What Is Cold Formed Steel? (Complete Guide For 2024)

Jamie Jacobs
Jamie Jacobs joined APX Construction Group in June of 2020 specializing in interior design, marketing, event planning, and business development.
  • Cold formed steel (CFS) is a type of building framing that has quickly become the top material choice in the construction industry for its variety of applications, including:

    • Student dormitories
    • Assisted living facilities
    • Hotels
    • Mid-rise buildings
    • Sports arenas
    • Multi-family homes

    Cold formed steel is lightweight, incredibly durable, noncombustible, and very easy to install — hence the reason why it’s the go-to choice for commercial construction involving non-load-bearing partition walls. Plus, thanks to advanced technological developments like panelized construction, structural CFS framing has become more accessible to the applications listed above.

    But what exactly is cold formed steel, and what makes it the perfect choice for when you’re ready to get started on your new construction project?

    Find out below.

    What Is Cold Formed Steel?

    cold formed steel coins close up

    Cold formed steel — or, CFS — is characterized by thin structural steel that has been rolled to less than 1/8th of an inch and then bent into specific shapes without being heated first. Also sometimes referred to as cold rolled steel, cold formed steel is actually found in a wide variety of things outside of commercial and residential buildings, including:

    • Appliances
    • Cars
    • Laptops
    • Home and office supplies, such as filing cabinets

    Cold formed steel framing, in particular, is what’s used for commercial construction. In this case, thin sheets of steel are formed into shapes that can effectively make use of its strength-to-weight ratio, such as C, Z, U, or hat channels. 

    The steel is rolled into these shapes via a series of dies, which is essentially cylindrical machinery that’s grouped together to achieve these shapes. These cylinders are also what flatten the cold formed steel sheets to the desired thickness that applies to the application they’re being manufactured for.

    The Different Types of Cold Formed Steel Sections

    Cold formed steel is typically manufactured into different shapes referred to as paneling or sections, depending on their application. There are a handful of types of cold formed steel sections in particular, including:

    • Studs – A stud refers to cold formed steel that was formed into a C-shape that also contains a lip return. Studs are typically used as vertical components in wall framing as well as column or post construction. Deeper stud sections are also often used for constructing floor joists, roof joists, and beams.
    • Track –  A track section typically has a cap at the top and bottom of a steel stud wall. Tracks are U-shaped and do not come with a lip return which is what allows the stud to sit inside the track.
    • U-Channel –  The U-channel is the smallest U-shaped section that’s installed through the web knockout of each stud. This section is used for bracing and is also often used to support ceiling framing associated with hanger wire. It should be noted that standard studs come with oval-shaped knockout holes with specific spacing to allow for electrical conduit or plumbing applications. A U-channel section is designed to pass through these knockouts and bind the studs together for bracing.
    • Furring Channel –  The furring channel is often referred to as the “hat channel” as it’s usually applied to the face of the wall or bottom of the ceiling. It’s designed to provide a wedge or spacing element (aka, the furring) to the sheathing. These sections help reduce sound transmission throughout the building and improve the material’s fire resistance.
    • L-Header –  The L-header is a large angled section (in the shape of an L). It gets positioned at the top of the wall top track and acts as a standard header. L-headers span across openings as they’re designed to help transfer the load over a door or window and onto the jamb studs. It should be noted that L-headers are less common in construction, but they are still valuable where needed.
    • Straps –  Straps are two to 12-inch wide thin sheets of steel. These sections are used for tension loads and, therefore, will usually be found in wall bracing or shear walls.

    The Value-Benefit of Cold Formed Steel

    cold formed steel rolls packed with silicone

    As a construction material, cold formed steel offers plenty of advantages and an excellent overall value. For example, cold formed steel doesn’t shrink or split, and it won’t warp, absorb moisture, or become infested by pests. It’s also very fire and wind resistant.

    Here’s an overview of the other benefits of using cold formed steel as your primary construction material:

    • Cold formed steel is a uniformly manufactured product, which means its consistency leaves little room for waste
    • It’s 100% recyclable and, therefore, the most sustainable building material
    • Its physical properties make it extremely durable and, therefore, the perfect material to withstand all climates and weather events — including tornadoes and earthquakes
    • Because it’s a lightweight and waste-free material, it reduces the overall job costs from materials to labor
    • It also can be shipped easily and quickly due to being lightweight as easily manufactured into panels and trusses
    • It’s very easy to install, which lessens long labor hours
    • Because every piece of cold formed steel contains at least 25% recycled steel, it does not emit any volatile organic compounds, making it not only sustainable but safe
    • It’s widely accepted thanks to the American Iron and Steel Institute’s North American Standards for Cold Formed Steel Framing adoption into the International Code Council’s International Building Codes. Now builders and designers alike can find comprehensive supplies and facilities for the material

    If you’re looking for the recommended specifications for cold formed steel framing, the American Iron and Steel Institute offers both free and for-purchase cold formed steel standards information packets, design guides, and other technical documents.

    Want to Learn More About Cold Form Steel?

    Cold formed steel is an excellent material if you want your next construction project to be sustainable, cost-effective, long-lasting, and take less time to build — among other things. However, if you’re new to the world of cold formed steel, there’s still a lot to learn.

    The building experts at APX Construction can guide you through your cold form steel options and more. Get in touch with us today to start planning your next construction project, and we’ll help you with everything from the planning stages to the final stages — and everything in between.

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