The ultimate tensile strength of ordinary concrete is rarely more than 200 pounds per square inch. With a factor of safety of four, this would allow a working stress of only 50 pounds per square inch. This is generally too small for practical use, and certainly too small for economical use.

• On the other hand, steel may be used with a working stress of 16,000 pounds per square inch, which is 320 times that allowable for concrete. Using the same unit-values for the cost of steel and concrete as given in the previous section, even if steel costs 72 times as much as an equal volume of concrete, its real tensile value economically is 320/72 (or 4.44) times as great. Any reasonable variation from the above unit-values cannot alter the essential truths of the economy of steel for tension and of concrete for compression. In a reinforced-concrete beam, the steel is placed in the tension side of the beam. Usually it is placed from one to two inches from the outer face, with the double purpose of protecting the steel from corrosion or fire, and also to better insure the union of the concrete and the steel. But the concrete below the steel is not considered in the numerical calculations. Even the concrete which is between the steel and the neutral axis (whose position will be discussed later), is chiefly useful in transmitting the tension in the steel to the concrete. Although such concrete is theoretically subject to tension, and does actually contribute its share of the tension when the stresses in the beam are small, the proportion of the necessary tension which the concrete can furnish when the beam is heavily loaded, is so very small that it is usually ignored, especially since such a policy is on the side of safety, and also since it greatly simplifies the theoretical calculations and yet makes very little difference in the final result. We may therefore consider that in a unit-section of the beam, as in Fig. 92, the concrete above the neutral axis is subject to compression, and that the tension is furnished entirely by the steel.