The Benefits of Metal Studs – 6 Reasons for Choosing Steel Over Wood

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The Benefits of Using Metal Studs


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When it comes to studs, instead of automatically buying wood, consider metal for non-load bearing walls. According to the Steel Framing Alliance, more than 40 percent of commercial structures are now built with metal studs and nearly 500,000 homes have been built with steel framing over the past decade.  Most metal studs are made from sheet steel that is cold-formed into shapes and sizes that are similar to what builders are accustomed to in dimensional lumber (2×4, 2×6, 2×8, 2×10, 2×12 and so forth).

While metal studs do conduct cold (insulation should be applied between the outside wall and the metal to act as a thermal break), they offer many benefits and advantages over wood studs.

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6 Benefits of Metal Studs

Convenience:  Metal wins here, according to Thumb and Hammer who write extensively on the subject of wood vs metal.  It’s lighter than wood and takes up half the space of lumber because of its hollowed shape. This makes for easier transporting and storage. Cut metal studs with aviation snips, which means no sawdust.  However, if you’re doing a complete build, it’s easier just to use a metal cutting saw blade and a miter saw to cut in bulk.  Wear gloves, though, to protect the hands from sharp edges, and clean up any small pieces that end up on the floor.

Ease of installation: Steel framing is easier to handle because the studs weigh a third less than wood and can be installed at 24 inches on center. They also are attached with screws, so moving studs is simple if you make a mistake.

Stability:  Wood is prone to twisting and warping; metal is not. Wood also wicks moisture, which can lead to mold growth and rot, while metal is immune. Metal does rust, so install a vapor barrier or sill gasket between the bottom plate and the concrete floor.

Strength: The strength and ductility of structural cold-formed steel (CFS) framing, along with the holding power of CFS connections, make it ideal for construction in high-wind and seismic zones such as the U. S. eastern seaboard, the Gulf Coast states, California and Hawaii.

Insects and Fire: Carpenter ants and termites can severely damage wood construction, but steer clear of metal. Likewise, wood burns and metal does not. A wall built with metal studs is virtually fireproof.

Lower construction costs: There are some nuances to this area. Steel framing can cost three  to 15 percent more than wood studs, based on Steel Framing Alliance calculations, but metal studs offer cost advantages in other areas that can offset this price difference. Warranty callbacks are minimized because steel does not shrink, split or warp. As a result, there are no nail pops or drywall cracks to fix after the structure is completed. Consistent quality means that scrap is drastically reduced (two percent for steel versus 20 percent for wood), which also reduces costs for hauling off and disposing of discarded material. You also may enjoy significant discounts on risk insurance for steel framed structures.

For more information on using metal studs is the Builder’s Guide to Steel Frame Construction from the Steel Framing Alliance.

What are your thoughts?  Share your reasons for using metal studs or discuss why you believe wood studs are a better option.

Discuss Metal Studs on our Forum

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Joe Sainz (Google+) is a union carpenter with experience in concrete construction, landscaping, carpentry and electrical mechanics. He currently works at Bosch Power Tools... Read more

56 comments on “The Benefits of Metal Studs – 6 Reasons for Choosing Steel Over Wood

  1. Matt

    Interesting, I would consider their use for interior walls. Being in Canada I think it would be difficult to get enough insulation in place in exterior walls to overcome the cold passing through. I think they’re a fine solution for interior walls here. Great read and opened my mind a bit too them as a solution for residential purposes.

    1. Pete

      I’ve used them for fire places and bulkheads. Interior walls a few times also. Nice strait walls for tiling…
      But that’s it. After all, I’m a carpenter 🙂 ask a metal guy to build a little green house for your window sill and you’ll get a spot welded aluminum or steel structure. Ask a wood guy, you’ll end up with a nice looking and feeling wooden house…
      The only true advantage for steel studs within exterior walls and roof like in the picture I can see: it’s a faraday cage and will protect you from lightning. And any electric pollution. Likely no cell phone use inside, though.

    2. Doug

      Just to clarify: the Thumb and Hammer article that is extensively quoted by the author refers to the light gauge metal framing sold by building centers (such as Home Depot and Lowes) that can only be used for non-load bearing walls.

