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What Are Hybrid Wood and Steel Buildings?

Published November 20, 2015 by Whirlwind Team

hybrid wood steel building

Trying to decide whether or not to build traditionally with wood or opt for a more modern, steel building approach? There's no need to choose one over the other. These days, many builders go the hybrid construction route, blending their favorite attributes of wood-framed and trimmed homes with the strength and durability of steel and metal building components.

Steel Trumps Wood In Many Cases

One of the reasons hybrid construction projects are increasingly desirable is that local building codes are beefing up their efforts to improve occupant and environmental safety. From wind uplift ratings to eco-friendliness - there are several ways that steel and metal trump wood, or vice versa in other cases, and it is a desire to find solutions to particular building challenges that has led architects and builders to seek a more hybridized path.

  • Wind and snow load resistance. Building codes are often based on 100-year weather patterns, and lately those patterns are a changin'. Reviewing weather patterns for 100-years, and taking expert predictions into consideration, building departments and town councils across the nation are adopting more stringent codes when it comes to things like wind resistance and snow loads. 
  • Seismic ratings. Steel-framed buildings are superior when it comes to withstanding the power of seismic incidents - in terms of both vertical and horizontal stress. For this reason, many commercial commercial and residential building owners look to steel to provide the safe, durable protection they desire in the event of "a big one."
  • Environmental appeal. Elements of a steel building have always earned points through green building certification programs such as LEED, but now they are pulling even more weight in the point department. From the recycled products that are involved in the production of steel, to its recycle-ability at the end of its lifespan, as well as the durability and low-maintenance requirements while it's in use - steel and metal are considered some of the most eco-friendly products on the market. Their adaptability to solar power systems and environmentally responsible accessories, like cool metal roofs, enhance their green appeal even further.

The durability and low-maintenance attributes score additional points in the hybrid category. For example, home and business owners can rest assured their steel-framed building will remain pest free for decade after decade, while simultaneously enjoying the wood-based exteriors or trim pieces they are accustomed too.

Integrating Steel and Wood Building Components

The following are examples of why and/or how forward-thinking architects, designers, builders and owners are using hybrid buildings for their newest construction projects.

Reduce Construction Time and Materials Costs

Metal buildings are typically pre-engineered and prefabricated by a building supplier and than shipped ready-to-erect directly to the job site. This allows for much faster build times, which simultaneously reduces labor costs. The prefabricated and assembled parts also make it easier for those with less experience to construct a building without using an entire professional building crew. This is a common, cost-saving approach for churches, agricultural buildings and residential projects.

Enjoy Lower Lifetime Maintenance

Those who are not as familiar with steel-framed buildings often opt to construct a wood-framed building and then use metal building materials for siding, roofing and trim pieces. For example, metal gutters and downspouts have been used for decades now on residential homes, long before metal buildings became attractive to the residential building sector. These products are often warranteed for 40- or more years and require far less maintenance than their wood counterparts.

Increase Energy Efficiency and Interior Comfort

One of the most popular metal building products being embraced by home and business owners are cool metal roofs. Not only do they offer the same durable protection as regular metal roofs, cool roofing materials are also topped with reflective coatings that send UV rays back into the atmosphere, significantly reducing solar heat gain. Paired with a radiant barrier and insulation, these roofing products reduce energy spending by an average of 40% and also reduce the collective temperature in urban and cityscapes by several degrees - lessening the symptoms of what experts have dubbed the "urban heat island effect."

Enjoy Comfortable, Clear-Span Buildings

Wood-framed buildings require load bearing supports at more frequent intervals than steel-framed versions. This can be a detriment to farmers, commercial businesses and storage facilities, where occupants desire larger expanses of uninterrupted space. By using a combination of pre-fabricated steel trusses and wood framing, building owners can benefit from the strength, durability and clear spans offered by steel, with improved insulation performance offered by wood.

Using hybrid steel-wood combinations, buildings can be constructed with up to 33% more space and significantly more interior clearance, combined with comfort and energy efficiency. This allows more room for heavy machinery and trucks to access the building and to maneuver in the interiors. You can also use larger rolling metal door options.

Build With the Future In Mind

Adding on to a building is almost always possible, but at what expense? At best, it is a cost-consumptive endeavor that makes life more complicated for those inhabiting the space as the expansion and/or additions unfold. At worst, it can require a complete transplant of a building's occupants through the duration of the project.

By building for the future, as well as now, your hybrid building may never be expanded. If adding square footage becomes necessary down the road, using steel framing and prefabricated building components - even hybridized ones - will bring down the costs and building time frame, decreasing the negative impacts. They are inherently designed for easy expansion.

Designing Steel-Wood Hybrids

The idea of hybrid building designs makes so much sense that even the US. government has a vested interest in promoting them. The Department of Housing & Urban Development has published a 124-page guide titled, Hybrid Wood & Steel Details - Builder's Guide, stating:

By providing builders and framers with the necessary tools to construct hybrid wood and steel homes economically, HUD enhances housing affordability and quality through competition from new methods and materials. As a result, the public will notice an increase in steel/wood hybrids over the next decades. Does this mean our neighborhoods will look like cookie-cutter metal boxes? Not at all.

In hybrid fashion, building owners can use wood trim details, as well as bricks, stone or other exterior facade details, the same way they can with completely wood-framed buildings. Additionally, innovative advancements in metal fabrication have allowed metal building suppliers to offer roof and siding options that mimic traditional materials including:

  • Tile
  • Stone
  • Brick
  • Wood
  • Shingles

In many cases, the metal versions outperform wood versions due to durability, longevity and their low-maintenance requirements. Don't get stuck in a decision-making rut. Instead, expand your building's design potential and begin speaking with metal building suppliers that are willing to work with your hybrid ideas. The merging of wood and metal is often the optimal solution for residential, agricultural and commercial building projects.

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