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#1
Old 11-19-2004, 11:56 PM
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Building Question: Wood vs. Metal Wall Studs

I have noticed commercial buildings constructed in my area use metal wall studs instead of wood. Some of the buildings are no more complicated than a single-story ranch house. I assume they are more expensive than wood, but are used because they are required by code.
  • Are these likely assumptions?
  • What are the advantages of metal wall studs? Are they stronger, more fire-resistant, etc.?
  • What kind of metal are they made of?
#2
Old 11-20-2004, 12:29 AM
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I've seen metal studs used a lot in commercial buildings.

Some advantages:
- they can be re-used easily. In many commercial buildings, nearly all the inside walls for offices, etc. are designed to be easily torn out and reconfigured for new tenants or just changes by the current tenant. Metal studs make this much easier.
- they are usually designed with pre-molded holes for running wiring thru the walls, and pre-planned outlet boxes for various wiring connections. Makes it easier to install wiring, especially any new wiring that has to be added later, when the walls are up.
- they are often designed so that wallboard or whatever wall covering can be easily attached to the metal studs, and also removed easily. Sometimes the wallboard is intact enough to be re-used for a new wall.

I don't think they're required by code at all -- just more econimical for a commercial builder.

They would be slightly more fire resistant, but I don't think that enters into it much. Usually it's the contents of the building (furniture, carpet, papers, etc.) that provide most of the fuel for a fire.

I don't know what metal they're made of. But they are fairly light -- usually weigh less than a regular wood 2x4 stud. But then, they're basically an I-beam or hollow tube type construction, rather than solid like a wood stud.
#3
Old 11-20-2004, 10:58 AM
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They are actually cheaper than wood. At the Home Depot near me, about a year ago, 2x4x8' studs were $2.93 each and metal studs were $1.91. Plus, every metal stud is straight and true, with no knots, splits, or messed up corners. They also nest together very well for transport and are lighter than wood.

I almost used them to finish my basement, but decided to stick with what I knew.

One more thing. I do not think you can use them for bearing walls or exteriors, so using them in a house would require a mix of wood and metal, which would just not be worth the trouble. Most walls in commercial spaces are non-bearing partitions.
#4
Old 11-20-2004, 12:04 PM
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Ordinary frame homes most definitely can be built using steel studs, and for less cost than wood studs. It's other issues that have kept them from being used in large numbers. E.g., training the workers, many mortgage companies are antsy about them (do they hold up in value and cover the loan?), etc. But the transition to steel is finally started to gain speed and expect wood stud construction to fade away.
#5
Old 11-20-2004, 12:07 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MC$E
One more thing. I do not think you can use them for bearing walls or exteriors, so using them in a house would require a mix of wood and metal, which would just not be worth the trouble. Most walls in commercial spaces are non-bearing partitions.
Not true. There are different types of metal studs, structural and non-structural. Structural studs are heavier and can bear more of a load. Load bearing and exterior walls are commonly built with structural metal studs, although their capacity does have limits. My office is currently designing a 2 storey mosque, the roof of which is pre-cast concrete slab in preparation for a future 3rd storey. The engineer went through all sorts of permutations trying to make the structure work with just metal studs, but finally had to resort to some conventional steel beams and columns as the loads were too heavy.

As for residential construction, it's entirely feasible to build a whole house out of them but, excepting the advantages mentioned by t-bonham, there are disadvantages to take into account. For instance, metal conducts. Therefore exterior walls would have to be very well insulated to compensate for the heat/cold seeping through. This also applies to sound vibrating through interior partition walls. Sound-baffling insulation would be desirable in these situations.

Also, most trades are still more comfortable working with wood. Any cost savings you might have with materials could potentially be offset by the added labour costs. This, of course, will change with time and more people gain training and experience working with metal studs.
#6
Old 11-20-2004, 02:10 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hodge
Not true. There are different types of metal studs, structural and non-structural. Structural studs are heavier and can bear more of a load. Load bearing and exterior walls are commonly built with structural metal studs, although their capacity does have limits. .
I wasn't aware there were different types. I would imagine the load-bearing kind would cost more than the ones at Home Depot. Probably on par with wood.
#7
Old 11-20-2004, 02:48 PM
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Labor seems to be less with metal - an entire bundle can be cut to size with one cut and snips carried in the belt are much faster than taking the wood stud to a saw.

It seems that it is much easier in an office building because the area is open and structurally secure so the walls may be put about anywhere.

PITA to hang a picture with just a nail in a wall using metal studs.
#8
Old 11-20-2004, 03:43 PM
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I've been using steel for over 10 years wherever I can in remodeling projects. I sell it to customers based upon it being "green", and the bonus is that I've added nothing to the building in terms of combustible fire load.
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#9
Old 11-20-2004, 04:21 PM
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There were some articles about residential steel construction in the paper and on the news a while ago out here. Firms doing steel construction do seem to specialize in it (so probably some retraining necessary to go from wood to metal but not an awful lot).

Some advantages include:

1. Fire resistance. As noted it's the rest of the house that tends to provide the fuel but they showed a steel home that caught fire and was put out by the fire department - interior was a complete mess but the steel was still standing and (after checking that nothing warped, I imagine) the owners had it re-sheetrocked and were good to go. OK that's a simplification but their home wasn't a total loss and they didn't have to have it torn down and rebuilt from scratch.

2. Weight. Steel studs can be extruded onsite (like companies that extrude gutters onsite). The amount of steel required to build a single-family home will fit in the back of a pickup - comes in a big roll that is then run through a shaping machine to form the studs.

I can think of some others - pest/rot resistance, steel is extremely recyclable (so your house can be made out of old Edsel bumpers or whatever in addition to the house itself being recyclable later).
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