        1. framing101

          Metal is better everything on the las Vegas strip is metal studs in every casino and the hotel and wood suck it bows and rots and you can’t do fancy and creative stuff like metal studs

  2. Jeff

    personally i hate steel framing.. for a few reasons.. yes you can install foam on the outside to create a thermal break however.. when time comes to hang finished product off it its a nightmare more often than not.. you have to use self tapping screws which take wayy longer than a nail gun.. also in light gauge steel more often than not the stud will strip out and hte screw wont hold in it.. with wood screw it and walk away.

    also ive done building maintenance in university residence which sees quite a bit of abuse.. ever see a outside corner that was struck with a piece of furniture.. not only does the corner bead blowout but the stud is bent and cant be restraightend you have to cut the drywall back and replace the stud. in a wood wall you just fix the corner bead

    1. Rick Darter

      I live in a Southern California steel framed home. Walls are nice and straight, but it is a nightmare trying to hang pictures. I am getting ready to apply crown molding to the entire house. I will have to do a stacked crown because of the steel studs. Talk about a pain in the a$$!

    2. framing101

      You can hang anything off metal studs you have to double up on your studs and go with heavier gauge of studs and flat strap Metal I been hanging 90″ tv for the last 2 years no complaints yet and about the corners everybody that frames with metal studs knows allways go with 20 gauge studs and make a hard corner metal is the future wood is out

  3. Kurt

    We have used them in several comercial projects and on a few interior walls in homes, especially in kitchens and baths to acheive a foor flat wall for cabinets and countertops to fit against.

    My carpenters do not like them however, I just think it is something they are not used to. Dimensional stability would be a great plus in homes and also the additional strength of a steel wall.

    Blocking and nailers for trim work take a lot of time however.

  4. John. L

    I have used metal studs inside a house but never for the exterior framing . I would be willing to try it but I think the labour would be a lot more with metal .It is tough to beat the speed of nail guns . The metal framing certainly looks more impressive .

  5. Jeff

    on the newer buildings the steel stud framers installed ” steel strapping” on the studs which is nothing more than 3″ strips of metal flat stock to which cabinets get screwed to.. even still ive found the screws just strip the stuff out..

    not only that you still have to line rough openings with wood to fasten windows to and nail door jambs too which means your still carrying a circ saw to frame.. id rather just have the saw. plus the smell of fresh cut wood smells way better than cutting steel on a cutoff saw

    the only real time ive found steel stud handly has been for building bulk heads… typically guys will use 2×2 which is far less stable which is harder to keep straight.

  6. John. L

    One thing I wonder about is how well reception would be living in a house made mainly from metal . The back porch of my house has a metal roof and no matter how much I try I can never send text messages from that part of the house because of the steel roof .

  7. Mike

    This article is confusing to me. Normally the kind of studs used for structural steel framing cannot be cut with snips. You have to used a grinder or a chop saw. And when you take that into account along with all the extra clips and straps and everything else extra you have to add to get a similar sheer rating it takes at least twice as long to frame the same exterior wall out of metal as opposed to wood. If your talking about a lighter gauge wall I don’t see how you would even get the same sheer rating let alone a stronger one.

      1. Eric

        Detailing a CFS shear wall can take more than timber, but the capacity is greater in some instances.
        -Timber requires blocking at panel edges, so does CFS.
        -Timber requires plywood @ 6/12 fastening pattern, similar to CFS (depends on sheathing)

        For a construction note, Timber framing should have almost as many clips as CFS, if detailed properly and not at an opening. The main extra part that CFS has is the continuous blocking at XX” spacing. But this is quick and can be coordinated with sheathing.

        In my experience, steel guys love steel and wood guys love wood. it is difficult to make the jump either way since one will only focus on the negatives.

          1. Jon Hegrenes

            We will smoke you. And ours will be square, plumb, and true! Also we won’t need a saw or a nail gun. Just hand tools and an impact.

