More than 70 percent of new-home construction in Hawaii uses cold-steel frame studs in place of traditional wooden two-by-fours. “No other state comes even close,” says Tim Waite of the Hawaii Steel Alliance. “Second place goes to Australia.”
On the mainland, steel framing is frequently found in multifamily housing projects, but only 0.25 percent of single-family homes completed in 2012 were framed internally with metal studs, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Manufacturing & Construction Division.
Waite says that since Hawaii building codes were revised in 1988 to require treated (termite-proofed) wood for homebuilding, steel and lumber became cost-equivalent. Then, he says, steel wins on its merits:
- Greater tensile strength means it needs fewer studs than wood.
- Steel doesn’t warp, shrink or rot.
- It is termite-proof and lasts a very long time.
- Steel-framed buildings receive better fire ratings.
- Steel is “green,” primarily recycled from melted-down car bodies and washing machines. Steel is one of the most recycled materials: 66.2 percent of it is recycled, according to the nonprofit Keep America Beautiful.
Dean Au of the Hawaii RegionalCouncil of Carpenters says it is also a material vs. labor issue. Hollow steel framing is more quickly installed, due in part to its lighter weight. Fewer studs, and the fact that pieces are delivered pre-cut to the site, means fewer man-hours.
D.R. Horton – Schuler Division is the largest homebuilder in Hawaii with five new communities on Oahu and two each on Maui and the Big Island. “Currently, about 30 percent of our homes are built with wood framing,” says Horton VP Tracy Nagata, “while the others are a hybrid of steel framing and wood floor joists. Both steel and wood have their advantages. Steel framing is lighter in weight and a more consistent material making it optimal for prefabrication of wall panels. Wood framing is a natural and denser material which functions as a thermal energy break within a wall system. While we do not prefer one over the other, we base our usage on such factors as project location, material pricing trends and building systems design.”