Sunday, March 26, 2023
HomeBarndominiumIs structural steel a smarter option than wood?

Is structural steel a smarter option than wood?

Steel framed buildings have become a revolutionary concept in the construction industry since first being successfully incorporated in architectural form by way of; The Home Insurance building company in Chicago Illinois. Built in 1885 the magnificent skyscraper was built with an all-steel skeleton frame making it the first of its kind. It didn’t take long for the builders to boast of the unbelievable rigidity and durability that the steel skeleton frame displayed in the face of some of the strongest winds in the country. They don’t call Chicago “the windy city” for no reason. The steel building trend spread out from Chicago and carried around the world. As you are well aware the trend continues to this very day in many forms, my favorite being barndominium’s, shop houses, and metal buildings. There is no denying the steel frame construction is fully embedded in the commercial construction arena. There is absolutely no denying steel buildings are sturdy and have stood the test of time, but Is it right for your build though? With so many building materials available on the market today, is steel an overall better choice than wood or even structural concrete? What makes one a better option than the other? 


Strength: When it comes to making structural steel useful in construction, the actual steel I-beams and supporting trusses must be made to stringent highly technical specifications to ensure the integrity of the steel for many generations to come, Made possible on account of structural steel having a fantastic strength to weight ratio compared to other common building materials this has been expertly accomplished by the gradual introduction and subsequent injection of ultra-high carbon steels and high strength, low alloy metals into the building market. Different grades and even different types of steel will be used for different components of the build and is typically categorized by the strength to weight ratio of the metal, It’s always better to over-engineer a support structure than to spend all your time and effort just to conclude that the support isn’t adequate. This is also referred to as the steel’s “specific strength”, in other words, how much weight it will support. Quenched and tempered steel alloy is also used in the construction of I-beams. As one of the main support components of your steel frame home, much of the stress and weight will rest on the I-beams. The strength-to-weight ratio is very good with structural steel. Some of the beams are hollow, helping the weight even more. Construction materials are generally grouped into categories based on the specific strength or the strength to weight ratio; this can be figured out by taking the strength, divided by the density of the material. This will determine how useful the steel is based on its weight and also the cost of the steel. 

Steel framing packaged and ready for delivery

Efficiency is a great reason to go with steel-framed construction over wood. If you have ever been on a stick-built construction site, you’re all too aware of the amount of waste that occurs when building with wood. Every piece has to be precisely measured and cut according to the specifications laid out in your barndominium house plans; they act as an instruction manual for the builder to follow so your house is up to code when it’s finished. With a standard steel frame construction build, the process is substantially different. First, the I-beams and any metal framing components have been fabricated to the exact size and shape specific to the job and are either bolted or welded together on-site as soon as it’s delivered. No cutting or modification is required and steel buildings can be erected in a fraction of the time it takes to frame a stick-built home. The beams being delivered to the build site are already prepped, measured, and ready to install. This leaves steel frame construction sites less cluttered, safer, and way more efficient than wood.


Insulation is going to be a huge deciding factor for many people when it comes to building with steel. Insulation for metal buildings has to prevent heat and cold transfer, and stop the wind from blowing through. Insulation also dampens the sound of rain and hail on the roof, and can also prevent condensation that can occur on metal surfaces and cause rust compromising the structural properties of the steel.  Don’t let the statistics and some of the steel’s weaker properties scare you away from this amazing material. Although wood is around 400% more effective at insulating heat than steel is, there are some simple steps in place to ensure the steel is well insulated. While steel transfers heat at an incredibly fast rate, surrounding the beams in foam insulation seems to be all it takes for your barndominium to face the harshest of weather conditions.

Fire and corrosion-resistant materials are hard to come by, but steel does both along with reinforced concrete as a building material. Steel helps resist the spread of fire with the help of fire-proofing material. Fire is a major cause for concern especially during the building process when materials are strewn about, and fires are more likely to occur during this time. Steel is especially susceptible to corrosion in humid, wet, or particularly salty climates but with some preventative steps in the way you insulate the steel, there will be no issues. The way that the load is dispersed to the foundation is unique to steel framed structures as well. Instead of putting the weight load of the house on the walls of the structure as is done in load-bearing construction, the load is dispersed among the steel beams & columns, in turn transferring the load to the foundation. This makes a steel-framed structure much stronger with the weight of the structure off of the actual walls and onto the frame and foundation of the structure. 

Steel framed barndominium

The cost of steel in comparison to other materials is going to be determined by geographical location, and availability of the materials on the market. Just as the price of oil fluctuates up and down, the price of building materials does the same exact thing. Gas prices will affect the delivery cost as the materials have to be delivered on oversized flatbed trucks, making structurally reinforced concrete wildly popular. Steel is hard to beat no pun intended, when it comes to getting the best bang for your buck, structural steel is going to have noticeably superior strength compared to nearly every other structural building material on the current market. We have already covered in some detail how efficient steel performs over other materials and how beams are designed and measured precisely before being delivered so no cutting or adjusting is typically required, it’s simply a matter of piecing the beams and structural components of the frame together. This keeps the cost down and allows the steel to compete with other building material costs like wood and reinforced concrete.   


As we have shown, structural steel construction is a fantastic alternative to wood and a strong competitor for other options like concrete. If you are anything like most people who are interested in building a steel-framed barndominium, your main concern is obviously going to be geared towards building the most rigid, indestructible, and ultimately cost-effective Barndominium that will be standing strong for years to come. If the proper steps are taken to protect the steel from the elements, and you Don’t compromise on the quality of materials from the start, Steel will be more than adequate to ensure your barndominium will outshine and outperform every wood framed house on the block in every way imaginable, your steel-framed Barndominium is practically guaranteed to be the last man standing persay. The longevity aspect alone makes steel-framed Barndominiums leaps and bounds ahead of other building materials to simply say steel is a superior building material is a massive understatement, So, in conclusion, I’ll leave you with a simple question that can do a better job than I can at summing it all up. Simply ask yourself,  why would you even consider an inferior material when it comes to the structural support & integrity of your dream Barndominium?   



Aaron Scott
Aaron Scott is a freelance writer and researcher that has written hundreds of articles for online companies in the area of construction, design, finance and automotive. He's a Southern boy that enjoys creek fishing, hunting and camping. He's rarely seen without his trusted beagle hound "Scooter"
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