Construction frames have traditionally been built using wood. Any time you pass a building site you can see the familiar skeleton of wooden studs, joists, and rafters that serve as bracing for the rest of the house. But can you frame a basement with metal studs?
Many contractors frame basements with metal studs because metal studs are better suited for humid environments. They offer many advantages over wood as they don’t warp or rot, but they’re generally not suitable for load-bearing purposes.
If you’re thinking about framing your basement with metal studs, read on. This article will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of using metal framing studs in your basement construction project.
The Advantages of Metal Studs
When used in smaller residential buildings, metal studs are most often used for basement framing. They have many qualities which make them particularly useful when you want to turn your dusty old cellar into a finished basement.
Metal Studs Are Water and Mildew-Resistant
Unlike wooden studs, metal studs don’t warp in humid conditions. For that reason, metal studs are frequently used when building bathrooms and basements. They can stand up to steam and handle damp basements, steamy showers, and even flooding.
A metal frame will get through conditions that’ll leave wooden frames moldy, swollen, and irreparably damaged. If your basement is consistently damp or regularly takes on water, building with metal studs now may save you a great deal of heartache down the line.
Metal Studs Are Fire-Resistant
Between 1965 and 1980, the New York City Fire Department fought one million fires thanks largely to multi-story wood-framed buildings suffering from urban decay (source).
When a building catches fire, wooden frames can go up like tinder. Metal frames are required in most buildings over 70 feet (21.34 m). Steel is non-combustible and won’t feed a blaze.
If your basement also serves as a storage area, you probably have a fair bit of flammable material downstairs. Steel frames won’t put out a fire, but they can make it much easier to contain a fire and keep it from spreading.
Metal Studs Are Lighter Than Wood
Basement construction means getting your building material down a flight of stairs. Unlike the steel girders used for weight-bearing in skyscrapers, light-gauge framing steel is considerably lighter than a 2×4 of comparable length.
As you carry your metal studs into your basement you may wonder how such thin, light metal could be suitable for construction work. When you get everything screwed together you’ll be pleasantly surprised to discover this flimsy frame is rigid enough for hanging drywall.
Metal Studs Have Holes for Wiring
If you want to turn your basement into a home theater, you’re going to be running an awful lot of cables and speaker wires. Metal studs come with holes for electrical and plumbing lines. This makes your job (or your A/V installer’s job) a lot easier.
One warning: because metal studs have sharp edges you need to make sure your wires don’t get frayed or torn. Protectors such as the Arlington SB-130 Metal Stud Bushings (link to Amazon) will keep your wires intact and help you comply with state and federal building codes. These bushings are made to fit irregularly-shaped holes in metal studs.
Metal Studs Are More Consistent Than Lumber
Lumber can warp in storage. It can have knots, cracks, or imperfections that you only discover on the job site. While as much as 20 percent of the lumber purchased for construction jobs winds up discarded as scrap, the figure for metal studs is closer to 2 percent (source).
The Drawbacks of Metal Studs
While metal studs have many advantages, there are a few drawbacks you need to consider as well.
Metal Studs Require Different Tools
You can’t put a nail through a metal stud. A powerful screwdriver such as the DeWalt DC668KA Cordless Screwdriver (link to Amazon) will be necessary for the job. The DC668KA was designed for professional metalworkers and steel frame contractors.
The saws you use to cut wood won’t work on metal studs. You’ll require a metal-cutting blade. You’ll also want to make sure to wear a mask, as inhaling metal dust can be considerably worse for your health than inhaling sawdust.
Metal Studs Require Experienced Contractors
Every residential contractor has worked on wood frame projects. Although they’re becoming more popular for basement work, metal frames are still more commonly found in commercial buildings.
Finding a metal framer willing to work on remodeling your basement may be more challenging than finding someone to do the job in wood.
If you’re doing the remodeling job yourself, you may have to learn a new set of skills and material handling techniques.
Metal framing isn’t necessarily more difficult than wood framing. But there’ll be a learning curve involved, and if you find yourself in over your head you may have difficulty finding an experienced contractor to bail you out.
Metal Studs Cannot Bear Heavy Loads
If you want to hang a picture in a wood-framed room, you simply knock till you find a stud and drive in some nails. Hanging anything in a metal-framed room will involve driving a screw through drywall and into the stud. And because the studs are made with thin steel, they can only bear a limited load.
If you’re hoping to hang cabinets, heavy mirrors, or a large flatscreen TV, you may have to mount wooden studs to bear the weight or attach them to the studs with toggle bolts. This may involve tearing out drywall already in place and will be a more challenging endeavor than mounting to wood studs.
This YouTube video will give you some idea of what is involved in mounting a flatscreen TV to metal studs:
Once used mainly for commercial buildings, metal framing is becoming more common in residential basements. If you have the skill or know somebody who does, metal framing can make your basement renovation a lot easier and longer-lasting.