Steel frame house vs. timber frame houses

Updated April 17, 2017

The frame of the house is like its skeleton, giving the building its shape and structural support, and providing a base on which later materials will be affixed. The two most common types of frames in residential construction are timber and steel. Each type has specific advantages and disadvantages that must be considered.

Overview of timber frame houses

Timber framing is the predominant method of framing a new home in the United States. The walls, floor, and ceiling are constructed of wood, with sheets of plywood or a similar material affixed to act as platforms. The timbers are held together with wood or nails. The corners are made of several beams fixed together, with large beams called joists bearing the weight of the roof and upper floors.

Advantages of timber frame houses

Timber houses have several advantages over steel frame houses, most notably in how the material responds to shifts in temperature, and how timber for home construction is sourced. Timber frame houses are strong and can withstand extreme temperatures and weather in a wide variety of climates. It continues to be the most common method of framing in many parts of the world for these reasons. A great deal of timber comes from environmentally-conscious sources, so it is often a "greener" material than steel.

Overview of steel frame houses

Steel framing is frequently used in apartment buildings and prefabricated homes, as it is quicker to assemble and transport than timber. In steel frame construction, beams are spaced 40cm / 16 inches apart and affixed to spans in the floor and ceiling. Drywall and steel electrical boxes are affixed to this frame with nuts and bolts. Steel framing is less common in new home construction than timber framing.

Advantages and disadvantages of steel frame houses

Two advantages of steel framing are its strength and simplicity of use. Wiring and piping can be laid in without the need to drill holes, and steel is resistant to termites and does not burn. Steel-framed buildings are also used in areas prone to earthquakes, as steel holds up better against seismic activity. Its main disadvantage is that it does not have the thermal properties of wood, making buildings more prone to temperature shifts.

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About the Author

John Shortino has written for numerous publications, including the "Philadelphia Inquirer." Some of the subjects he has written about professionally include books, film and business. He is currently pursuing his Master of Fine Arts in creative writing at Temple University.