  8. Alan Miller

    The issue of hanging doors and cabinets is easily remedied by using wood backing as is done with wood studs and on large cabinet walls, I use MDO plywood with the joints tapered by a mini grinder and primed so drywall mud will adhere to the joints. The MDO ply paints exactly like drywall and one does not need to constantly search for studs in which to screw the cabinets. For doors, over frame by 6″ with metal and use double wood trimmers to fasten jambs and casing. Use finish screws and adhesive for baseboard and crown moldings.
    The biggest issue I find with metal studs is making sure your drywall hangers understand sequence for screwing off the drywall. If they don’t stay consistent, the studs will twist during installation and cause waves in the wall which defeats the concept of metal studs creating very straight walls.

    1. Adam

      If there’s a person out there that wants a house that takes 3 times as long and costs 3 times as much welI I say more power to them, until the majority feels the same, wood will always dominate over steel

    2. Mike

      Just a quick comment. Although I don’t know enough about either product to make a truly informed decision. The idea of speed being one of the prime factors makes me wonder if the time saved, rushing with a nail gun, wouldn’t make me spend more time during the inspection process. If I’m having a custom home built I’m more worried about straight walls and quality than speed.

  9. Joe Savage

    Working in NYC,wood studs are not code although I have often used wood to block framing for KD bucks.Heavier gauge metal can also be cut with a sawzall with a bi-metal blade.

  10. Graham M. Palmer

    I have rebuilt my house with metal studs by constructing the new over the existing house and throwing the old roof out of th upstairs window and remodeling inside

  11. Chris

    I can see another advantage in steel; After you are done, you can recycle or get cash for any scraps. I don’t know what steel goes for at a salvage yard, but you can’t get money back for wood cutoffs.

  12. Mark

    It’s been a few years but I worked on too all steel homes . The structure was all pre fabed heavy steel and the infill was all the lighter gauge steel mentioned in the article.Like so many things it is different at first but once you get used to doing things differently it rolls along.The homes are still looking good. Yes being a wood guy I still like wood but metal has its advantages too , unless most of your work now is fixing homes that havent been properly maintained and rotten wood is $$$ in your pocket. Yes steel does rust just those two homes were very well engineered.

  13. Sergey

    Very interesting article. I especially like the multiple comparisons of steel vs wood. However, from my own experience, installation of metal light gauge studs has few drawbacks. First, the light gauge seems and feels somewhat flimsy. Second, it does not hold the sheet metal screws very well. These may not be issues with heavier gauge steel, but I have not had any experience with it thus far. Nonetheless, I personally prefer steel studs over wood since they do not burn, rot, or twist.

  14. Dirty

    Man was this ever a interesting read! Man I have worked with CFS a lot. We here in Hawaii we lead the country in steel home building for many years. I don’t know if we still do.
    Let me start out by saying what the Steel Framing Alliance won’t! The steel that is used for CFS (cold formed steel) comes from strip mining fields in China where everyone in the villages down stream from the fields is dieing from the chemicals they use in the mining and they let flow down stream. In China there is no EPA! Please research this for yourself. On the other hand the wood we use come from managed timber farms in the pacific north west. They are a renewable resource unlike steel.
    I have worked on hundreds of steal homes and never seen the accidents with working with wood as I saw working with steal. Skin sliced open from just brushing against a cut end, never happened with wood. Burning steal chip in the eye from cutting with the steal pro blade. Never happened with wood. On Mondays I used to cut rafters for 10 homes. 16ga. skil saw and and many steal pro blades. Full arm protection, ear protection ,safety glasses, full face shield. long pants and ST shoes. On the other hand when cutting wood rafter all I needed was safety glasses. As far load bearing and nonload bearing, for residential homes CFS is used maybe not what they sell at the big box but they use 18ga. and 16ga. for bearing walls.
    Pound for pound wood is stronger than steal. Wood will flex and pop back. Most men can bend a steal stud in half but not a wood stud.
    Steal has it’s place. It works great for inside commercial buildings for partitions to hand drywall from. It works great for prefab homes.
    As far as steal won’t burn,,, wow really! Ask any fire man about that. The fact is wood has a longer burn time and they rather go into a wood building that is burning than a steal building! The steal hits a temp. and catastrophic failure and falls all at once.
    Man I could go on a long time here but think I’ll wait to get some feed back to continue.

