March 5, 2008


A Bent For Metal Framing
Darl Yoder knows change is hard. So he realizes that persuading local builders to switch to steel framing after they've used lumber for generations is an uphill battle.

But it's an effort that his company, Steel Tech Wall & Truss System, is launching in the hope of getting a foothold in the Lancaster County market — a foothold Steel Tech would like to see develop into something bigger.

Although steel framing is often used for commercial and other large building projects, it's rarely found locally in residential construction.

Steel Tech, which manufactures and assembles steel wall panels and trusses, wants to demonstrate to builders the advantages of steel framing, which range from its high strength-to-weight ratio to its reliance on recycled materials.

To showcase these benefits, Steel Tech is taking builders on tours of a steel-frame house it's erecting near Bowmansville.

Though steel framing is popular in other regions of the country, local contractors and developers say cost and consumer demand will determine whether the idea takes root here.

Pushing the benefits

A subsidiary of Eagle Building Solutions, New Holland, Steel Tech was formed about two years ago, said Yoder, the company's product specialist.

It began by targeting the commercial market, including schools, hospitals and churches. It has projects finished or under way in several states, he said.

"Now we're branching into residential," Yoder said, where Steel Tech hopes to achieve similar success.

The key is making steel framing "an acceptable product" among local contractors, said Eugene Stauffer, general manager of Eagle Building Solutions.

"We believe this is the next generation of building material" in home construction, Yoder said.

But creating converts won't be easy, he said.

"Lancaster County is a pretty traditional area," Yoder said. "We need to change mindsets and belief systems."

On average, steel-framing a house costs 3 percent to 5 percent more than wood framing, he said, but that number will fluctuate with the price of lumber. In fact, according to the Steel Framing Alliance, that's one of the advantages of steel: Price spikes are rare.

And there are quite a few other benefits, Yoder said.

Steel boasts the highest strength-to-weight ratio of any building material, and its relative lightness means fewer foundation problems, he said.

Also, unlike wood, it "doesn't warp or twist or dry out or shrink," Yoder said, so it keeps its dimensional stability.

And steel is 100 percent recyclable. "For every eight scrap cars, you can do one [2,000-square-foot] house," said Nelson Sensenig, owner of Eagle Building Solutions. "You're helping the environment."

In addition, it produces less scrap and waste, Yoder said. The Steel Framing Alliance estimates the average at 2 percent, compared with 20 percent for lumber. "And that gets recycled," he said.

A zinc coating protects Steel Tech framing from corrosion, Yoder said.

Steel also doesn't burn, or cause fire to spread, he said. Plus, it's immune to mildew and mold.

Homeowners' insurance costs tend to be lower for people who live in steel-framed houses, he said.

Steel framing is a lot more common in southern and southwestern states, Yoder said, areas more prone to hurricanes, termites and other hazards.

"We're hoping to bring that idea to the Northeast," he said.

Using computerized stud and truss machines at its Rothsville factory, Steel Tech manufactures and assembles customized steel framing very efficiently, Yoder said. For example, it takes maybe 20 minutes for employees to put a truss together, he said.

The trusses and wall panels are then driven to the building site, where they're put in place, Yoder said. Using steel framing can cut a couple of weeks off the time it takes to build a home, he said.

Builders on the fence

Through Friday, March 7, Steel Tech is holding an open house for builders, showcasing the 2,200-square-foot residence it's constructing in Bowmansville.

The framing is left exposed, Yoder said, so contractors can get an up-close look.

Dave Musselman, a project manager with Horst & Son Inc., toured the home last week. Steel framing "looks like a real nice concept," he said, and he likes its immunity to shrinkage.

Musselman said he's open to the idea but wants more information, including details on cost.

"In general, builders are kind of skeptical of change," said Rick Martin, president and owner of Wheatland Custom Homes.

In evaluating steel framing, Martin said, two questions need to be asked: Does it save the customer money, and does it make life easier for builders?

If the answers to both are yes, steel framing will be seen as adding value, he said.

Randy Hess, a real estate agent and developer who's president of the Building Industry Association of Lancaster County, agreed. Like any other building technique, Hess said, steel framing will grow in popularity only if contractors and the public are on board.

Source: Lancaster New Era, March 2, 2008


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Brought to you by the Steel Framing Alliance (SFA) on the first Wednesday of each month, Framework Online arms you with the latest news and commentary on the steel framing and construction industries. In addition to industry headlines, trends and project profiles, Framework Online provides information and ideas that will better enable members to increase their participation in the residential and commercial construction markets.