Are Metal Buildings Cheaper Than Wood?

Metal tends to be cheaper than wood, with an average of $19-$25 per sq ft for a steel building and $20-$35 per sq ft for a wood building. Also, using metal in your build has a lower lifetime cost due to near-zero maintenance, and it can be nearly 100% salvaged and sold if it is ever torn down.

Find out why 95% of new industrial construction uses steel buildings.

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When looking to begin your next building project, one of the first steps is deciding on the materials that you will use for your build. A question we hear often is, “are metal buildings cheaper than wood?” 

The word “building” usually means 1,200 square feet or greater. 

The short answer is that metal buildings tend to be cheaper depending on a range of factors like the building size, building codes, loads (wind, seismic, snow, etc), design, and accessories.

However, the odds of a metal building being cheaper than a wood building goes up fast the larger the building in question.

 As with any construction project, the costs can vary greatly for metal and wood based on your needs, and the options that you can achieve with a metal building are just as diverse as with a wooden structure. 

In order to get a realistic budget set up for your future project, there are a few expenses to consider beyond just the materials cost. 

Namely, you’ll have to account for the cost of the foundation that the building will be built on, and also the cost of erecting the building.

Metal Building Cost

A metal building needs concrete footers and assembly.

All metal buildings from a shop in your backyard to a 1,000,000 square foot warehouse incur these costs.

ElementCost per sq ft*Average per sq ft cost*
Metal Building Kit$5 - $25$8 - $12
4" Concrete Slab$5 - $15$6 - $7
Construction$2.30 - $10$5 - $6
TOTAL$12.30 - $50$19 - $25

*Disclaimer: Prices provided for informational purposes only, and they do not constitute a quote. The design of your building, location specifics, local building codes, and building loads may affect your final price.

A metal building needs concrete footers and assembly.

All metal buildings from a shop in your backyard to a 1,000,000 square foot warehouse incur these costs.

Metal Building Kit Cost

The metal building “kit” is like buying a bookshelf from Ikea: all the prefabricated pieces show up at your build site and then it’s just a matter of assembling them. 

A metal building kit includes the steel framing, insulation, wall sheeting, doors, windows, roll-up doors, and metal roofing. 

The final cost for a metal building kit will depend greatly on the size kit that you need, local building codes, design, and building loads.

steel garage buildings, steel garage buildings,

Things That Affect Your Metal Building’s Cost

  • Design – What you want your building to look like can break your wallet or pad it. We went in-depth on how the design of your metal building affects the price per square foot in this article on 10000 Sq Ft Steel Building Cost. The short version is the fancier your building, the more expensive it is. 
  • Loads – “Loads” refers to the wind, snow, tornado, and seismic activity in your steel building’s location. The higher the numbers, the more expensive the building. You can check the loads for your site on this website. Simply type your address and, viola, you now have a detailed list of all the loads your building will need to be able to withstand based on your specific location.  
  • Building Codes – Your local building codes -set by your local government- can make your metal building shoot up in price. For example, Charlotte, North Carolina just started requiring commercial buildings to have R-39 (aka 9”) of insulation when the shell (kit, concrete, assembly) is complete. That means bumping up to a standing seam roof that can accommodate the extra insulation. Standing seam is an excellent metal roofing system, but it can be pricey for large buildings. Elsewhere, some local codes may not allow the metal on your metal building to show. Therefore, you need a brick or stone facade, which adds cost. There are also permits and any architectural plans that may be required by some municipalities. The best way to discover your local code requirements is to contact your local building code department. 

If you are needing a ballpark number, you can typically budget somewhere between $7 and $12 per square foot for an average steel building kit, but to get a more exact amount for your specific project the best thing to do will be to get a quote.

60x100 concrete slab cost

Metal Building Concrete Slab Cost

The next cost to take into consideration will be a concrete slab to put the building on. 

This type of build will require more than just a uniform flat slab. 

Typically, you will be looking at a slab with 2’x2’x18” footers AND an 18” “turndown”, which is the concrete slab that goes along the edge of the building and is anywhere from 4” to 18” deep. 

It can cost anywhere from $5 – $15 per square foot, or more, for a concrete slab. 

However, the average cost for a concrete slab for a metal building is $6 – $7 a square foot.

blue farm buidling

Steel Building Construction Cost

I know that before I compared these kits to assembling a bookshelf from Ikea. 

However, in reality, you’ll need to pay a group of trained professionals to assemble them.  

Unlike the bookshelf, it will take more than digging your Phillips head screwdriver out of your junk drawer to assemble this building. 

