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Guide to Working With Cold-Formed Steel Framing

Guide to Working With Cold-Formed Steel Framing

Cold-formed steel framing has become a popular choice in construction projects. Contractors choose cold-formed steel over traditional wood framing more often. But what exactly are the common types, the benefits, and what should you consider when ordering from a manufacturer? In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore everything you need to know so you can order the right materials. We’ve also included a helpful list of resources and technical guides that you can reference when embarking on your next cold-formed steel framing project.

Before you get started, here’s a link to our most popular presentation on bidding projects and identifying costly details. Click here to watch.

What is Cold-Formed Steel Metal Framing?

Cold-formed steel (CFS) refers to thin steel that has been rolled to less than 1/8th of an inch and bent into a specific shape without being reheating. It’s often found in appliances, cars, and laptops. Cold-formed steel framing, however, is used in construction where thin sheets of steel are typically formed into shapes to take advantage of its large strength to weight ratio. The most commons shapes are C, Z, U, or hat channels.

6 Main Types of Cold-Formed Steel Products

1. Studs

A stud refers to cold-formed steel that has been formed into a C-shape with a lip return. These are typically used as a vertical element in the framing of a wall.

2. Track

A track section will often cap the bottom and top of a steel stud wall. These products are U-shaped and do not have a lip return to allow the stud to seat inside the track.

3. U-channel

This is a smaller U-shaped product that goes through the web knockout of each stud for bracing or will often be used to support ceiling framing with hanger wire. It’s important to note: standard studs have knockouts that are oval shaped holes at a periodic spacing used for electrical conduit or plumbing; a U-channel can pass through these knockouts and tie studs together for bracing.

4. Furring channel

This refers to a “hat-channel” type of CFS that is often applied to the face of wall or bottom of ceiling in order to provide a wedge or spacing element (otherwise known as furring) to the sheathing. This can help reduce sound transmission or improve fire resistance.

5. L-header

This piece of CFS is a large angle, or L-shaped, and is positioned on top of the wall top track to act as a simple header. They span across openings to help transfer the load over a door or window onto jamb studs. L-headers are less common in construction.

6. Straps

Straps are 2 to 12-wide thin sheets of steel used for tension loads. They will most often be found in wall bracing or shear walls.

Benefits of Cold-Formed Steel Framing in a Structural Application

There are many reasons why you should consider CFS framing if you’re constructing a building, including:

  • Strength-to-weight ratio: This is one of the biggest advantages. Cold-formed is steel is relatively lightweight compared to its strength. For example, an 8-foot tall 2×4 stud has a capacity of approximately 2,500 pounds. An 8-foot long 3-5/8-in 12 gauge metal stud can hold 8,000 lbs. The wood stud weighs about 14 pounds and the metal stud weighs 20 pounds. Cold-formed steel has a strength-to-weight ratio of 400, where the wood stud is 178.
  • Non-combustible: CFS will not ignite or burn, which helps with a building’s fire rating and safety. Non-residential structures are often required to be built of non-combustible materials.
  • The ability to construct taller residential buildings: CFS allows you to build 12- or 13-story load bearing buildings, as compared with wood, which is usually limited to 4 or 5 stories of load bearing.
  • No twisting or shrinkage: CFS is ideal because it holds its shape and length. It does not warp or twist like wood.
  • No rotting. Since CFS is not a food source, you do not have to worry about rotting or issues with insects and termites. Plus, CFS is galvanized, which protects against corrosion.

What Contractors Need to Know When It Comes to Shop Drawings

The owner of a building (new or under renovation) will typically hire a design team, including an architect and structural engineer, to produce construction drawings that describe the intent of the project. As an example, the structural engineer will likely size columns and beams, but is often not as concerned with the methodology of how those beams will be connected if the connection meets the design loads. In some cases, the beams could be welded; in others, they could be bolted together.

Construction drawings speak to the intent of the building and do not necessarily dictate specificity of means and methods, whereas shop drawings are more product-specific and describe how the structure will be built and how it meets the required design parameters. (For example, construction drawings might size a joist as a 1000S200-68 at 16” o/c and give the loads, but the number of screws and connectors would be specified in the shop drawing.)

It is important to keep in mind that building codes require that cold-formed steel framing, whether interior or exterior, to be designed by a design professional (a licensed architect or engineer.) In some cases, the structural engineer or architect who produced the construction drawings may choose to take responsibility for the CFS framing and may not require shop drawings — but this is rare.

In most cases, the structural engineer — otherwise known as the engineer of record — provides performance specifications, such as the ability to handle a specified wind load. The structural engineer will then rely on a specialty structural engineer, such as a cold-formed steel engineer, to design the framing elements and produce a set of shop drawings. The specialty engineer is often hired by the subcontractor responsible for the cold-formed steel framing.

In any construction project, it’s essential to review architectural specifications, ask for clarification if needed, and know who is responsible for which components of the job. It is too late to find out that you need shop drawings when you begin to mobilize for a job.

Considerations When Ordering Cold-Formed Steel from Manufacturers

There are certain industry standards when it comes to the manufacturing of cold-formed steel stud and joist framing. This means, for the most part, you will find similar products among manufacturers.

There are, however, some pitfalls to be aware of. Not all manufacturers use the same grade of steel for their studs. For example, 16 gauge material for one manufacturer might be stronger than another, and some manufacturers may have a better quality assurance/quality control processes than others.

When it comes to angles and clips, premanufactured connectors by Clark Dietrich, Simpson StrongTie, and The Steel Network are the most common in the industry. However, they are all proprietary and have different capacities and uses. Equivalency charts should be used with caution.

It’s also important to remember that unlike wood framing, you can order CFS studs to specific lengths. Precut studs can save a lot of time on a project, but they require careful planning.

Many projects are bid and won prior to the involvement of a specialty engineer. Bidders can avoid costly mistakes by working with a specialty engineering during the bidding phase to get preliminary sizes and/or an understanding of expensive details.

Technical Guides & Resources

Are you looking for codes, standards, and more industry information? We’ve compiled a list of cold-formed steel framing technical guides and resources, which include:

If you have questions about cold-formed steel services, or you’re looking for a quote for your next project, please contact us today. We look forward to answering your questions and learning about your next project.

Anthony D. Coviello, PE, SE

Tony Coviello is a structural engineering executive with over 20 years of experience in cold-formed steel design. He expertise is with both load bearing and non-load bearing framing, interior framing, blast design, and multi-story panels.

On-Demand Webinar: Cold-Formed Steel Framing: Identifying Costly Details
In this webinar, we help explain the language of structural engineers and break down potential issues that you should think about ahead of time. All of this can better prepare you to bid projects — ultimately saving you time and money.
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