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What’s fascinating is to see the evolution of engineered wood beams over the past 40 years. If you want to think of worst-case scenarios, think about the things that attack and weaken the beams. Homeowners or DIYers who are not familiar with working with beams often underestimate the weight of the beam and the importance of the support columns. I’m getting ready to build a large room addition that needs a beam to support the floor joists. Laminated beams, mircrolams and so forth are very common now, but I clearly remember when they were brand new. Lifting a beam often is the work of two or three people, and the combined weight of the workers and the beam can collapse ordinary stepladders, resulting in serious injuries. You can paint the steel beams with a metal primer and finish coat of paint to build water resistance.

The columns that support the beams must be rated to hold the weight and they must be connected properly to the beams. In fact, you may not realize this, but you can mix the two making a hybrid beam of wood and steel. Wood beams can be treated with borate chemicals to minimize wood rot and prevent infestation by wood-destroying insects that can’t harm steel. At some point, the weight of the beams and the weight on the beam must be transferred to solid ground. The good news is that both wood and steel can be used to carry tremendous concentrated loads. They use layers of solid wood that are glued together to make incredibly strong structural engineered timbers.
The flat steel plate usually has staggered holes punched in it and you bolt the wood and steel together to create a super-strong beam that might carry a load four or five times greater than what the wood could carry in the same space.

In the basement of the same house, I had large steel I-beams that spanned nearly 16 feet, supporting enormous loads as well.
I say this because you can usually have an engineer come up with a wood beam that can replace a steel one.
What fire does to wood is well known, but heat from a fire also can weaken a steel beam, turning it into soft taffy.
You can wrap a wood beam with fire-resistant drywall to protect it, and commercial fire protectants can be sprayed on steel I-beams.

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