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Steeling the Show
by Don McCoy
by Don McCoy
EcoBroker and Earth Advantage S.T.A.R. Realtor Don McCoy argues the case for steel construction. LP
Building science technologies and green building are on the center stage of attention and a new act is playing in the way we're building homes. Put down the hammer and saw and pick up the drill. Get over the &I am a friend of the lumber industry& mantra and know that lumber, like horses will always be around, especially when we start applying different materials to building homes. The winds of change are upon us and necessarily so.
Oh, the horses part? Since we found new ways to get around without using horses, we will find more important, leisurely and significant uses for lumber as we change our choice of materials in building houses. As the Blacksmith looked up to see what was making that sputtering and rumbling noise while he was unknowingly hammering out the last of his horseshoes, he may have quickly adjusted to selling tires and fixing them instead. Or he just turned away muttering to himself that horseless carriages had no future.
Read on weary builder -- the stage is set and it's high time for change. And a much needed one. An &extreme makeover& is in order. Our conventional building methods have challenges. There are plenty of &rooms for improvement.&
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A Shining Example
Okay, let's get one thing straight, steel is! And it stays straight. Being strong and lightweight, its nimble body holds true. Commercial builders and architects figured this out a few years ago. The moisture content of lumber, even kiln-dried lumber, leaves chance to drying, warping, twisting and splitting as moisture dissipates its heavy, bulkier body.
In the competitive nature of things, lumber is a loser. Taking the limelight, steel wins every time. Fire? Steel wins. Wood framed houses lose. Dry rot, mold, mildew and termites? Steel wins. Building in the rain and melting snow? Wood loses. Steel wins. How about hurricanes and earthquakes? Consistent in its weight yet lighter then lumber, a light gauge steel stud is multiple times stronger than its counterpart.
Upfront costs can be about the same. Being that steel has superior strength, less is needed in actual framing, thus reducing overall costs by comparison. However a round of applause is in order for the zero maintenance required and ease of remodeling with steel in the years ahead. There is a steady supply of recycled steel and large swings in pricing are unheard of as a result.
Yes, wood is a renewable resource, naturally and thankfully. We should continue to grow more of it. Environmentally sound in all ways, trees are good things. However, once steel is produced, it is renewable or recyclable again and again.
Precision cut with minimal waste left over, steel is returned and recycled. In fact, the oldest recycled product in North America is steel. There are recycling companies over 100 years old that have been changing out steel from junk yard cars, old bridges, desks, cans and appliances into this forever product. Durability and sustainability isn't a question.
Wise Use of Resources
According to The Steel Recycling Institute, the average 2,000 square foot house built with reclaimed steel saves about an acre of forest, or two full logging trucks of trees, and removes six scrapped cars from the junkyard. Like eyesores healing, we have less clear cuts scarring the forest and fewer fractured auto bodies cluttering the landscape. As your new home is being framed in galvanized, rust-proof steel you might imagine a piece of your Dad's old Cadillac being fastened into place.
At the end of its useful life, recycling efforts for scrap lumber have few options, i.e., strand board for cabinets, compost, or fuel to name the few. It appears to be a horrible ending for a tree in comparison to its former grand, green and towering existence. Whichever, options for wood waste wane in contrast to steel.
There just has to be something more useful for a 300-year-old tree than cutting it down, sawing it up, and hanging sheet rock on it. Wood is too good for that. Trees that are grown and milled using sustainable forestry practices, especially for building, are called FSC lumber (Forest Stewardship Council). This is a better choice for framing since it takes stress off of the old growth forests and their environments. However, the stress of long-term maintenance in tending a conventionally built house remains. Steel takes the cake.
Some 90% of our available forests are used and cut down according to the Recycling Steel Institute (RSI). It is past time to shift gears and rethink the way we do things. The show must go on but new players are taking the stage.
The good builder's worthy goal may be to provide a more cost effective, energy efficient, longer lasting, healthier and better built home. These are known as High Performance Homes. If so, then steel allows for all of that with gleaming attributes. Steel stud framing, with its ductile, seismic and tensile strength superiority &…. is some 20 times stronger then lumber in every way,& according to Nabil Taha, Ph.D., Precision Structural Engineering. He further states, &It creates long lasting and safe stability like no other material used in building.&
So, it's true that steel framing was used in the residential building market in the '70s and '80s. It didn't work then; why should it work now? Building science is improving. And insulation techniques are changing right along with it. Since steel has virtually no R value and can attract moisture from condensation through conventional insulation practice, it stands to reason that insulation material and its installation needed to change. And it has for the better.
Using light gauge steel framing allows for a tighter, nonshifting envelop in the building's insulation system and it stands to stay that way for mega decades to come. This assures energy efficiency to the max. Thermal bridging or the transfer of heat and cold through the building is money going through the roof and walls. With enough thermal bridging, your energy bill will put you into thermal shock.
State-of-the-art insulation techniques with steel framing will render thermal bridging null and void. Build tight and ventilate right for efficiency and healthy indoor air quality.
Scarcity of Common Sense
Using steel to build single-family residences and commercial buildings is one thing, but to use steel framing in multi family housing just seems like too much common sense. If the guy on the other side of the wall sets his couch on fire why should everyone else burn down? Are insurance companies paying attention here?
Wood-framed duplexes and apartment-type complexes are like living in dried out tinder boxes stacked on top of each other. All too often, we hear of them catching fire. And needless loss of life occurs. Even though most people die of smoke inhalation and not the fire itself, a bit of natural thinking dictates that fire has a less likely chance of spreading when having less fuel to burn.
Perhaps using steel to solve the challenges of conventional building practices and meet the demands of safer, durable and efficient homes is so glaringly obvious it is blinding. However, for this writer the stage lights are just right and the prospects for steel in residential buildings are bright. Lumber take a break. Steel takes the show.
Don McCoy aka The Real McCoy is a real estate professional with additional training on energy and environmental issues that affect real estate transactions and building. Contact him at 541-261-3542, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at www.therealmccoy.us
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