There’s typically some pretty large machinery involved (like a forklift that can lift up to 6,000 lbs, which is included in the costs listed below) and a minimum of 4-man crew.

The assembly crew will put up the steel framing, insulation (if you got any), metal wall panels, and metal roof, which takes 1-2 weeks on average

Building these kits, also called “assembly” or “erection”, can cost anywhere from $2.30 to $10 or more per square foot to assemble, but on average you are looking at an all-in cost between $5 and $6 per square foot for the assembly cost.   

Wood Building Costs

The cheapest wood building you can build is a pole barn.

The most expensive you can build is a timber-frame. 

Both are reflected below.

ElementCost per sq ftAverage per sq ft cost
Wood Building Materials$5 - $100$15 - $25
Wood Building Labor$5 - $10$6 - $8
TOTAL$11 - $110$20 - $35

Wood Building Materials Cost

Material cost for a wood building vary heavily. 

If you go out of your way to reduce the cost of your pole barn as much as possible, you can get it down to five dollars per square foot.

According to Home Advisor, a wood barn costs $20-$100 for material

This price seems to include the polls that hold up the building, rafters for the roof, roofing, and siding.

metal pole barn

Credit: Pinterest

Wood Building Labor Cost

The labor for constructing a wood building is higher than steel.

This is because skilled laborers are required for construction and longer construction time.

The average cost of labor for a wood building is $6-$8 per square foot.

Other Factors to Consider: Metal vs. Wood Building Cost

Lifetime Cost of Maintenance

Metal buildings have little lifetime maintenance, because unlike wood they will not warp or split, and metal is also highly resistant to pests. 

The typical metal building roof has a lifespan of 50 or more years, and their wall coatings repel dirt. 

Most metal building kits are also coated in a special bonding agent so they are even resistant to rust and mold.  

With wooden buildings you will need to touch-up paint every 3 to 7 years, roofs will need to be replaced roughly every 15 years, and this material is prone to rot, pests, and warping. 

In addition to this, because wood is a heavier material than steel, it is more likely to cause cracks and movement in your foundation, leading to even more costly repairs.  

The near-zero maintenance cost adds up to significant lifetime savings with a metal building versus wood.

steel structural strength is incredibly high due to its strength to weight ratio

Structural Strength

Both wood and steel are very strong building materials, but over time wood will lose much of its initial integrity due to environmental factors such as termites or moisture, which can warp and crack the wood. 

Steel, on the other hand, is often considered one of the strongest building materials there is.

You can get kits that are designed to stand strong against natural disasters such as hurricanes, high winds, earthquakes, heavy snowfall, etc.

wood building on fire

Combustibility

Steel is noncombustible and will not burn, and unless you somehow have a fire that reaches 2500℉ (most house fires are only around 1100℉) you don’t have to worry about it melting either.

Wood is a combustible material and will burn easily.

Construction Timeframe

 Another benefit of metal buildings is that they can be erected very quickly. 

On average,  it takes only 8 weeks to manufacture and 1-2 weeks to erect a metal building kit versus an average of 7 months for wood

In almost every case, a metal building can be erected in 2/3rds the amount of time it takes to put up any other kind of building.

Customization

Both wood and steel buildings are highly customizable, so this element is mostly decided by personal preference

There are multiple ways to customize and fancify metal buildings such as facades, veneers, and cladding. 

So, if you have your heart set on a traditional looking home, you can achieve that same look with a metal building. 

The framework of metal buildings also lends itself to easy expansions should you need more space in the future.

Environmental

Steel is the most recycled material on the planet. 

A typical metal building is made of anywhere from 50%-55% recycled material, and can even be as much as 90% recycled material in some cases

Wooden frames however have very few parts, if any, that can be recycled. 

A metal building’s design also lends itself to easily include many environmentally friendly solutions such as solar panels or wind turbines

In addition to this, metal buildings will also reduce your overall energy cost. 

Unlike a wooden structure, there is nearly 0% construction waste with metal buildings, since they are prefabricated and all the pieces come to the job site already cut to the correct size. 

are metal buildings cheaper than wood for Pinterest

Conclusion

There are many elements of both wood and metal buildings that can make the price vary drastically when it comes to your upfront cost. 

As far as basic building materials, metal is the better bang for your buck, but things like cladding and other customizations can drive up the price.

However, when it comes to the lifetime cost of your building, there really is no competition; metal buildings will take the win every time. 

For more information on purchasing a metal building kit or getting a quote for your custom project, please contact us here.  

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