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Steel versus Wood: The Eco Housing Debate

To steel or not to steel? That is the question! When constructing a new home, what should you be using; wood or steel frames? And, vitally, what will make your structure more eco-friendly?

Steel frames are becoming increasingly popular, with construction companies choosing them over the more traditional wood frames of the past. With a decrease in the supply and an increase in the price of wood this is hardly surprising, but what does this mean in terms of green construction?

At first glance it seems that steel frames are the greener option with the obvious advantage of keeping vital trees in the ground, saving this precious renewable resource, but it isn’t just the outer structure of a construction that we should be thinking about. Steel frames on residential properties pose a thermal heat loss threat making thermal breaks essential. In a steel frame, the studs will act as thermal bridges, allowing heat to escape. Regular insulation on steel framed homes is ineffective, however, radiant barrier insulation will act as the perfect thermal break, reflecting heat and therefore stopping around 97% heat loss in winter and heat penetration in summer.

Setting aside insulation difficulties when using steel frames, this light, inexpensive alternative to wood framing is easy to ship, incredibly durable and provides more structural support than its wooden counterpart, meaning much less material is used. The average house built using wood frames will use around 40 trees, whereas just 11 recycled cars provide enough steel to construct the same house using steel frames. Any construction waste created when building using steel frames can also be recycled, although, steel frames will also contain non-renewable resources, including zinc and iron, which can pose ecological damage during extraction.

It is important to consider that the embodied energy used to manufacture steel is incredibly high and although the difference between embodied energy used to manufacture wood and steel is significant, it isn’t as high as people believe. The Environmental Building News stated in an article that the energy used to manufacture wood is only 28% higher than used to manufacture steel.

For every argument against steel framing there seems to be an argument for, and despite potential thermal heat loss and the environmental cost of manufacture, it would seem that steel framed homes are here to stay, and with good reason. So, which side are you on?

This post was written on behalf of the shipping aggregator, uShip. uShip specialise in various types of shipping, including house removals, and have recently offered 100% climate neutral transport throughout Germany and Mainland Europe.

Clay Miller
the authorClay Miller
I am the creator/writer of and I'm an advocate for oceans, beaches, state parks. I enjoy all things outdoors (e.g. running, golf, gardening, hiking, etc.) I am a graduate of the University of Kentucky (Go Wildcats!!). I'm also a huge fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers. I was born and raised in the beautiful state of Kentucky.

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