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Light steel construction is more popular than ever for residential construction
     Light steel has been used in commercial construction for many years. In the past decade it has been used more and more in residential construction. Steel studs construction has gained in popularity because trees aren't cut to make studs, they also are price stable and don't fluctuate as much as lumber. When lumber prices are up steel studs are an attractive option.

What are the advantages?

  1. Unlike lumber, light steel components are always straight, this allows for a flat wall every time.
  2. Steel studs are non-flammable, and won't add fuel to a fire. Insurance rates for steel homes are often cheaper than wood framed homes.
  3. Steel studs are impervious to insects, rot, mildew.
  4. Steel studs are strong.
  5. Steel components allow for longer spans with less post supports.

Disadvantages of Steel

  1. In many areas it is difficult to find framing crews that are trained in light steel construction. This disadvantage usually raises the overall project cost.
  2. Because Steel studs are a poor insulator they suffer from thermal bridging which reduces overall wall insulation value.
  3. Even though steel components will not burn they will actually fail (collapse) before a wood component in a house fire.
  4. Steel components can rust if left exposed in marine climates.
  5. Finding steel roof trusses is difficult in most areas so it is common to used wood roof trusses (and floor trusses).

Differences between wood and steel framing

Although wood framing and steel framing are similar there are important differences. The main difference is the method of attachment of the components. Wood components are nailed and steel components are generally screwed.
Another aspect of steel framing is that bearing components must "line-up" in other words the carpenter must lay out the floor walls and roof so that trusses sit directly above a stud. Steel studs are strong but they don't have the load bearing or shear capacity of wood studs until they are fastened together with sheathing.

The bottom line

Should you consider using light steel framing for your next house? That really depends. Most likely you will pay more using steel studs because finding qualified subs may be difficult. You will reap the benefits outlined above. However, you will also have some disadvantages too. And if you are considering steel studs to save trees you'll probably be disappointed to learn that most environmentalist aren't all that enthusiastic about steel studs because of the mining process and the pollution created by steel processing plants. Trees are a renewable resource; iron ore must be mined from the earth.

This site has all the information necessary for anyone interested in using steel framing. The information is fairly technical but extensive.
Here is an article that discusses the thermal challenges that steel framing presents.
Here is a homepage from a builder in Northwest Indiana who specializes in residential steel frame construction.

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