Tired of culling the wood pile to get good pieces of lumber? Fed up with fluctuations in the price of lumber that threaten future profits and hinder effective business planning? Increasingly worried about rot or dimensional stability due to exposure to moisture? Builders answering "yes" to these questions increasingly turn to alternative materials and building systems. Witness the rise in the use of engineered lumber and the promotion of the fledgling industries of insulated concrete forms (ICFs) by the Portland Cement Association or plastic composites by the Plastic Composite Institute.
Steel is a major alternative among the array of available options. The American Iron and Steel Institute’s (AISI) extensive efforts to adapt state-of-the art of steel framing to light residential construction offer some significant advantages over wood and other alternative substitutes. According to one steel framer, "There is no perfect material. I’ll take the problems associated with steel any day over the alternative."
Currently the market for residential steel framing is strongest in the West and Hawaii. For example, in Hawaii steel accounts for more than a third of new residential construction. The cost of steel framing compared to wood studs and energy efficiency considerations greatly influence steel’s desirability. The steel industry is spurring the development and introducing to the market many new cold-formed steel components, tools, and techniques.
"I had a person come out who was just getting into steel frame trusses, and he wanted to see a house built with them and when he drove up the driveway he said "Gee that looks just like a house." That’s a good thing." One of the major advantages of residential steel framing over other alternative building systems such as ICFs and Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) is that its anatomy or structure is remarkably similar and adaptable to the load bearing skeleton of a wood-framed building.
Steel’s other advantages over wood and its alternatives are low material cost, relatively stable price, strength, flexibility in framing, durability, light weight, reliability, minimum waste in use, and non-combustibility. Although the cost of steel is competitive with other building materials, its installed cost is generally higher due to labor and other factors related to installation. A factor influencing the high installed cost of steel is its low resistance to the flow of heat or low "R-value" that can cause "ghosting" and requires the expense of added insulation compared with wood-based construction.