Steel frame construction is the process of building with steel beams and columns as the main load-bearing members, including structural steel studs. The frames are usually made of mild steel, which is extremely strong. They can bend without cracking and adjust to shifting loads within the structure, making them ideal for buildings that need to withstand earthquakes or other types of natural disasters. In this article, we’ll describe the benefits of steel frame construction and its modern applications.

Steel Frame Construction Techniques

Steel framing employs three primary construction methods — welded steel framing, bolted steel framing, and light gauge steel framing. Each has distinct applications and advantages. 

Conventional steel fabrication generally involves cutting steel members to the correct length and welding them together on-site to form the final structure. Completing this process on-site allows for customization and flexibility in the final design, but it’s time and labor-intensive. To reduce project completion time, some welding can be done in a workshop if needed. 

With bolted steel framing, all structural steel members are prefabricated in a shop. They’re then painted and delivered to the construction site and bolted together. This technique is faster than on-site welding.

Bolted connections are also easier to inspect and service than welds and better resist poor weather conditions. 

Light gauge steel construction, popular in North America and Europe, is similar in technique to wood framing, except that light gauge steel members are used instead of 2x4s. Light gauge steel frames offer the benefits of wood frames but have superior strength, stability, and design flexibility. 

This type of framing is common in residential and small commercial projects. The light weight of the steel framing also makes it suitable for modular and prefabricated buildings.

Pros and Cons of Steel Framing

Steel framing offers several benefits that could make it the right choice for your next project. Many of these advantages stem from the fact that steel is a manufactured material, is very strong, and doesn’t have quality variations like wood framing does. 


Some of steel framing’s benefits are: 

  • Consistent Quality: Steel construction components are factory-controlled for reliable precision and performance. Because it’s a natural material, wood can have flaws or imperfections because the quality of each tree may vary. 
  • Design Flexibility: Steel frames can handle special structural designs, including long spans, open floor plans, and unique architectures. Curves, angles, and irregular shapes are easier to achieve.
  • Faster Construction:  Choosing a prefabricated steel framework can significantly reduce project completion times.
  • Noncombustibility: Steel frames offer superior fire resistance to wood framing. This makes steel a safer choice and can reduce insurance costs.
  • Strength: Pound for pound, steel is stronger than wood or concrete. It has high load capacity and shock/impact resistance.
  • Sustainable: Steel is 100% recyclable. This makes steel framing a great choice for sustainable projects, as recycled-content steel conserves natural resources and landfill space.
  • Termite/Pest Resistance: Steel framing eliminates concerns over termite damage or rot and decay from moisture. This improves the building’s life span and reduces maintenance.


While steel affords numerous structural and sustainability advantages, it also comes with a few drawbacks to consider:

  • Higher Upfront Cost: The overall cost of steel structural materials is generally 10% to 20% higher than that of wood framing. Steel frames do, however, offer reduced maintenance costs and lower insurance rates, and longevity savings over decades offset the initial home construction investment.
  • Special Handling Needs: Working with steel components requires specialized equipment, skills, and safety protocols.
  • Thermal Bridging: Heat and cold transfer quickly across steel framing, increasing your HVAC costs. Our experienced team recommends fiberglass batt insulation to keep cooling and heating expenses in check. 

Is Steel Framing Just for Commercial Buildings?

In the past, steel construction was used primarily in commercial buildings. Today’s technological advantages and competitive steel pricing have made this framing material more popular in residential structures, including single-family homes, low-rise multifamily housing, and community buildings. 

Steel Framing
Image Credit: Canva

Steel frames can be a good option for new housing because of their durability and damage resistance, material efficiency, and ability to create larger builds on existing soils. They’re also highly adaptable for renovations and can be easily assembled for faster project timelines. This makes steel framing a good choice for modern construction projects. 

So, Is Steel Framing the Best Construction Method?

Steel framing provides several advantages in strength, flexibility, speed, safety, and sustainability. Steel’s resilience makes it an excellent choice for critical structural components like wall studs, floor joists, beams, and reinforcements. Steel’s benefits outweigh its higher initial cost and its thermal conductivity. 

However, wood and concrete construction are still popular due to the material costs associated with steel buildings and labor availability. Wood framing is still a good choice for small residential projects. In the end, structural and site factors will determine which framing choice is best for your project

FAQs About Steel Framing

Does steel framing require special tools or skills?

Yes. Assembling a steel frame requires cutting and welding gear and requires following specific safety protocols. Many contractors must be certified specifically to work with steel.

What is the life span of steel framing?

Steel framing can last 75 to 100 years — perhaps as long as 150 years in certain conditions. This is significantly longer than the life span of a wood frame.

Is steel framing energy efficient?

Steel framing’s conductivity makes it heat faster and lose cooling more quickly than wood. Properly insulating your steel frame is essential to offset this effect.

Can you run electrical/plumbing through steel framing?

Yes. Steel studs have precut channels for wiring and pipes.

Is steel or wood better in earthquakes?

Steel’s flexibility and higher strength-to-weight ratio make it more resistant to earthquakes than wood used as framing.

Is steel framing cost-effective?

The base price of steel exceeds the cost of wood. However, steel’s longevity and lower maintenance needs over time can result in significant savings over its lifecycle.

Editorial Contributors
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Nikki Stavile

Nikki Stavile is a writer based in Tucson, Arizona. As an avid backpacker and passionate environmentalist, her work often focuses on sustainable movements at the personal and societal level.

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Lee Ann Merrill

Chicago-based Lee Ann Merrill has decades of experience writing and editing across a wide range of technical and scientific subjects. Her love of DIY, gardening, and making led her to the realm of creating and honing quality content for homeowners. When she's not working on her craft, you can find her exploring her city by bike and plotting international adventures.

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