Using steel in residential construction has more and better benefits with fewer negative consequences than anything else on the market
By STEVEN WRIGHT
It takes about 22 mature pine trees, weighing more than a ton each, to frame a 2,600 square foot house. It can take 15 to 20 years to grow a mature pine tree that averages 80 feet tall and two feet in diameter.
It takes about 12 tons of steel to build the same size house. More than half of the steel used is recycled from old steel, saving nearly 1,500 pounds of limestone, 17,000 pounds of coal, and 30,000 pounds of iron ore. It is immediately available and quickly replaced.
The benefits of steel in residential construction are already presenting themselves. According to the National Association of Home Builders, the use of steel in residential construction increased by about 44 percent in 1998 while the use of steel for framing residential construction increased over 52 percent.
Meanwhile, the cost of lumber continues to increase, and each time a natural disaster occurs such as Hurricane Harvey and the California wildfires in 2017, the need for lumber grows.
If the homes in Houston, TX, and throughout California had been built with steel, the losses would have plunged. If these same homes are reconstructed using steel, future disasters would cost significantly less, and owners would find it faster and easier to recover.
The information above is just an overview of the benefits of using steel in residential construction. Let’s take a closer look at why steel is the best material for building homes now and in the future.
Steel, quite simply, is stronger than wood.
- The high strength to weight ratio of steel allows construction of large spans, creating larger open spaces.
- Steel is not susceptible to termites or other pests.
- Steel does not burn, crack, warp, twist, split, or rot.
- Steel can be treated to resist corrosion.
Vendors and manufacturers offer warranties on steel buildings that span decades. Steel construction is the norm in areas of high seismic activity because a steel frame may bend but it will not break, giving the occupants more time and space to evacuate.
As mentioned before, steel allows architects and building engineers to create large open spans with no obstructions. Also, steel provides the versatility to create any shape required for a given project. Its aesthetic appeal is unparalleled, and it can be textured and finished to suit any design. Steel also pairs well with glass, concrete, and other materials.
Steel expands the options to create unique spaces, which are unavailable using other materials.
Bare metal is not energy efficient. Metal can transfer heat or cold 400 times faster than wood. However, it is very easy to wrap steel members with rigid insulation and use conventional insulation between the studs, wiping out any objections about energy efficiency.
Steel roof systems can be designed to reflect solar radiation and re-emit absorbed heat, lowering utility bills for any home. White asphalt shingles may reflect as much light as white-coated steel, but they have extremely low re-emittance. A cool roof of steel will outperform a light-colored asphalt roof every time.
Wood, concrete, and other building materials cannot be effectively recycled.
- Steel, on the other hand, is one of the most recyclable products available.
- Steel is 100 percent recyclable and most existing steel contains a high proportion of recycled product.
- As a bonus, steel loses none of its strength, no matter how many times it is recycled.
In 2000, over 70 million tons of steel were recycled from framing products, cans, automobiles, bridges, appliances, and more. Globally, 90 percent of steel is recycled. Recycling lowers the cost of producing new steel products and saves energy and natural resources that would have been used to product virgin steel.
While using wood framing decreases upfront costs over steel, in the long run, the total cost of ownership is lower when you build with steel.
Steel needs little maintenance or repair. Because it does not decompose or become riddled with termites, you never need to replace a member weakened by rot, and you don’t need to pay for termite treatment, either.
Both builders and owners of steel buildings receive discounts on insurance rates because of the decreased chance of injuries, jobsite theft, and fire as well as catastrophic loss. When it comes time to sell, a steel frame increases the value of the home.
Ease of Use
Finally, steel is easy to work with. It is lighter than other materials and so transports more efficiently. Steel needs no other treatment than the factory applied coating to prevent rust. No pesticides, preservatives, or glue are required.
Best of all, the building system arrives on site, ready for assembly. All cutting and prepping takes place off-site, reducing onsite prep work, waste, and storage requirements.
- The continuing increase in steel framed residential construction attests to all these benefits.
- In the US, recycling alone can save enough energy to power up to 18 million homes for a year with electricity.
- Reusing one ton of steel, which is about the amount you find in an American car, can save up to 120 pounds of limestone, 1,400 pounds of coal, and 2,400 pounds of iron ore.
Compare these benefits against the use of wood, concrete, or other building materials. Steel wins out because it is inherently stronger and more durable than these materials. When a wood frame home is demolished, the splintered wood is hauled to the landfill. Steel is not landfill fodder; it is a source of new steel and future construction.
Steel outperforms other materials in almost every way. Not only is steel an excellent material for a long-lasting home, but it also takes less time to construct and requires fewer hours of labor. Laborers quickly learn to assemble a steel building system; little skill is needed for the framing work. Trade workers are able to begin their tasks sooner, shortening the time to completion. More homes can be finished in a shorter amount of time.
It is clear that using steel in residential construction has more and better benefits with fewer negative consequences than anything else on the market.
Steve Wright works for Whirlwind Steel, a manufacturer of pre-engineered steel buildings and components. Whirlwind Steel metal buildings are manufactured and designed to meet the highest quality standards.