Steel Frame vs Timber Frame (Cost & Pros and Cons) [2021]

Table of Contents

Steel frame | Timber frame | Steel frame vs timber frame cost | Steel frame vs timber frame- pros and cons | Steel framing construction | Timber framing construction |

Frame homes are extremely popular in Australia. Prefabrication of these frame houses brings lots of advantages in the construction industry. Steel frames and timber frames are the leading frame homes in Australia.

Steel or timber frame, which one should I go for? This is a question many prospective homeowners ask themselves whenever they want to put up a house. With long-term ramifications, the two construction methods have their upside and downside.

Simply put, the frames are the backbone of your house. In Australia, more than 80% of homes have timber frames. Everyone knows that timber was the predominant framing method in the past due to its cost-effectiveness. However, steel framing has seen an incredible uptake in recent times. Steel frames pack an array of advantages and offer a tantalizing choice for any home builder.

In this article, we pit steel frames against timber frames that prospective homeowners should consider. How do factors such as cost, environmental impact, durability affect the overall choice? Before settling for the type of frame, read this guide that explores all timber and steel framing facts.

Steel Frame

There are a plethora of companies that offer steel frame kits homes across Australia. The material used in steel framing is lightweight steel. This construction method involves assembling steel columns and beams to create support for floors, roofs, cladding, internal fixtures, and finishing. The overarching idea is to integrate the horizontal and vertical columns and beams to form the frame.

Steel frames form significant portions of warehouses, temporary buildings, highrises, and industrial buildings. For these types of construction, these frames have proved to be reliable, durable, and cost-effective.

The flexibility of steel allows engineers to meet architectural requirements easily. There are three types of steel frame types that a builder can utilize:

  1. Clear-span rigid steel frame
  2. Modular structural frame
  3. Single frame slope structural framework.

Each project has a unique set of requirements, therefore, choose the steel frame type suitable for your needs.

In Australia, there are a set of standards that govern steel and steelworks. Companies have come up with pre-fabricated steel home frame kits which customers can select and quickly start construction. These steel frames are durable, lighter, versatile, and environmentally friendly.

Timber Frame

Timber frames are extremely popular in Australia. They are formed by panelized walls. Additionally, the frame’s base can be formed with board products. The frame transmits the loads exerted on the structure to the foundation.

Pine is quite useful for timber framing. Timber framing contributes to the appeal, practicality and keeps costs down. Due to their lightweight, the frames can be used in flooring, roofs, and walls.

Due to the climatic conditions in Australia, lLightweight timber framing is preferred. It provides sufficient thermal insulation and is flexible enough to allow different structural designs.

With the clamour to stop environmental degradation, timber frames and construction have been plagued with the question of sustainability. Do the benefits of timber frames outway the disadvantages?

steel frame of a new house build
Steel Frame

Steel Frame vs Timber Frame Cost

Cost is an important factor for consideration. The choice of steel vs timber frame remains personal to homeowners. This is because other factors such as durability, flexibility, workability, and the nature of home construction ultimately influence the decision.

In some instances, comparisons between timber and steel frames are not that clear. However, the overarching difference between the two is the higher prices in steel.

The production of steel frameworks is labour and energy-intensive. Steel will also require high expertise to fabricate.

Steel frameworks are produced offsite to try and streamline production efficiency and reduce cost. Additionally, it saves on time and cost-intensive.

When compared to steel frames, frames from timber costs less to install.

The average cost of timber frames ranges from $13-$15 per metre. On the other hand, the price of a steel frame house will depend on several factors, including the quality of steel, labour, and materials.

Cost-effectiveness is the principal reason why timber is highly considered.

Steel Frame vs Timber Frame- What are the Pros and Cons?

