, 2023

How are joists spaced in a floor?

Spacing depends on the load they need to support and the floor material.
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Nov 28, 2023

Can beams be decorative as well as functional?

Yes, especially in architectural designs where aesthetics are a focus.
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Nov 28, 2023

Can beams be used in landscaping?

Yes, especially in structures like pergolas or garden features.
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Nov 28, 2023

How do environmental factors affect joist selection?

Factors like humidity, temperature, and potential pest issues are considered.
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Nov 28, 2023

Is it common to replace beams during renovations?

It depends on the building's condition and the extent of renovation.
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Nov 28, 2023

What maintenance do joists require?

Regular inspections for signs of wear, damage, or infestation.
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Nov 28, 2023

Are there different types of joists?

Yes, including solid lumber, engineered wood, and steel joists.
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Nov 28, 2023

Are beam and joist calculations part of architectural design?

Yes, they are crucial in ensuring structural integrity and safety.
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Nov 28, 2023

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About Author
Shumaila Saeed
Written by
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed, an expert content creator with 6 years of experience, specializes in distilling complex topics into easily digestible comparisons, shining a light on the nuances that both inform and educate readers with clarity and accuracy.

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