Steel: The Clear Cut Material for Residential and Commercial Construction

Based on the building criteria of strength, durability, versatility and economy, steel is a universal building material. Steel is a superior construction material with many benefits, including sustainability. The proven performance and quality of steel have also caused it to dominate commercial interior wall framing applications for many years now. Today, builders are rediscovering lightweight steel framing to construct homes, and are doing so with great success.

Increasing economic and environmental considerations in the building industry has fueled steel’s ongoing growth in residential popularity. Wood was the material builder traditionally used to construct residential homes in North America but builders and homeowners are coming to realize the increasing benefits of choosing steel as an alternative building material.

The use of wood in the past has resulted in more than 90 percent of North America’s old-growth forests already being harvested. In response, wood’s cost has increased while its overall quality and availability have dwindled. Wood remains one of several important materials for contractors, but steel can offer many construction, as well as environmental benefits that other materials can’t match such as the avoidance of direct deforestation in the manufacturing process. Steel is lightweight, cost effective, easy to use, recycled and recyclable.

Steel: Reaping Benefits for Builders and Homeowners

Steel framing is easy to handle on-site. It is light in weight because steel has the highest strength-to-weight ratio of any construction material, resulting in the use of less framing material compared to wood for an equal size structure. An average 2,000 square foot steel framed house can generate as little as a cubic yard of recyclable scrap. While many construction sites may have large amounts of construction and demolition waste to dispose, using steel will minimize that problem as it can be easily recycled responsibly.

In addition, builders reduce their disposal costs, and divert material from local landfills. More builders are taking advantage of panelizing: either building or purchasing re-assembled wall, floor and truss components.

Steel framing is cost effective. It can be purchased to specific lengths, minimizing jobsite scrap. Steel does not twist, warp or split, so there is no need to sort out poor quality product, which saves time and money. Steel’s consistent quality and dimensional stability enhance efficiency in-plant or at the jobsite. Panelizing helps speed the framing process for the builder. Steel is noncombustible, performs well in high wind and seismic areas, and resists corrosion. It doesn’t shrink or swell with time or humidity changes, so steel framing contributes to better drywall and exterior appearance, as well as the fit of doors and windows.

Steel: Framing a New Dimension of Environmental Benefits

All steel products, including steel framing and steel roofing, contain recycled steel. Steel framing contains at least minimum of 25 percent recycled steel and is continually and completely recyclable. Using recycled steel takes the pressure off renewable resources: that same 2000-square-foot home we discussed above, if it was built with wood it would require about 40 to 50 trees, which is about an acre’s worth of deforestation. With steel, only the equivalent of about six scrapped automobiles is needed for the same size home. In contrast to many other building materials, steel is routinely collected in aggregate quantities from construction and demolition sites and recycled into new steel products. Often times the money brought back into a project from selling the recyclable scrap steel can offset many project expenses.

At the end of a steel-framed home’s product life the steel components would also be recyclable. Framing with steel as a material consumes only 6.25 percent of the total life-cycle energy used by a home; the balance is consumed by heating and cooling, food refrigeration and lighting. Thermal barrier insulating materials provide exceptional heat and cooling loss protection to steel-built homes. Additionally, steel framing results in less air loss around windows and doors as well as foundation and roofing connections.

About Steel Recycling

Steel has long been North America’s most recycled material. For the steel industry, using old steel products and other forms of ferrous scrap to produce new steel lowers a variety of steelmaking costs and reduces the amount of energy used in the process by 75 percent. That’s why more than 65 million tons of steel scrap are recycled each year. In fact, more steel is recycled than paper, aluminum, glass and plastic combined.

As an end result, recycling steel scrap also saves landfill space and natural resources. By recycling one ton of steel, 2500 pounds of iron ore, 1400 pounds of coal and 120 pounds of limestone are conserved. Steel construction materials, like other steel products, are a part of the steel industry’s massive recycling efforts.

When these steel products have outlived their current intended use, they can be recycled into new steel to be used for any variety of new products. What’s more, all new steel made in North America contains recycled steel. Sections of steel framing may have once been a part of an automobile, refrigerator or soup can. Choosing steel construction materials means buying and using a product that contains recycled steel.

At a Glance

Increasing economic and environmental considerations in the building industry has fueled steel’s ongoing growth in residential popularity.