Which is better between red-iron vs cold-formed steel? Check out this guide to learn about the pros and cons of each options.

When you’re looking at a building project, you have to think about a huge array of factors, from the cost of the work to the scale of the project. 

But one of the most basic considerations is building materials. The right materials can give you a building that lasts a lifetime, while the wrong ones can saddle you with years of extra maintenance costs. 

The good news is that you’ve narrowed the field to two candidates: red iron and cold-formed steel. But which one is right for the job? Here’s a guide that will help you decide. 

Red Iron

Did you know that red iron isn’t actually iron? 

“Red iron” actually refers to the color that steel is sprayed with after it is manufactured–red iron oxide. This isn’t just for aesthetics (though the distinct rust red color is appealing). 

This layer of red iron oxide actually acts as a barrier between the steel and other elements, protecting it against damage and corrosion caused by water. 

Advantages of Red Iron

Red iron steel is one of the most-used building materials in the world, and once you know more about it, it’s easy to understand why. 

For one thing, the red iron oxide layer makes red iron highly resistant to rust, which helps maintain the structural integrity of your building as it ages. 

Underneath that iron oxide layer, the steel has plenty of benefits as well. Steel is naturally non-combustible, which makes it the perfect material to use in buildings that need to store flammable materials. 

Disadvantages of Red Iron

As with anything else, there are a few key disadvantages to red iron as well. 

One big disadvantage is conductivity. Red iron is a strong conductor, which makes buildings made with it highly susceptible to heat and cold. 

In addition, a red iron building frame will require professional equipment in order to place the frame, as steel is quite heavy. This will drive up your installation costs and may lengthen the project, depending on how large the frame is. 

That said, steel is an incredibly common building material and most contractors know how to work with it, so the higher installation costs will be somewhat offset by lowered material costs. 

Cold-Formed Steel

In order to understand cold-formed steel, you have to understand its counterpart, hot-formed or hot-rolled steel. 

Hot-rolled steel is heated above the metal’s recrystallization temperature, making it easier to reshape. However, the metal shrinks as it cools, which makes it less-precise than cold-formed steel. 

Cold-formed steel is instead pressed and shaped at cooler temperatures. Basically, you roll steel through a series of dies without actually heating it. Think of it like forcing tough clay to form a different shape. 

It’s definitely harder to do, but because the metal wasn’t heated at any point in the process, it won’t change shape or shrink. 

Advantages of Cold-Formed Steel

One of the big advantages of cold-formed steel should be obvious. 

Since cold-formed steel isn’t heated in the shaping process, it’s far stronger than hot-rolled steel–in fact, it has one of the highest strength-to-weight ratios of any building material. 

In addition, cold-formed steel has remarkable stiffness. You’ll know exactly how it’s going to behave when it’s shaped since you don’t have to account for shrinkage due to heating and cooling. This allows you to be extremely precise with cold-formed steel. 

Besides heat and cold resistance, cold-formed steel won’t expand or contract as a result of moisture, either. You can rely on it to stay pretty much exactly as it is when it’s built into the building frame. 

And like red iron (also made of steel), cold-formed steel is a highly sustainable building material. It’s 100% recyclable–in fact, most existing steel contains recycled steel in some form or another. 

Disadvantages of Cold-Formed Steel

One of the major disadvantages of cold-formed steel is the price. 

Since cold-formed steel is shaped without heat, it’s more difficult to roll the steel sheets into shapes. The increased labor intensity translates directly into the cost of the material. 

Another disadvantage that occurs during the rolling process is what’s known as “work hardening”, which is when metal hardens through plastic deformation. Cold-formed steel has a tendency to undergo work hardening during the rolling process, which requires difficult secondary machining. 

Which is Right for You?

Knowing what you know about red iron and cold-formed steel, the question is simple: which one is right for your building project? 

The right material depends on a number of factors. Ask yourself: 

  • What type of building do you need?
  • What is the budget for this project?
  • How large is the project?
  • How long do you have to complete the project?
  • What are your priorities for this building? 

For example, do you want a building that’s more cost-effective, or more durable? Do you need a material that can work well for your budget over a large project?

If you’re trying to figure out whether red iron or cold-formed steel would work best for your budget, our calculator can help you compare costs. 

You also need to consider the structural needs of your project, as material strength could play a big role in deciding what’s best for the job. 

Choosing the Right Building System for You

Whether you choose red iron or cold-formed steel, we know that there’s no room for compromise on quality. 

You want to work with people who value you and treat your project as their first priority. That’s why we always prioritize you at all stages of the process–before, during, and after the sale. We bring together the best materials with highly skilled workers to exceed your expectations every time. 

Because the truth is, you shouldn’t have to settle for anything less.