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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. 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 create unnecessary and dangerous 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.

Lastly, if you’ve tried to purchase even a single length of 2×4 recently, you will know that the price of wood has skyrocketed to levels never seen before. The materials cost for a home could rise significantly more than you (or your client) are willing to pay.

Cold-formed steel disadvantages

Compared to wood construction, cold-formed steel is a relatively new structural option, 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.

Ideally cold-formed-steel Framing in the mid-rise industry is used for 4- 12 storey’s but improvements and technologies are always advancing to take this to greater heights

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 fire-stopping 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?

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 seem more of an ‘earth-friendly’ 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. Let’s begin with a new advantage that as of fall and winter 2020 has never happened: cold-formed steel is now the same price or even lower in cost than lumber! Because of the popularity of wood in home renovations, patios and fences, the construction industry has been caught in a situation where customers are paying significant premiums to complete their home renovation projects.

Along with the benefit of low cost, 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% better than wood.

So, which one is best?

Wood has been a staple in the construction industry for many years, and can often deliver a ‘satisfactory’ product.

Cold-formed steel may require additional lead time, but with wood’s long wait times and ever-fluctuating cost structure, there will often be many more 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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