We wood. And we are. Using wood, I mean. Trust me though. The decision was hard to reach.

About 3 months ago Crystal and I saw a photo online of the Tortoise Shell built by Bill Kastrinos. A beautiful (and seemingly functional) tiny house built using 20ga steel members, the home looked sturdy, robust, and quite progressive. We knew from day one that with our build we wanted desperately to re-write the book on tiny houses even if a book never had quite been written. We wanted to push the envelope and see where modern building practices would take us. We decided upon seeing that picture that we should explore metal further.

Our first discovery was that the higher number the metal gauge, the flimsier the material. We then found out that metal typically weighs about 1/2 of wood. And then we found out that it costs about 2/3 more than typical wood framing. Using metal would blow our budget up and we would have to really reconsider. But it seemed so eco-friendly and much more structurally sound. Perhaps it was worth the investment.

So, within a couple of days of decided to go all Iron Man with our Tiny House we realized with steel -vs- wood the comparison looked something like:

  • Re-usable versus one-time construct
  • Expensive versus cheaper
  • Straight versus warped, bended
  • No rot versus carpenter ant/termite infestation
  • Light weight versus heavier weight
  • Office-wall/partition removable/movable versus residential/fixed code compliance (not that code was on our mind)
  • Incombustible versus combustible

Then we got to thinking about rust. Metal does rust and if our little abode was subject to anything like our ‘ol Ford Ranger was, rust would set in quickly due to our position just forty-five minutes east of the Atlantic Ocean. The salinity of the air is detrimental to metal of any sort. Our minds then wandered over to the world of heating/cooling. Building our home with passive cooling in mind the last thing we wanted to do was compromise on our energy consumption. A steel stud wall loses more heat than a wood stud wall due to thermal “short circuiting”. According to the salesperson at our local fabricator, R19 insulation in a wood stud wall projects an R17 insulation factor. Depending on the steel stud gage and spacing, R19 in a steel stud wall could be as low as R11. Not music to our ears considering the expense! Perhaps the most important factor in making our decision though is that neither myself, my father, or my brother-in-law (the three primary laborers) have any real experience in building homes with metal. We have all built metal structures but next on this scale and with this amount of custom work.

Steel Framing labor is (by my best estimation) 2.5 times slower than wood. The use of sticks and bricks, as it were, allows for the use of pneumatic tools. And most guys I know can use an air nailer far faster than screws. And the tedious nature of gromets to run electrical and plumbing as well as needing a plasma cutter of some sort to rough or at the very least, hole saws, can be overwhelming for the average builder. And then our pledge to build sustainably came in to play.

No trees or animals are killed in the making of a steel building. Steel doesn’t hold mold contaminants the way wood does. Steel is 100% recyclable. I have to be honest. It was exhausting going back and forth between the two materials. Do we stay within our budget or do we try to use steel and forge new construction ground in tiny houses?

Will our construction ability match what it takes to use a material like metal?

How easy would it be to hang shelves or even a picture or two without wood studs in the walls?

Would the metal hold up for our family over the course of time?

The decisions seemed to be endless. The pros and cons of both materials were limitless. What would you do? What would you build with? Do you prefer one material over the other?