For many amateur builders who plan to build a home with their own hands, timber is the first choice. What could be more charming than a traditional house with timber on the outside that blends into the environment, and the character and warmth of wood on the inside? Many people don’t realise, however, that not only can the timber look be achieved easily with a steel-frame house, there are important advantages in using steel. Steel is termite-proof, it does not rot, and it does not warp and shrink. A steel frame can be bought as a non-assembled kit which is much easier for an amateur to build than a timber frame, and is a big money saver.
A steel frame is not affected by termites. Even if a house is neglected and termites get into the timber on the outside or the inside, the house will not be destroyed. Damaged timber can be replaced and the structural integrity of the home will not be lost. Properly treated steel will last for many years. Steel roof sheeting is treated with a protective coating which allows it to be exposed to all weathers for years before it deteriorates. The steel in a house frame has a similar protective coating and, of course, is shielded from the weather. Timber can be successfully treated against termites and rot, but steel does not need the chemicals which are a concern for many people.
In most locations, while a house frame is being built it frequently becomes wet from rain and then dries out in the sun. This exposure to the weather can cause timber wall frames to warp. Warping can cause problems later on for windows, doors, and the internal finish. A steel frame will remain straight and true whatever the weather. There is a myth that a steel-frame house is noisy because it shrinks and expands as temperature changes. This aspect of a steel house has been greatly exaggerated, and a properly designed steel frame is not noisy.
An amateur builder who wants to construct a house frame using timber can do it in one of two ways. The biggest money-saver, but the most work, is to build the frame on site, as a professional builder would. This approach requires quite a high level of skill to cut and assemble a very large number of timber pieces. Many amateurs find this approach too challenging and instead buy a kit home in which the wall and roof frame is supplied in ready-made sections. This option is much less work, but costs much more. A different option is provided by some manufacturers of steel frames. They supply a non-assembled frame kit which the builder assembles on site. All the individual pieces of the wall frames, roof trusses, and, if required, a steel sub-floor on stumps, are delivered cut to length with holes already punched. There is no measuring or cutting to do, and the builder only has to screw the pieces together. Each piece is marked with a code showing which section of the house it belongs to, and its exact position, and there is a plan of each section for the builder to follow. This option is much quicker, and requires far less skill, than building a timber frame. Although it costs more than building a timber frame on site, it is much cheaper than buying a kit home with pre-built walls and roof trusses.
When the steel house frame is assembled, and the roof is on, all of the usual timber finishes can be applied outside and in. For example, traditional timber weatherboard can be screwed to the steel frame in a similar way to nailing it onto a timber frame. Inside, any type of timber finish that can be used on a timber frame can be attached to a steel frame. The result has the appearance and appeal of an all-timber house, with the advantages of a steel frame which is completely hidden.