If you played with Lego and Meccano as a child, and have a hand drill and a bag of screws, you can build yourself a new custom home. Well, you'll also need the backing of the Bone Structure System, a light steel assembly system that is being introduced across Canada after its successful launch in Quebec. Bone Structure is the newest entry to Canada's residential steel framing industry. Company president Marc Bovet says the system was inspired by Lego and Meccano.
While steel framing is still used mostly for commercial and industrial projects, Canadian homebuilders have been constructing homes with steel framing for years. Fifthshire Homes of Concord, Ont. has been in business for more than 35 years and has built more than 1,000 steel-framed homes. More than 20 years ago, the company built Canada's first all-steel R-2000 home. R-2000 is a standard for super energy efficiency and environmentally sensitive homebuilding.
Bone Structure has built more than 150 homes in Quebec, including single-family homes, multiplexes and some light commercial projects. It has seven manufacturing plants in Quebec and three in Ontario, with plans to add three plants in Alberta and two more in B.C. in the next year. The company is currently signing up authorized builders, hoping to create a network of 50 builders by summer 2014.
It is not a prefab or modular system, but "a technology inspired from the automotive and aerospace industries," says the company. Customers can choose a design from the company's offerings, customize it with "the cosmetic changes you want" and then "choose your options, the same way you would with a new car," the company says. It offers computerized 3D plans that include the ability to zoom in as close as the head of a screw.
The steel components can provide spans up to 25-feet-long without the need for intermediate columns or interior load-bearing walls. Because the pieces snap together, if you don't like the way the interior walls look, you can remove them after framing and change the configuration. Electrical, plumbing, heating and ventilation systems are connected via precut openings in the components.
The system allows for large windows. If the walls go up and you would like an extra window, it can be added by popping out a portion of the exterior wall.
The Canadian Sheet Steel Building Institute (CSSBI) says steel framing offers many advantages over traditional wood framing.
Steel is of consistent quality and will not rot, shrink, split or warp. Steel-framed walls are straight and stay that way, and there is no shrinkage to cause nail pops and squeaking floors. Systems are designed in advance so much of the on-site cutting and waste is eliminated. The steel weighs as much as 60 per cent less than wood members so foundation and seismic loads can be reduced. You don't need heavy equipment to use the framing and its easy to train workers on-site, says CSSBI.
"Steel's inherent strength and non-combustible qualities enable a steel-framed building to resist such devastating events as fires, earthquakes and hurricanes," says CSSBI. "Homes can be designed to meet the highest seismic and wind load specifications in any part of the country."
From an environmental point of view, CSSBI says all steel products are 100 per cent recyclable and that the overall recycling rate of steel products in North America is 66 per cent - the highest rate of any material. It says the amount of energy needed to produce a ton of steel has been reduced by 34 per cent since 1974 and it continues to decrease. Steel framing has proven quality and performance records, the institute says.
Bone Structure says that construction sites generate 60 per cent of the waste in landfills, but that "there are no dumpsters on our construction sites" because the system requires no cutting, piercing or welding and thus produces no waste.
So if steel framing is so great, why aren't all builders using it? Stefan Belina, director of marketing and communications for Bone Structure, says it's because it has been difficult to train builders across the country and get them enthused about steel framing. His company is hoping to change that with its current recruitment and training of new builders. The company is providing builders with on-site support to get them up and running.
Another criticism of steel framing is its thermal bridging qualities. Steel conducts heat, so a steel-framed home that had fibreglass insulation like that used in a wood-framed house would have a much lower R-value in the walls. Bone Structure seals its homes with soya-based polyurethane foam, which it says gives insulation values of R-28.5 in the walls and R-56 in the ceiling.
Belina says a steel-framed custom home costs five to 10 per cent more to build than a traditional stick-built home. Clients can visit the firm's website to get a breakdown on how much their specific project could cost.
The home's structure can be put up in less than a week, and then customers can add the interior components and exterior finishings. From schematic design to construction, a 3,000-square-foot home takes 12 to 14 weeks to complete, the company says.