Comparison of Steel Versus Wood

There are many reasons to choose steel over wood, including value, strength, efficiency, durability, and environmental impact. At Capital Steel Industries, these positive qualities are amplified further with our advanced building system and insistence on premium materials.

Wood has been used as a building material dating back to ancient Mesopotamia. Steel, in comparison, has been in use for approximately one hundred years, and yet steel has quickly surpassed wood as a preferred construction material.


Compared to wood, steel is the economical choice. Wood is labor-intensive, as it requires cutting down trees and transporting them to a facility where they can be processed. Steel requires less labor to produce and can save up to one-third the cost of similarly sized wood structures.

In addition, wood buildings take much longer to design and construct. With steel, you can avoid lengthy and expensive construction schedules. Steel buildings can be designed, engineered and erected in approximately half the time required for a wood structure with the same dimensions.


Pound for pound, steel is stronger than wood. Steel has a higher strength-to-weight ratio than wood, which means it takes fewer pounds of steel to support the same load. This reduces or eliminates the need for interior support columns, while providing a strong, stable structure.

With a Capital Steel building, spans up to 300 feet wide can be accomplished without the need for interior support. In contrast, the width of a wooden span is more limited, and may require more raw materials to achieve the same level of load support.

While steel is inherently strong, its effectiveness as a building material is affected by its degree of thickness. Gauge is a measure of thickness, and therefore of strength, with lower numbers indicating thicker and stronger steel. Capital Steel utilizes heavy-duty, commercial-grade 26-gauge steel for essential components, rather than the less expensive and less durable 29-gauge.

Efficiency and Security

Capital Steel utilizes an advanced building system wherein components are prefinished in a quality-controlled environment prior to shipment to the job site. This protects the materials from the elements, simplifies assembly, and accelerates the construction process. This is preferable to building with wood, where construction takes longer and materials are exposed to the weather through most of the process.

With Capital Steel on the job, materials are much more secure, fewer construction days are needed, and your building is finished swiftly.


There are several characteristics of wood that render it less durable than steel. Wood is vulnerable to decay and may warp or split. If knots are present in the wood, the wood may develop cracks. Wood is also susceptible to mold and damage from insects or vermin, and over time it may “creep.” Creep is a situation where wood has been compressed by the load it bears and can press against structural supports. This pressure may weaken the structure and lead to instability or even its collapse. Wood expands or contracts based on moisture levels, presenting an additional threat to structural stability. Steel has none of these negative factors, and has proven itself as a high quality building material.

Wood is also highly combustible and a volatile fuel source, while steel buildings are noncombustible. Should a fire break out, steel is not a source of fuel and may even prevent flames from spreading. Many insurance carriers offer discounts for steel structures, in recognition of their enhanced safety.

The strength and durability of prefabricated buildings means they are better suited than wood to withstand extreme weather conditions, such as hurricanes or hail.

A steel building from Capital Steel provides years of low-maintenance, worry-free service. Sturdy I-Beam construction and a 50-year structural warranty are standard features on all of our buildings, and, unlike wood, there’s no need to paint or stain the exterior.

Environmental Impact

The desire to protect our natural resources is transforming business and society. Adopting “green” construction practices is critical, as the U.S. Green Building Council reported in 2003 that commercial and residential buildings consume 65 percent of all electricity generated and constitute one-third of greenhouse gas emissions. With these statistics in mind, it’s vital to select construction materials that are beneficial to the environment. Steel has always been an energy-efficient building material, and it has several advantages over wood in terms of environmental impact.

Steel is a reflective material, which gives it a natural ability to retain heat in winter and deflect it in warmer months. As a result, less energy is required for heating and cooling, which reduces energy consumption and operating costs. In comparison, wood is prone to cracks that allow for the passage of air, which may substantially increase heating and cooling costs.

Steel is 100 percent recyclable, which makes it a truly preferred green building material. Currently, 65 percent of steel in the United States is recycled, and that percentage is likely to increase in the future. The steel reclaimed from six discarded automobiles provides enough material to frame a 2,000-square-foot building. While wood is also recyclable, it doesn’t have the same ability to divert consumer items such as cars from landfills and turn them into useful products.

In addition, the use of steel does not deplete our forests, which play a crucial role in processing greenhouse gasses and improving air quality.