Editorial Feature

Alternatives to Wooden Frames in Construction

Wood frames have long been the widely used framing system in the construction industry, largely due to the fact that wood is a relatively easy to source construction material. However, wooden frames are not durable and cannot stand the test of time due to how wood becomes rotten and shrinks with the constant exposure to humidity and temperature changes.

Alternatives to Wooden Frames

The need to seek alternatives to wooden frames has led to the construction industry turning to the use of steel, concrete, structural insulated panels (SIPs), among others. Aside from the disadvantage to the use of wooden frames in constructing houses and buildings, one more threat that the alternative materials bypasses is their higher resistance to fire damage. Wood is a highly flammable material and therefore makes it impossible for a structure that uses it as a frame to survive a fire accident. On the other hand, houses that have steel frames have the possibility of reusing the steel that survived the fire so long as the steel has been tested to still be durable and usable in construction.


Aside from steel, concrete is also an increasingly popular material being used in building frames. In fact, most modern buildings nowadays are being constructed using concrete frame structures because of the strength of concrete. This is especially prevalent with high-rise buildings because of the need for these structures to be sturdy against strong winds and earthquakes. Even with housing development, concrete is also being used more both for its fire and flood resistance. Fire and flooding are two of the most common disasters that could happen to a house and it is much better that a material that can withstand them are used in the construction process.

Structural Insulated Panels

Structural insulated panels, or SIPs, are construction materials consisting of an insulating foam core sandwiched between two structural facings. SIPs are mostly being used in residential and even commercial construction. Its advantage lies in its effectiveness in insulation, resulting to a building that is built strongly and is energy efficient without breaking the bank. The cost of building using SIPs are pretty much the same as how much it would cost in using wooden frames, but the payoff comes from the cooling and heating system necessary once the structure is completed as those buildings will require smaller ones as opposed to those constructed using wooden frames.

Despite these alternatives, wooden frames are still being widely used mostly in the residential arena. This is mainly because of how much less expensive it is to use lumber instead of steel or concrete in building houses. There are even some studies that have been done which experimented on using some alternative framing materials to find out which is most cost effective. The materials that were pitted against wood were foam-core panels, light-gauge steel frames, and welded-wire sandwich panels. In all tests that were done to determine how much and how long it would take to construct a house using these three materials, it was determined that none of them were as cost effective as wooden framing was. The one that came closest to the cost of wooden framing during construction was light-gauge steel framing but even then, the total cost was a third more expensive than how much it would cost to use wood. The light-gauge steel frame building system also took more time to finish the test houses as compared to the wooden ones. The foam-core panels and welded-wire sandwich panels fared even worse as they were three times and five times more expensive respectively. Additionally, all three of these materials made the construction process much longer with all of them being more labor-intensive than the construction using wooden frames.


More alternatives to lumber are still being explored and more will surely be discovered as we seek ways to make structures stand stronger for longer. Several more examples of alternatives being tested out right now are cellular PVC, composite, engineered wood and fiber cement. Probably the most important point of consideration lies in replicating the advantage of using wooden frames, which is how cost effective it is and how much faster it takes to construct a building or a house using it. That’s the goal that should be kept in mind by the people in the construction industry when it comes to seeking a possible replacement to it.

Sources and Further Reading

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