Menu Close

Cost of Wood versus Metal Stud Framing

steel track

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.

Conclusion

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

Share:

20 Comments

  1. Joe Duarte

    Hello, good post. Any idea what gauge the steel studs were? Home Depot tends to have a very limited selection of steel studs – I’m not sure if they even carry structural studs (minimum 20 gauge, 33 mil thick). They usually carry 25 gauge, which is pretty thin and purely non-structural, and some 20 gauge. 20 gauge is weird because there are actually two types of 20 gauge – 30 mil (non-structural) and 33 mil (structural).

    So the steel wall might be more expensive that you calculated if people want it to be load-bearing, or just strong. If I wanted to mount heavy objects to it, like big TVs, I’d use structural 20 gauge or 18 gauge.

      • Robert Jacks

        I’m in the process of and near completion building an all metal house. I gave in and used some wood around doors and for backing to mount cabinets and base boards. I could have saved a lot of money pre cutting the backing wood and installing it as studs were installed. Initial construction began as a metal pole barn then added the thin wall studs on 24″ centers. I’m using 5/8 sheetrock for additional strength and insulation qualities. Overall the cost has been about the same. I’m looking at near zero maintenance costs, no termites, no rot, no woodpecker or carpenter bees damage,no fire, superior protection from storms and wind. I see no reason to build a house out of wood.

  2. Eileen Benson

    It was helpful when you explained that wood framing can be used for load-bearing walls whereas thin gauge metal framing cannot. My brother needs to choose a wall frame supplier to prefabricate the pieces for the large barn he’s building on his rural property. I’ll share this info with him to help him decide if timber or metal would be the right fit for his project!

    • Thumb and Hammer

      There is metal framing that can be used for load-bearing walls. But typically the stuff sold in the big-box building centers like Home Depot and Lowes is the thinner variety that cannot be used for that purpose. Whatever supplier your brother chooses to prefabricate the pieces for his barn should select the proper gauge according to the engineering specs for your brother’s project. Hope this helps and sorry for any confusion.

  3. Lawrence

    Very nice and informative post. This article will help beginners to learn about Cost of Wood versus Metal Stud Framing. I have a buddy who’s just beginning his DIY projects, and I will share this article with him. By the way, thanks for sharing this post, keep it up.

  4. Richard Waller

    What was not factored is labor cost and ease of handling. Cordless screwdrivers and tin snips vs. nail guns, compressor, hose, and skill saw. Nail cost vs. screws. Drilling holes vs. prepunched openings. Corners, door openings and wall intersections require much less material with metal studs. Plus metal studs are always straight, no bowing, cupping, or twisting. Even in the end, if metal stud framing cost a little more and that portion of budget suffices it is worth it. I worked as a commercial carpenter for 22 years using metal studs exclusively and was happy to have them over wood. Some wood (for backing) is necessary and by using trusses only the perimeter walls will require heavier gauge materials. Lastly, metal studs come in widths from 1 1/2” and lengths starting at 8’.

    • Thumb and Hammer

      Thank-you for your comments. I was approaching the costs from the DIY angle, where all labor is “free.” I do mention the varied costs of fasteners. A previous version of this article went into painstaking detail about those specific costs. Too much detail, I thought. You can get really bogged down in the nickles and dimes. That is why I talk in more general terms now. I do have a companion post that is linked to this one where I discuss the advantages and disadvantages of both materials. I will be revisiting that and adding the fact that the metal studs are pre-punched. Again, thanks for the comments. I do appreciate any feedback I receive.

  5. jamal khadar

    We are planning on building a small light commercial building but with limited budget. We are debating on wether to use steel frame with light gauge metal for the walls and steel decking with concrete for the first, second floor and the flat roof portion to support the RTU, or going with conventional framing lumbers with enginered trusses and joits for the roof and floor systems respectively. Feedbacks appreciated.

    • Thumb and Hammer

      Commercial construction is beyond my limited knowledge. I suppose a lot would depend on how the building will actually be used, how other buildings in the area are constructed (for example, if you are in an historic area) and the construction budget. These are all things to discuss with an architect.

