House framing gives a home support and shape and provides the shell for the outer coverings. The primary considerations of a builder, when selecting a framing material, take into account the project’s initial material and labor costs and the long-term expenses to the homeowner.
Understandably, the many house framing options available make it challenging to select the best choice for home construction. For builders and homeowners in search of the most durable and cost-effective framing product, this guide presents the pros and cons of five different framing options. The products include insulated concrete forms (ICF), structural insulated panels (SIPS), wood, concrete block, and steel framing.
1. Structural Insulated Panel
Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) include foam insulation sandwiched between two OSBs (oriented strand boards) or plywood boards. Manufacturers of SIPS often use expanded polystyrene (EPS) to make the core foam of the insulation panels. The end product carries the structure’s loads.
Pros of SIP
- Contractors can install SIP faster and with less waste than some other house framing products, which saves on labor costs.
- SIP’s thick layer creates airtight and energy-efficient homes.
- SIP’s produce straight and smooth walls for successful application of the exterior cladding and interior finishes.
- SIPs provide good structural strength and stability against earthquakes and hurricanes.
Cons of SIP
- SIPs constructed with OSB and composite structural siding panels have inadequate fire performance ratings.
- The durability of SIPs can diminish if the OSB gets wet.
- The design of a SIPs home must coordinate with the panel’s dimensions.
- SIPs require insecticides to protect against pests like termites.
2. Insulated Concrete Forms (ICFs)
The building of ICF walls involves pouring reinforced concrete into hollow panels (often made of expanded polystyrene or extruded polystyrene foam), separated by six to eight inches of reinforced rebar.
Before pouring the concrete, builders dry-stack the interlocking units, like Lego bricks. After the concrete cures, the outer and inner polystyrene ICF panels produce a permanent exterior framework. In the building process, these panels allow the installation of plumbing and electrical conduits.
Pros of ICF
- Energy-efficient, airtight ICF homes lessen energy use and reduce utility costs.
- Thick and solid ICF walls create acoustically, pleasing homes.
- The lightweight nature of ICF allows for secure handling so contractors can build quickly and efficiently.
- ICF construction can proceed in adverse conditions such as rain, which saves money on costly delays.
- The durability and strength of ICF creates long-lasting and disaster-resistant homes.
- Moisture-resistant ICF’s control water accumulation in the wall interior.
Cons of ICF
- The pouring of the concrete into the ICF wall requires qualified and experienced contractors. These professionals know how many feet of concrete to pour at a time without risking a blowout. Concrete poured too rapidly can burst through the polystyrene panels (blowout), causing costly cleanup and construction delays.
- Contractors must sufficiently vibrate the concrete while pouring to prevent honeycombing (air pockets and voids) – hollow areas that lessen the strength and stability of an ICF wall.
- The susceptibility of ICF panels to groundwater intrusion requires builders to include drainage tiles and sheeting to minimize the adverse effects of moisture. These features add to the overall costs of the building project.
- Termites may burrow through the ICF polystyrene panels and tiny cracks in the concrete where they can feast on joists, flooring and other wood elements of the home. Applying termite-resistant methods adds further costs to the ICF construction process.
3. Light Wood Framing
Builders in the United States commonly use light wood framing made from softwood trees (pine, spruce, and fir) sawn and machine-planed to standard sizes.
Pros of Light Wood Framing
- Builders can easily carry by hand every component of light wood framing, which allows for quick construction with no heavy tools.
- The adaptability of light wood allows for design flexibility.
- The availability of machine-made nails and cut lumber make light wood easily accessible to builders.
- Renewable light wood benefits the environment.
Cons of Light Wood Framing
- The vulnerability of wood to moisture can cause unhealthy mold and may lead to costly repairs.
- The combustibility of wood mandates construction techniques that prevent potential fires. The design of a wood-frame structure must also limit the spread of the flames in the event of a fire.
- Termites can invade wood frame buildings, which can damage a home’s durability and cost thousands of dollars to repair.
- Building a wood-framed home with the strength and resilience to resist storms, flooding, extreme wind events, and even earthquakes challenges most builders. It is also expensive. Constructing a disaster-resistant wood-framed building costs 25–30 percent more than standard construction.
