The Steel Frame vs Timber Frame Debate

The anatomy of a building is not dissimilar to that of the human body. Think of the skeleton as your frame. If your structure is strong and composed of the right materials, it will endure the test of time. It is essential that every building is safe and secure. So, lets investigate this further.

The debacle of whether to use timber or steel frames is a confusing one for many builders as there are many misconceptions on the subject. A builder’s best ally, in making the correct decision on whether to build with timber or steel, is knowledge. The ramifications of making the wrong call could potentially be momentous in respective of costly repairs and longevity of a home.

Know the facts:
Is there a risk associated with using timber frames?

The simple answer : Yes.
The reality remains that life is about choice: we can choose to take risks, minimise them, or avoid them altogether. When it comes to capital intensive investments, the intelligent decision would be to minimise your risk or avoid them altogether, if possible. The building industry is a prime example where an investor’s dollar should be wisely spent.

Traditionally, timber has been the medium choice in framing systems. This thinking has seen an evolution where prudent investors and builders are becoming more knowledgeable, minimising their risk and increasing the value of their investments by choosing steel. There is an acceptance that timber contains natural weaknesses and is susceptible to damage.
Construction errors are typically corrected on-site. This would involve cutting into timber frame which impacts on the integrity of the structure. This is a cheap solution but not without risk to the homeowner. Timber is not a perfect material: its cellulose characteristics and inherent imperfections are a weakness. It is not uncommon for timber to suffer internal stress fractures. Another drawback, is the high risk of termite infestation. The ramifications of structural defects are immense and the costs substantial.

In Australia, a country where termites are endemic and cause thousands of dollars worth of damage, we need to question WHY timber frames are even a consideration?

Research findings presents the following alarming facts:

  • Within a 5 year period, one in five homes located within Australian will suffer termite infestation (1)
  • Cost of repair typically exceeds $40,000 (2)
  • Cost of termite inspections, including preventative treatments, are $830 a year(3).This does not guarantee protection from termite invasion.

In comparison, Steel Construction Australia (SCA) steel framing systems are completely termite proof. Steel is the logical choice to safe-guarding your investment and avoiding potentially crippling expenses in the future. Additionally, steel frame homes are typically more valuable and demand a higher price, so the return on your investment pays dividends.

Know the facts – Frame movement

In some cases, “creaking or noisy frames” have been earmarked as the reason for not using steel. The reality is that all framing products have the potential to move, although not all are are noisy. SCA frames are manufactured with the latest manufacturing technology. All sections are secured with screws as opposed to butt joint and nails for timber. Timber reacts to fluctuating environmental conditions of moisture, humidity and temperature extremes; it shifts and flexes resulting in movement and noise. Conversely, steel does not expand with moisture; but may expand and contract when exposed to temperature extremes. Steel, unlike timber, will remain true and always maintain its original integrity.
When a timber frame becomes distorted due to environmental influences, including expansion and contraction, the frame movement results in cracking or fissures in the plasterboard. This is evident in surface cracks, cracked cornices and peaking of ceiling joints.(4)
A opposed to timber, when choosing SCA steel frames, builders have the reassurance of a 50 Year Warranty*. Our steel frames do not shrink, warp, twist or buckle. They are solid, straight and true for perfect plasterboard application. In summary, builders seeking to minimise risks associated with movement of frames, would be wise to consider steel frames from SCA for their next project.

Know the facts – Environmental impact

If you are environmentally aware, you would want to make the right choice when choosing a frame to protect our world.
Using steel avoids deforestation and destruction of natural habitats. The precise design and manufacturing process of SCA ensures waste is kept to a minimum during manufacture and installation. Conversely, the imperfections of timber results in excessive wastage as timber pieces are cut to specified length and defects are removed.
Another kudo for steel is its 100% recyclable nature. In fact, it is good for our environment because a percentage of recycled steel is used to produce the end product. Another major drawback for timber frames is they are non-recycleable meaning new trees are harvested each time a new frame is built.
Consideration should also be given to the energy efficiency of homes and buildings. An energy efficient home is not only a comfortable home, but also contributes to saving our planet. SCA steel frames offer a more superior seal around doors and windows, and with optimal insulation, creates a highly efficient thermal barrier. Less reliance on air-conditioning a home has a significant impact on dramatically reducing energy consumption and bills. Timber framed homes do not have these attributes.

1 – termites and borers
2 CSIRO Call for the immediate declaration of all municipalities (metropolitan Melbourne & regional Victoria) as regions where homes, buildings and structures are subject to termite infestation 13 January 2005
3 Figures based on research into the South Australian termite treatment and inspection industry; costs based on retail averages and correct at time of print, 5 February 2009
4 Coefficient of Thermal Lineal Expansion, Shortley and Williams, 1965
*Click here to read details of the 50 year warranty.

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