Consider the overwhelming benefits of using lightweight steel framing in building construction; it is a product that is produced to consistent properties and dimen- sions, will not rot, shrink, swell, split, warp or provide a food source for mold, bacteria or insects, and is fully recyclable and non-combustible. Steel also has the highest strength to weight ratio of all structural building materials, and is a structural substi- tute for both dimensional lumber and reinforced concrete in building applications. From the perspective of supporting a healthy indoor air environment, steel framing is inert. It won’t release or offgas any volatile organic compounds, since it is free of resin adhesives and other chemicals like those used to treat wood framing products. Read on to find out more about other significant environmental benefits that light- weight steel framing can offer.
The Infinite Life of Steel Framing
All steel building products including steel framing are 100% recyclable. One of the key sustainable attributes of steel is its ability to be recycled without any loss or degradation of its inherent material properties, allowing it to exist for an infinite number of product life cycles.
The steel industry is the single largest recycler in North America. Over 88 million tonnes of steel were recycled in North America in 2012.While some countries report steel recycling rates as high as 85%, Canada’s 2012 recycling rate was in excess of 60%, which translates into over 7 million tonness being recycled that year.
Steel benefits from the most comprehensive and accessible collection infrastructure of any material, and not just in North America, but around the world. Steel is easily and economically extracted from other materials in the solid waste stream through magnetic separation, keeping a valuable commodity out of the country’s landfill sites.
The use of steel scrap is an essential component of the steel manufacturing process. The traditional basic oxygen furnace (BOF) steelmaking practice ensures that there is a minimum of about 30% recycled steel scrap in every ton of steel framing produced. However, over the past 50 years, economic and environmental considerations have driven technological advances in electric arc furnace (EAF) steelmaking technology. The EAF technology utilizes >95% recycled steel scrap in each furnace charge and currently accounts for about 40% of Canada’s steel production.
Using recycled steel for building construction also takes pressure off renewable resources. For ex- ample, framing a typical 2000 ft2 (186 m2) house out of steel only requires the equivalent of about six scrapped automobiles, while the same house framed in wood requires lumber from 40-50 trees, which is about an acre’s worth of forest.
Steel recycling is important for the environment since it affects the sector’s energy performance. The EAF and BOF process together recycle huge amounts of scrap steel in making new steel every year, thus conserving significant energy and other natural resources, while reducing emissions. Using old steel products and other forms of ferrous scrap to produce steel lowers a variety of steelmaking costs and reduces the amount of energy used in the process by 75 percent. It is estimated that for every ton of steel recycled, about 2,500 pounds of virgin iron ore is saved, along with 1,400 pounds of coal, and 120 pounds of limestone. In the U.S., recycled steel saves the nation enough energy to power about 20 million homes for one year.
Download Environmental Fact Sheet 3: Lightweight Steel Framing - Looking forward to the benefits to learn more about how lightweight steel framing is a sustainable construction product.