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Home Steel Structures

Minneapolis. St. Paul Magazine

October, 2001

Steeling Home

Once reserved for commercial buildings, steel-frame construction has expanded into the residential home-building market thanks to a growing demand for stronger, more cost-efficient building techniques.

By Elizabeth Hilberg

Mpls. St. Paul

When Chuck Bonn and his wife started thinking about building a new house, they wanted to be sure that they were making a wise investment.

He looked at log homes, then wood-frame houses. He talked to someone who sold steel siding and discovered that steel siding is rust resistant. He eventually ran into Jerry Peterson, president of Midland Contracting in Fridley (a Sunway Homes Steel Structures' Distributor), who told him about steel frame houses. Bonn was sold. In fact, he was so impressed that he's hired Midland Contracting to build his two steel-frame houses: Bonn's primary residence is currently under construction in Becker, and as soon as that's finished, construction will begin on his second home in Akeley.

"I really thought that I could get more bang for my buck with steel," Bonn says. "So far, I think that's the case."

But it's only recently that steel-frame homes have become a realistic option for many homeowners. Builders were able to capitalize on this time-tested commercial technique when steel dropped in price and fell within the budget of many homebuyers.

But this progression into the residential market is about more than economics. There's definitely something to be said about the strength of steel.


The incredible strength of steel is perhaps the biggest incentive for building a home with this type of skeletal structure.

"A steel-frame house is up to ten times stronger than a wood-frame house," Peterson explains. "It can withstand two-hundred-mile-per-hour-winds. You can even drive a vehicle onto the roof of a house, and it won't bother it."

That was a major selling point for Bonn, who's a safety consultant. "I think that steel is a lot safer," he says, "and you get better insulation."

Unlike wood-frame houses, the only support needed for steel frame homes is the super-strong outside walls. Because of this, the inside walls have no structural value and can be placed anywere, which allows for more freedom in the home's layout.

These outside walls consist of two and a half by eight inch columns made of twelve gauge high strength steel, compared with the standard two by six pieces of lumber used in wood-frame houses. "When we put the screws on the steel beams, they're absolutely straigth," Peterson says. "And 150 years from now, the house will still be just as straight and plumb." "On the other hand, lumber will continue to shrink and twist over a period of time," Peterson says. "For that reason, you end up with a continuing problem of squeaks and nail pops from the sheetrock walls." The natural aging process of wood also can result in uneven floors, windows and doorways -or worse yet, serious structural damage- over time.

In steel-frame construction, the roof, ceiling, and floor trusses are also made of steel for additional durability and strength.

At the show

The steel-frame house at the Home and Garden Show will be furnished by Becker Furniture World and the Thomasville store, both in Becker. The home's interior will demonstrate the up-and-coming casual lifestyle trend, which is both eclectic and comfortable.

At the show

Midland Contracting will be displaying a Sunway Homes Juliette model steel-frame house at the Home and Garden Show.

A Subaru SUV will be positioned on the second floor of the home to demonstrate the strength of steel!!!

The Sunway Homes steel structure at the Minneapolis Fall Home & Garden Show

Because only the frames of these homes are steel, homeowners can choose from a multitude of exterior finishes, including wood, steel siding, and brick.

At the show

Steel framed homes are becoming more popular in the Minnesota home market. This home, "The Juliette" by Midland Contracting (A Sunway Steel Structures Distributor), is featured at the Home and Garden Show through Sunday at the Minneapolis Convention Center.


Peterson points out that all the framing pieces arrive together on the back of a flat-bet truck. "you'd think it's impossible for a three-thousand-square-foot house to fit on there, but it's true," he adds. "It really draws a crowd. We've had between sixty and one hundred couples gather at work sites to see these houses go up."

Part of the reason for the crowd is the unusual process of piecing together the framework. "It's like putting together an erector set. The measuring is done by computer, so when the frame arrives on the truck, everything is pre-cut and exact," Peterson explains. "And they go up unvelievably fast."

On average, a wood-frame home takes two to three weeks to frame. In comparison, contractors can properly frame a steel-frame home in three to four days. Because there's less crew time involved, the quick turnaround doesn't come at great expense.



"Right now, a steel-frame house would be about 5 percent cheaper than a wood house," Peterson says. (Peterson notes that the price of steel-frame homes fluctuates based on the market price of steel, so prospective homeowners will want to check with their contractor for a more accurate cost estimate.) That up-front cost is only a fraction of the amount of money saved over the long run with a steel-frame house.

Because the walls of steel-frame houses are thicker than those of wood-frame houses, there's more room for insulation. And a higher insulation factor significantly lowers heating bills.

"I'm building a house now that won't even have a furnace," Peterson says. "The home will have in-floor heating with fans and gas fireplaces and a tiny central-air system. And on top of that, energy costs will be way down."

Another significant savings comes from lower insurance rates. Steel-frame homes are nonflammable except for any inside millwork, and insurance companies respond with lower rates for homeowners.

Homeowners aren't the only ones to benefit; the environment reaps the benefits as well. All the steel is recyclable, so the amount of debris left over a building site also differs greatly depending on the means of construction. "When we get done with a home, we have a thirty- gallon dumpster of stuff that's recyclable," Peterson says. "Compare that to a two and a half dumpsters that will have to be taken to a landfill with a wood-framed home."


Because most people imagine skyscrapers when they think of steel consruction, Peterson frequently hears clients say that they don't want their homes to feel sterile and dreary. Peterson is the first to admit that no one wants to live in a home that resembles a skyscraper. But he insists that the architectural possibilities of steel construction are just as varied as those of wood-frame homes -if not more.

Take Bonn's homes, for example. His primary residence has a custom-made garage with room for two cars and smaller spots for the lawn mower and golf cart.

"We can do arches, for example, with exact measurements because it's all computerized," Peterson says. And exterior treatments are wide open: brick, siding, stone, and stucco all work as well with steel-frame construction.

Bonn is considering using log siding on his second home.


Catalog of Home Designs

Classified by framed area

784 to 1,024 Sq. Ft. 1,035 to 1,120 Sq. Ft. 1,123 to 1,195 Sq. Ft. 1,197 to 1,350 Sq. Ft.
1,363 to 1,486 Sq. Ft. 1,489 to 1,647 Sq. Ft. 1,656 to 1,785 Sq. Ft. 1,788 to 1,878 Sq. Ft.
1,884 to 2,005 Sq. Ft. 2,020 to 2,175 Sq. Ft. 2,180 to 2,395 Sq. Ft. 2,398 to 2,537 Sq. Ft.
2,538 to 2,779 Sq. Ft. 2,803 to 3,072 Sq. Ft. 3,106 to 3,541 Sq. Ft. 3,580 to 4,023 Sq. Ft.
Index 17: 4,059 to 5,992 Sq. Ft. Homes
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