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Different framing options

Benefits of using either timber or steel frames in house building.

Houses built today have a wide range of cladding or façade finishes that make them individual and tailored to the client’s needs. The constant though is the skeletal frame that the cladding or façade is fixed to. 

There are two main materials used in framing - steel and timber. Though other options exist such as traditional bricks and block work frames as well concrete and pre cast concrete panels and structurally insulated panels and other modular construction systems. 

In regards to steel and timber frames both have their benefits and differences. When choosing which framing system to use consideration should be given to the cost, availability, longevity, sustainability and flexibility during the construction process that suit the needs of the project and the client.

Steel frames

Steel frames are designed to be strong and long lasting, with the added benefit of being termite resistant without further treatment. 

Steel frame houses tend to allow less movement as steel frames don’t twist, warp, shrink or buckle, while timber frames are more malleable to their environment.

Steel frames provide a solid and sturdy frame for attaching plasterboard. This can assist to minimise problems associated with frame movement over time.

Benefits of steel frame houses

  • Steel is 100% recyclable and has become one of the most recycled materials on earth. 
  • Steel frames provide a level of precision that can be better for sealing around door frames and windows and internal finishes. 
  • Manufactured off site and assembled to precise measurements.
  • Easy to work with and only requires a few tools to put a frame together. 
  • Steel frames are lightweight and easy to move around and assemble on site.
  • Frames can be either constructed on site or manufactured off-site.

Differences of steel frame houses

  • Due to the raw materials associated and production processes, steel can be a more expensive option. However with product innovation in the product choices and the increased design options like larger spans and shapes the costs can often smooth out.
  • With many sub-trades being more familiar with using timber frames, initially in working with steel framing some may find it more labour intensive on-site, and consequently tradies may charge more, however, if they are working regularly with steel framing this should not be a major issue.
  • The high amounts of energy required in steel production equates to a higher embodied energy impact. This can be accounted for as part of a life cycle assessment of the materials used and the overall home design for projects looking to account for this type of energy use.

Timber frames

Timber is a great resource to use when constructing frames for your house. Timber is one of the few building materials that is a natural product with minimal processing required. 

Timber frames can quickly be constructed on site, saving time and increasing the efficiency of the build and can also be manufactured off site and delivered when required.

There have been significant advancements over the past decade with engineered timbers which can offer large span options, reduced member sizes and flexibility of framing, truss and flooring options.

Benefits of timber frame houses

  • Timber is both a renewable resource and a natural product. There are several timber certification schemes operating to help choose a product to suit any environmental standards a project may have. 
  • Timber can be flexible when a change is needed. The process of building a home can encounter changes and timber has the flexibility to be changed on site to suit the need more readily.
  • Timber framing is generally readily available and can be constructed on-site or off-site. A carpenter can size up and construct nearly the whole house out of timber from the sub frame, walls and roof frame, cladding and internal finishes.
  • Easy to work with and only requires a few tools to construct frames and easy to connect timber members together.
  • Easy to attach subsequent building elements to timber frames and solid fixings.

Differences of timber frame houses

  • Due to the fact that timber is a natural cellulose matter milled with all of its natural imperfections and weaknesses, it can have some weak spots and visual imperfections, as well some members with bows or cupping. This needs to be taking into account when working with timber, particularly cutting and fixing. 
  • Timber is receptive to damage in terms of both internal surface stress fractures and termite infestations.
  • It should be noted that while timber is susceptible to termite infestations, using a termite management systems helps reduce the risk of infestation and the subsequent damage.
  • Another disadvantage is how timber changes over time. Since timber is a water-based cellulose product, it expands and shrinks during different environmental conditions.

So which to choose?

At the end of the day, the choice comes down to what works best for the builder and the customer. 

When choosing between timber and steel framing it is important to remember that both materials are quality foundations upon which to construct a house. Both materials are well utilised in Australia and can readily meet the framing needs for any project. 

Combined with the availability of supply and the trades associated with the build being available for your location and budget, both can provide the homes you build with a solid foundation to build on.

To find out more, contact HIA's Workplace Services team

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