Not All Steel is the Same: Cold-Formed Steel VS Structural Steel

Cold-Formed Steel VS Structural Steel
There are big differences between the construction industry’s favourite types of steel

The urban landscape would look very different today if it weren’t for steel. In 1890, the Rand McNally Building in Chicago became the first structural-steel framed skyscraper, and now the most reliable construction material on earth is used in practically every high-rise building. Another type of steel, cold-formed steel, is more recently becoming the material of choice for many other construction applications.

Although their applications are different, structural steel shares many similarities with cold-formed steel. They are both made of iron ore; they are extremely strong; they are resilient (non-combustible, rodent-proof and mould resistant); they allow flexibility in building design, like long floor spans; they are prefabricated in offsite facilities; they are high in quality, lasting up to 700 years; they are recyclable, containing 93 percent recycled material; they won’t sag or warp over time; and both are structural materials.

That is quite a bit in common, but now let’s take a look at what sets these two types of steel apart from each other.

A World of Difference

Although there are many similarities, structural steel differs from cold-formed steel in just as many ways.


Structural steel excels at big and bold undertakings, from towers to buildings to boats. Cold-formed steel excels as load-bearing structural elements (framing and joists) in residential and commercial buildings up to 10 storeys.


Structural Steel Applications Cold-Formed Steel Applications
Towering skyscrapersHotels
Suspension bridgesCondominiums
Offshore oil platformsSchools
Aircraft hangersApartment buildings
HospitalsPolice stations
Railway stationsChurches
StadiumsProduction facilities
Wind turbinesRetail stores
High-rise buildingsRetirement homes


Molten iron is made into structural steel beams with a profile of a cross section to give it extra rigidity. Cold-formed steel is also made with iron, but it is instead made into thin strips and cooled. The cold steel is then formed into the desired thickness and a protective coating is applied.


Although manufacturers may find cold-formed steel to be a sight to behold, many others would disagree. It is a practical solution for behind-the-scenes applications behind walls, in floors and in ceilings. Exposed structural steel on the other hand can make a stunningly beautiful design statement, transforming a space into a modern work of art.

Design Flexibility

Bulky structural steel columns have difficulty in small spaces, and take up valuable space, while cold-formed steel can excel in small- and medium-sized spaces. Access holes in cold-formed steel allow fewer unsightly bulkheads and save space.

Cold Formed Steel With Structural Steel
Walters Group Head Office, Hamilton, ON


Structural steel sounds heavy and bulky because it is. Any movement requires a precise delivery on a flatbed trailer and a series of crane lifts. A cold-formed steel joist or wall panel can be picked up by a few crew members, and has the highest strength-to-weight ratio of any construction material.

Installation Speed

Installation can be a time-consuming, laborious and stressful process when you use structural steel – welding, bolting or riveting takes time. Cold-formed steel installation can take place with a crew of two in a matter of minutes using basic installation equipment.


Cold-formed steel has a lower cost to produce per unit than structural steel. That’s also because structural steel often weighs quite a bit more and has different tasks in building construction, but there are many things that structural steel does that cold-formed steel can do better – it just needs to be given the right opportunity. The lighter cold-formed steel also makes for lower transportation costs. Lastly, since it requires only a small crew to install and no large cranes, cold-formed steel is oftens cheaper on the job site too.

The Cold, Hard Results Are In

Both steel types are great at many things in the construction world. But there is certainly opportunity to consider a more cost-effective solution to many structural elements in a building project: cold-formed steel.


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