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Should You Use Steel or Wood Studs to Build Your Tiny House?

Should You Use Steel or Wood Studs to Build Your Tiny House?

1/12/15 (2 years ago)

Should You Use Steel or Wood Studs to Build Your Tiny House?

Here's what we learned in the process of building our 35' tiny house. Since we were not experienced builders, we were not loyal to a particular method of construction. The advantage of this was that we could use an non-traditional material that best suited our criteria for our custom tiny home on wheels. Most tiny homes use wood framing for walls. But we decided to use steel. Here's why:

Advantages of Using Steel Studs

  1. Weight: Depending on the gauge used, steel studs can be 10% lighter than wood (based on a 2.5" wide 43 mil steel stud compared to 2x4" wood stud). Since we were building a BIG tiny house, we needed to think about weight all the time. The tiny homes on wheels that we researched were usually a lot smaller than our design and would be able to get away with using wood framing and plywood sheeting for the walls and still be towable. Wood studs would definitely be easier to work with for someone without the welding experience or tools for metal framing. But with our design we decided that the weight savings of using steel studs was more important.
  2. Stability: When you go and pick out wood studs at the lumber yard you quickly see that no two studs are alike. Many are warped or gouged and you need to pick through the stock to find straight sticks. Once you have your straight studs, your next challenge is keeping them straight by storing them in a dry flat place until you use them. Also, when installing wood studs, mistakes happen and it is more difficult to remove than a metal stud which you can quickly unscrew and reposition. Metal studs are also convenient because they are always straight; this means straighter walls. And the novice builder needs all the help in that area that he or she can get!
  3. Fire/Insect/Mold/Rot Prevention: This is a no-brainer. 

Disadvantages

As with any choice in building materials, you need to weigh the advantages and disadvantages. Here are a few that we needed to consider before making our choice to use metal studs.

  1. Thermal Transfer: Thermal transfer (heat loss to the outside during winter and heating penetration to the inside during the summer) is an issue with metal studs when used for your perimeter walls/floors/roof. In order to offset this problem you need to add an additional thermal break in way of furring strips, spray foam and insulation between the studs and the exterior climate. This will add additional cost and time to your project.
  2. Load Bearing Limitations: We decided to use 43 mil steel studs for the walls/roof/floors of our tiny home in order to save as much weight as possible. We build a support frame box/cage for the home using 2.5" steel tube. When this outer box was completed we just needed to screw the steel stud track to that frame and then screw in our studs. We used heavy duty construction adhesive wherever we could in order to fill gaps for sound prevention and add more strength to the wall system.
  3. Endless Screwing: Sometimes we daydreamed of just being able to use a nail gun (bam, bam, bam...done!). When you decide to use metal studs to frame your tiny home, you are committing to using metal screws and drilling and counter sinking and filling every hole for your whole project from beginning to end. Putting up the studs is fast, but it is the things you attach to the studs that take forever. This became tedious and at times downright aggravating. The best advice I would give would be to pre-drill every hole with a drill bit that's a little smaller than the screws (especially if you are screwing into a heavier gauge metal) and then counter-sink any wood/trim you plan to use so that you will have a smooth, finished product. This will save you time, broken drill bits, and aching arm muscles.

Tools Used

  • Metal band saw for cutting tracks and studs quickly

  • Metals snips (for quick cuts to join tracks)

  • Cordless electric impact driver drill

  • Phillips heavy duty impact driver bits (we broke regular Phillips driver bits on each screw before we found the heavy duty impact driver bits)

  • Liquid Nails Heavy Duty (for gluing foam panels to steel studs)

  • 10 oz. and 28 oz. caulk guns

In the end we feel that steel studs were the right choice for our project. View all our photos for the wall system phase of construction ›

Our next blog post will be on insulating and thermal transfer prevention in your tiny house.