Metal Framing Vs Wood Framing – What Are The Differences?

When it comes to your home, you'd be hard-pressed to find something as important as the "skeleton" or the framing of your home. Whether you're renovating or constructing a brand new home, it's essential to pick the right material. While wood is a popular choice, metal is another option to consider. We researched the difference between these two options to help you make the choice that works best for you!

There are several differences between metal and wood framing:

Metal framing costs between $2 and $11 per square foot for materials. A typical 2,000 square foot home will generally cost between $19,000 and $25,000 for this type of framing. A steel-framed home has several advantages over a wood-frame home. Metal framing is fire-resistant and won't warp or rot without the use of chemicals. However, these structures are susceptible to buckling, and contractors are less familiar with this material.

Wood framing can cost between $1 and $8 per square foot for materials. An average 2,000 square foot home will cost between $14,000 and $32,000. Aside from price, a wood-framed home is a classic choice that contractors are more comfortable working with. A wood-framed house is more energy-efficient and doesn't require any additional insulation like a metal-framed home. Unfortunately, wood is susceptible to bugs, fire, and rot. Proper care is essential for wood-framed homes.

Every home and project will have different specifications that can raise or lower the price. While initial construction cost is important, long-term costs, ease of maintenance, and overall longevity should also be considered when choosing a framing material. Finding all of this information can be overwhelming. Keep reading to learn each materials' advantages and disadvantages as well as some other interesting framing facts.

What metal is used for building frames?

Structure of steel for building construction on sky background.

Structural steel is the most common metal used in building frames. Common steel grades for framing are ASTM A572 and ASTM A36. This type of metal has been used to create skyscrapers, high-rises, and other tall buildings due to its high strength-t0-weight ratio. A high strength-to-weight ratio means that steel-framed buildings' have a lower dead load (structural weight) than other framed buildings.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of steel construction?

New home construction framing

Steel framing has struggled to gain traction in the housing market since its introduction in 1933. While it's struggled to gain popularity in residential settings, metal has been widely used in commercial settings. However, since 1997, the Committee on Framing Standards has been developing codes to standardize the design and installation methods when framing with steel.

Other than an improvement in design standards, steel has several other advantages as well as some disadvantages.

Steel Construction Advantages:

  • While it does fluctuate, the cost of steel is relatively inexpensive compared to other structural materials.
  • Steel is fire-resistant. When properly made, steel has a higher chance of preserving structural integrity when faced with fire and extreme heat.
  • Due to its water resistance, steel isn't susceptible to mold, warping, or rot.
  • Steel is entirely recyclable. If a building is dissembled, all the steel pieces can be reused for other projects.

Steel Construction Disadvantages:

  • Buildings made from steel framing can buckle. Steel studs can have a slight variation in tensile strength, which causes tension and reduces strength.
  • Steel construction is simple unless there's a fabrication error. If a piece doesn't fit, it will be necessary to wait for a correctly sized part. No field corrections can be made.
  • Not many people use steel residentially. Out of 352,000 multifamily homes in 2019, only 33,000 were framed with steel. Its rarity causes the cost of labor to increase, which ultimately makes the initial cost more expensive.
  • While steel is fire-resistant, it can still spread a fire. If combustible objects come in contact with the heated frame, they can catch on fire. This causes the fire to spread more rapidly.
  • Steel buildings are susceptible to thermal bridging. This phenomenon can lead to higher heating and cooling costs as well as drafty homes.

What are the types of structural steel framing systems?

New home under construction using steel frames against cloudy sky. - Metal Framing Vs Wood Framing - What Are The Differences?

There are three types of framing systems for structural steel. They are skeleton steel framing, wall bearing steel framing, and long-span steel framing. 

Skeleton Steel Framing

This framing method is created by connecting a series of columns and steel beams. An exterior beam called a spandrel beam is found around the building's perimeter. The spandrel beam is there to support masonry walls.

Wall Bearing Steel Framing

When using a wall bearing method, the building's walls, interior or exterior, carry the end of structural members designed to support the roof or floor load. This method is best applied to single-story buildings. 

Long-span Steel Framing

This method is best for projects that cover a wide area. Long-span framing isn't typically found in residential buildings. This method is primarily used in sporting arenas, swimming pools, or even airport hangars.

