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"Steel-framed houses are super-efficient, offer design flexibility"

Click here to see a descriptive illustration of exterior diagrams of two completed houses and their steel frames.

Dear Jim: I would like to build a home with safe, strong steel framing instead of lumber and I know many companies produce them. Is living in a steel-framed home like being in a warehouse and are they efficient? - Ed H.

A: Using steel-framing is an excellent method to build a home that will last for generations. These homes look like any other and you would have to be told one had a steel frame instead of lumber. They use the same interior and exterior wall finishes as traditional lumber or block homes.

Superior energy efficiency is just one of the advantages a steel-framed home offers over a standard stick-built lumber home. It is extremely strong to resist all types of disasters. Steel does not settle, warp, get attacked by termites, rot, etc. as lumber does. Much of the steel used is recycled.

Steel framing offers more design and architectural flexibility for unique or conventional styling. Its strength and large clear spans mean the design is not constrained by the need for intermediate support walls. As your family size changes over the years, you can easily move interior walls to redesign the floor plan without a concern for structural support.

Steel framing manufacturers have many predesigned house plans ranging from 1,000 sq. ft. bungalows to 6,000 sq. ft. mansions. If you already have your house designed for a lumber frame, give the plans to the steel framing company. Their engineers can design a steel frame to build the exact home.

The excellent energy efficiency of steel framing is a result of the thicker wall cavities with thicker insulation. The strength of steel requires fewer wall studs, so there are less thermal bridges (uninsulated areas). Its strength also keeps the structure stable for very little air leakage.

There are quite a few design options for using steel framing. The strongest method is called red iron because the steel members are painted with red oxide paint. It uses heavy-gauge steel beams on eight-foot centers and it is very strong and energy efficient. The bolt-together beams support the walls and the roof.

Another option is galvanized lighter gauge steel. The smaller beams are made from formed sheet steel instead of resembling the I-beams used with red iron framing. The main support beams are typically put on four-foot centers with smaller supports in between them. This also creates a strong house.

Steel-for-stick steel framing resembles standard stick-built lumber framing. Wherever you would normally have a wooden stud or joist, a steel member replaces it. Steel frame panels are still another option. The preassembled framing panels are delivered to your building site to be connected together by the builder.

Instant Download Update Bulletin No. 879 - listing of 21 steel-framed (red iron and light-gauge) house manufacturers, material/construction specifications, items included in framing packages, six floor plan layouts, exterior house diagrams and several steel framing illustrations.

Dear Jim: We have a house with a cathedral ceiling that is 12 feet high at the peak. I was wondering if this is inefficient because all of the heated air will go up to the top? What can we do to improve it? - Ed M.

A: Heated air, because it is less dense, will naturally stagnant in the highest point in a room. Since cathedral ceilings are often not as well insulated as a normal attic floor, the inefficiencies can be significant.

Try installing a ceiling paddle fan in the room. Set the rotation switch so it slowly blows air upward during the winter. This is move the warm air at the ceiling out to the walls and down into the room.

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