Construction Cost Comparison Highlights Advantages of Cold-Formed Steel over Wood

Construction Cost Comparison Highlights Advantages of Cold-Formed Steel over Wood - iSPAN Systems - Banner image

New National Ready Mixed Concrete Association (NRMCA) study highlights the benefits of building commercial structures with ICF and cold-formed steel.

In a recent cost comparison study, the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association (NRMCA) explored whether wood frame construction, ICF combined with Hollow Core panels, or ICF combined with iSPAN Systems’ cold-formed-steel framing would be best for a new Fairfield Inn & Suites in St. Louis, Missouri.

The global COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in one construction method being significantly less expensive. As millions of people were forced to spend their money at home in 2020 and 2021, the price of lumber skyrocketed to levels never seen before, resulting in prices more than double. Choosing wood for a large commercial project such as a hotel contributed to costs rising more than $600,000. Even a hollow core material exceeded the cost of the steel and ICF option by a significant margin.

A cold-formed steel structural solution through iSPAN Systems, in conjunction with ICF, resulted in a lower construction cost, while delivering a far superior construction result – a shortened project cycle, ability for construction to continue during poor weather conditions, and lower insurance rates.

Compared to wood, cold-formed steel also allows for less limitations on height, produces less waste, and creates a far superior end product.

Construction Cost Comparison

Taking a look at the results of all three options in the study, the lowest construction cost option has a combination of ICF and cold-formed steel.

Wood Frame Construction CostICF with Hollow Core Construction CostICF with Cold-Formed Steel Construction Cost

Although wood once had the lowest upfront costs, the global pandemic has increased demand to unprecedented levels.

Operating Cost Comparison

Both ICF options, whether combined with hollow core panels or iSPAN’s cold-formed steel systems, also result in higher operating income for the hotel owner than a wood structure. The savings are significant:

– Estimated Energy Savings – 10%
– Property Insurance Savings – 37%
– Increased Occupancy – 5%

Concrete’s thermal mass improves energy efficiency and helps maintain internal temperatures without excessive heating and cooling. This results in lower energy costs. Property insurance rates are generally lower for concrete buildings. And a concrete hotel will have lower vacancy rates due to increased thermal comfort and reduced noise.

ICF, combined with either hollow core or iSPAN’s cold-formed-steel framing systems, makes more financial sense during construction and well after construction is completed.

Wood Frame Construction vs. ICF Wall Construction

The NRMCA study also showed that ICF wall construction requires a less complex process than wood frame construction, resulting in not only cost savings, but time savings.

Wood Frame ConstructionICF Wall Construction
1. Install stud wall1. Install forms
2. Brace wall2. Install reinforcement
3. Install fire stops3. Brace walls
4. Install sheathing4. Pour concrete
5. Install electrical (no plumbing in exterior)5. Install electrical and plumbing
6. Install insulation6. Install interior and exterior finish
7. Install continuous insulation
8. Install house wrap
9. Install exterior finish
10. Install gypsum wallboard

Unlike wood frame construction, ICF wall construction does not require fire stops, sheathing, house wrap, gypsum wallboard or separate steps for insulation and continuous insulation. Because there are fewer steps, ICF wall construction uses fewer materials and requires fewer special trades.

Construction Cost Comparison Highlights Advantages of Cold-Formed Steel over Wood - iSPAN Systems - image

Flooring and Roofing System Differences

After assessing operating income and the construction process, ICF has some clear advantages over wood. But one question still remains: hollow core panels or iSPAN’s Composite TotalJoist cold-formed steel framing system? To draw conclusions, the study factored in the differences between each flooring and roofing system.

iSPAN’s floor and roof systems are quick and easy to install, and they’re designed to work with a variety of building materials, including ICF. Composite TotalJoist utilizes the Total-Lewis-Deck under a concrete slab to create a strong floor, while allowing labourers to make minor onsite changes using the joists’ adjustable end connectors. The Total-Lewis-Deck forms a permanent bond with the concrete and acts as a reinforcement for the slab. Among its many benefits, Composite TotalJoist offers higher acoustic and fire ratings than wood flooring systems. Plus, fast, simple installation means the hotel could be finished ahead of schedule and see a quicker return on its owners’ investment.

Hollow core roof systems are precast in factories, but are complex to transport and are more labour-intensive. Placed atop ICF walls, a concrete topping or a thin leveling layer is required to even out the plank and accommodate the chosen finishes. Special details may also need to be worked out to ensure the hollow cores’ compatibility with ICF construction. This could mean more materials, more labour and a longer construction schedule.

Case Studies

The NRMCA study also provided case studies of several other hotels that chose ICF instead of wood. For example, the Candlewood Suites in Omaha, Nebraska used ICF because it reduced the construction schedule, improved energy efficiency and provided superior noise abatement. The 82-suite hotel was able to save money on construction and continue saving once it was open for business.

Similarly, ICF enabled the Holiday Inn Express in Louisville, Kentucky to shave nearly 6 months off its construction schedule, reaching completion in just 10 months.


ICF combined with hollow core can save money and reduce a construction schedule, but hollow core also requires additional materials for its flooring and there are many unknowns which can disrupt a construction site. ICF with cold-formed steel framing can save the most time, with easy-to-install systems that require fewer materials and special trades.

In this age of astronomical wood prices, it has never been a better time to consider the benefits of ICF combined with iSPAN’s Composite TotalJoist flooring system. ICF and cold-formed steel could provide the most visually appealing, durable hotel with the shortest project schedule.

To find out more about iSPAN Systems’ cold-formed steel framing systems, which include an all-steel above-grade structural solution, please contact us today.


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