Why Houses are Built with Wood, Not Steel

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In summary, the conversation discusses the use of steel in building houses compared to traditional wood frame construction. The main reasons for using wood are cost and availability, but steel offers advantages such as strength, durability, and energy efficiency. The conversation also mentions alternative building methods such as Monolithic Domes and the use of wood in European construction. Overall, while there are some drawbacks to using steel, it is becoming more popular and may be the future of home construction.
  • #1
mathwurkz
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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?
 
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  • #2
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.
 
  • #3
Wood is becoming less available, and the quality of wood you're getting has decreased," said George Petriccione, president of Fairview-based Sunway Steel Structures Inc. "What was a C-grade wood three years ago is now an A-grade. The lumber is so green, you practically have to peel the bark off the lumber."

Steel is comparable in price to lumber, Petriccione said. While a typical lumber wall-stud costs about $2.15, a comparable piece of Sunway steel would run $1.99.

Steel-frame homes currently account for an estimated 3% to 6% of all new home starts in the United States, according to the North American Steel Framing Alliance. But experts expect that percentage to increase.
Sunway homes also offer eight-inch-thick exterior walls, twice as thick as those commonly used, Aguilera said. The double thickness means twice as much insulation, which improves the home's energy efficiency.

Another advantage to steel is that it won't warp, rot, twist or bow as wood does, Aguilera said. "And, termites haven't developed a taste for steel yet."
Tons of information and pictures of steel homes here...
http://directory.google.com/Top/Business/Construction_and_Maintenance/Residential_Housing/Steel_Frame/

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.
 
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  • #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.
 
  • #5
mathwurkz said:
I want a very strong house.
Then you should take a look at Monolithic Domes:
http://monolithic.com/
 
  • #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.
 
  • #7
hitssquad said:
Then you should take a look at Monolithic Domes:
http://monolithic.com/
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.
 
  • #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/

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/ 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.
 

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  • #9
stoned said:
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.

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.
 
  • #10
mathwurkz said:
I would also think steel is more eco-friendly as wood is chemically treated.

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.
 
  • #11
Pengwuino said:
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.


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]


KM
 
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  • #12
I disagree on the last point. It is the labor costs and not the material costs that make wood frame cheaper than steel frame.

Although studies vary in their estimates, the material cost of steel framing for a site-constructed home is about the same or less than that of an equivalent wood-frame home. The cost of labor involved in framing with steel, however, is responsible for its higher overall installed cost compared with wood. Some studies, for example, have estimated that the total installed cost of the structural shell of a steel home, including labor and materials, can range from three to seven percent more than that of a wood-framed home.

http://www.toolbase.org/tertiaryT.asp?DocumentID=2163&CategoryID=1142

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:

Costs can also vary significantly by type of assembly in the home. The estimated cost of steel floor assemblies can be the same or as much as 23 percent greater than dimensional lumber floors, but less than engineered wood I-joist floors. Dimensional stability, rigidity, and consistency of steel floor joists contribute to a straight and even floor compared with dimension lumber floor joists. Steel in interior wall assemblies is comparable to wood.
 
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  • #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

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

http://www.steelcastlestructural.com/faqs/

http://www.toolbase.org/tertiaryT.asp?DocumentID=3590&CategoryID=1538

http://www.swcp.com/~teeter/SG5.PDF

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
 
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  • #14
Hybrid wood, steel, concrete homes - done

Kenneth Mann said:
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.
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:
mountainviewdome.com/HouseInterior9.htm
 

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Related to Why Houses are Built with Wood, Not Steel

1. Why are houses typically built with wood instead of steel?

Wood is a popular choice for building houses because it is readily available, affordable, and easy to work with. It also has good insulation properties and is able to withstand normal weather conditions. Additionally, wood is a renewable resource, making it a more environmentally friendly choice compared to steel.

2. Are there any advantages to using steel in house construction?

There are several advantages to using steel in house construction. Steel is a stronger material than wood and can support larger spans and heavier loads, allowing for more open and modern designs. It is also fire-resistant, termite-proof, and less susceptible to rot and decay compared to wood. However, steel is typically more expensive and requires specialized skills and equipment for construction.

3. Is wood a durable material for house construction?

Wood is a durable material for house construction when properly treated and maintained. Treated wood can resist insects, rot, and decay, and can last for decades. However, it is important to regularly inspect and maintain the wood to prevent any potential issues.

4. Are there any limitations to using wood in house construction?

One limitation of using wood in house construction is its susceptibility to moisture. If not properly treated and maintained, wood can warp, rot, and attract insects. It also has a lower load-bearing capacity compared to steel, limiting the size and design of structures that can be built with it.

5. How do builders decide whether to use wood or steel in house construction?

The decision to use wood or steel in house construction depends on several factors, such as the location, climate, budget, and design preferences. Builders will consider the advantages and limitations of each material and choose the one that best suits the specific project. In some cases, a combination of both wood and steel may be used to optimize cost, strength, and design capabilities.

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