Steel vs. wood

The advocates of steel and wood as the primary material for residential framing cite the advantages of their respective products.

The debate will no doubt go on as long as steel producers and processors like Dietrich Metal Framing vie for a share of the market and the wood products industry tries to shield itself from competitors wedging their way into the building business.

In any case, both industries tout the relative merits of their products while pointing out the limitations of competing materials.

Here are some examples:

* Steel products makers point out that steel is 100 percent recyclable and that steel studs contain at least 25 percent recycled content, reducing dependence on wood and preserving the nation’s forests. The wood products industry counters that reforestation efforts have increased the supply of trees in the United States to the point where forest growth exceeds harvest by 47 percent. Technological advancements, like computerized sawing and recycling techniques, they say, have increased the yield of usable lumber and wood products from logs.

* The steel in six scrapped automobiles can provide enough steel to build the typical house, the steel industry says, so it’s more environmentally friendly than using lumber. Not so fast, the lumber industry counters. Producing steel releases pollutants into the air and requires a considerable amount of water in the manufacturing process.

* Steel industry advocates claim studs and joists, because they are stronger by weight than wood, can provide longer spans, allowing for fewer support beams in larger areas. The wood products industry points out that innovations such as the engineered wood I-beam allow similarly long spans because of their increased strength.

* Steel beams are impervious to termites, mold and rot, and are therefore superior to wood, says the steel products industry. Perhaps, claims the wood products industry, but such maladies are due to poor construction methods, not an inherent weakness in wood. Sources: Forest Landowners Association Inc.,; The Steel Framing Alliance,; Engineered Wood Association,