    1. Joe Sainz Post author

      Dirty – Thanks for the feedback. Lots of good stuff in there! I’ve never looked into the environmental info about the steel studs that I use – I’ll check into that sometime, but it’s not the typical conversation that we look for on here.
      I do know what you’re talking about when it comes to steel cuts and other problems – you definitely need to stay safe. I’ve laid open my knuckle from a steel cut once before, and WOW does it slice!
      I guess I will disagree about the strength of wood vs steel – Given equal weights – steel is much stronger. The stuff that we use for interior partitions is much lighter though, and that’s why it doesn’t seem as strong.
      Also, while steel can melt and fail – it doesn’t let fire spread. As to catastrophic failure, I know of similar firefighter concerns with engineered joists too.
      All in all – I’m a wood guy myself. I love it and build with it much more often than steel. Steel does have it’s place though (interior partitions mostly), and I’m glad we’re here discussing it. Thanks for your comments Dirty!

      Also – what does the rest of the crew think?

  15. Dirty

    Hi Joe, I feel in considering a building material everything needs to be looked at. As far as steel being stronger than wood many things come into play here. We have “Strength” is most commonly taken to be the stress required to permanently bend or break a material. Wood which has the same weight-to-strength ratio of steel or aluminum and in many cases more as some studies of Balsa wood being stronger than steel in pound per pound studies.
    As strength goes Bamboo’s tensile strength is roughly 28,000 per square inch versus steel’s 23,000. A link,,http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20130618073519AAuMeND and another ,,,http://www.appalachianwood.org/utilization.htm As far as burn failure. Wood can withstand heat up to 2,000º and char on the outside and still support weight for a long time where steel heats up very fast to the core. At about 1,000º can have catastrophic failure. Man I love this topic and can go on for a long time.

  16. Michael

    From doing mostly commercial carpentry and using almost exclusively metal studs it really is a time saver. they are easy to handle, lighter ones can be cut with snips and even the heavier gauge is not a nuisance to cut. For residential use I can see where the insect and water resistance comes in very useful.

  17. Andrew

    It has been interesting reading Dirty’s responses. They shed some different insight. I have used steel framing before in commercial work. I think that is where it shines. I don’t mind working with it, but I prefer wood. I don’t feel it goes together any faster just because it is lighter. Any time you are screwing something together vs. nailing it, it will take longer. Good article still because its a good way to bring up different options in our industry.

    1. Jay

      “Can I hang a 150 lb boxing bag from the ceiling that has metal studs?”

      If you know that that’s something you want to do before hand, sure. The beauty of steel studs is that you can beef up the strength without changing the member. If I were doing this with wood. I would go up to a bigger component, maybe a 2×10 instead of a 2×6. With steel, I can beef up my joists to 12 gauge without changing the design. I can keep my 2×6 ceiling and get a lot of strength or expand my spans by double or more. Can’t change the strength of wood. You just have to make it bigger and pile more on.

  18. Luke

    I do take small issue with one of the advantages it listed.

    Metal is prone to warp and twist as well. And in my limited experience with metal framing, if you kink it, it’s basically ruined. Never had a 2×4 kink on me 🙂

    Overall I’m in favor of some metal framing, but I can see where having the hybrid house could work so much better.

