Until recently, most U.S. homebuyers had to settle for one particular building material: wood. Sure, other materials found geographical or climatological niches, but the wood was king.
For better or worse, wood remains the dominant residential construction material in most of the United States. But earth-smart buyers — in particular, the eco-savvy millennial cohort that will do more than any other demographic group to support the country’s housing market during the next two to three decades — are quickly waking up to a gentler, more sustainable alternative: metal.
Is Metal the Future of Home Construction?
We’ll get to the various environmental benefits of metal in a moment. First, let’s dispel some of the tired myths about the material’s suitability for residential construction.
For starters, living in a metal home does not mean living in a grain bin. Metal offers remarkably versatile design opportunities — you can do pretty much anything with metal that you can do with wood. In fact, due to metal’s light weight and structural strength, it actually affords more opportunities for open-floorplan construction — a red-hot design trend that shows no signs of ebbing. Many young buyers refuse to even consider homes without open floor plans.
Metal is also affordable — really affordable. Actual construction costs vary significantly, depending on a host of factors, but it’s generally much cheaper to build with metal over wood. That’s obviously a boon for eventual buyers.
Of course, buyers who care deeply about their environmental impact want homes that tread as lightly as possible. On that front, metal homes excel — and here’s why.
Low Impact Construction Means Less Waste Upfront
Steel — the metal of choice for residential construction — is inherently less wasteful than wood. That’s because steel construction elements are pre-formed, not machined on site like wood supports. This dramatically reduces construction detritus. And any steel that is “wasted during construction can be recycled — another environmental boon. If you’re reading this in a metal home, there’s a good chance the supports over your head incorporate some recycled material.
Passive Heating and Cooling Opportunities Mean Full-Lifecycle Energy Savings
Once built, steel construction consumes less grid energy than traditional residential building materials. That’s down to two attributes: highly reflective roofs and strong frames capable of supporting more insulation than wood.
In sunny climes, simply swapping out an asphalt-shingled roof for a steel roof can reduce energy consumption by 30% — a major environmental boon wherever fossil fuels still account for a disproportionate share of energy generation.
Better Environmental Durability Means Less Waste on the Back End
Steel is also extremely durable. It’s:
- More wind-resistant — rated to withstand Category 4 hurricane winds
- More earthquake-resistant — a huge benefit in tremor-prone regions like the U.S. West Coast
- More fire-resistant — it’s not quite accurate to say that steel is fireproof, but it’s obviously far better at withstanding flame than regular old wood
- More water-resistant — steel can’t protect the contents of a home from a flood, but it’s better at withstanding the force of a flood and doesn’t respond to water exposure by rotting
In sum, steel homes outlast wood homes. That’s great news for buyers who don’t want to foot the bill — or consume the resources — to replace their homes after a natural or manmade disaster.