Sustainable Structural Steel
The Salinas Group emphasizes green principles in building, living and work ethic
As a structural engineer, Sal Salinas, Owner/President of The Salinas Group, is impressed with the value of structural steel. “I migrated toward totally focusing on the structural-steel side of the business, because I liked it better than other branches of construction,” Salinas says.
He formed The Salinas Group, structural steel fabricators and erectors, 14 years ago in Austin, Texas, after having worked in construction for 10 years. “What attracted me most was the fact that structural steel fabrication is probably the greenest, the most environmentally correct of all other methods of building,” he says.
Recycling Steel Scraps
According to Salinas, the steel forged in the U.S. has the highest recycled content in the world. Structural steel can be about 98-100 percent recycled material. For instance, a beam, the frame of a building or even a set of stairs fabricated by The Salinas Group could have previously been a car, a household appliance, tire rims, cans, construction materials or anything along those lines. “If not recycled, these items ultimately would have packed the landfills instead of becoming a useful commodity,” Salinas says.
“Extensive recycling makes my profession very carbon friendly, probably more so than any other profession in engineering or construction in my opinion,” Salinas says. He sees that as a big plus. “If you’re trying to meet any kind of carbon goals, structural steel is a good go-to material. As far as CO2 emissions, concrete would perform on the opposite end of the construction material realm. Concrete accounts for up to 8 percent of all the CO2 emissions around the globe. Of course, you must have a foundation of concrete, but the rest of the building—the columns, the beams, etc.—can be structural steel,” he says.
“Our most distinguishing qualifier is that we construct those beams using our SteelPRO 900 Robotic Plasma Line by Inovatech. We are the only company in Central Texas that has this type of CNC (computer numerical control) machine. Unlike many of our competitors, we can process and fabricate any size or shaped piece of steel required to complete a project,” Salinas says. The SteelPRO 900 manages enormous quantities/tonnage of steel extremely fast. The machine can handle up to 4-foot-wide beams and up to 400 tons of steel per week.
“We fabricate, provide steel-detailing services and install miscellaneous steel elements such as railings and stairs,” Salinas says. The company also forms typical structural steel, galvanized steel, embedded plates for concrete, architectural metals, residential and commercial products, and industrial materials using different categories of steel. Its list of services includes specialty products such as concrete pre-casters, custom skids for the oil and gas industry and solar canopies. “We’ve done restaurants, bars, strip centers and a lot of schools, as well as public works projects. We’re all over the spectrum with what we do,” he says.
When an architect designs something to be custom made, The Salinas Group can provide architectural metal. “For Hopdoddy Burger Bar, an upscale burger place, we built custom metal tables for the diners and the bars. We’ve done customized concession stands, as well,” Salinas says.
Home and Business Construction
In residential construction, The Salinas Group works primarily on higher-end homes. With the popularity of the open concept, a homeowner may request that the whole downstairs be open—with few walls to support beams. “They want the kitchen to be open to the dining room, to be open to the living room, so everyone can talk and mingle. The only way to pull that off is with steel,” Salinas says. “No wood beams can span that distance, but steel on the other hand can span up to 60 feet,” he continues.
“Our commercial clients/customers want to see photos that feature the superstructure. To accommodate them, the steel that we have fabricated must show very prominently,” Salinas says. Some structures, such as one strip center in South Austin, require covering up the steel so that it can’t be seen, but if facilities like Gold’s Gym are included in the center, then exposed steel would be visible for clients to see.
“We have a reputation for working on complex projects that other people don’t particularly want to take on. And as far as complicated jobs, we’re kind of the go-to people for that,” he says.
“I especially enjoy tackling unique ventures such as the Clive Bar,” Salinas says. The Clive Bar required building an entire superstructure to cover a house that was over 100 years old. Exposed steel surrounds the existing structure on three sides and on top of it. The original edifice remains inside and has become the bar and the bathroom. The entire outside seating area is about six times the size of the house.
Another of The Salinas Group’s interesting buildings is the Container Bar on Rainey Street. Made from seven stacked shipping containers, the bar features exposed steel as well. Also noteworthy is the work done on the flagship Torchy’s Tacos on South Congress. This predominately Texan, fast-food icon required custom-fabricated, exposed trusses measuring an impressive 60 feet-plus long by 12 feet deep.
A project that uses chilled water to cool businesses in downtown Austin especially appealed to Salinas. The City of Austin operates two district cooling plants (DCPs). These giant cooling towers in downtown Austin now cool approximately 40 enterprises and the city has another DCP planned. The Salinas Group built DCP 1. “I love the idea of providing more green energy. Although building downtown required a lot of field coordination that challenged us at times, it was totally doable and very satisfying,” Salinas says.
Helping Community, Employees Thrive
In keeping with the “green” theme, Salinas recycles the company’s scraps. “Generally, what we do is donate steel to a small minority of people for use as gardening stakes or other DIY endeavors. The remaining scraps are given away so that they can be recycled for cash,” Salinas says. “It actually costs more money to have my men put it in a recycling bin, haul it off and dump it. It is cheaper for me to give it away, let someone else make a profit and know that the community benefits as well,” Salinas says.
The Salinas Group also donates manpower and construction skills to the Green Classroom at Becker Elementary, the first school in the state of Texas to incorporate an organic gardening program. In the mid 1980s, Becker had a large percentage of low-income community students. The goal of the Green Classroom was to teach children to grow their own food with the help of their parents. “The program is still in operation, and we have volunteered there every year for six years. We offer construction services by maintaining vegetable beds, repairing fences and by building trellises, beds, garden areas, raised gardens, toolsheds and such,” Salinas says.
Occasionally, the nine employees take a much-needed break from their six-day workweek to gather for dinners and picnics. The business offers its people cash bonuses. It also lets them use the shop, the equipment and any materials they might need to fabricate personal projects on their own time. Most of them have been with the company a long period of time. “One man has been with us since I began 14 years ago. Another has been with me 10 years and one for seven years,” Salinas says. “In a time when keeping longtime employees isn’t always the norm, we have. I believe communication and consideration are key.”
A Focus on Fabrication
“Communication plays an important role in dealing with customers, too. We are extremely easy and flexible to work with,” Salinas says. The Salinas Group has contracted with architects, general contractors and others. “Most of our work comes from referrals and repeat customers. And we are always looking for new people to work with,” he continues.
“In an ideal world, we would like to do more fabrication with our SteelPro 900 machine. We are bigger now than when we started. I own my own building, shop, equipment and real estate. We are geared up to focus on fabrication, and we will continue to incorporate a green emphasis,” Salinas says. “That’s who we are and what we do.”