Menu Close

WOOD versus STEEL Buildings- Part 1

Pros and Cons of Lumber vs Rigid-Frame Steel Construction

Ever wonder about the pros and cons of wood vs. steel framing?

It’s a clash of the titans. Paul Bunyan’s lumber-lovers face off against John Henry’s steel, prefab construction building fans.

The same builder stands before two structures, one wood and one a steel buildingLet’s examine the facts, comparing traditional wood-framed building with rigid-frame, steel prefab construction.


To start off, look at wood vs. steel buildings in the marketplace:

WOOD framing holds a firm grip on the residential market. Homebuilders are generally ultra-conservative and hesitant to accept anything new. If it was good enough in granddad’s time, then it’s good enough today.

STEEL, on the other hand, claims the lion’s share of all other construction markets.

  • For non-residential construction, more square footage is framed with structural steel than all other building systems combined.
  • According to Grand View Research, steel prefab construction and pre-engineered buildings (PEB) take a massive 70% chunk of all non-residential new construction in developed countries like the U.S.
  • Steel construction dominates the U.S. commercial market, consistently grabbing 50%-55% of new construction every year.
  • In the U.S. industrial market, steel’s share soars even higher— 95% of all new industrial buildings are framed with steel.


WOOD, as an organic material, is by nature an inconsistent building material. Every tree species varies. Even the same species differs from location to location. Lumber strengths fluctuate according to rainfall patterns and insect infestations. The age of the tree affects the strength of the wood.

Builders often reject 10% to 20% of a lumber order, due to flaws. (One cannot help but wonder if the culling might be even deeper if the builder was working on his own structure or home.)

Wood swells as moisture content changes. The width, length, and depth of the studs all expand and contract at different rates. As humidity goes up and down, lumber cracks, shrinks, warps, twists, and bows. Long headers and rafters sag over time.

Wood reaches its maximum strength at about 10% to 15% moisture content. When lumber is subjected to a moisture content over 20%, it begins to decay. At the time of harvest, wood’s moisture content is about 30%.

As the wood moves along each axis, nails and staples joining the framing begin to pull out, loosening the frame. Doors and windows become drafty and start to stick.

STEEL, as a man-made material, is impervious to changing moisture levels. Every steel building piece is manufactured in uniform consistence, straight and true— and remains so throughout the life of the structure.

Prefab construction with steel framing contains no “seconds” or substandard materials.

The high-strength bolts, nuts, and screws connecting steel framing in prefab construction do not pullout or loosen over time.


WOOD: Because of the inconsistencies of lumber, creating unhindered clear span space is problematic with wood framing.

Wood buildings require precisely placed interior load-bearing walls to support the structure’s weight. These intrusive walls restrict the floor plan. They also restrict later remodeling.

STEEL: Pre-engineered steel buildings clear span as much as 300’ with no load bearing walls or support columns, maximizing the usable space with prefab construction. Even wider structures are possible with limited interior support columns.

The unobstructed space provided by steel framing allows complete floor plan flexibility now— and greater freedom later when remodeling.

The clear span capabilities of steel buildings make them ideal for aircraft hangars, barns, big-box stores, equestrian riding arenas, gyms, heavy equipment shelters, picnic pavilions, recreational facilities, and warehouses. Steel superior strength allows such structures to use extremely wide doors, too.


WOOD construction requires skilled carpenters. The process is labor-intensive, as every stud must be measured and cut. Most wood structures consist of 2×4 framing placed every 16”.

STEEL: Factory-produced steel buildings arrive at the job site ready to assemble as part of prefab construction. All the framing was fabricated at a factory to exacting industry standards. All the main framing is cut, welded, punched, drilled, and painted before shipment. Every piece is clearly marked for placement, according to the plans.

Assembling a pre-fabricated steel building is like a grown-up version of a child’s erector set. The framing goes up quickly and logically. Steel buildings cut construction time by about 33%, when compared to wood framing.


WOOD buildings require frequent repairs and painting to reduce deterioration of the wood.

STEEL structure owners enjoy the low maintenance of a metal building. A simple annual rinsing and cleaning out the rain gutters generally covers steel building upkeep.


WOOD structures deteriorate over time. As they age, wood buildings lose their good looks, reducing their resale value.

STEEL buildings typically last decades longer than ordinary wood-framed structures. The framing in prefab construction maintains it structural integrity throughout its lifetime. Steel buildings retain their attractive appearance— and selling value— far longer than wood structures.


WOOD: Would you feel safe driving in a car built with wood? Of course not. Wood simply isn’t as strong as steel. That’s a given.

STEEL: No building material matches the strength of steel.

And today’s steel is even stronger than that used in bygone days. Engineering experts say that the Golden Gate Bridge could be duplicated today with half the amount of steel used in the current bridge.

Do not miss part 2 and part 3 of this wood versus steel buildings series.

If you need more information on pre-engineered steel buildings, call RHINO now at 940.383.9566. Our metal building specialists will happily answer any questions you have about our company and our metal building systems.