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June 25, 2009 | | Comments 1

Steel Frame Vs. Timber Frame

Steel or Timber frames? Of course the final decision is one of personal choice, and you need to know that there are some pro’s and con’s associated with both products.

Timber Frame HomeTimber Frame and Truss companies do not market their product. They don’t need to. Over 90% of residential construction is undertaken using timber frame and truss systems. Steel Frame and Truss manufacturing companies market their product. They need to. This is where the problem lies. In order to get their product into the market place Steel Frame manufacturers have to “hype” the benefits of steel. The reality is that these benefits are all relative and many of the benefits are equally inherent in timber.

If you’re an Owner Builder it’s important to get independent advice and then make your own decision. UBuild Homes does not own a frame and truss manufacturing plant for either Timber or Steel and therefore can offer unbiased advice on the best product for your needs.

Cost

Steel is more expensive than timber. Late in 2008 and early 2009 steel was very expensive due to the cost of the raw materials involved. Also the steel production industry is dominated by a few large players who make very good margins on their product. Steel is also more expensive during construction because trades will charge more to work around steel as it can be more labour intensive.

Cost is the main reason why most homes are built in timber. If steel were equivalent or cheaper in cost across an entire job then it would be the number one material used in residential construction. 

How much more expensive is more difficult to quantify, but there is a rule of thumb in the construction industry: you get what you pay for. This applies to all things, not just frames and trusses (steel or timber). You have to assess value by doing research. Remember that the number one reason why people owner build is to save money, so most Owner Builders choose a timber frame and truss system. 

White Ants and Termite Protection

Steel frame and truss systems are fully protected from white ant infestation. This is a good thing and seems to be one of the main reasons people choose them. However it does not protect your entire home so you still need to have a termite protection system. Not having one is very dangerous because there are many other products in your home that have timber or composite materials that will attract termites. You must protect yourself against this because the Steel Frame Manufacturer will not guarantee you against an attack.

Timber Frames and Trusses will attract termites. So you must have a proven and effective termite management system in place. Termites damage homes because of a failure to regularly check the home. It’s a people problem, not a system problem. Termite management systems are only as good as the diligence of the home owner to check the house on a regular basis (every six months). Please bear this in mind.

Strength and Quality

All homes must be engineered to Australian Standards and are independently inspected during construction and at the completion of construction. So arguing the points of strength in materials is a relative game. A professionally engineered home will meet the test of time every time.

Environment

The environmental argument today is a highly emotive one. So many half truths abound. If you are environmentally conscious then you have to consider the entire environmental impact on a comparative basis. You can’t be selective about which facts you use to base your decision.

Timber is a natural product that is environmentally friendly and a renewable resource. Of course it would be best to use timber that is ethically sourced – no illegal logging of natural habitat, etc.

Steel production uses high levels of energy for production. So much so, that steel production is one of the largest polluters on the planet. Aluminium production is even worse, so if the frame company is a steel/alloy composite then there are even bigger issues to consider. These mills leave a huge carbon footprint along the entire production process and if manufactured overseas then even more so as they have less regulations imposed.

The upside to steel is that it can be recycled and often is.

The thermal transfer of heat is greater on steel frame houses than in timber frame homes. So if you were to have two houses with the same amount of insulation and air conditioning then your timber framed home will be cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. Basically and timber framed house will save you money on energy bills and save the environment from lower energy production. 

The environmental impact has a direct relationship with energy efficient and sustainable building. UBuild Homes offers energy efficient building design and sustainable homes. For more details please contact us.

Installation and Trade Management

Steel frame kit homes should only be put together by highly experienced framing specialists. Usually they will be recommended by the manufacturer. Be sure that you have access to such specialists prior to going ahead. This is no different to timber frame kit homes. You should use experienced carpenters. The frame and truss system is one of the critical structural elements to your home.

Installation of steel frame kit homes require a precision manufacturing outcome and require that all the holes and grommets are pre punched and prepared. This is so the erection of the frame and trusses and installation of other services such as plumbing and electrical run smoothly. Remember that you simply cannot make any changes on site with steel. Timber will provide you more flexibility and if you are building a unique home then this is a must. 

Trades must be experienced working around steel. Don’t use trades who have never worked around steel before. Because steel is not used as often, you have to find the right trade team for every part of the house. This reduces your choice of trades and increases your cost.

Rust / Corrosion

A steel frame is particularly risky in a coastal environment. Actually, all building products are – due to the effects of wind, water and salt. But steel is a highly corrosive material. This issue is much like the termite protection issue. It’s the human complacency element that causes the damage, not the system. If you live in a coastal area, regardless of which materials you have used, get regular building inspections and take any water leakage seriously.

A timber frame only requires protection by the use of correct connect plates and bracing within the frames and truss manufacture. So if you are going with timber then be sure to check the quality of your connection plates, regardless of your location.

UBuild Homes does not force an Owner Builder to go one way or the other. We can, and we have, provided kit home packages for both Steel Frame Kit Homes and Timber Frame Kit Homes. There is no difference to the level of service provided.

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  1. If your website is supposed to be unbiased why then, do you choose to only show negative sides to steel.
    After all the timber grown here in this country is not native, not natural forest. Our native countryside would have had to be cleared to grow the pine plantations used in timber construction and yes both timber and steel are then processed.
    Steel is 100% recyclable, costs less to transport, is fire retardant, is made from 20-30% recycled material and is easier to manage onsite. It costs less time for trades wiring and plumbing and the roof and flooring is 100% guaranteed dead straight due to no warping, splitting or bending as timber can do.

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