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Light gauge steel framing
Published in Indiana Builder, November 1990, p. 9.
by John Bower (Copyright 1990)
Light gauge steel framing is often used in commercial construction. It consists of studs and channels. The channels are used at the top and bottom of a wall, like the plates in wood construction. The C-shaped studs fit into the channels and are held in place by self tapping screws. They can also be crimped or welded together.
There are two basic types of light gauge steel framing: load bearing and non-load bearing. Load bearing studs are stronger and heavier. Depending on the thickness of the steel (20 gauge to 14 gauge) they can be used in multi-story construction. Non-load bearing studs (also called drywall studs) are not as sturdy (25 gauge to 20 gauge) and are only designed to support interior partitions covered with drywall or plaster lath.
Load bearing joists are also available, in sizes comparable to 2X6s to 2X14s. They can also be used for rafters and window headers. Manufacturers have standard details worked out for all connections depending on the loading requirements.
The non-load bearing studs are available in sizes as small as a wood 2X2.All studs and joists are galvanized, making them rustproof. They also have holes punched in them that electrical wiring or plumbing can be run through. A major advantage of steel over wood is quality control. There are no knots, and there is no warping. A steel framed house can sometimes qualify for reduced insurance rates because it is non-combustible.
Any type of finish material can be used with steel framing. It is simply attached with self tapping screws. Trim screws are available that resemble finish nails with a small Phillips head.
The major disadvantage of steel framing is that most builders are unfamiliar with it. Cutting is generally done with a chop saw having an abrasive blade, although tin snips can be used on lighter gauge material, and everything can be assembled with a screw gun. Non-load bearing studs can actually be cheaper than wood, but load bearing studs are generally more costly.
From a health standpoint, steel has a couple of advantages, so it is sometimes used in non-toxic construction. Some people are sensitive to pine, so steel can eliminate its use. A more important advantage, however, is the fact that a steel framed house will never need to be treated for termites. Termite killing chemicals are toxic and increasing numbers of people are bothered by pesticides of all sorts. The increased initial cost of the steel can be offset by the fact that there will be no expense for termite treatment, therefore, the cost increase may be small.
There are over a dozen manufacturers of steel framing and it is readily available in all parts of the country. If your local lumberyard doesn't stock it, check a drywall supplier.
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