Structural Systems – Which Is Best For The Owner Builder Or Do It Your…

Structural Systems – Which Is Best For The Owner Builder Or Do It Your…

Wood Frame, Structural Insulated Panel, Steel Frame, Masonry, CIF,Adobe, Straw Bale… the choices of possible structural systems to build your house is a long and esoteric list. Each of them has its own advantages and disadvantages. Before you choose on, you need to carefully consider all aspects of the system you ultimately choose to understand the risks involved. In this article, we will discuss each of the systems and the features of each.

Wood Frame – Wood Frame is the oldest, most time tested method of building houses. Wood is a freely obtainable, easily processed, replaceable material that is lightweight, reliable and lasting (comparatively so) and coast less than many other systems, depending on geographic considerations. Wood framing is utilized in most areas of the country and despite what many will tell you, in this country, it does not deplete the resources due to the excellent management practices of the Forestry industry. The disadvantages of wood include a unacceptability to termites, moisture (mold) and fire.

Structural Insulated Panels – SIPS’s, as they are called are a comparatively new system that appeared on the market in the last 20 – 25 years. There is much to like about the system and it is gaining in familiarity and popularity as time goes on. A structural Insulated Panel combines a wood structural grade OSB (Oriented Strand Board) that is used to sandwich a chief of EPS (Expanded Polystyrene or Polyisocyanurate foam. The foam is injected between the cores and expands the thoroughness of the panel to a thickness of 6″ and acts like a glue producing a integrated panel that is incredibly strong. SIP’s also offer an airtight obstacle against wind infiltration and the R-Value of the panel. SIP’s have been tested and shown R-Values (measurement of the ability of the material to resist the move of cold by the material) for the panel of R 22 @ 75 degrees and R 24 @ 40 degrees. The foam chief also reduces air infiltration considerably and will also reduce sound transmission by the wall.

SIP’s are slightly wood so that the same caveats apply to them as wood framed structures. You must make sure that moisture control is effectively addressed in your design and you must continue a termite contract and bond on the home if it located in an area where termites are a problem.

Steel Frame – Steel Framed homes are similar to wood structures in mechanics and practice with 2 important differences, they are impervious to termites (with the exception of wood floor sheathing shared to them) and they are also fire resistant. They are also slightly stronger than wood structures.

The terminology and method are similar except that the structure is screwed together. You are using steel studs and trusses instead of wood. Steel framed homes do not perform in addition from and energy perspective in colder climates and sometimes the colder climates can make the steel studs translate by the exterior sheathing of certain systems (you can see the outline of the stud). You will enjoy lower cost in terms of insurance, but the costs of erection and the materials (especially given the current price of oil) will be considerably higher that a wood frame home. However all that aside, they are a very viable different for warmer climates, especially those with high susceptibility to termites, mold and high winds.

Masonry – Used to denote “brick” house. These days it is more associated with concrete block. Concrete block homes are extremely strong, termites will not eat them and they do not burn (although most have wooded roof structures). They are ideal in coastal regions. They are not ideal in northern climes where temperatures fall to below 40 degrees. The R-value of the exterior walls will be lower (less resistant to cold) with such a system. But in the Southern Tier (Texas, Florida, Arizona, etc.) they are an ideal different.

These are the dominant systems homeowners select for their projects. The complete range of factors you must consider are:

  • Cost of the installed system.
  • Availability of labor and materials in your market.
  • Energy efficiency.
  • Resistance to the local wind loads and seismic conditions.
  • Acceptance in the general market.
  • Look around. What you see the local builders using as a system will tell you what the local buying public prefers. Builders are not, as a whole big on experimentation and they stick to what is cost effective and accepted by the market. Take a clue for them and carefully consider if you wish to be experimenting with a system not common in your market. That said, probe fully, because there are perfectly viable alternatives and given your circumstances it may fit for you to select on of the alternatives.

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