Engineering steel beams became the viable solution for the ever-increasing cost of lumber and supply issues that have plagued the material during the pandemic. In May 2021, Statistics Canada stated that softwood lumber prices increased 166.3 percent from April 2020. This is the highest year-over-year increase since the series began in 1956.
At the beginning of the pandemic, construction activity declined leaving mills with excess supply forcing them to decrease or halt production and retrench staff. No one could have predicted the housing boom that followed leaving mills unprepared for the explosive demand. With more people competing for limited supply and the bottleneck of cargo ships resulting from some of the seaports being temporarily shut down (Cleveland Construction, 2021), prices began their steep upward trend to levels never seen before such that some began looking for more readily available materials that were once considered uneconomical options such as steel and insulated concrete form (ICF).
According to the CSSBI (Canadian Sheet Steel Building Institute), a recent study conducted by R.A. Smith. Inc., and sponsored by the SFIA (Steel Framing Industry Association) compared the costs of framing a 5-story, 49,900 SF mixed-use apartment building. Light wood framing cost $6,401,779 (with higher construction-phase insurance) while cold formed steel (CFS) framing cost $6,460,696 (with lower construction-phase insurance), a mere $58,917 more (Whalen, 2020). When you factor in the advantages that come with using steel such as less maintenance costs, the fact that it is a non-polluting and recyclable material offering additional earthquake and fire resistance with more design freedom, accuracy, strength, durability, and finally, less market volatility, steel is becoming a far more attractive option.
Given that cold formed steel is a premanufactured product that arrives on site like an Ikea package ready to be assembled sans the allen key, the only disadvantage is the fact that window and door sizes need to be finalized at the design phase leaving little or no room for changes after framing is complete. The long lead times for windows and doors have forced contractors to order their windows and other materials in advance to prevent any possible project delays, therefore this disadvantage doesn’t appear to be much of a hinderance at this time.
Cold formed steel is not the only steel product that can be used as a substitute for timber. I-beams and H-beams which were once reserved for highly architecturally styled structures have become an increasingly more viable alternative for expensive laminated veneer lumber (LVL) and built-up timber beams. The strength of steel beams supersedes timber beams as they allow for larger spans. Steel beams can also be incorporated into frames which can be used as the lateral resisting system allowing for large glass facades which is highly desirable for ocean front homes on Vancouver Island and the surrounding Gulf Islands. Steel members also allow for beams and columns to be smaller in size, making them easier to hide within walls and ceilings, thus promoting a more modern aesthetic.
In conclusion, the ever-increasing prices of lumber has resulted in many turning towards steel as their current material of choice. With steels advantages superseding lumber and lumbers abnormally long lead times, it is not hard to see why. By engineering steel beams as a substitute for lumber, many clients prevented project delays, and overages.
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Cleveland Construction. (April 9, 2021). Are Metal Studs a Solution to Escalating Lumber Costs? Cleveland Construction Blog. Retrieved from https://www.clevelandconstruction.com/blog/blog-feed/2021/04/09/are-metal-studs-a-solution-to-escalating-lumber-costs/
Whalen, E. (June 11, 2020). The True Cost of Cold-Formed Steel v. Wood Framing. CSSBI. Retrieved from https://cssbi.ca/blog/the-true-cost-of-cold-formed-steel-v-wood-framing
Statistics Canada. (May 13, 2021). Industrial Price Product Index: Flash Estimates, April 2021. Statistics Canada. Retrieved from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/210513/dq210513a-eng.htm