Everything You Need to Know About Steel Framing Homes

Marwa Hasan
Written by Marwa Hasan
Updated October 15, 2021
New steel framing house
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You should rethink that wooden framing

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When you hear about using steel in construction, you may think of tall commercial buildings. But steel framing is actually becoming more popular in homes—and for a few good reasons.

What Is Steel Framing for Homes?

A close up of a steel framing house
Lev - stock.adobe.com

Steel framing offers a strong, accurate, stable, and durable framing alternative to traditional wooden frames. In fact, lightweight steel framing is the superior choice for residential construction. Steel frames come in a wide range of sizes and shapes, much more so than standard lumber, and yield a high-quality home. 

Most steel construction involves extremely strong light gauge steel. Prepared in a factory and assembled on-site, steel framing can accommodate essentially any structural need.

What Should I Expect After Framing My House with Steel?

Buildings can deteriorate over time without regular maintenance and care. Steel framing, however, is a good building alternative because it is known for its ability to withstand common causes of deterioration, requiring low maintenance needs. Your steel building lifespan can increase if you maintain it regularly and address small damage in a timely manner. 

There are many reasons why home builders are turning to steel framing as replacements for wood, especially for those who want to leave a smaller ecological footprint.

Pros of Steel Framing

Steel is a lightweight and high-quality material that weighs less than wood and has many other advantages as a framing material.

Durability

Steel has the upper hand over wood when it comes to durability. Steel doesn’t warp or expand, and it can withstand extreme earthquakes and hurricanes because it’s flexible and can bend without cracking. 

The lifespan for steel framing with exterior exposures in higher humidity and external pollutants is estimated to be 150 years or more.

Fire Resistance

Steel’s inflammability limits the spread of fires, which wooden frames simply can’t compete with.

Although it does not burn, steel tends to lose strength once exposed to temperatures over 550 degrees Fahrenheit—residential house fires can reach 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit—at which steel retains only 50% of its normal strength.

Moisture Resistance

Steel is highly resistant to mold and copes better with water damage than wood does. Galvanized steel or zinc coating treatments also increase rust resistance.

Time-Saving

No heavy equipment is necessary when building steel framing. Steel components can be quickly ready-made then transported to the site for a quick assembly. They are also manufactured with pre-punched holes for running piping and electrical wiring, minimizing preparation work or additional labor.

Customizable

Steel framed homes provide homeowners with customization cladding options such as brick siding, wood, cement, and vinyl. You can also easily remodel your home’s steel frame, as non-loadbearing walls can easily be removed, altered, or relocated.

Environmentally Friendly

Steel is not made of hazardous chemicals, and it does not require more processing when it is reused. All steel products are 100% recyclable—the steel industry is the single largest recycler in North America. This reduces building waste from your construction site.

Cons of Steel Framing

While steel framing does have some advantages, it also has some drawbacks.

Insulation

Steel-framed houses suffer from relatively poor insulation and low energy efficiency. This is because steel conducts more heat than wood does, reducing the insulating properties by 60% because of thermal bridging. This may lead to higher energy costs.

One effective way for a homeowner to counteract this problem is to wrap insulation board around the steel beams, in addition to typical insulation between studs. Another option is using hybrid steel/wood frames, which take advantage of both steel and wood's strength, durability, and support benefits. A local insulation contractor will be able to tell which solution fits your home.

Design Limitations

Steel framed homes are durable but have limitations when it comes to roofing designs. Unlike wood roofs, metal-framed roofs rarely have high pitches or dormers. Adding a wooden frame for the roof of a steel-framed home can solve this design problem, though.

Rust

While steel is immune to damage, rust can become a real problem, especially when metal is exposed to leak for long periods of time. If left untreated, rust can affect the stability of your infrastructure and lead to costly repairs.

However, barrier coatings and paints are readily available to coat steel surfaces and isolate them from water, sun, and oxygen to withstand corrosion.

Cost

Steel frames are slightly more expensive than their wood frame counterparts. To install steel frames, builders need special tools. Making metal frames will cost between 10 and 20% more than wood frames. Add additional insulation costs, rust prevention, and any extra work when adding or modifying walls when you hire qualified house framing contractors.

However, steel-framed homes would have lower insurance fees in some areas.

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