Construction Materials

Wood vs Steel Framing?

Especially in production housing, you do not often see steel framing in place of wood.  Reportedly, the steel has benefits of building straighter walls, lighter material, resistance to fire, and no termite issues.  And in times when lumber seems to be getting more expensive, you would think that steel framing would be something the homebuilders would consider?

During the mid-1990’s, one builder in Southern California was making the attempt to build most of its homes in steel.  During that time, we were still digging out of a recession and many of the trade contractors were not all that busy yet.  Thus, it seemed easier to get the framer and all the other subcontractors to go along with the steel construction.  But as the economy and housing market got better, it seemed that the costs and schedules for building in steel became more prohibitive.

From what I overheard, our housing industry has framers and subcontractors (drywall, plumbing, electrical, et al) who are skilled in working with wood.  Instead of hammers and nails, the steel construction means working with screws and screwdrivers.  And instead of installing utilities by drilling through wood, you now have to go through steel.  It seems that with the recovering housing market, the trades got busier and found they could make more profits in dealing with wood framing.  Thus, the bids for steel jobs became costlier and build schedules got longer – the trades just preferred to work with the wood.

What is a little curious to me is that the tenant improvements in office and commercial buildings seem to be mostly framed with steel.  So why do those trades, which tend to be different than housing trades, work so commonly with steel instead of wood?  Is it a matter of the housing trades developing the skills and tools to work with steel, or is it more complicated?

If you have any experience, comments, or questions about this topic, we welcome you to share with us below.

John Kaye has over 30 years experience within the land development and homebuilding industries, having held senior management positions with The Irvine Company, Koll Real Estate Group, and Brookfield Homes. As a developer, John has overseen the land acquisition, entitlements, and development of master planned communities, residential tracts, urban infill sites, and land assemblages. His experience and skill sets include land acquisition, land brokerage, project management, market analysis, finance, and strategic planning.

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