If you’ve read this website much you know I speak a lot about problems with wood framed decks; dry-rot, termites, fungus, water intrusion, these all lead to shorter life spans and costly repairs. We’ve seen the results, Berkeley, 7 dead, 6 seriously injured…and frequently, all to frequently, we read about a deck collapse somewhere with numerous people taken to a hospital when a deck at a home fails and they all fall to the ground.
I’m on LinkedIn and one of my connections, Philip Purdy of Stonecroft Construction LLC is a deck contractor in Colorado Springs/El Paso County in Colorado. He’s been posting photo’s of his deck projects, many which are of his crew replacing a wood deck with a new deck. But Philip stands out because his new decks aren’t framed with wood. They’re framed with steel.
I checked out Stonecroft Construction on Google and found this gem- Philip’s company has a five star rating on Google. One of his clients said “Philip’s crew built my deck as if they were building their own.” 61 five star reviews out of 61 reviews. Another of his clients said “…and I was even told by one of the inspectors that the deck we received was very impressive and absolute quality work.” Outstanding and extremely impressive. Obviously Philips dedication to his craft pays off with reviews like these.
It hit me after I made a comment on a post of his that I asked why aren’t waterproof decks being built with steel framing? What are the advantages of using steel? So I asked Philip if I could ask some questions so I could write this post; he said yes and here we are. My questions are in bold italics with Philips answers following.
How long have you been a deck contractor?
Since 2014. We started as a general contractor and then slowly specialized into decks.
Were you framing decks with wood before going to steel?
We built about 75 wood frame decks before moving into steel. We have built close to 90 steel frame decks at this point and we are not looking back. We don’t even offer wood frame any more.
How/why did you start using steel framing?
I grew up on a family farm in Kansas. We built most things out of steel for the farm. I noticed anything my grandfather built out of wood had to be replaced. Anything he built out of steel was still around. I learned how to build things out of steel from boyhood. When I moved to Colorado Springs and found out about steel it was an easy choice. We were becoming increasingly frustrated with the wood frame problems. Finally, I had enough of the warping, cracking, shrinking and rotting. It was at that point, I decided we would install all steel all the time. At 90 decks with steel frame, we have not had any callbacks. It makes me sleep better at night knowing I am building on a solid foundation.
What are the advantages of steel framing over wood framing?
Steel is lighter to carry on the job site. It does not warp, shrink, crack or bow. It stays straight. It resists rot. It is more dimensionally stable than wood. It is more uniform. You do not have to crown it. It can do greater joist and beam spans with less material. Steel is stronger by weight. This leads to the need for less piers. Steel is easier to work with in my opinion. It goes together with self-tapping screws. Steel does not absorb water and get heavier to work with. If anyone wants to know the advantages of steel, they just need to look at the joist hangers on an old rotted deck. If the hangers are rusting, it is possible that is not a good location for steel. If they look like the day they were put on (most all of them do) then that tells you what steel does in that location. We use Fortress Evolution Steel Framing. It is additionally powder coated which adds another layer of protection from rust or corrosion.
What about cost differences between wood and steel framing?
The costs are hard to compare. By the linear ft steel is around 2.5 to 3 times more. If you consider sorting out the bad boards, needing more footings, crowning, planing the joist flat, taping the joists and beams, I believe they even out pretty quick. The lighter weight of steel means you are not as tired at the end of the day. How do you quantify those advantages?
How are the deck boards fastened to steel framing?
Wood framing usually gets clips or screws of some sort. There are several different clips that work well with steel deck framing. One is the Trex Hideaway Clip for Elevations. We use it exclusively at this point as it works with most decking brands. Camo is coming out with some interesting ideas with their new Edge Clip and X Clip that work well. We are constantly trying out new ideas. For screws, we use Cortex Drillers or Deckfast Metal Screws. We use these with one of their decking plug systems. Cortex seem to work the best for us with their specialized TTap bit system. We typically use the screws on stairs and picture frame. The hidden fasteners are for the decking field.
Can I screw plywood to the steel framing for waterproofing over?
We have not done this, but I imagine it would work just fine. There are a number of panhead screws available that self tap and should work fine for this purpose.
Can the steel framing be adjusted to have a slope to it of 2% per foot to drain water off?
You can do most anything with steel that you can with wood. We do not do this, but it is something that could be done.
Can a finished soffit be installed under the deck framing or do I have to look at steel framing?
Absolutely, you could add furring and your own boards if you have waterproofing above or an aluminum underdeck system like Underdeck Oasis. The Fortress Evolutions Steel offers a black joist that looks nice even if you don’t plan on covering it up.
What other advantages does steel framing offer over wood from your point of view?
Steel framing can be recycled if you are going to tear it down in the future. Because steel is put together with screws you can also take it apart easily to fix mistakes that inevitably happen. Then you can put it right back together again. Taking apart wood that has been nailed together requires considerably more effort. Commercial, industrial and agri-business have proven steel as a durable, viable building material over the last 100 years. The deck industry is catching on and steel’s time has come.
After talking with Philip I’m more interested than ever in exploring using steel to support pedestrian traffic coatings. Philip’s brand of choice for steel deck framing and stair framing is Fortress Building Products https://fortressbp.com/. A look at their website and specs shows a robust product that has an Intertek compliance report on its structural properties and non combustible properties.
Philip was kind enough to provide photograph’s of his work, which is here in the gallery below. Take a look at his decks and the framing supporting them.
So readers what do you think? Is steel the material to consider and select for your deck project? I’m definitely intrigued and will be exploring this option more for upcoming deck replacement projects my firm William Leys Waterproofing Consultants LLC is involved in.