Can You Live in a Steel Building?

Published January 3, 2018 by Whirlwind Team

residential steel building

If you are wondering if a metal building is a quality living space, you should know that you have probably passed by several residences with steel frames and paneling that look no different than their traditionally built neighbors.

Today’s steel home is a far cry from the tin shack of old. Advances in technology and workmanship have made it possible to design, prefabricate, and erect a fully functioning residential steel building. The biggest difference between a traditionally built wood-frame home and a steel-frame house is invisible to the eye but not the wallet. A metal home is more energy efficient and durable than wood-frame housing can ever hope to be.

Advantages of steel-framed homes

As we mentioned, two of the biggest advantages of steel-framed homes are their durability and energy efficiency.

Steel is a durable and robust building material with a high strength-to-weight ratio, meaning that achieving the same amount of strength requires much thicker and heavier wood frame members than if you build with steel. You save on material costs.

A steel structure is easy to insulate, and a steel roof is not only lighter than an asphalt roof, but you can also purchase a "cool roof," which is white in color and has high rates of emissivity and reflectivity. In other words, the roof reflects the heat of the sun and re-emits any heat that does enter the material.

  • Building with steel saves on labor because a steel home can be erected in a fraction of the time a wood or masonry home takes to build.
  • The initial cost of material may be higher, but you will achieve a return on that investment in energy efficiency and reduced maintenance.
  • Metal structures are more flexible in their design options. Adding a second or third story is also an option you may not have with a one-story wood frame home.
  • Size doesn’t matter; you can build a McMansion or a tiny-house.
  • Insurance premiums against fire, seismic and weather damage are generally lower because a steel home is more fire-resistant and is less likely to sustain major damage in high winds and earthquakes.
  • In floods, only the non-metal cladding needs replacing; steel can be dried and cleaned without replacement.

Steel is a sustainable material that is 100% recyclable without loss of strength. Wood is sustainable, but it takes decades to grow a tree while steel can be quickly recycled and reused.

One other advantage a steel home has over a wood-framed home: so far, nobody has seen a metal eating insect or rodent. Termites, mice and rats won’t be making holes in this house!


Design and style options

As we mentioned earlier, there are more design options with steel than other materials. Steel makes clear span construction possible; you won't need interior load-bearing walls so your floor plan is not only flexible at the time of construction but also later in the life of the home should you or a future owner wish to change the layout.

At any rate, your dream metal home can look any way you want (unless the HOA says otherwise, of course). Any style of home you see on the street today can be convincingly replicated in steel, including the look of various types of roofing materials and a variety of colors and architectural accessories.

Be the first on the block to have a Victorian mansion or a fairytale cottage. Of course, you can have the basic straight walled home as well.

living in a metal building

Legal implications and financing

Before you give the go-ahead for the purchase of a steel home kit, check the legalities in your location.

  • Double-check the local zoning laws. Some areas may not allow a steel home.
  • Be sure to follow any covenants for the neighborhood.
  • Get a permit before breaking ground.
  • Hire a general contractor and subcontractors who are experienced in erecting steel buildings to lower your liability during assembly.

The same advantages steel provides in insurance, construction and energy savings also work in its favor with financing. Banks and other lenders see steel buildings as less risky investments that act as excellent, high-value collateral. Getting a loan for construction and then a mortgage may be easier than if you were building a less sturdy house.

Getting started on your metal home

Once you have secured the site for your home, received a permit and locked down financing, your contractor can start clearing the lot. A foundation engineer designs and installs a foundation based on the building plans and then the crew puts together your new home in less time than you would think. It’s the difference between gluing together a balsa wood model and clicking together Legos(R). There are fewer parts, fastener holes are pre-drilled and your home is held together by bolts and a few welds instead of nails.

One other advantage of steel home construction is that fewer trade subcontractors are involved, making scheduling easier and reducing the chance of error.

There is one thing to keep in mind if you purchase a prefabricated steel building for your home. The building contains all primary and secondary framing members, fasteners, and residential wall and roof panels plus trim. Anything more is a separate purchase including windows, doors, insulation, architectural accessories, interior finish and flooring.

A steel residential structure is an excellent investment that will return over time. Steel is durable, so your home will last for decades with little maintenance. If you live in a seismically active area or where there are severe storms or heavy snow, a steel home will bear up more readily than any other building material. Steel is highly fire-resistant as well.

Steel homes can be erected quickly with fewer people, so labor costs are lower and, with the proper insulation and other preparation, your energy bills will be lower on average than a traditional home. You have nearly complete freedom in size, design and aesthetics for your home. You don’t even have to worry about cell phone interference.

Can you live in a metal building?

Of course, you can. And nobody will be able to tell the difference between your home and the house next door.

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