In 1928, Popular Science Monthly reported on a housing trend that was set to take the United States by storm. "It's Here—the All-Steel House," the headline screamed. Steel companies were going from city to city demonstrating how quickly and affordably these exciting, modern homes could be built. In Forest Hills, N.Y., workers easily erected the entire frame of one of these new "modular" homes in three hours and 50 minutes. Any budget deficits caused by the higher price of steel were zeroed out by reductions in labor costs, making these homes incredibly attractive to the American middle class.
World War II put the brakes on the fledging modular steel-frame home industry, however. Steel was requisitioned for use in the war, leaving a dearth of raw materials for private use. Once the war was over, however, steel frame homes once again found their niche in the marketplace. Major architects recognized the benefits of steel construction. Frank Lloyd Wright used steel to frame some of his famous Usonian houses in the 1940s. Some of these, such as The Buehler house in Orinda, Calif., are now on the National Register of Historic Buildings.
Today, steel framing is standard in the commercial building industry, and more and more residential buildings are also being constructed with steel frames. Steel studs have several important advantages over wood. They're comparatively lightweight and are 100 percent recyclable. Unlike wood, steel studs won't bow, bend, shrink or warp. They're impervious to mold and insect damage, and they're fire-resistant. Moreover, according to Atlanta contractor Jeff Lupton of Lupton Design + Build, building with steel studs has become more affordable in recent years.
So why aren't all home decorators celebrating steel? Read on to find out.
How Steel Studs Are Changing the way We Decorate
Watch enough home improvement television and you may walk away with the impression that it's a snap to hang your own kitchen cabinets or wall-mount your own plasma TV. Even the most tentative do-it-yourselfers rarely shy away from jobs like hanging a towel bar. Unfortunately, DIY chores that are a breeze with wood studs become a bit more challenging when steel framing is involved.
For one thing, steel is much more dense than wood; so special equipment is necessary to drill through it. Furthermore, drilling through metal will occasionally produce small sparks, creating a risk of fire. Many contractors advise steering clear of drilling through steel studs at all, if you can help it.
Fairly lightweight items can be anchored directly into drywall without drilling through the stud at all. There are a variety of anchors made specifically for securing items in drywall. Winged plastic anchors are inexpensive and much less likely to pull out than regular ribbed plastic anchors. Threaded drywall anchors are even stronger; many boast up to 50 pounds of holding power per anchor. For bigger jobs, like attaching mirrors or shelving, decorators often use strap toggle anchors, which are rated to hold up to 80 pounds [source: DIYlife.com].
The downside to drywall anchors is that no matter how sturdy they may be, drywall itself is a soft material. Front-heavy items like towel bars or shelving tend to pull out over time. In order to hang items that need more support, it is possible to drill through metal studs. Titanium or cobalt drill bits are best suited for boring through metal. Once you've drilled your pilot holes, you'll want to use a toggle bolt to safely secure heavy items to the metal stud. Alternately, you could cut open the drywall, secure small sections of wood between the steel studs and then attach very heavy items to the wood.
Steel studs have lots of advantages over wood framing, but ease-of-decorating is not one of them. With the right tools, however, it's possible to hang your pictures, mirrors, shelves and even televisions on walls constructed with steel studs.
More Great Links
- California Energy Commission Consumer Energy Center. "Steel and Steel Framing." 2012. (June 8, 2012) http://www.consumerenergycenter.org/home/construction/steel.html
- Dunn, JD. "The History of Modular Homes." ModularHomes.org. May 16, 2012. (June 8, 2012) http://www.modularhomes.org/history-modular-houses
- Lupton, Jeff. Contractor with Lupton Design+ Build. Personal interview. June 8, 2012.
- Provey, Joe. "Best Wall Anchors and How to Install Them." DIYlife.com. Dec. 1, 2010. (June 8, 2012) http://www.diylife.com/2010/12/01/best-wall-anchors/
- Public Broadcasting Service. "Usonian House." (June 8, 2012) http://www.pbs.org/flw/buildings/usonia/usonia.html
- Silva, Tom. "Hanging a Television." This Old House. (June 8, 2012) http://www.thisoldhouse.com/toh/asktoh/question/0,,1061866,00.html
- Steel Framing Alliance. "Steel Framing Guide." 2007. (June 8, 2012) http://www.steelframing.org/PDF/SFA_Framing_Guide_final%202.pdf
- Stuart, Arthur. "It's Here—the All Steel House." Popular Science Monthly. 1928. (June 8, 2012) http://books.google.com/books?id=tCcDAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA33&dq=1930+plane+%22Popular&hl=en&ei=9X-STp--AoHy0gHH0PwW&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=9&ved=0CFAQ6AEwCDgK#v=onepage&q&f=true