As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and an increased demand, costs of building supplies have been volatile. It is not unusual to find that lumber has doubled (or more) in price over what it was pre-pandemic. The article below examines the multiple factors affecting the cost of construction using metal studs versus traditional wood studs (hint: it’s not just the cost of the studs). But according to the HomeDepot.com website (Michigan), as of April 13, 2021, a traditional whitewood 2x4x8 was selling for $6.85 while the equivalent metal stud was $4.38.
In December 2013, I set out to determine what the cost difference was between wood and metal framing for wall construction. I researched the prices on HomeDepot.com for the materials necessary to build a wall 8 feet high and 10 feet in length with 3 electrical device boxes.
Note: The metal framing I am talking about here is the thin gauge stuff sold at Home Depot that is not meant for load bearing walls. Obviously, the cost of heavier duty metal framing will be higher. Wood framing, on the other hand, is suitable for load bearing walls. My calculations are based on a non-load-bearing wall.
The device boxes for metal studs cost more than the device boxes for wood studs.
Screws are more expensive than nails. You can build a wood-framed wall using nails. But there are some DIYers, like myself, who will use screws for wood framing anyway. But you could get away with spending a lot less for nails.
Metal framing requires screws. There is no other option here.
And then there’s the type of nails or screws and their cost depending on quantity. The price per fastener is cheaper when you buy a bigger box of them.
It all got very complicated trying to drill down the exact costs.
But I did it. And then someone emailed me and suggested I update the prices every year because wood and metal are commodities and the prices fluctuate. Well, I’m not going to do that. Sorry. All these numbers and variables give me a headache.
So without getting too bogged down in the smallest details, here is a general summary of my findings in 2013 (based on a wall 10 feet long, 8 feet high with 2 device boxes):
- You could build a wood framed wall with nails for about $42.
- If you built that same wall using screws, it would cost you a couple dollars more.
- Building that same wall with metal framing would cost between $54 and $55.
Calculating cost per unit
Like I said, the calculations were complicated. For example, metal framing requires grommets that snap in place in the cut-outs for running electrical wiring to protect the wiring from the sharp edges. The grommets are sold in bags of 25. The price per bag in 2013 was $6.72. For the 10 foot wall example, you would need a maximum of 6. So you have to pay for 25 to get the 6 you need. So how do you calculate that?
Option 1: Price per unit
- $6.72 for 25 grommets is about 27 cents per grommet. Multiplied by 6 grommets works out to about $1.62. That was how I made the material calculations.
Option 2: Price per unit based on the units actually used.
- You have to pay $6.72 for a bag of 25 when you only need 6. That works out to $1.12 per grommet instead of 27 cents. That’s a big difference. Your real expense is $6.72 because you don’t have the option of only buying 6 grommets.
Playing around with percentages
Wood framing cost $42. Metal framing cost $55. That’s a difference of 30%. That is not insignificant, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. There are other constant costs that are equal for both walls, like drywall and drywall screws, and paint and primer. So let’s throw a number out there of about $50 for those materials.
Wood framing: $42 plus drywall and supplies ($50) is a total of $92
Metal framing: $55 plus drywall and supplies ($50) is a total of $105
Now the difference between the cost of the two walls is only about 13%. The difference has been reduced by more than half.
In the final analysis when deciding between wood or metal, remember that the framing is only a portion of the total project. The difference in cost is a percentage of whatever percentage framing represents of the total project. In the grand scheme of things, the cost difference between metal and wood may not make a significant difference in the overall cost of the project.
This post replaces a post originally written in December 2013