Understanding Construction: Cold-Formed Steel vs. Structural Steel

December 4, 2023
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Steel shapes the world around us, enabling the creation of structures that defy our imagination-soaring skyscrapers, gigantic stadiums, and otherworldly museums. The construction industry has relied on the use of structural and cold-formed steel for centuries to frame and form the skeletons of buildings. Let's explore the key differences between the two.

Why Build With Steel?

Steel is one of the most cost-effective and durable building materials available. It boasts the highest strength-to-weight ratio among construction materials. Steel beams or columns can support more weight than concrete or wood at the same mass. Cold-formed metal studs can span greater distances without the need for additional thickness or weight, resulting in light yet strong structures.

Steel structures are efficient, allowing builders to minimize materials without compromising functionality. Steel's high tensile strength enables it to flex under loads that would cause other materials to crack or break. This flexibility allows steel-framed buildings to reliably withstand dynamic forces like seismic activity or high winds. Additionally, steel is environmentally friendly due to its recyclability.

Structural Steel Framing

Structural steel is commonly used in large projects such as ships and skyscrapers. It serves as a primary steel framing system for tall buildings, industrial facilities, and bridges. Examples of structures requiring structural steel framing include stadiums, skyscrapers, aircraft hangars, hospitals, wind turbines, suspension bridges, and oil platforms.


Produced through methods like blast furnace and electric arc furnace, structural steel undergoes intense heat to purify iron into steel. The resulting steel is rolled or molded into shapes used for construction purposes, such as I-shaped beams and L-shaped sections. These sections are generally heavier and larger than cold-formed metal sections, making structural steel suitable for large-scale projects.

While structural steel offers benefits similar to cold-formed steel, it is heavier, costlier to transport, and requires cranes for construction. Therefore, it is more suitable for larger structures.

Cold-Formed Steel Framing

Cold-formed steel framing is ideal for small to mid-scale projects, typically up to 4 to 6 stories high. Examples include modular homes, hospital rooms, malls, retail stores, and schools. Cold-formed steel is created by rolling thin strips of steel at room temperature, in contrast to the high temperatures required for structural steel production.


Metal studs, such as C studs, Z studs, and U tracks, are the elementary components of cold-formed steel structures. These studs are rolled into various shapes before being brought to the job site and sprayed with a protective coating, often aluminum or zinc.

While wood is a common substitute for cold-formed steel framing, especially in residential construction, steel offers unique benefits such as design flexibility and repeatability through CAD platforms and CNC machines. Despite the environmental considerations, steel remains a preferred choice for its structural durability and design versatility.