What type of wood is used for framing?

When it comes to timber, there are two types of wood to choose from: softwood and hardwood. Conifer trees, where softwood comes from, grows more quickly than hardwood trees, making them the popular choice for framing and construction projects. The most popular softwood choices are pine, spruce, and fir.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of wood construction?

Building frame at construction site

Wood framing has been the go-to material for many years. In 2019, 814,000 out of 903,000 single-family homes were framed in wood. The widespread use of timber in construction means that people are more comfortable working with it. While this is a significant advantage to working with lumber, there are also a few other advantages.

Wood Construction Advantages:

Closeup new stick built home under construction under blue sky in Humble, Texas, US. Framing structure/wood frame of wooden houses/home.

  • Even with the costs of wood and steel fluctuating, wood houses are cheaper upfront. This is largely due to the lower labor costs when working with wood, which is typically between $4 and $10 per square foot.
  • Unlike steel, sizing problems with lumber can be quickly resolved. Pieces can be cut down to proper sizes on the spot instead of waiting for a replacement.
  • Wood has a higher insulating capacity than steel. So, it doesn't have to deal with draftiness or need any extra insulation.

Despite its popularity, wood isn't a perfect construction material. There are many downsides to using timber for framing.

Wood Construction Disadvantages:

House construction with wood framework.

  • In the long run, many things can go wrong with a wood frame. Wood buildings are susceptible to water damage, termites, and warping.
  • Construction lumber needs to be treated with chemicals to help fend off decay and bugs. These chemicals can lower air quality.
  • According to a 2017 study, building a disaster-resistant wood frame home costs 25 to 30 percent more than a non-resistant home.
  • Footsteps are more easily heard in wood-framed buildings. Sound-proofing measures need to be taken to avoid that.
  • Mold can grow on wood framing. Long-term or extensive exposure to mold can cause health problems in people and pets.

What are the types of wood framing?

Wood framing includes platform frame construction, balloon frame construction, plank and beam frame construction, and truss-framed construction.

Platform Frame Construction

For this method, first-floor joists are covered with sub-flooring. This creates a surface to set up exterior walls and interior partitions. The platform frame method allows framing to be assembled and then tilted into place. Framing done in this manner is popular in building houses.

Balloon Frame Construction

Balloon framing sometimes referred to as "Chicago construction," was highly popular in the 1950s. This method uses long, continuous studs that run vertically. Second-floor joists are supported by ribbon strips which are inserted into the continuous studs.

Plank and Beam Frame Construction

Structural wood roof of the entrance of an old church

Instead of using joists, the plank and beam method utilizes beams and planks. The beams (posts) act as wall framing, while the planks act as subflooring or roof sheathing. This construction method creates a traditional feel as the ceiling planks are exposed to the home's interior.

Truss-Framed Construction

New residential construction home framing against a blue sky

A truss frame consists of a roof truss and floor truss. Exterior wall studs join these trusses. There are numerous ways that a truss frame can be constructed. Styles of truss-frame construction include queen, hip, howe, and dual truss.

How much more expensive is steel framing?

New technology steel frame for construction

Despite steel's current low production cost and wood's rising cost, steel framing is still considered more expensive. On average steel framing, costs anywhere from 3 to 15 percent higher than lumber does. You also have to consider the cost of labor. Labor for steel framing typically runs between $5 and $10 per square foot.

It is essential to keep in mind that these are the initial, upfront costs. Wood framing can need repairs and maintenance throughout the years. So, while metal framing may be more expensive initially, wood framing can add up over time.

In Closing

Deciding on a framing material is crucial, if not slightly overlooked, part of building a new home or remodeling an old one. Both wood and steel production are working towards being more environmentally friendly. They are also both very reliable and durable, with a proven track record.

Of course, no material is perfect. Wood's susceptibility to fire, water, and bugs may make it less appealing than the initially expensive metal framing. Ultimately, the best building material for your home will be up to you.

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How Long Does Wood Framing Last?

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A collage of metal framing and wood framing of a new residential construction home, Metal Framing Vs Wood Framing - What Are The Differences?

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