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Comparing Steel Buildings with Wooden Structures

March 30, 2020

wood and steel frames

Historically, people have turned to wood for construction because it is a familiar material that is “user-friendly”. Pole Barns and wooden structures are some of the most common building structures around. A century ago, wood was easily the best choice for materials and was found in abundance all over the world. It was inexpensive, readily available and owners usually designed and built their own structures because it provided a flexible and very forgiving erection process.

Despite the initial savings in price, over the years, steel construction has become more popular and presents significant advantages over wood. Pre-engineered steel buildings are now the method of choice for most commercial, industrial and warehouse applications. Even the agricultural and livestock sector, which traditionally has relied heavily on wood for construction, is switching to steel.

Here are some of the reasons why steel structures have become the preferred alternative to wood construction.

Comparing Pre-Engineered Metal Buildings to Structures Made from Wood

Greater Structural Strength and Integrity

Steel building components are manufactured to very rigid standards and specifications. There are no seconds or substandard materials in a pre-engineered metal building. Each part in a metal building meets strict industry standards in terms of strength; and is designed specifically for its pre-determined use in that specific metal building. This is important as we discuss the custom requirements for each particular job: Every component in a steel building is designed and manufactured to meet the strict load criteria in each individual structure, ensuring that each steel building will handle all the load requirements of its specific site location. Because of this, properly designed and assembled metal buildings have withstood hurricanes, tornadoes and extreme conditions worldwide.

Quicker, Easier, and Less Expensive to Construct

Each pre-engineered steel building component is designed and made specifically for your building. Each component is designed and manufactured to match perfectly with the others. Each piece is labelled and easy to identify and each piece is cross-referenced on the assembly drawings. This means that your steel building – regardless of size, will arrive as a perfect kit, and each piece will fit together precisely. Because each component is detailed and specifically made for each particular structure, erecting the building is quick and easy. In turn, because Steel buildings are assembled quickly and easily, they require less labour. There is little to no waste and little to no cutting, sawing or welding on-site.

Wood buildings take much longer to erect than pre-engineered packages, simply because all the components are sourced and acquired separately. There is more measuring, more cutting, more margin for error and all of this takes a significant amount of time. It also produces much more waste in total, as components must be made to fit once they arrive to the job-site.

One last consideration is that the price of wood is constantly fluctuating. Frequent lumber shortages drive the cost of wood up. This encourages the use of “green” wood in construction projects which can result in warping, cracking, and splitting. These cracks in the wood members effect seal-ability, which decreases both the energy efficiency and the structural integrity of the final structure.

Safer – Over the Lifetime of the Building

Steel components won’t weather or degrade over time like wood. Steel won’t decay. Steel will remain rigid for the life of the building. This structural strength means less stress on fasteners and components; which in turn provides a safer building for years to come.

Alternatively, owners of wooden structures need to invest in continuous maintenance. With wood, wherever there is moisture close to the base, there is an opportunity for decay. Decay causes structural insecurity and increases the risk of collapse. To deal with the natural properties of wood, most wood posts are pressure treated, but this process can be poisonous to livestock or other animals if ingested.

Importantly, wood carries with it the fear of loss due to fire.  One very real peace of mind that comes with choosing a Steel building is the security that your people, livestock, and your property, are safe; because steel is non-combustible.

Greater Design Flexibility

Because steel is much stronger than wood, it allows for much greater design flexibility. You can typically span the entire width of your building with no interior posts required and the columns can be set further apart on the sidewalls. The result is a much more open building with less weight and greater structural integrity.

When wood trusses are used to accomplish wide open spaces, they must be layered and joined in several places. This increases costs exponentially. This is why wood structures typically involve several interior posts and beams that limit the useable, clear span area, decreasing work space.

Lower Maintenance Costs

Steel components won’t warp, split, twist, swell, shrink or decay, like wood. Steel components will not have to be replaced or repaired and will remain long after the wood frame building is gone.

Pre-engineered metal buildings use a minimum heavy 26-gauge sheeting for roofing and siding, as opposed to the light 28 or 29 gauge material used on most wooden pole barns. Fasteners are also higher quality for steel buildings and won’t need to be replaced like on a typical wooden pole building. The light gauge metal sheeting on most wood pole buildings will require replacement over time, and wood runners hold moisture against the light gauge metal sheeting, causing the sheeting and the fasteners to rust prematurely. In such cases, the fasteners lose their grip and the sheeting becomes loose requiring repair or replacement. Additionally, regular high maintenance is required to escape rodents and burrowing insects, and to limit the amount of rot and mold in wooden structures.

When you chose a pre-engineered metal building, these things are not issues. Steel Structures are virtually maintenance-free.

Longer Economic Life – More Durable and Worry-Free

Steel offers maximum functionality while still maintaining the aesthetic quality many seek from wooden buildings.

Steel buildings simply don’t wear out over time like wooden structures. Barring some catastrophic event, your steel building will last a lifetime. Wooden buildings have an economic life of 15-20 years and require lots of maintenance along the way. After approximately 7 to 10 years, wood siding and roofing will have to be replaced. If non-metal roofing is used, it will also require replacement at some point. And as a wooden structure ages, wood members naturally dry out, which causes shrinking, warping, swelling and cracking. Preventing the wooden structural members from drying out is necessary to maintain a secure structure but requires continuous maintenance and a watchful eye.

