Building With Steel Frames Essay, Research Paper
In the past two decades, light gauge (cold-formed) steel has rapidly become a frequently-specified construction material for commercial, institutional, and industrial projects – including the recent trend toward using steel as the main load bearing system. Despite the myths that still surround the use of light gauge steel framing, it has come to the forefront as the best and most feasible alternative building material for residential construction.
Steel is a superior construction material. The use of steel framing as the primary structural system in residential construction results in a better structure. A steel framed home is a better home. Steel framing, by virtue of its material characteristics and properties, offers significant advantages to both home builders and consumers. Residential construction represents a very large opportunity for the steel industry and for other industry stakeholders. Home builders and consumers alike are receptive to the use of steel framing and have a general understanding of its benefits.
Despite its advantages and the general receptiveness of the market, and after several years of vigorous private and industry efforts directed at expanding market share, steel framing has achieved a disappointingly small share of the residential framing market. To begin to change this, it is essential that the steel industry gain a thorough understanding of the needs and economic realities of the residential construction industry.
The home building industry became widely aware of steel as a potential alternative in 1993. Steel makers, suppliers, manufacturers and even some builders were quick to rally around this new material. However, the “newness” of steel has also meant that there has been much to learn about designing and building steel framed houses in a cost-competitive way. The individual and collective efforts (through organizations like the Light Gauge Steel Engineers Association) has helped in the development of more efficient tools, fastening methods, and better design information. In fact, compared with the many decades that it took the wood framing industry to reach its “state-of-the-art” for efficiency, it’s remarkable to see how much the learning curve has been compressed for steel framing.
Barriers to Steel Framing Growth
The steel framing industry does not enjoy a large share of the commercial, institutional, or home building market simply because of cost. Despite the incredible gains in knowledge about steel framing and the development of more efficient tools, most builders will find the total cost of framing a structure with steel somewhat higher than if it was framed with wood. Solving this single problem is made difficult because it really is a heap of little problems that require their own individual solutions.
Steel frameworks are lightweight and extremely strong. They are designed to withstand the most punishing weather conditions. In fact steel buildings are safer during earthquakes and can be designed to resist winds of up to 150 mph. Because it is 100% recyclable and can be recycled over and over again without degradation, steel is very friendly to the environment. During construction the steel components are held together with bolts. This eliminates the “nail pop” problem that commonly occurs in wood-framed buildings after many years of settling and ensures an overall tighter frame. Steel frames are fire-proof and assure the overall highest level of structural safety of any other type of structure on the market. Due to the constantly rising costs of lumber, steel prices are now extremely competitive. Unlike wood, steel frames are not susceptible to termite damage, and they will not rot or warp. Steel buildings are built to outlast any comparable wood building.
The Critical Role of Engineering
Engineering plays a pivotal role in our ability to effectively identify and affect measures that will make steel truly competitive with wood. For example, design techniques can have a substantial impact on the unit cost of a structure, and greatly influence a builder’s decision on whether to choose steel or wood. In addition, engineers are frequently called upon to resolve issues raised by building departments (particularly in jurisdictions where steel framing is a relative newcomer). Engineers also are critical links in the development of new, more efficient tools and construction methods.
Today there are literally tens of thousands of structural engineers designing residential and commercial projects in every market around the world. The vast majority do not have experience with light gauge steel framing and so are ill-equipped to support a builder’s decision to use steel or to produce cost-effective plans. Similar to what exists in wood framing, the steel framing market requires the support of a network of “peers” that includes engineers, builders, and manufacturers. A network of knowledgeable engineers is vital to maintaining the evolution of the light gauge steel market, both in the development phase and as the market matures and increases demand for all services. In addition, the recent adoption of a prescriptive method by CABO and completion of the ICC International/Residential Code and International/Building code will increase the need for interpretation by engineers who understand steel framing principles.
The Role of the Light Gauge Steel Engineers Association (LGSEA)
The Light Gauge Steel Engineers Association (LGSEA) was formed in 1994 to eliminate the engineering barrier by a) resolving technical issues related to steel framing, and b) building a network of engineers able to efficiently design structures made with steel.
The LGSEA membership includes consulting engineers, builders, contractors, and technical staff members of stud, fastener, tool and component manufacturers. These members work together to develop standards and design methods, a process that ensures these decisions do not adversely affect manufacturers and can be efficiently executed in the field.
The LGSEA has made an impact on the market by providing consultation on testing programs and publications, targeted local educational efforts, and an aggressive meeting schedule that has provided members with a unique forum for the exchange of information and ideas.
There are a few organizations, such as the LGSEA and NASFA (North American Steel Frame Alliance), are building on the progress that has already been made by supporting the vital work of committees which are actively studying and resolving key issues pertaining to fasteners and connector specifications, truss design and quality control, and the design of shear walls and lateral force bracing. The LGSEA is also working to develop ways to increase the accessibility and delivery speed. Seminars, designed to broaden a network of those who understand how to design and build with light gauge steel, have been attended by more than 3,000 individuals in the past four years.
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