There is an ever-growing selection of materials available for the design and construction of Australian homes,
the two most popular house frame choices by far remain timber and steel. Both offer benefits during the construction process, whether this is speed or ease of installation, and both are better suited to certain environments. The choice between timber and steel framing will also depend on the style of home you are designing and the budget you are working to. Here, we outline some of the main advantages and disadvantages of these prevalent materials from a builder’s experience.
Steel is rapidly becoming a more common choice in many areas of NSW, particularly as it is faster to build with, can be fabricated offsite and is considered more environmentally sustainable than timber framing.
- Fabrication is efficient: Steel framing can be fabricated accurately and rapidly offsite, with CNC equipment minimising mistakes and the need for rework. As a result, framing can be built earlier and the project completed sooner. Offsite production also minimises dust and noise impact on occupants and neighbours.
- Construction is simplified: Building with steel requires just a small portion of the labour required for concrete construction, meaning safer and more efficient sites. Framing components can arrive and be fitted in a logical sequence, further speeding up the construction process.
- Quality is assured and traceable: A mill test certificate assures the quality of all steel used, so it can be traced at all stages throughout the building process.
- Standardised sizes save time: Fabrication methods ensure that repeated components and standardised results can be efficiently produced.
- Steel is pest and fire resistant: Steel framing is more likely to keep its structural integrity than other alternatives in the case of a fire or the presence of termites.
- Waste is minimised: The use of steel framing minimises waste removal from onsite when compared to other materials, plus over 95% of all structural steel is reused.
- Future modifications can be planned for: It can be much simpler to add in structural elements during construction that will enable new additions and services later in time.
- Price is a factor: Steel is generally more expensive than timber, and this may have an impact on project budgets.
- Steel can be susceptible to corrosion: Steel is not recommended for coastal environments, as high salt content in the air can lead to structural deterioration.
There are many reasons timber has been and still is a common choice for house and building frames, including its relative affordability, ease of use and low weight in comparison to steel framing.
- Construction is efficient: Timber is easily sourced and framing can be completed rapidly, with relatively little lifting equipment required.
- Timber is comparatively lightweight: Timber framing weighs less than the equivalent construction in steel or concrete, and foundations are generally easier and faster to complete as a result.
- The results are strong: Timber framing is highly durable, and with high-quality wood the results can be long-lasting.
- One provider simplifies the project: One company will typically design and construct a timber frame from commencement to completion for a faster process.
- Contractors can be easily sourced: Carpentry and joinery are common trades, so finding labour for timber frame housing is simpler than for alternative options.
- Pests can be a concern: Timber framing can be susceptible to attack by termites unless correctly maintained.
- Wood is combustible: Timber can be structurally affected and add to the fuel load in the event of a house fire.
- Timber is not well suited to humidity: In areas of high moisture, timber framing can potentially rot or warp over time.
Choosing Roof System Materials
Along with the choice of house frame material, selecting the most appropriate roofing option can have a profound impact on the performance, value and energy efficiency of the building being constructed
Tiles vs. Metal Sheeting
- Superior thermal and acoustic performance
- Requires more structural support
- Difficult to remove and reuse tiles
- Heavier mass provides superior resistance against wind lift
- Susceptible to tile damage and water leakage
- Terracotta tiles can increase resale value
- Inferior acoustic performance
- Lightweight, easy and efficient to install
- Commonly recycled; often of up to 40% reused material
- Metal surface provides superior hail resistance
- Susceptible to corrosion
- Available with reflective finishes to improve energy efficiency
Vinyl vs. Liquid Waterproofing
- Costs more for longer-lasting results and longer warranties
- Lower risk of leaks
- Requires a specialist tradesperson for installation
- Can be used on balconies and as a roof membrane
- More affordable with shorter-term results
- Higher risk of leaks
- Tradespeople more readily available for installation
- Limited applications
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