  19. Jay Merrett

    Just finished a project where we used structural steel (18 & 16 gauge) to frame a house. I am the home owner and the contractor. I really had to consider the different aspects of wood vs steel on many fronts. As the owner of a home that I plan to retire in and pass to my children, I wanted a structure that was going to last for a very long time. I also wanted the security of knowing that it would be termite, fire and mold resistant. Steel offered this. Being in Texas, the fact that it is much stronger in high wind situations was also a great feature. In being the contractor, I had to consider cost vs labor. The steel would cost me more and take longer to put together but it was lighter weight and would be easier for my wife and I to handle. In the end, my desire to have a safe house that lasted for a very long time won out. It would be worth the effort and extra cost to go with steel. The biggest argument that I hear from contractors in this discussion is that steel costs them more. It’s more profitable to use wood. They don’t have any obligation to the home owner to produce a building that will outlive us all or one that’s safer. They look at the bottom line. I understand this. It’s the same with almost all companies. They are in business to make profit, not produce the best product available. Car companies are a prime example of this. They use components that have a reasonable life span at a reasonable cost to the consumer so that they stay competitive with other car companies. The consumer gets a product that isn’t the safest thing on the road and won’t typically last more than 6-8 years but it is reasonable affordable. It’s also not in the car company’s best interest to build a car that lasts a lifetime. As soon as everyone had one, they would be out of business. Think of the effect too if most of the houses that carpenters built lasted 150+ years and needed significantly fewer repairs. Consumers would love it but builders would be limited in their future opportunities. Think of all of the remodel jobs that have to be done because of wood rot, fire or termite damage. Consumers really drive the market anyway. Educated buyers that want a long term property tend to lean towards steel and are willing to seek out a builder that will work with it. Consumers that don’t know any better or are just looking for a temporary house, really don’t care and lean towards the cheaper option of wood. They aren’t going to be in that house long enough to worry about the problems that come to the next owner. The solution for us was to build a smaller house than originally planned for the same cost. The side benefit of this was that our long term expenses – utilities, taxes and upkeep, will be much lower. We reduced the planned square footage of the house by 20% and the county accommodated by lowering our property taxes by the same. They didn’t charge us extra because the building would last longer. They gave us a discount because we were willing to build a smaller structure. Our utilities have also been much lower than we anticipated. Easier to heat and cool a smaller house. I won’t realize any benefit to a higher resale value down the line but maybe my great-grandchildren will. 🙂

    1. Duh

      What’s wrong with a wood building designed right, won’t it last forever too?

      Steel also costs more to build right (exterior rigid insulation) and utilities cost more (if you don’t use exterior insulation, even then, who is going to put 8″+ of rigid foam on the outside?).

  20. Charlie

    This article (and comments) was really interesting. I have to admit, though, the thought of not using wood to build a home makes me a little sad. I think a lot of us would feel like a house was colder being built from steel, and not just because of the material’s energy transfer.

  21. StealMe

    What about steel joists over wood studs?

    That way you get less issues with drywall on the ceiling or the sag while the ease of hanging stuff and adding trim to wood studs?

  22. Shane

    I’m thinking about using metal studs to build an ice shanty because of the light weight of metal vs. wood on the ice.
    However, all of the walls will be load bearing/exterior and support the rafters.
    This would be a 7′ by 12′ simple rectangle.
    Also, it would be loaded and unloaded from a trailer.
    Is there a certain gauge I need for exterior walls? And what would
    The weight difference be
    vs. 2 by 4’s?
    Any thoughts?

  23. Greg

    Residential it is simply easier, cheaper and faster to use wood, and any good carpenter will be just as straight as metal. The typical light gauge studs that are sold/used strip out so easy that hanging anything on the wall is just about impossible without the stud being filled with a 2×3, which not only eliminates the need for the metal at all, but can mean ripping open the wall to make such modifications. Same goes for doors and windows, and even installing the drywall the screws are harder/take longer to get to “bite”, then there’s a good chance they will strip out anyway. My father in law was a union carpenter in NYC and did a lot of work in his house with metal, I am a residential carpenter, and I have dealt with/used metal a lot in offices and school jobs we’ve done, which is purely from a fire code aspect. In my opinion it is just nowhere near as practical, capable, or worthy of the time/hassle for residential use.

    1. Greg

      Just a side note, I don’t have experience with heavier gauge metal, only the typical light gauge sold at typical residential yards. I would imagine there is a thicker gauge that would be a little more capable, but it would only be that much harder to cut and work with, which light gauge is already harder to work with and cut than wood

  24. Calvin

    I am building a tiny home on an RV frame. Would it be possible to use metal for all the framing to significantly reduce the weight? What are the pros and cons as it pertains to this kind of application?

    1. CD Levy

      I recently built a deck with 14 and 16 gauge 2×12 equivalents. It was 12 feet off the ground and I was able to handle all the prices my self. It went really well. Cutting it is a pain but you generally order it cut to length. I only cut cross bracing. I am a big fan of the material.

  25. Pingback: How To Build Bulkheads With Steel Studs | information

  26. Jeff Sansom

    I am looking to build a workshop for my small equipment business, about 30’x 40′ and had always assumed building in wood…. until I read this amazing page. A lot of wildfire threat here in BC, lower insurance? would metal studs support 30′ trusses? Great article with great comments from good guys by the sound of it. I’ve got to look into this more.

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