Steel Framing: Strengthening Homes and Businesses

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“Currently, less than five percent of the residential market is with light gauge steel. The opportunity for growth is tremendous.”

— Jason Greene



[IMAGE: Once completed, Greene Construction’s 1,700-square-foot spec home looks like other homes in the development. In reality, it is more durable, storm resistant, and energy efficient than its stick-built counterparts.] “We broke ground on a spec home at Northwood Gardens, a development we share with two other builders, at the end of May,” says Greene. “The entire home was framed with steel. Eight weeks later, everything was done, including the landscaping. We finished well ahead of the wood framer who started his house–a similar size house in the same development–two months before he did. It only took us six days to frame the entire home.”


Greene says the framing process starts before you get to the job site and evolves much differently than traditional wood framing.

“It takes some planning and preparation. You aren’t going to go down to your local hardware store and buy steel studs, so it requires a bit more office time to get your materials and put together everything you need on the jobsite,” Greene says. “Essentially, you build the project in the office before you ever get to the site.”

“On a wood house, you get a set of house plans, you hand it to the framer, and he figures out what he needs. With steel, you give the plans to someone in the office who can efficiently get all the materials the framers need.”


“When a home goes up in just six days, you have to give a lot of credit to the framers in the field,” Greene says. “Mind you, it is not difficult to train steel framers, but they have to get used to different tools and techniques. For example, you’re using a screw gun, rather than a nail gun. But if you are a good framer with wood, you are going to be a good framer with steel as long as you have an open mind and want to learn.”

“The more difficult adjustment with steel framing is finding reasonably priced subcontractors. Steel isn’t a new product, but it’s relatively new to the residential market. That means you end up hiring people with commercial construction backgrounds, and those subs sometimes want more for a job because they are used to the commercial pay scale. Sometimes it can be a hard sell to get subcontractors that are new to steel or new to residential homebuilding to work within your budget.”

“We’ve been fortunate to work with the same subcontractors over several years. We got them up to speed on steel techniques and what products to use to make their work most cost-effective.”


Greene notes that many of his customers need to be educated about the process and the benefits, particularly with the slightly higher price tag attached to a steel-framed home.

“Percentage-wise, the cost difference for the framing is less than 10 percent, so the additional cost is minimal,” Greene says. “Still, some reject the slightly higher price or can’t come to grips with a different technology.”

“On the other hand, some customers know steel is what they want. They were sold on the design flexibility and the structural integrity before ever coming to us. They are more interested in the higher quality, and they aren’t concerned about penny-pinching on the bottom line.”

“Steel framing piques the interest of a lot of people. Flexibility is certainly a big seller for many customers. The strength of steel allows you to build designs with much larger open spaces and larger spans than with wood. Throw in the fire resistance, the reduced waste, and how easy it goes up, and you end up with a home that is far superior to wood. And it’s easy to recycle.”

Greene notes that waste reduction does require planning.

[IMAGE: Homeowners benefit from greater durability, disaster resistance and energy efficiency, plus greater design flexibility.] “When you plan a steel frame correctly, it reduces the amount of waste that goes to a landfill. It goes back to preparation. Since everything we do is cut to length, on-site waste can be carried off in a 50-gallon drum. On a wood frame, it’s a couple dump trucks. Typically what we do waste, we just turn around and recycle.”

“You can better manage costs as well because steel framing generally has more price stability than wood. You also manage onsite labor costs better since more of the work is done in the office. Then there are the big savings on waste management.”

“From a builder’s perspective, steel is a product that is going to continue to grow. Currently, less than 5 percent of the residential market is with light gauge steel, but it is becoming more and more attractive to homebuyers. The opportunity for growth is tremendous.”

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