Steel and timber frames both have their upside and limitations. Here are some of the standout pros and cons:

Steel Framing Construction

Advantages

  1. Versatile: Steel can be fabricated into different shapes while maintaining its strength. The use of steel allows designers to come up with innovative styles. With a steel framework, expansion and renovation are easier.
  2. Environmentally Sustainable: Before the construction kickoff, computer models are used to design the framework. During the production process, the frame is tailored as per the model. The process greatly reduces wastage. Whatever is left after the project can be reused because steel does not lose its properties.
  3. Aesthetics: Development in technology has made it possible to come up with countless designs. This allows builders to come up with eye-catching designs.
  4. Safety: An important property of steel is its tensile strength. Frames from steel are therefore able to withstand adverse weather conditions such as snow or hurricanes. In cases of fire, steel is non-combustible therefore enhances survival chances in case of emergencies.
  5. Lower costs: Steel frameworks typically cost up to 7% cheaper compared to concrete. The production process of steel is predictable therefore ensuring stability in the market. Remember that production of the frame is done offsite; therefore, the cost of labour is considerably lower. Additionally, it takes fewer resources to produce steel frames.

Durability

Obviously, steel is extremely durable and one of the strongest building materials. Its strength and quality in constructing house frames depend on how the structure is designed and built. But how long will a steel frame really last?

A majority of companies offering steel home kits guarantee 50 years of service from a steel frame. Others go-ahead to offer limited lifetime warranties. This is a testament to the longevity of steel frame houses. Steel frame kit homes constructed with fixed blacket, screw, and bolts are stronger and durable.

In Australia, steel-framed kit homes are designed to withstand environmental conditions such as cyclonic winds. The use of steel as a building material eliminates the problems of termites damage, rot, and fire.

Disadvantages

Despite the impressive advantages, steel frames also suffer from several shortcomings. Consider them before settling on steel frames.

  1. Thermal conductivity: steel is a remarkable conductor of heat. For house construction, this puts steel at a disadvantage. It means that insulation is a must to counteract the conductivity. When heat is conducted by steel, the steel wall insulation is compromised. It, therefore, means that the building is unable to retain energy efficiently.
  2. Support components: sheathing, wood, and drywall are used to provide insulation to the steel walls. This may increase the overall costs and time taken for construction.
  3. Reduced onsite flexibility: Once a model is produced and taken to the construction site, changes to the design will cause delays.

Timber Framing Construction

Advantages

  1. Energy efficiency: A house frame made of timber minimizes the use of energy. Timber has poor conductivity; therefore, this property ensures that buildings are naturally insulated.
  2. Versatility: Like steel, timber also offers great flexibility in terms of how it can be utilized. Apart from the ease of installation, it is possible to have larger windows that allow more sunlight. Additionally, different timber varieties have unique colours and textures. It makes it easier to have a variety of house designs which buyers can select.
  3. Easy to maintain: Carrying out repairs on timber is easier. There are more people well versed working with timber. Painting and renovation are easier, and it leaves your frame house looking better.
  4. Cost-effective and time-saving: Compared to concrete, timber frames take a significantly shorter time to construct. This means less labour cost. Additionally, the construction does not require high technical expertise, which means better costs on labour. The site impact is also less. Pre-fabrication also means that there are fewer errors with the overall design implementation. Timber has the added advantage of insulation which means houses will save on heating costs.
  5. Environmental friendly: Timber retains CO2. It’s a natural product and a renewable resource hence environmental friendly building material. It is less energy-dependent, unlike steel, therefore little carbon footprint.

Durability

To guarantee longevity, the timber frame has to be treated. The main issue that affects timber frame is termites. They are highly affected by termites and white ants hence the need to use a termite barrier system. This minimizes this problem even in high-risk areas in designated termite areas. It is important to install a termite protection system.

If erected properly, timber frames can withstand high-impact earthquakes. It has been proven that timber frames can withstand earthquakes up to 7.5 on the Richter scale.

Manufacturers are quoting warranty periods of 10-40 years. This is highly dependent on the type of wood used. For instance, solid oak frameworks are extremely durable. Commonly available softwood frames have warranties ranging from 20-30 years.

Disadvantages

  1. Pest infestation: If not treated properly with quality water-resistant components, the timber will be susceptible to mildew and mold. To avoid all this, excellent construction and maintenance are mandatory.
  2. Fire prone: Timber frames fail in high temperatures. If poorly erected, the risk of fire increases significantly.
  3. Inefficient soundproofing: One property of timber is poor sound insulation. Sound transmission through wood is high. To insulate the house, you need to use expensive materials sound deadening systems.

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