They sure don’t build them like they used to...but that’s a good thing! Today’s homes are built more efficiently than ever before, thanks to advances in technology. Now, high-performance products like steel framing are available for your home.
It’s been the standard of commercial construction in the United States since the early 1950s. But only within the last 20 years has metal framing become more commonly used in single-family home construction and remodeling. According to the Steel Framing Alliance, nearly half a million homes have been built with steel framing since 2008.
But does that mean that it’s the best choice for every home?
Metal framing versus wood framing
Traditionally, houses are constructed using a method called stick framing, wherein wooden studs are the ‘sticks’ between rectangular platforms like subfloors and ceiling joists. The studs bear the load of the walls and the roof. While wooden studs have historically been used in light frame building (in houses and small apartment buildings) they're just one way to get the job done.
Benefits of steel stud framing
There are some compelling reasons for the growing preference toward metal framing.
Compared to wood studs, steel is more consistent in shape and composition, resulting in 15% less waste material. Not only does it reduce scraps, but the metal studs are made from about 25% recycled materials and are 100% recyclable. Unlike wood, if a mistake is made or a structure needs to be moved, metal framing can be disassembled and reused.
Metal framing also saves energy. Metal studs are 50%-70% lighter than wood, making them a much more efficient material to transport.
Water and fire resistant
Unlike wood, steel won’t retain moisture, warp, or develop dry-rot or insect damage. When galvanized, the risk of corrosion is reduced to the absolute minimum, so it will stand up to flooding and moist climates well.
Additionally, fire resistance is a huge benefit of using steel studs. Contrary to wood stick framing, which is fuel for a flame, metal will not contribute any energy to a blaze. It may help stop the spread of fire in a home.
More benefits of metal framing
Already warming up the the idea of steel stud framing? It gets better!
Metal studs are earthquake resistant, making them ideal for construction in high-wind and seismic zones; just like all of the west coast and any waterfront property.
Working with metal is a benefit for home renovations. Because cuts can be made with aviation snips, there will be no sawdust coating your home or your lungs!
Steel framing supports good indoor air quality because it does not emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
Cost of steel stud framing
As demand for metal framing increases in the residential market, so has cost. The average cost of framing and trusses are about 20% of the total house construction costs. When using the “stick framing” method, steel can add 3% to the total cost, compared to wood. However, there are a number of long-term savings you gain when using steel framing.
The higher upfront cost of framing are attributed to specialized tools and construction materials like self-tapping screws, electrical boxes, and skilled labor. Because steel does not shrink, split, or warp, there are no nail pops or cracks repairs that add up over time. Because the quality of steel is more consistent than wood, scrap is reduced from 20% to 2% on average, saving material and labour costs.
Another long-term saving is in your homeowners insurance. Some providers will provide a discount for buildings that are framed with metal.
Limitations of light gauge metal framing
While there are a lot of benefits to working with steel studs over wood, like anything, this material has its shortcomings:
Strength of cold-formed steel (CFS) framing
Lightweight steel studs are not as strong as wood studs. These types of walls are not designed to be load-bearing. Although they can be strengthened with additional reinforcements, in areas of large weight loads--such as where cabinets are hung--wood framing can manage better with fewer modifications.
Lightweight steel stud is often used in conjunction with wood. Since steel is much more lightweight than wood, concerns of wearing or stretching the wood frame are unwarranted. Wood is often still used for trim, window and door framing, and bathrooms--for plumbing reasons.
Insulation capabilities of metal framing
Unlike wood, metal is not a natural insulator. It requires a few extra measures to keep cold/heat from transferring across walls. This conductivity issue is easily remedied by using extruded polystyrene insulation and installing a vapor barrier on exterior walls.
Pros and cons of traditional wood framing
Many professional construction workers prefer wood over steel because they are more familiar with it. It can be more simple to work with on projects that involve other wooden parts. But as we’ve mentioned, wood gets damaged by water, insects, small animals; as much as 20% of the lumber bought for studs ends up wasted. Since wood prices fluctuate, trying to budget for a wood-framed construction project is challenging. Here are some more details on how the two materials differ:
How installing metal framing is different from wood framing
Steel framing is usually spaced at 24” on center, wood framing is typically spaced at 16”.
Metal headers are built up from multiple steel pieces, just like with wood. Prefabricated metal L-headers can also be used to save time.
Layouts for metal framing proceed just like they do with wood frames; installation is typically handled by building a wall section on the floor, then raising it into place.
When working with metal, plywood or oriented strand board (OSB) is used for floors and wall/roof sheathing, just like a wood-framed house.
The only major differences in building with steel framing are the in-line framing techniques, the tools, fasteners and accessories, and the need for foam insulation.
There are other minor differences in how wiring and plumbing are installed.
Want to know more about steel stud framing for your project?
Custom Drywall is greater Vancouver’s reliable steel stud contractor. We manage metal framing, insulation, drywall installation, and more for commercial and residential projects in Lower Mainland, BC. For a free, no obligation quote on your project, contact us today!