Choosing the best building material: Steel vs Wood

Building your own home is a big deal and warrants a lot of careful consideration. It is important to make sure you get it right the first time. One of the very first steps required to build your home is to choose which building material to construct it with. The majority of builders choose to build with wood without truly looking into what other materials are suitable for house and commercial construction. This is a big mistake, as the many advantages of building with steel are often overlooked. Hopefully at the end of this article, you will be better informed and more knowledgeable about the benefits steel has to offer.

Which building material is stronger?

Wood is a fairly strong building material, but not nearly as strong as steel. When it gets windy, you don’t have to worry about any damage being done to your home when using steel – steel frames are tough and strong. They are able to meet the strictest building codes in relation to wind and seismic testing.

Thanks to National Association of Steel-Framed Housing (NASH) and Swinburne University, Dynamic Steel Frame was able to test the strength of their floor joist system. They showed how truly strong they were as the floor joists were elastic in their deformation all the way past 40kN and only showed local buckling at around 30kN. As well as this, wall frames were elastic, past 2kN of force and 10mm of displacement.

Which building material stands up better to a fire?

In the case of a fire, wood is the weaker material. Compared to wood, which is combustible and would act as fuel for the fire to run on, steel is resistant to fire, meaning it won’t combust if your house was to go up in flames. This is especially important if you are living in an area surrounded by bush that might be prone to fire.

Furthermore, steel will not release smoke, carbon dioxide, or VOCs (Volatile Organic Compound), unlike wood in the case of a fire. This has confirmed by the Steel Framing Alliance and has been recognised by The Healthy Home Institute as a strong feature steel holds over timber. It should also be noted that the asphyxiating gases associated with burning wood are responsible for an estimated 75% of fatalities in house fires.

An electrical fault can cause a fire in wooden wall cavities. If a fire reaches the ceiling, igniting the timber trusses, the fire spreads at an incredible rate through the rest of the house. In bushfires, burning embers are often blown in under eaves or tiles, leading the roof cavity of homes. However, this is not a problem when a steel frame is used. A steel frame will not be ignited or catch fire in either of these ways.

Bugs and Resistance to High Levels of Water

When building using steel, you don’t have to worry about your house suffering any structural damage from insects or water. This is not the case when building with wooden frames. Steel frames don’t rot and insects don’t like making steel structures their homes.

Termites can still attack the rest of a home, so do steel frames make much difference?

Even though termites can attack the rest of the home, the primary structure of the house is the most important element – its frame. Destruction of the frame by termites can be invisible to the eye and silent. The costs associated to the damage of the frame are catastrophic, and rectifying the frame can require the complete replacement of other building components, e.g. plumbing, plasterboard, electrical, kitchens, bathrooms, painting, tiling, architraves and skirting. However, Dynamic Steel Frame’s Light Gauge Steel (LGS) frame is 100% termite proof, ensuring that the frame of the house suffers no damage from termites – a huge advantage of steel over wood.

Does steel or wood warp?

Steel doesn’t warp, whereas wood is known to warp (swell or shrink) over time. How much or how little a piece of wood shrinks, depends on the species of the tree the timber originates from, the orientation of growth rings and changes in moisture content. This is not an issue with steel. Steel will forever remain straight and the same size as when it was installed.

Are steel framed homes better for the environment?

Yes, steel frames are better for the environment than wooden frames. Roughly 50 trees need to be cut down to build a single home! Furthermore, termite-treated timber is not recyclable, and therefore goes straight to landfill. Almost all other timber is only down-cycable. Steel on the other hand, is 100% recyclable with basically an infinite life span. Building with steel means you avoid unnecessary damage to the environment.

Thinking about home insurance?

As steel frames are fire-resistant and don’t get damaged by bugs or the wind, you can save money on your home insurance. Homeowner insurance premiums tend to be significantly lower for homes with steel frames.

What looks better when the house is completely built?

Again, steel wins in this domain. The walls, ceilings and roofs of steel frame houses do not have ripples or bumps in them and there are no “nail pops” in the plasterboard linings. Roofs do not sag over time, even under concrete tiles, so the finished job continues to look aesthetically pleasing well into the future. Steel house frames will not change or move over time, so gaps will not open up, letting air in. Insulating products work by creating a barrier between temperatures. Over time, a frame which can settle and move will create openings, which will allow air to travel through, thus rendering insulating products far less effective. Steel will not settle over time, allowing other complementing products to continue performing how they were designed and specified. In fact, thanks to the strength of Dynamic Steel Frame’s steel, you can design your home with larger open spaces whilst the exterior looks like any normal home, only better!

In the end, which material is the best to build with?

Steel frames are much lighter than other home framing options, meaning that they are easier to carry, making them great for hard to reach sites. Dynamic Steel Frame’s steel frames are between 33% to 50% of the weight of a comparable timber frame, with a much higher strength to weight ratio. In fact, our steel frames have one of the highest strength to weight ratios on the planet!
You also don’t need large cranes to install the walls, lowering your building costs. As an added benefit, you can cover longer spans than you could with timber.

Steel’s precision is much higher than wood’s, with accuracy going into the 10ths of a millimetre, not 10s of millimetres. This means fittings for window and door openings are much easier and faster to install.

Lastly, as a steel frame doesn’t ‘settle’, you will face fewer instances of doors and windows sticking with a wooden frame. Steel is constructed to survive the full lifespan of the building.