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Steel Frame vs Wood Frame - Which is best?

Updated: Jun 29, 2023

So if wood frames and steel frames were in a fight, who would win? Would it be the old-hand wooden option that has stood the test of time? Or would it be the new kid on the block, tough and strong steel? Let’s see what would happen in a showdown - steel frame vs wood frame…

Steel Frame vs Wood Frame - The Pros and Cons

Steel Frames - the pros

  • Stability and strength

Steel is the epitome of stable. It remains straight and true throughout the building process, which can save time and energy. It provides straighter walls and sharper corners.

Steel has a high strength-to-weight ratio which actually allows buildings to be built with less framing. That can mean a longer span and larger windows.

  • Ease of use

Steel framing is about a third of the weight of its timber counterpart, so is easier to move around on site. That means great health and safety benefits for builders and labourers.

Because a steel frame can be manufactured based on the house plans, precision is guaranteed. You can even have the holes pre-punched for fixings and running cabling.

  • Moisture and fire resistant

Steel simply does not absorb moisture. That is a benefit when building on wet sites as you don't have to wait for framing to dry out to proceed with the build. It is also a long-term benefit with less chance of moisture retention in the house.

If you experience the unfortunate event of a house fire then the steel framing will not add fuel to the fire because it does not burn.

Steel Framing - the cons

  • Insulation

Steel framed homes are thought to be harder to insulate than their wooden counterparts. Steel framing requires a thermal break to be included as part of the insulation process.

This is because steel heats up quicker than wood. If a thermal break is not included then the warm steel can cause condensation within the walls of the home and over time the moisture can compromise the wall’s integrity.

  • Live wires and fire

Because steel is a conductor, there is a serious risk if any live wires come into contact with the framing. Circuit breakers are required to prevent against this potentially lethal hazard.

While steel frames do not catch fire, they can severely buckle if they are exposed to the intense heat of a fire. If they buckle, then an extensive amount of the frame will need to be replaced due to how steel framing is fixed together. Much of it interlocks so it is not as simple to replace as timber.

  • Rust

Wood does not rust, but steel can. Steel frames are galvanised as part of the manufacturing process, but if the frame is cut, scratched, or drilled after manufacture then rust can creep in.

Wood Frames - the pros

  • Tried and true

You do not need research to prove that timber frames work, hundreds of years of building history prove that. It is still the more popular choice with over 1.5 million kiwi homes boasting homegrown, sustainable wooden frames.

  • Easy to build with

Any home builder will be able to build a solid and secure house with timber framing. It can easily be trimmed or shaped on site to suit modifications or changes in plans.

  • Warm and safe

Timber is a natural insulator so gathers heat in the day and can slowly release it at night. Wood framing easily meets insulation standards without the need for thermal barriers, or other special methods.

Timber is strong, providing solid framing foundations for your home. It also performs well in seismic testing with its ability to absorb movement and sudden tremors.

Wood Frames - the cons

  • Labour costs

While the price of steel and wood frames are comparative, the cost of labour to work with each material is not. Much of a steel frame can be manufactured off site and erected very quickly by both skilled and unskilled labourers. Whereas wood frames need to be constructed by skilled builders, who spend time cutting wood to size, drilling holes for cabling and framing sections up. Therefore, labour costs are going to be a lot higher for wooden frames.

  • Vulnerable to pests

Any number of pests can compromise the integrity of timber. That ranges from termites to possums. Wood is a lot easier to chew through than steel.

  • Vulnerable to moisture

Wood will always absorb moisture. It expands when it gets wet and then contracts when it dries out. This can cause the attached coverings to warp and crack over time. It can also cause nasties like mould and fungi, which pose major health risks.

So there you have it, a selection of positives and negatives for each building material. Who won the battle between steel frame vs wood frame? Well that is for you to decide, because at the end of the day you need to pick the material that you are most comfortable with.

Disclaimer As with all our blogs, the information detailed here is general in nature and meant as a preliminary guide only. This should not be substituted for your own investigations or use of your own professional’s. Planning Plus is not liable for any errors or omissions.

© Planning Plus Ltd 2023

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