4. Concrete Block Construction
The building industry refers to a concrete block as a concrete masonry unit (CMU). Generally, concrete block manufacturing uses materials like Portland cement, different aggregates like stone or quartz, and water. CMU’s come in a range of standard shapes and can be hollow or solid, with two or three cores.
Pros of Concrete Block Construction
- Moisture-resistant concrete blocks prevent the growth of mold.
- Fireproof concrete blocks act as a firewall between rooms or structures.
- Pest-resistant concrete blocks improve a home’s durability and lessen future maintenance costs.
Cons of Concrete Block Construction
- Modern wall systems require concrete block construction to include more features, extra layers, and extra steps, all of which takes more time and money, compared to projects from several decades ago.
- The industrial look of the concrete block requires applying a facing, like stucco.
- The R-values of concrete blocks range from 2 to 3, which does not contribute significantly to an energy-efficient home.
5. Steel Frame Construction
Strips of galvanized steel in cold rolling machines produce the steel studs for framing a home. Load-bearing walls required studs with heavier gauge metals than steel studs for non-load bearing walls.
The Pros of Steel Framed Homes
- The strength of steel frame construction stands up to dangerous wind events.
- Workers can easily carry and store the lightweight and hollow steel studs.
- Because moisture does not affect galvanized studs, a steel stud does not warp or rot and can remain straight and sturdy for its lifetime.
- Manufacturing metal studs with recyclable steel creates a green product.
- Steel studs do not emit volatile organic compounds.
- Termite-resistant steel eliminates the need for pest control features.
The Cons of Steel Framed Homes
- Limited availability of less common dimensions of steel studs may slow the building progress.
- Steel loses strength at high temperatures, like during a fire, which makes the steel framing prone to buckling and even collapse. Also, steel actively conducts heat, so materials near the steel studs can ignite, causing flames to spread to other areas of a home rapidly.
- Builders find it difficult and hazardous to cut steel studs.
- Taping a drywall screw into a steel stud requires experienced carpenters.
- The conductivity of steel framing leads to thermal bridging.
- Studies find that a steel framing system can cost 15 percent more than wood framing systems.
Comparing the Initial and Long-Term Costs of House Framing Materials
The initial costs of framing materials and labor can vary by locations, which makes comparing the costs difficult. However, for many regions of the country, wood and concrete block are the least expensive framing material, followed by steel, SIP, and ICF.
Features of framing materials that affect the long-term costs of a house (utility bills, maintenance, and repairs) include energy-efficiency and disaster-, pest-, and moisture-resistance.
- Energy-efficiency lowers utility bills. The design of ICF and SIP create energy-efficient walls. Wood, steel, and concrete framing require an application of insulation to achieve energy-efficient walls.
- Disaster-Resistance saves on costly repairs. All framing methods can provide disaster-resistance; however, wood requires costly additional features to obtain disaster-resistance.
- Termite-resistance saves on expensive maintenance and repairs. Steel and concrete resists termites. ICF, SIP, and wood all require treatments against termites.
- Moisture-resistance protects a home’s integrity and prevents costly repairs. ICF, steel, and concrete block framing contribute towards a moisture-resistant home. SIP and wood require more features to control moisture accumulation in the wall system.
ICF Wall System: the Best Choice for a House Framing Product
An ICF Wall System provides all the benefits of the other framing systems and none of the problems.
- ICF Blocks save on initial building cost. The lightweight concrete material of the ICF Wall System, along with its built-in insulation and a self-anchoring stay-in-place system, make it easy and fast to install.
- Several components of ICF wall system lessen long-term expenses.
- Energy-efficient ICF Blocks reduce utility bills.
- Moisture-resistant ICF Blocks protect a home’s durability and lessen maintenance costs.
- Fire-, disaster-, and termite-resistant ICF Blocks minimize repair costs and ensure a long-lasting home.
When selecting a framing material, builders must weigh the pros and cons of each product to best manage initial construction costs and long-term expenses to the homeowner. The decision often requires builders to compromise important features, like energy-efficiency and moisture-resistance, in order to save on initial construction costs.
Fortunately, an ICF Wall System offers a solution to all the problems associated with framing materials. An ICF Wall System saves on upfront costs by reducing the time and labor needs during construction. An ICF Blocks further save on long-term expenses by lessening energy use and minimizing replacement, repair, and maintenance costs.