  6. sam dallas

    Thanks for that information, now I have Q if I want to build house with 1800 sqf what do you think is go with metal stud 18 gauge or wood frame and what the durance will be ?

    • Thumb and Hammer

      For a project that size you should be working with an architect. An architect would be able to provide better insight into which material would work best for your project.

  7. Bill Fowler

    Hi. Very good post. I see a recent report that lumber prices have been as high as $900 per thousand board-feet, but are now roughly $600. With fluctuations in wood prices, not to mention strains on wood supplies caused by weather disasters, I wonder what cost per board-foot do you use in comparing wood and steel costs? In other words, what cost per board-foot would make steel and wood home construction equal?

    • Thumb and Hammer

      When I did the original comparison, I went on Home Depot’s website and looked up the prices of 2×4 wood studs and the equivalent metal studs. For example, on Dec 16 2020, a 2x4x8 wood stud costs $4.48 while a 25 gauge steel stud costs 3.98. (Ann Arbor, Michigan). But as I point out, you must also factor in the cost of electrical device boxes, which tend to be more expensive for metal framing, and fasteners (screws vs nails). Also, I am only referring to the light steel framing. If you are looking at construction of an entire house, then you would need a heavier gauge metal framing for exterior and structural supporting walls. I have no idea how much that metal framing runs. I also don’t know how much the price of metal has fluctuated during Covid, but my guess is probably not as much as wood.

      When you’re talking about units like board feet, an 8 foot long 2×4 measures 5.3 board feet. So, if my math is correct, that would be 188.7 2x4s per 1000 board feet, or roughly $3.18ish per 2×4 ($600 per 1000 board feet). But then we’re getting into wholesale vs retail prices which adds another layer to the comparison.

      But the short answer to your question is that I did not use board-feet when I was comparing wood and steel costs. I was comparing the retail costs at a major chain big box home center.

  8. G&K

    Thanks for the information. We just purchased a vacant plot of land, nothing on it. We are starting the planning of our forever home. Never build a home before, we are really green.We are at retirement age. Want a ranch style home, so looking at doing a Barndo, maybe, just a concrete slab floor.
    Any thoughts on Wood Vs Steel for shell?. So we would be building a building inside a building the way I see it, anything especial different about that construction we should be a where of?
    We would want to use the attic area for storage and maybe put furnace up there. Would that need to then be load bearing studs under it?
    Do you know currently how Metal vs Wood stud pricing is running?
    Any thing else you can pass our way would be greatly appreciated
    Thank You

    • G&K

      We are in Colorado. 3 acre lot. Also what would you recommend for insulation and heating, only propane available, in floor or forced air, or other ?
      Thank You again for all your sharing of knowledge.

    • Thumb and Hammer

      You really should be discussing your plans with an architect to determine what will work best for what you want to accomplish. That is where I would start. Every style of construction, and every material will have advantages and disadvantages. The location and the geology of your lot may also play a role.

      You also asked about in-floor heating. Having a little experience with that, I can tell you that it is wonderful. We had a boiler with a combination of radiators and in floor heating which was very comfortable. We also had a separate air handler for the central air. But this type of system is expensive to install.

      For insulation, I personally prefer mineral wool to fiberglass. If you want to finish the attic at all and make it conditioned space then spray foam between the roof rafters is a good way to go. Installed correctly, spray foam is probably the best way to insulate, but it can be pretty expensive to do the entire house with it.

      The cost of metal vs wood is hard to predict. Wood is currently very expensive due to supply and demand and production issues related to Covid. Which material you choose may depend simply on availability and when you want to build.

      An architect will be better equipped to answer your specific questions and give you more clarity. You’re going to need blueprints to get your permits anyway, so might as well start the process now.

  9. G&K

    We are in Colorado. 3 acre lot. Also what would you recommend for insulation and heating, only propane available, in floor or forced air, or other ?
    Thank You again for all your sharing of knowledge.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *