Building with Cold Formed (Light Gauge) Steel

By Blaise Imbembe, EIT | May 19, 2021

Cold-formed steel (CFS) refers to products shaped by roll-forming of metallic coated sheet at ambient temperature. Since Cold-formed steel and wood are the two most commonly used materials for light framing, it is relevant to compare their performance in the building industry.

  • Given that cold-formed steel (melting point 2700o F) has a far better resistance to fire than wood (ignition point ~500o F), the insurance cost is less expensive for cold-formed steel buildings.
  • Unlike wood, cold-formed steel is inorganic. Therefore, cold-formed steel is not subject to mold, rot, and pests’ threat.
  • Due to its high strength (stronger pound for pound than any other building material), cold-formed steel can span very large distance, allowing much more flexibility and artistic options to the designer than wood.
  • The high ductility of cold-formed steel allows it to withstand high winds, earthquake and natural disasters.
  • The light weight of cold-formed steel makes it easier to carry in a job site than wood and allows a significant reduction of the bearing weight of the building.
  • Cold-formed steel is much easier to recycle than wood.

Compared to wood framing, cold-formed steel framing is more cost-effective in long term mostly because of the lower insurance cost for builders and owners. However, for architects or builders who need short-term cost reduction, wood framing is recommended due to its renewability and its simple production process.

The most common cold-formed steel sections in North America are:

  • Lipped channel (S Members): used as wall studs, floor or ceiling joists, roof rafters, and truss members.
  • Unlipped channel (T Members or Tracks): used at the ends of S members to hold them in a plan.

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