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Understanding Construction: Cold-Formed Steel VS Structural Steel

Steel shapes  the world around us. It materialize structures that defy imagination. These projects like skyscrapers and large buildings (hospitals, stadiums) may seem like unbelievable feats, yet they are made possible from cold-formed steel framing and structural steel. 

Cold-form steel framing and structural-steel framing have been the backbone of construction and industry for decades and that doesn’t look to be changing any time soon.

Continue reading to learn more about the differences between the two types of steel and which one is right for the building you want to create.

Building With Steel Framing

Photo of Rand McNally Building
Rand McnNally South Clark Street Facilities

The first building constructed with steel framing was the Rand McNally Building in 1890. This building effectively showed the benefits of building with steel rather than iron or wood.

Since then, almost every large building constructed has been primarily made of steel. With the benefits that steel provides, it is no surprise that it is the first choice for building materials.

Because of this, it is important to know the different types of steel framing that are available on the market today, as well as the benefits of each type. While they may be applied differently, structural steel framing and cold-formed steel framing have been monumental in building the world we know today.

Benefits of Using Steel

The benefits of building with steel rather than other materials are numerous. While other materials have their perks, steel is a reliable and durable building material that will stand the test of time. 

One of steel’s biggest perks is its strength-to-weight ratio. For how light it is, it is an unbelievably strong material. Despite that strength, it is still flexible which allows it to stand up to weather and seismic activity.

Building with steel also requires far fewer vertical supports due to the strength that steel brings to the table. Because of this, steel framing is one of the best options for your money.

Another aspect of steel framing is that it is an environmentally friendly building material. All steel materials contain some recycled steel in them.

Structural Steel Framing

Structural steel has many uses, but the most common are large projects such as ships and skyscraper buildings. It is extremely durable and trusted as a primary steel framing system for tall buildings.

Some examples of structures built using structural steel framing are:

● Stadiums
● Skyscrapers
● Aircraft hangars
● Hospitals
● Wind Turbines
● Suspension bridges
● Oil platforms

Structural Steel installation
Structural steel installation

Structural steel is made from molten iron and then rolled. This process allows structural steel framing to be amazingly strong and durable. 

Another benefit of structural steel is that it allows builders and architects to create buildings that can provide stability and strength at heights that were previously unimagined. Because of these traits, it is great at supporting large infrastructures and buildings.

Structural steel framing can also be supported with the use of concrete for additional durability. This makes it a great option for building high-rise buildings and offices.

The biggest drawback for structural steel framing is that it is very heavy. In order to get it from the manufacturer to the building site, it requires transportation by large trucks. You also need to have large, heavy-duty cranes on-site in order to hoist the steel framing into place. This can be a time-consuming process and cost the project additional money.

Because of these reasons, structural steel framing is typically only used on large-scale building projects like high-rise buildings. Structural steel framing is too cumbersome and expensive to move for use on smaller building projects like residential properties and small offices.

Cold Formed Steel Framing

Cold-formed steel framing is instrumental in a variety of projects and is a very versatile type of steel framing. Because of its size and weight, it is great for use as framing and support in smaller projects like residential and commercial buildings. It is also a great option for interiors of a large scale building.

Some common uses of cold-formed steel framing are:

Light gauge steel panels
Light gauge steel panels

● Retail stores
● Apartment buildings
● Schools
● Houses
● Hotels
● Churches
● Retirement homes

Also known as steel stud framing, this type of framing is made by taking iron and making it into thin strips or sheets. After that, the metal studs get molded into either a “C” or a “Z” pattern. This pattern allows it to hold heavier loads.

From there it gets sprayed with a protective coating. This coating can be aluminum, zinc, or sometimes a mixture of the two. The walls are constructed and put into place first, followed by the floor supports and partitions.

Cold-form steel framing is a desirable substitute for wood construction framing. A big plus that cold-form steel framing provides is that because the pieces are made to exact specifications, there is very little cutting or work to be done at the job site.

Another advantage that cold-form steel framing has over wood is that it is flame resistant and termite resistant. It also will not warp or rot over time. Cold-framed steel can last up to 700 years when a protective coating is applied.

Because of cold-form steel’s strength, it requires fewer studs compared to wood construction framing. This leads to less waste and can also save you money on construction costs while also benefiting the environment.

The only drawback to cold-form steel framing is that in the event of a fire, rather than burning, the heat can cause the steel to lose a bit of its stability. This could lead to the structure being unsafe and even collapsing.

<< Visit our blog post comparing “steel studs vs wood studs” for more information on each building material, their benefits and drawbacks here >>

Your next project made easier

Steel can help make your blueprints materialize into the buildings that you envisioned. It’s durable, long-lasting, cost-effective, and good for the environment.
It’s a great option if you’re building your next home, or even if you’re building the next iconic skyscraper. 

Begin your free MWF Pro Metal or MWF Advanced Metal trial and start your next building project today.

For more information on our products or design services, visit, email us at or call us at 514-538-6862.

StrucSoft-LogoStrucSoft Solutions is the market leader in comprehensive Autodesk® Revit® based wood and steel framing software, with both off-the-shelf and custom solutions targeting the AEC and fabrication sectors. Our star solution MWF simplifies complex Revit® framing with its powerful range of tools for modeling, inter-trade clash detection, custom construction documentation and optional output to CNC machines.

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