Steel vs Wood

Steel framing is a practical, code approved solution to many of the limitations that builders face today when using traditional building materials. There are a number of frequently asked questions about building with steel. A number of consumers, businesses, and organizations are attracted to the seemingly low costs involved with steel building construction but still aren’t quite sure whether it is a viable option when compared to more conventional construction.

Why should I consider building with steel?

Steel framing can lower construction costs.

  • Warranty call-backs are minimized because steel does not shrink, split, or warp. As a result, there are no nail pops or drywall cracks to fix after the structure is completed.
  • Consistent quality means that scrap is drastically reduced (2% for steel versus 20% for wood). These savings also translate into lower costs for jobsite culling of wood materials and haul off and disposal of discarded material.
  • Discounts on builders risk insurance for steel framed structures can result in significant cost savings for builders.

Steel framing is easier to handle because steel studs weigh 1/3 less than wood studs, and can be installed at 24” on center.
Steel framing offers marketing advantages because consumers recognize steel as a superior framing product for its fundamental characteristics:

  • Long term maintenance costs are reduced because steel is resistant to rot, mold, termite and insect infestation.
  • Good indoor air quality (IAQ) is promoted because steel does not emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
  • Steel is “Green” because it contains a minimum of 25% recycled steel and is 100% recyclable.
  • Steel framing has proven performance in high wind and seismic zones.

The non-combustibility of steel allows a significant density increase in commercial and multi- family structures, offering building owners with the potential for higher revenue.

How Much Will Building With Structural Steel Insulated Panels Cost Compared to Wood Framing?

Framing and trusses represent approximately 20% of the total cost of construction. Comparing steel framing to wood framing, there is virtually no difference in cost these days. When using Structural Steel Insulated Panels (SSIPs), the material costs are approximately 5% higher; however, the ease and speed of erection results in a 45-50% savings in labor costs.

When one 50 pound 4×8 SSIP is put up, this one step replaces the need for 4 separate steps: framing, insulation, sheathing, and vapor barrier. As the outside is completed, an air tight envelope is achieved.
The panels can be customized for your needs and loads; however, even a 5-1/2” panel – which is comparable to 2×6 framing – will provide an effective insulation factor of R33 for the life of the building vs. R14 found in wood framing.

In short, building with SSIPs saves you money and deliver far more than wood framing.

What are the differences in construction details between panelized steel wall panels and wood?

  • In most residential applications, plywood or OSB is used for floor, wall and roof sheathing, just as in a wood framed house. Sheathing is attached to steel framing using pins shot from a pneumatic gun at a cost and rate of speed similar to the tools used for wood construction.
  • With panelized construction many of these steps are eliminated, reducing the framing responsibility to positioning and fastening the pre-assembled components.
  • In most residential applications, additional plywood or OSB is added as sheathing. With steel panels sheathing is not required on the exterior walls. Any exterior cladding can be used which reduces material costs for items that are not needed.
  • Steel panels also reduce the time it takes to build. Steel is lighter and you can move the material around easier. With most stick framing, a builder has to cut the lumber to size, frame, drill holes for wiring, insulate, and sheath. In today’s technology, steel panels are custom made based on a set of architectural drawings. Panels will arrive at the job site cut to the correct heights, framed, molded wire chases, and insulated. So many steps are eliminated lowering the cost of labor and time needed to construct. It’s also easy to make on site adjustments easily and quickly
  • Using EPS (Expanded Polystyrene) as in insulator reduces air leaks and is recyclable.
  • Using a steel insulated panel with EPS has its own built in vapor barrier which allows the panel to breathe but also eliminates the cause of molding.
  • No wood for the invitation of termites and other wood-boring insects.
  • Little to no waste on the job site.

How will my Trades be affected?

Experienced framers will find it relatively easy to transition to steel framing. They understand floor plans and elevations and can covert these to floor and wall layouts. With assistance and training, experienced carpenters adapt to CFS very quickly.

The great thing about a panelized system is that anyone can install as long as they know how to keep everything square and level.

Special tools may be needed such as hot knife kit, screw gun, and a magnetic level.


In general, in spite of all the hoopla of steel versus wood, it is a fact that steel is stronger for earthquakes, hurricanes, high winds, big snows, etc. It is also environmentally safe, noncombustible, it won’t warp or rot, and not be eaten by termites.

In today’s environmentally conscious world the question comes up about how steel construction will affect the indoor air quality of the structure. The answer is that the use of steel will actually enhance the quality of the air in the interior. Many environmental organizations recommend the use of steel framing for chemically sensitive homeowners who want good air quality. Steel does not have to be treated for insects, and is free of resin adhesives and chemicals that are normally prevalent in other construction materials. The viability of a steel structure for almost any application is unquestioned.



The Steel Framing Alliance

Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry

Cold-Formed Steel Engineers Institute

International Code Conference

Steel Stud Manufacturers Association

Randy Smith, Fasteel Systems

Metal Home Digest