In contrast, a pre-engineered metal building requires virtually no maintenance and provides decades of worry-free service.

Stronger Foundation

One of the first objections some people make to a steel building is that it requires a concrete foundation and floor, adding significantly to the initial cost of the project. A metal building doesn’t always require a full slab, although it does require concrete piers at each column location to provide proper structural stability and meet design load requirements. The required piers provide load bearing capacity and an above grade connection so that the posts are not subject to moisture and decay. Foundation requirements are dependent on building applications as well as site location. Local permit offices will assist in dictating which foundations will be deemed appropriate for specific buildings and municipalities.

While the foundation does add to the initial cost of a metal building system, the advantages over the life of the building are tremendous and outweigh the original expense.

Steel Construction is Better for the Environment

Steel is 100% recyclable and is the only recycled material that doesn’t lose strength when it is recycled. Remember that there is also no waste when a steel building is manufactured and erected, because no substantial cutting is required on-site and all cut-offs at the factory are recycled.

When compared to wooden construction which is wasteful and non-recyclable, Metal buildings are the best choice for the environment.

Steel Buildings Can Actually Save You Money – Year after Year

Apart from continuous savings related to maintenance, steel buildings are recognized with an “A” fire rating. Wood buildings instead, have a “C” rating for fire. Generally speaking, what that means is that a wood structure is more likely to burn. Many customers don’t realize that this non-combustibility factor can save significant money on insurance premiums for the life of their pre-engineered steel building.

Closing Out

Steel buildings offer many advantages over wood structures.

At first glance, the price savings afforded by a wood building may seem very attractive to customers. But when comparing different solutions for required construction, we recommend that our customers consider all the factors.

Compare all the costs – not just the initial costs for site prep, materials and labour, but also the longer term costs of ownership – costs like maintenance, repairs, and insurance. Decide how much value you place on safety and environmental friendliness, too.

When considering all the advantages, customers agree that the value of a pre-engineered steel building far outweigh the initial cost savings of a building made from wood.

Contact Us Today!

When you buy a building from Norsteel, we become your partner throughout the construction process. We work with you, or with your general contractor, to ensure that all your building requirements are met. Your project is our project, and we’ll be with you the whole way through.

For more information on specific building applications, click here to learn more about our line of products. If you have any questions or comments, click here to contact us today.

About the author 

Michelle Keenan

Michelle is one of two owner-operators of Norsteel Buildings, alongside her husband Sean. Michelle has more than two decades of experience in steel building design and construction, and has worked with thousands of customers over the years to make their building dreams come true. Under Michelle's leadership, Norsteel has been recognized as one of the Top 100 Builders in North America 5 years in a row.

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  1. I appreciated it when you shared that it is great to acquire a steel building since it is less likely to burn compared to a wood one. Besides, the material can be recycled and good for the environment. I would like to think if a company needs to acquire a metal building, it should consider getting a pre-engineered one from a reliable supplier.

  2. I like how rigid the standards are for steel buildings. I have been looking at having one built for the business I wish to start. So I'll see what I can do about hiring a steel contractor soon to be the head of the project.

  3. I can see how a business could really benefit from getting steel enclosures for their livestock in order to be safer. Getting some help from a professional could allow them to be more effective. It was interesting to learn about how a metal building can be more stable with the right kind of concrete piers.

  4. I like that you mentioned that steel is 100% recyclable. My dad is in need of a new barn and is trying to decide between metal and wood. I will suggest that he should go with steel because it will last longer and is recyclable.

  5. I want to get a nice shed made, but I'm not sure what material to make it out of . It makes sense that I would want to use structural steel. That seems like a great way to make sure that it lasts me a long time.

  6. I like that this post pointed out that steel has many benefits. The other day my dad mentioned he would like to create a guest house. I will insist on a steel structure as it is more stable and durable.

  7. It made sense when mentioned that all materials in wood buildings are sourced and obtained separately. My friend mentioned that they need timber supplies for the structure they are building. I think they should look for a manufacturer that offers high-quality structural timber supplies to ensure the quality of their structure.

  8. I loved how you mentioned that steel won't degrade over time. My husband is having a construction project coming up at his work in a couple of weeks, and he was wondering what type of materials he should work with. I'll make sure to pass this information along to him so that he can know the benefits of using steel in buildings.

  9. The amount of time and money you will spend in repairs and efforts to keep a wood building (which is a material that naturally deteriorates over time) standing will far exceed the cost of building a pre-engineered steel structure.

  10. I was captivated when you mentioned that steel building construction is the best option for the environment. My friend wants their steel building to be durable. I should advise him to hire a steel building construction contractor that can execute his desired features.

  11. Thank you for mentioning that fasteners used in steel structures are likewise of superior quality and won't need to be changed as frequently as those used in normal timber pole construction. My mother wants to construct a second structure to store the car at our home. I'll advise her to check with the pole company to ensure that she chooses the appropriate material for her pole.

  12. I liked how you wrote that steel buildings won't wear out easily over time. My friend wants a home that would last long. I should advise him to hire a contractor with years of experience in home architecture design.

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