How does the cost of steel framing compare to wood framing?
Comparing costs is always a challenging task. With housing construction, you have to consider both labor and material when comparing different prices. Steel in non-load bearing applications (such as interior walls) is generally cheaper because non-bearing steel studs are approximately 20 percent cheaper than their wood counterparts, while the labor involved in installing them does not differ significantly for the two materials. In bearing walls, floors, and roof framing applications, the cost differential is not that straightforward. With steel prices currently inflated, and the added labor cost to frame with steel, it is reasonable to estimate that steel is more expensive. This cost difference can be as high as 15 to 30 percent for inexperienced steel framers, but can be brought to single digits with experienced steel framers.
The cost will also depend on the location of the house. In colder climates where exterior insulation is required for steel-framed homes but not for wood homes, the cost difference will be higher. Steel can be competitive with wood in areas where engineered design is required regardless of the material used and where other environmental factors dictate additional protection for wood framing (such as in Hawaii where 70 percent of new starts are steel). Several PATH studies and field evaluations have been conducted to quantify the cost of steel versus wood. Results of these studies are posted on www.pathnet.org and www.ToolBase.org.