Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Building Houses

  1. May 3, 2005 #1
    A question I have is more a curiosity. We have skyscrapers and tall buildings made of steel, but why is it whenever I go look at some housing projects and developments, those houses are built with wood frames? Right away I think of cost which is probably the most obvious answer, but I am not sure. Could there be other reasons? Steel has far more tensile and compressive strength than wood, melts at higher temperatures than wood, and I would guess steel has some thermal properties which make it better than wood though I am not totally sure on that. I would also think steel is more eco-friendly as wood is chemically treated. Even with some of these properties, one might think why not build houses with steel?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 3, 2005 #2


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Its cheaper to build with wood in North America. The Japanese do build with steel though as its cheaper for them to attain steel then it is to attain wood.
  4. May 3, 2005 #3
    Tons of information and pictures of steel homes here...
    http://directory.google.com/Top/Business/Construction_and_Maintenance/Residential_Housing/Steel_Frame/ [Broken]

    Seems like a good idea to me. Sound insulation might be a problem and those 8" walls are a few inches thicker than wood exterior walls. I think those are 6". As new houses are built I think you will see many more steel houses, especially in areas where wood is scarce or storms are frequent.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  5. May 3, 2005 #4
    Well that's good to know. I would want one day to have a new house where steel is used instead of wood. I want a very strong house. :smile: Since I live in Canada and we have a large forestry industry, I think for the forseeable future that houses I see built wherever I go would be out of wood since cost would be the bottom line.
  6. May 4, 2005 #5
    Then you should take a look at Monolithic Domes:
  7. May 4, 2005 #6
    houses build in Canada or USA are build from wood because wood is of course very cheap here, I don't want to go to much into it but I have to say that quality of houses build here is horrendous.
    in europe on the other hand they build from brick or other concrete elements never from wood and quality is just superb.
    also homes here in N.America are very energy inneficient, windows are flimsy etc.
  8. May 4, 2005 #7
    Interesting concept. Especially for those large businesses.
    When I first saw that picture, I was thinking, "holy crap, it's a bunch of inter-connected metallic igloos." Maybe I should also add that I would like to have a more aesthically pleasing house. Although I am intrigued, I think it is just a little excessive. I think it is too much to want a bullet proof and bomb proof house. What good does it do when your city blows up and you are the last one alive and everything around you is blown to smitherines? Heheheh.
  9. May 4, 2005 #8
    Cloud Hidden, an award-winning Monolithic Dome home

    For aesthically pleasing, I would look at Cloud Hidden, an award-winning good example:
    http://www.monolithic.com/gallery/homes/kaslik/ [Broken]

    There are dozens of other examples of aesthically-pleasing Dome homes. If you read the articles on the MDI site I think you will see what I mean.

    Edit: Please note that Cloud Hidden is a http://www.monolithic.com/plan_design/shapes/ [Broken] dome in that it is almost twice as long as it is wide (85' long, 46' wide). The picture I attached shows it from a lengthwise perspective which, hence, hides most of its size.

    Attached Files:

    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  10. May 4, 2005 #9


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    That is not entirely true. While I do agree that the seemingly ambiquitous "McMansions" that are popping up all over N.A. are horrendously bad, not only in terms of quality, but in terms of design and use of space, Europe has a different clime. They do use wood framing in Europe. I've seen it many times when I lived in Germany. The use is especially prevelent in interior walls and in updating existing stone walls (much like the way most people finish off a basement here). The big thing is that a lot of homes were carried over for many many years. Those older homes were indeed made with great stonework and were anything but flimsy.
  11. May 4, 2005 #10


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Chemically treated? Well there is some green treated wood that goes into houses, but very little. Other than that I can't think of what wood is 'chemically treated'. Unless you include the glue that holds ply-wood and OSB together. There are far more chemicals in non-wood products in houses built today than wood.
  12. May 5, 2005 #11

    It is not totally true that wood is cheaper - - - but it is perceived that way by most.

    I think that you'll find that the cost of concrete or steel-framed structures compare very favorably with wood. Materials needed for construction may cost slightly more than wood, however the cost in labor, etc are lower (since the alternative forms go up faster, easier and with less fuss), thus more than leveling the construction cost playing field. Where steel and/or concrete brings the cost much lower compared to wood, is in cost over the lifetime of the home. Heating, cooling, insurance, maintenance and disaster avoidance (fire, etc) costs are simply lower with these alternatives.

    When all is said, however the alternative forms have a crippling drawback, and this is in the minds and perceptions of the average American WASP housewife. (Jews, Blacks, Hispanics Asians etc. don't seem to have this reservation.) The alternative structures are perceived as "Non-Traditional", and as such, don't fall into the expectations of those who wish to buy into the American tradition. (The same problem occurs when more modern house styling is offered.)

    The following is an example of what is possible:

    http://www.tri-steel.com/ [/URL]

    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 21, 2017
  13. May 12, 2005 #12


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    I disagree on the last point. It is the labor costs and not the material costs that make wood frame cheaper than steel frame.


    Simply put, when houses have been built for wood rather than steel for the entire working life of almost everyone in the construction industry, the supply of skilled framing carpenters far exceeds the supply of people skilled in steel frame construction, which has been pretty much restricted to commercial construction which is a smaller share of the market, until recently. As a result, steel framers get paid quite a bit more than wood framers.

    It isn't necessarily harder to learn one than the other, but it requires a lot of transition education.

    Also, the allocation of labor to different parts of the framing process is different in steel frame and wood frame construction. While I'm not expert enough to provide the details, some things are quicker in steel frame construction, and some are slower. As a result, some architects have considered mixed framing (part steel, part wood) so that the parts of the structure where steel framing would add the most labor are done in wood.

    From the link above:

    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 21, 2017
  14. May 15, 2005 #13
    The costs referred to are "transition costs" and will always be higher in the initial stages of any new program. Also, this cost is usually made higher by trying to imitate the processes of an older technology rather than designing to the advantages of the newer. In the earlier days of steel construction (about 20 years ago) attempt was made to design to the advantages of steel, however results were spotty. Customers wanted products exactly like those they they were used to. Thus the advantages of steel were largely lost. Example, the earlier designs used larger, heavier gauge steel joists, widely spaced. This made the structures appear more like the commercial ones than the more traditional wood houses, so builders had to move to the closer spaced, lighter joist structures.

    In the same way, steel structures will have heating and cooling problems. If designed to the natural advantages of steel, there will be a natural thermal "break" in the structure, however if wood-based practices must be imitated, this break is lost and the conductive effects of steel come into place.

    The following might serve this subject somewhat:

    http://www.home-advice.biz/framing.html [Broken]

    http://www.s-t.com/daily/05-97/05-18-97/d02ho181.htm [Broken]

    http://www.steelcastlestructural.com/faqs/ [Broken]


    http://www.swcp.com/~teeter/SG5.PDF [Broken]

    Finally, I think we shouldn't overlook the advantages of "hybrid" type structures, taking advantage of the best features of steel, concrete and wood. We could use concrete as load bearing inner part of the outer walls, steel for all of the interior framing and supports, and wood for trim. and as result, optimize for the advantages of each - - but then maybe this is just a dream. The following is a small bit on concrete (and steel).

    http://www.diynet.com/diy/home_building/article/0,2085,DIY_13953_2349343,00.html [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  15. May 16, 2005 #14
    Hybrid wood, steel, concrete homes - done

    It seems that Monolithic Domes (steel-reinforced thin-shell super-insulated concrete domes) tend to use steel framing mixed with wood for inside walls. For example:

    Attached Files:

Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook