Filling the Gap in Steel
The Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry recognizes a tremendous growth opportunity that lies with a product with which many members are familiar, one whose tremendous attributes make it the material of choice for the future, and one whose abundance is growing.
The product is cold-formed steel. Yes, many of you already know cold-formed steel. You have manufactured it, produced components and fasteners for it, and erected it. AWCI’s Construction Dimensions has devoted many pages to the subject. But you might not know that cold-formed steel framing is poised to grow exponentially in the next few years and we at AWCI are gearing up to prepare.
In fact, numbers indicate steel framing is already on the rise. Based on shipment data tracked by the Steel Stud Manufacturers Association, usage of steel framing materials jumped nearly 20 percent to record levels of approximately 2.1 million tons. Recent numbers for recent residential starts, according to the National Association of Home Builders, are neck-and-neck with 2004’s boom in the single-family sector. And in the multi-family sector, which represents some of steel’s largest potential, NAHB reports increases over 2004 in the double digits. If growth trends continue this year, the number of homes that use steel framing will have doubled over the past eight years to 60,000 units.
Another hot market for steel is in the light-commercial segment. A recent study initiated by the Steel Framing Alliance revealed steel framing is used in 81 percent of the interior and non-bearing walls built today. For structural applications like bearing walls, curtain walls, floors and roofs, it showed steel framing was used in 22 percent of structures. Floors and roofs are shown to have plenty of room to grow, carrying 13 percent and 4 percent of the available market, respectively. Total market share for steel framing was determined to be 38 percent the year of the study.
Critical demographic and societal changes will hasten the need for new construction in the light-commercial segment. For instance, an aging Baby Boom population will increase the demand for health care facilities. These are typically multi-story structures with many interior walls and large roof systems, whose designs lend themselves to steel. The number of school projects is also on the rise as the children of the Boomers keep enrollments up. At the same time, older adults looking for a career change are driving the construction of higher education facilities.
In addition, warehouses, stores and food service buildings, office and bank buildings, and schools and colleges will also consume significant volumes of steel studs. The second largest potential application for steel framing is exterior walls at 1,267,953 tons per year; at 1,224,291 tons per year, the interior walls segment represents nearly as much potential.
Steel provides clear advantages over other materials in residential and light-commercial construction. It has the highest strength-to-weight ratio of any building material; it is 100-percent recyclable; it is non-combustible; it will not rot, warp, split, crack or creep; it is dimensionally stable; and it provides consistent quality.
Contractors and builders will benefit from steel for many reasons. Compared with the price of other framing materials, steel prices are relatively stable; it provides for straight walls and square corners; it reduces contractor call-backs; it is lighter than other materials; it provides for easy material selection; and it produces less scrap and waste (2 percent for steel versus 20 percent for lumber).
Finally, steel is an easy sell to consumers. It offers a high-strength, safe structure that requires less maintenance; it is less likely to suffer structural damage in a fire; it is not vulnerable to termites or any type of organism; and it can better withstand the forces of nature, including high winds and earthquakes due to its stronger connections.
Further industry developments have created a fertile ground for steel. Provisions in the building codes allow builders and owners to lower costs and increase the revenue from specific projects. Height and Area Tables in the NFPA fire codes, for example, give unprotected steel construction roughly 2 1/4 times the area value permitted for unrated wood construction. In addition, the same codes permit steel framing in taller structures than wood framing. In some cases, steel provides a three-story height advantage.
Finally, unique applications for steel and new construction techniques that are enabled by steel are helping a growing number of builders to lower the direct cost of construction, as well as overall project costs. In the face of high costs for oriented strand board and plywood products, sheet steel for shear panels is becoming a popular alternative in Southern California.
The Steel Framing Alliance, the Washington, D.C.–based association that represents the steel-framing industry, has been active in developing these new applications and programs to encourage and support the growth of steel framing. Some programs are focused on created cost advantages and incentives for owners to specify steel framing. One example is its recent work with a leading provider of builder’s risk insurance to reclassify steel framing in its policies as "non-combustible” construction. As a result, builders are now able to obtain discounts of up to 75 percent for commercial, multifamily and many residential projects. Similar initiatives promise to bring similar savings on other types of insurance products to the market place in the future. Another key area of activity is the SFA’s efforts to communicate these benefits to the construction industry as it promotes the use of steel framing.
One of the SFA’s most important missions is fulfilled through its array of training and education programs that target nearly every trade and profession. The SFA supports the development of steel framing design and construction standards by providing educational programs that reached more than 2,700 building officials in the last year. This year, along with the Centers for Cold-Formed Steel Studies, it is conducting six seminars throughout the country aimed at designers and engineers. These and other technical seminars are in development as online training programs through its Web site.
SFA, author of the definitive National Training Curriculum, has also worked tirelessly at the installer level, holding "Stud U” hands-on training classes in conjunction with industry trade shows, and sponsoring and supporting Skills-USA, whose vocational training culminates in a yearly competition.
But still a gap remains. Although the market share numbers testify to the fact that the vast majority of commercial builders are now using steel framing on interior walls, there is an acute shortage of contractors and carpenters who can accurately bid and build structures that use steel framing in the more complex, load-bearing applications. AWCI believes that more buildings would use steel framing—and its members would be better able to capitalize on the growth potential in this market segment—if this kind of education were readily available.
Learn from SFA and AWCI
That is why AWCI and SFA have joined forces to develop and deliver products and programs designed to educate contractors regarding cold-formed steel building fabrication, erection and construction. The education program, which began development about a year ago, is intended to cover the full range of needs. It has 12 modules: general/industry organization, estimating; materials; tools, accessories and techniques; delivery of materials; non-load bearing wall assemblies; load bearing wall assemblies; floor assemblies and truss fabrication; engineering consideration; panelization; project management and quality control.
The program approved provides for live seminars and self-study programs. Initially, the first of these will be live four-day seminars conducted in the late fall-early winter of 2005. Once the live seminars are underway, the associations will develop the self-study program. AWCI has a Web site address for contractors who are interested in learning more about the program once the information is available.
The course materials are being developed by an interdisciplinary team of cold-formed steel construct professional engineers and experienced contractors. The combination of engineers and contractors ensures that the materials are technically correct and the means and methods are practical from a contractor’s point of view.
Keep tuning into AWCI’s Construction Dimensions for further developments on this ground-breaking initiative.
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