Video: When Is Steel Construction Less Costly than Wood?

Originally published by: Build SteelJune 19, 2020

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Discussions over how different materials affect the total cost of a building surface and resurface throughout the design and planning phases of a construction project. The building owner’s view of material costs can weigh heavily on the products selected, including the material chosen to frame the structure.

But what is the true cost of the framing material in the final analysis?

The wood industry claims wood framing costs less than other materials. The cold-formed steel (CFS) framing industry, however, focuses on the complete picture and has data to back it up.

Steel Industry’s Latest Report

A new study conducted by R. A. Smith, Inc., Brookfield, Wis., and sponsored by the Steel Framing Industry Association (SFIA) addresses framing costs on behalf of architects, building owners, and general contractors. The study, “Costs to Build with Cold-Formed Steel Versus a Wood-Framed Building,” establishes that CFS framing and wood framing cost relatively the same when the cost comparison includes the construction insurance premiums associated with using the selected material.

The true cost of CFS over wood is less than 1%:

Light wood frame $6,401,779 versus CFS frame $6,460,696

Keep reading, because CFS framing may cost even less than wood framing for a variety of factors.

A new study shows that the comparative costs of framing a 5-story, 49,900 SF mixed-use apartment building should include the cost of construction insurance.

Study of two identical buildings

“Costs to Build with Cold-Formed Steel Versus a Wood-Framed Building” examines the cost of two identical buildings. One building design uses wood framing. The other features CFS.

Building design¹:

  • 49,900 SF mixed-use, multi-family residential
  • First-story, non-combustible (composite steel and concrete) podium
  • First floor parking and retail
  • Residential units on levels 2-5
  • Rooftop penthouse

The project was designed with both systems fully engineered and drawn in contract document form. In-place construction costs were determined separately for the total building using both wood and CFS framing for theoretical locations in suburban Chicago, Ill., and Morristown, N.J.

The contract document for suburban Chicago compared only the hard construction costs associated with using the two types of framing materials.

The contract document for Morristown, N.J., included framing costs and an insurance cost impact study of the same building design.² The suburban Chicago building cost figures were adjusted for the New Jersey market to account for geographical differences and inflation, using RSMeans construction cost data and the US Consumer Price Index.

Click here to read more about the steel industry’s analysis.