Compare Steel vs Wood House Framing Costs
How Much Does Framing a House Cost?
Homes have been built with wood for hundreds of years, and wood is still the most popular building material for residential construction. However, the tide is slowly beginning to shift.
Due to environmental concerns and some of the inherent problems with wood (i.e. termites), steel-framed homes are growing in popularity. Once reserved strictly for commercial building, there has been a renewed interest in residential steel framing in the last couple decades. From 2000 to 2005 alone, the percentage of homeowners using steel to build houses jumped from 8 percent to 12 percent, according to the Steel Framing Alliance.
However, there are distinct advantages and disadvantages to both framing options - and the costs are very different. Read on to learn a little more about each framing option to find out which best suits your needs.
Cost of Steel vs. Wood Framing
Steel framing is much more expensive than wood framing. The materials costs are higher and the labor is more expensive because most contractors are not as familiar with using steel. Plus, steel can be difficult to handle in the heat and sun.
Generally, you can expect to spend anywhere from 5 percent to 15 percent more for a steel-framed home. The range is wide because there are many variables that affect the price, including your region of the country, current steel prices, and the experience and qualifications of the contractor you choose.
The price difference can be relatively minor for a small home. If a 1,500-square-foot, wood-framed home in the Midwest is priced at $120,000, an identical home with a steel frame might sell for $126,000 to $138,000.
For a large home, the price difference is more significant. A 2,500-square-foot, wood-framed home on the East Coast might sell for $600,000, but a steel version would go for $630,000 to $690,000.
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Steel Framing Pros
- Stronger - Steel is sturdier than wood and it is better able to withstand natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes or tornados. Because of this, steel-framed homes cost less to insure. They’re also more popular in disaster-prone areas.
- Won’t rot or bend - Steel never warps or rots. You will always have straight walls, floors and rooflines, and you will never have to worry about insect damage.
- Non-combustible - Unlike wood, steel is not combustible. Because of this, local fire and building codes in some areas require the use of steel.
Steel Framing Cons
- More expensive - Steel is more expensive than wood, increasing the total cost of your home. Labor costs are generally higher, too, because contractors are more familiar with wood.
- Not as efficient - Steel is more difficult to insulate and thus not as energy efficient.
- Can rust - Like all metal, steel can rust. It should not be used where it could be exposed to standing water for long periods of time (i.e. basements in flood-prone areas). The integrity of the structure could be compromised.
Wood Framing Pros
- Cheaper - Wood framing is less expensive, so it’s an option to consider if you’re on a tight budget. Both material and labor costs are lower.
- More energy efficient - Wood is more energy efficient than steel. You could save $30 to $50 per month on energy bills.
- More common - Generally, contractors are more familiar with wood framing than steel framing. You’ll have a more contractors from which to choose, further increasing the chances of getting a good price.
Wood Framing Cons
- Not as strong - Wood-framed houses are not as sturdy. They don’t stand up as well to natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes and tornados.
- Can rot - Over time, wood is susceptible to rotting. Pests such as carpenter ants and termites can eat away at the wood, leading to costly structural damage.
- Combustible - Wood is a combustible material, while steel is not. In the event of a fire, a wood-framed house is more dangerous.