Gradually, Obstacles to Steel Framing are Lowered

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Framing homes with steel has been an alternative to traditional softwood framing for many years without any sign that it would ever gain widespread acceptance in the marketplace, but that may be changing.

March 29, 2000

Framing homes with steel has been an alternative to traditional softwood framing for many years without any sign that it would ever gain widespread acceptance in the marketplace, but that may be changing.

The North American Steel Framing Alliance, a consortium of steel manufacturers, has been gradually chipping away at many of the obstacles that have traditionally been in their way in the home building market. At this year's International Builders Show, NASFA announced progress on three fronts that will make the use of steel framing easier for home builders:

 

 

 

 

  • the inclusion of steel in prevalent prescriptive building codes,

     

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  • the success of a training program for local code officials, and

     

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  • the release of a software to aid builders who want to try steel.

    .Since its inception, the number one problem facing steel framing advocates has been its standing with most local inspecting authorities. Whereas softwood lumber framing requires no special inspection process, steel framing often falls into the same rigorous performance-based engineering scrutiny that commercial buildings undergo in most places. This year, for the first time, a "prescriptive method" of framing will be published as part of the new International Building Code as well as the International Residential Code.

    "When [the codes] are issued later this year, they will have steel framing tables in them which, theoretically, should eliminate the need for engineering in areas where those codes are adopted," a NASFA report says.

    Presently about 85% of the wood-framed housing in the U.S. is built under long standing methods--meaning that member sizes are picked from widely known load/span tables. Now the same convenience will be available for the use of steel studs.

    During 1999, NASFA also ramped up the availability of its six-hour training course for local code officials on the use of prescriptive-code based steel framing. By the end of the year, 29 seminars had been completed in Texas, California, Arizona, Hawaii, Washington, Missouri, South Carolina, Illinois, Louisiana, Georgia, and Indiana. Approximately 1,000 plan checkers and framing inspectors have been trained to date, the consortium reported.

    To add to the convenience of the coming tabular-based approvals, NASFA also announced the release of a software product to aid builders with specifying and ordering steel for home building. Version 1.0 of the software, SteelXpert, automates member selection, estimates, bill of materials, etc. associated with building a home with steel framing, NASFA officials said.

    "Steel framing products have been standardized. The prescriptive method has been written based on those product standards, and is now published in the building codes," says NASFA president Don Moody summarizing the string of recent steel framing developments. "Code officials across the nation are being trained on the prescriptive method. And now this new takeoff and estimating software program, SteelXpert, that interprets the Prescriptive Method, is available to builders."

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