When it comes to building your dream house, you want to know you’re making the right decisions. Especially when it comes to its foundation. A building’s frame will be the backbone of home so naturally, you want it to be safe & secure.

So, we decided to compare two increasingly popular construction methods – timber and steel frame. And even though we are a bespoke timber frame specialist, it’s not about boasting about timber frames. Instead, we want you to understand your options, the pros, and cons and what effect the material will have on important factors such as cost.

steel frame

Cost

It is difficult to accurately differentiate the cost difference between timber and steel frame. Mostly because in both cases, there are several factors that can affect the final cost of production. For example, the price of timber frame can be easily impacted by the choice of supplier or the cut of timber.

However, truth be told…Generally, timber is more readily available, so you can expect it to be cheaper than steel. Also, with steel frame construction being more labour intensive, the hourly rate for the worker will definitely be higher. So in this case, it’s no wonder why most self-build homes are built in timber.

Speed of Construction

If you’ve read our ’11 Reasons why you should go with Timber Frame for your Build’, you know that onsite build is a lot quicker with timber frames. For a simple reason – they are pre-manufactured.  So once the foundations are laid and the kit is delivered to site, a timber frame could go up and be watertight in a matter of weeks.

Since the steel frame is normally assembled in a similar way to timber frames, there are also similar time-frames for the erection process. However… the process of steel frame construction is labour intensive, so it can be easily drawn out.

Sustainability

Making Eco-friendly decisions is crucial for a huge portion of the modern population, including the construction industry. And these decisions involve also choosing a sustainable material.

You could argue that when it comes to sustainability, that steel looks like the winner. After all, steel is 100% recyclable material, so it can be used and reused once the project is over. It is also a great option for reducing your environmental footprint, as it results in less deforestation than timber.  Plus, since steel frames are manufactured very precisely, they can produce less waste than timber.

Yet, timber frames are still the most Eco-friendly construction method out there. 

Mostly because steel is a very energy intensive material to create, requiring 6 times more energy than timber. So despite being fully recyclable, at the end of the day steel production leaves a much bigger carbon footprint. And although the growing preference of timber frames increases the demand for wood, it also increases the demand for more new forests. This results not only in lowering CO2 levels but also encourages ethical and sustainable practice. So by working with a supplier that uses FSC sourced timber, there is an assurance that material will be renewable, organic, and non-toxic.

Energy Efficiency

Consideration should also be made with regards to energy efficiency. And this is another area where a long-running debate usually occurs. Some people say that a steel frame provides better seals on windows and doors. Which means better heat retention. But wood has a slower rate of heat transfer which makes it a better heat insulator. Wood is a natural insulator, which reduces the need for heating and cooling systems. So, that means more saving and less heating.

Soundproofing

When it comes to soundproofing, people often associate squeaky homes with older timber frames. Well, it’s true that the sound insulation of timber frame structures might not be the best. And it’s simply due to the timber being a lightweight material. So naturally, its ability to isolate all types of sounds is weaker than steel.

Yet, steel homes can actually be quite noisy too. Differences in temperatures can make the metal material to expand or shrink, and as the joints move, squeaky sounds can be heard.

But when it comes to soundproofing there are ways around it for both. Soundproof materials and insulation can be used to fight this issue for both construction methods.

Life Expectancy and Maintenance

There is a common misbelief, that steel frame can protect you from ants and termites. Although white ants can be a threat to timber frames, all frames are (should be!) fully treated with termite resistant products. And an important thing to remember… steel frames can protect you from those tiny creatures, but they won’t protect the areas where untreated timber has been used.

In terms of robustness, both materials are strong and durable, with a potential to last for many years. In the case of timber, it might be even a century! Yet, the weather issues can cause troubles for both…While the poor quality construction can make the timber frame rot, harsh weather and salty air in coastal areas cause steel to rust and corrode. Also, the heat causes steel material to expand, potentially leading to a premature cracking in the plaster of your walls.

However, if you are planning major alterations, timber frames might not be the best option. Mostly because cutting into timber frames can damage their protective barrier. So if you would like to find out more about your options, we would recommend you to talk to us or any other timber frame expert first. Yet, timber frame structure still allows simple home adjustments such as adding wall cabinetry or installing wall art.  Unlike the steel frame, that requires using the right studs and other construction materials.

Timber frames can be more easily repaired compared to steel frames. Rotten wood can simply be cut out, spliced and retreated, whereas this would be more difficult and complicated to do with steel frames.

Conclusion

You can see that timber is a great eco-friendly material, that provides you with flexibility and lower construction costs. And that steel adaptable, speedy and could offer better sealing on windows and doors. Yet, there’s no definitive answer to the question of which building material is best, as both have their pros and cons.

So at the end of the day, it really comes down to personal preference and needs of your self-build project… If you would like to find out more about whether timber frames are the right fit for your self-build project, just give us a call! We’ve worked in the construction industry for most of our professional lives, so you can be sure that will share only the best knowledge with you.

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