Steel studs are used infrequently at best in residential construction, but at least one remodeler who uses them exclusively thinks everyone using wood studs should reconsider. And with steel's greater strength, more builders in hurricane-prone areas may do well to start looking at using it for framing new houses.
There are good reasons that wood studs dominate the market. They're quick and easy to cut and install. They resist thermal conductivity, which can reduce energy efficiency and cause durability issues with insulation and wallboard. And they're more flexible than steel, experts say, which is so rigid that steel studs can't respond to changes in the concrete slab. As a result, they must be site-built rather than prefabricated and trucked to the site.
But steel studs offer benefits that contractors might consider in certain applications and regions, including speed of installation once crews are trained and lower costs. And Dean Jarvis, president of Florida Renovators Inc. in North Largo, Fla., has more: "Steel is 33 times stronger than wood," he says, comparing steel's 33,000-psi rating with wood’s 1,000 psi. That provides design flexibility by eliminating the need for intermediate supports on lower floors and creates a more secure structure.
"Steel studs are 60 percent lighter in weight, and they’re engineered products, so they're consistent," Dean adds. "They don't burn, they're termite-proof, rot-proof and mold-proof. They can be glued, fasteners work phenomenally, and they can be welded. Steel studs don't shrink, they don't move, they’re not organic." Although steel could potentially rust, the use of galvanized steel eliminates that concern. Worst case: "The back of a screw might rust slightly after 100 years," he says.
Steel studs also eliminate the need to learn the complexities of various species’ attributes, moisture content and other variables. There are no worries about knots or straightness, which can be a key point for remodelers working under the close eye of a client who wants every stud to be pretty and straight.
Steel isn't used more often, Dean contends, because of a lack of training and familiarity with installation methods. "You can hand a pneumatic gun to anyone and they can put up wood studs. Steel fasteners require a little more training."
In hurricanes, steel studs offer slightly better protection, Dean says, and their noncombustibility can help with fire prevention. The Steel Framing Alliance (SFA) reports that although only 7 percent of homes in Florida use steel studs, 47 percent in South Florida have them due to their structural help against hurricanes. Similarly, 40 percent of homes in Hawaii have steel studs, including 72 percent in Oahu.
The SFA has joined with Zurich Insurance Services to create a low-premium insurance program that recognizes the benefits of steel framing over wood framing. The program reduces builder risk insurance, known as "course of construction" insurance, which covers the project during construction.
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