Building Methods Compared: Cold-formed Steel Vs. Wood Construction

Architects and builders beware – not all building materials are created the same. This may seem obvious to many, but it’s important to familiarize ourselves with the advantages and disadvantages of different materials, especially when it comes to the fundamental structure of buildings.

Cold-formed steel and wood are two popular construction materials used in low and mid-rise buildings. Each has its pros. Each has cons. Let’s take a look at which one is best for your next project.

Wood construction disadvantages

Wood is an imperfect naturally sourced material that can have undesirable qualities, making its use as a reliable, effective and long-term construction material controversial. Wood is also easily combustible (great for campfires, but not-so-great for buildings). Rotting is always a concern with wood, which results from moisture coming in contact with it. It can also be a home to dangerous moulds, fungi and insects (such as termites and carpenter ants). 

Once delivered to building sites, wood construction can add unnecessary and harmful burdens to construction crews who are striving to deliver superior results under tight time constraints. Wood joists are heavy, especially for longer spans, and may result in higher trade expenses with additional individuals being brought onboard or lost time due to injury.

Cold-formed steel disadvantages

Compared to wood construction, cold-formed steel is a relatively new structural element, having only been in approved use since the mid-1900s. Many architects and builders have not yet fully considered cold-formed steel as they are more comfortable using wood.

A building exceeding 12 storeys in height could result in economical disadvantages, but new improvements to cold-formed steel are always being made, which will one day result in even higher builds.

Since cold-formed steel is pre-fabricated, it requires architects to approve designs earlier than what they may be used to.  Some owners don’t confirm window placements until after the building is up, but since cold-formed steel is pre-fabricated, this information would be needed much earlier. The same is true for firestopping information – the earlier, the better. 

Cold-formed steel is custom made for your unique  project and requires longer lead times – but is the extra wait worth it? Keep reading to find out!

Cold Formed Steel vs Wood - iSPAN Systems

Wood construction advantages

Wood has been used as an integral part of construction projects since the dawn of mankind. It’s familiar to everyone, and surrounds us in our homes. Wood is also beautiful, often used as design elements in commercial and residential construction. 

The renewability of wood makes it a cost-effective option for architects and builders who need short-term cost reductions. Lumber is also easier to produce than some alternatives and requires less manufacturing energy.

Cold-formed steel advantages

This newer construction material has a long list of advantages. Beginning with the initial structural planning stage, architects and designers will find that they have much more flexibility with cold-formed steel since it can span large rooms and bear a greater load. It works well for single-storey structures, such as commercial plazas, and excels for mid-rise buildings such as hotels, dorms and retirement homes.

Builders can also receive significant cost savings in builders’ insurance with cold-formed steel due to its non-combustible properties.

Cold-formed steel fabrication is performed offsite and results in extremely accurate measurements with an end product of consistent quality. Access for integration into mechanical and electrical systems is stamped in the steel during the production process. With all work prior to installation accomplished offsite, there is a significant reduction in waste.

On job sites, cold-formed steel is easy to carry – lighter than wood – and doesn’t require specialized crews to mount, saving both time and money.

Regarding the long-term condition of the building, cold-formed steel has unique resilience ensuring that it won’t deteriorate due to a wide array of issues common in wood construction (warping, rotting wood, termites, etc.) Owners will also be satisfied that cold-formed steel is fireproof, and is often made with recycled content. 

Those who work, live and play in a structure built of cold-formed steel will take comfort in knowing that the acoustics are astounding – 60% better than precast concrete and 34% higher than wood.

So, which one is best?

Wood has been a staple in the construction industry for many years, and can often deliver an acceptable product at a cheaper upfront price. 

Cold-formed steel may cost slightly above the price of wood construction, but comes with an endless list of benefits for architects, builders, owners and occupants. 

Of course we may be biased – or perhaps it’s just that it’s a no-brainer – but cold-formed steel is often the way to go. 

Contact iSPAN right now to talk about the advantages of cold-formed steel for your next project. We pride ourselves on providing superior cold-formed steel building systems, committed project support and on-site guidance.


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