Steel vs. Wood: A Comparative Analysis for Residential Construction

Steel vs. Wood: A Comparative Analysis for Residential Construction

April 30, 2024

In residential construction, steel and wood have dominated the construction landscape for centuries. Steel framing in particular has been a fixture of Australian residential and low-rise commercial construction for the past 50 years. But when you really get down to comparing the two materials in depth, is one truly better than the other? Whether you're building a custom home and searching for which material can offer advantages for your unique build, or you're simply curious about the ongoing steel vs. wood debate, we'll conduct a comparative analysis of steel and wood, highlighting their advantages and limitations in terms of durability of construction materials, value for money and environmental, helping you choose the right material for your project.

The Basics of Steel and Wood in Construction

When it comes to the choice of steel frame vs timber frame, steel frames generally outrank their wooden counterparts in popularity. Steel tends to be the more popular choice for framing due to its numerous advantages, such as:
  • Strength - Steel has a high strength-to-weight ratio, making it an excellent choice for critical structural components like wall studs, floor joists, beams and reinforcements.
  • Durability - Maintenance of steel and wood can prolong the longevity of either material, however, steel is generally resistant to warping, shrinking and cracking. It's also durable, allowing for a longer lifespan.
  • Eco-Friendliness - Steel is 100% recyclable, and a large proportion of steel used for construction generally comes from recycled materials.
However, wooden frames still have their place in residential construction. Wood is a traditional and still widely used material in the construction of Australian homes due to its own unique properties and advantages, such as:
  • Versatility - Wood is adaptable and easy to work with, making it suitable for a variety of purposes, from framing to flooring.
  • Thermal Properties - Wood has good insulation properties, making it ideal for energy-efficient home construction.
  • Sound Absorption - Wood's acoustic properties make it ideal for minimising echo in living or office spaces.
  • Sustainability - Wood is a renewable resource, making it an environmentally friendly choice for construction.
Use this comparison table for a quick reference and overview of the key features and distinctions between the two materials:



Strength High strength-to-weight ratio Good compressive strength
Durability Resistant to warping, shrinking and cracking Durable, can resist major earthquakes and hurricane-like winds
Pest Resistance Resistant to termites and borers Varies by species
Fire Resistance Non-combustible Varies by species
Design Flexibility Allows for large-span trusses Adaptable and easy to work with
Thermal Properties Varies by insulation used Good insulation properties
Sound Absorption Varies by insulation used Good acoustic properties
Aesthetics Varies by cladding used Wide variety of species available
Sustainability 100% recyclable Renewable resource

Cost Analysis: Steel vs. Wood

  • Initial Investment - In Australia, the initial cost of steel framing can range from $1300 to $2000 per square metre. Wood, on the other hand, can cost anywhere between $1200 and $1680 per square metre.
  • Long-Term Savings - Steel, known for its strength and resilience, is highly resistant to rot, pests and fire. It also tends to withstand harsh weather conditions, including heavy rain, strong winds and cyclonic conditions common in Australia. Wood, while initially cheaper, generally requires regular maintenance to ensure longevity.
Despite the higher upfront cost, steel's durability, low maintenance needs and greater longevity make it a more cost-effective choice in the long run. Wood, while less expensive upfront, may require more maintenance, impacting its long-term material cost comparison not just in money, but also time.

Durability & Maintenance

Steel framing has a great reputation for durability in residential structures, which is attributed to its high strength and resistance to pests, fire and weather conditions. Wood, while initially cheaper and easy to work with, is susceptible to rot, pests and fire. Its performance is generally influenced by environmental conditions and whether or not maintenance practices are applied regularly. Steel generally requires less maintenance due to its resilience, while wood will require regular maintenance to ensure longevity.

Environmental Impact

Material choice can significantly impact a home's energy use. High thermal mass materials like steel are more energy-efficient than timber. Steel is also the world's most recyclable construction material, as it can be reused without quality degradation. Timber, while often praised for its renewable nature, typically faces challenges at the end of its lifecycle, underscoring the importance of a thorough lifecycle analysis of construction materials to truly gauge environmental footprint. Eco-friendly building practices in Australia focus on energy-efficient designs, eco-friendly materials, water conservation, waste reduction and adherence to green certifications and standards. Steel generally ranks better than wood on all green building aspects.

Making the Choice: Steel or Wood?

Choosing between steel and wood for residential construction involves consideration of a number of factors. Steel framing is durable, fire-resistant and requires less maintenance, while wood offers a natural aesthetic and better insulation. It's important to consider a project's specific requirements and location before making a decision. For instance, steel is ideal for areas prone to termites or high humidity. Ultimately, the choice between the two materials will depend on what's best for your project. For more information on steel framing and whether it's right for your project, contact the experts at CMC Steel Solutions today.