Southern Oregon homebuilder asks 'Why not steel?'

From the street, Bruce Carpenter's home looks no different from any other. But underneath the layers of stucco, there's a solid steel frame that he says makes the house nearly indestructible.

Constructing a steel frame is less labor-intensive than traditional lumber, and once it's finished, the home is energy efficient and fire resistant, he said.

The Medford house is the first Carpenter and his partner Don McCoy built as the local upstart company, inErgy Homes, and they hope to see more housing contractors in the Northwest adopt the steel frames that the commercial industry and much of the American southeast has already embraced.

"If people would just use steel &

not even our steel &

if people started thinking steel, look how many trees they could save," Carpenter said.

And in addition to trees, he said he saved on labor and energy costs.

The steel beams came pre-constructed, designed by computer in the plant, enabling four people to finish the framing of the house in nine days. The total waste from the construction fit inside a 33-gallon trash can.

Carpenter will proudly produce a photograph of that trash can to prove it, along with a whole binder full of snapshots and test results showcasing what he believes to be the superiority of steel.

He has pictures of snowy rooftops melting with the escaping heat of traditional houses, compared to his home still coated with a white blanket. A series of infrared shots shows heat lost only through the window and one bathroom vent, due to the insulation on the outside of the frame that reflects 97 percent of the heat.

Results of a blower door test show that his house outperformed the U.S. government's Energy Star standards on home leakage rates for homes already considered environmentally friendly.

The initial cost of steel frames compared to timber is a few thousand dollars more, but Carpenter and McCoy argue the savings in energy and labor quickly make up the difference.

The 1,550 square-foot home costs an average $1.25 a day to heat and cool, and when Carpenter rented the home to four adults last winter, the total December utility bill was $137.

And because no two pieces of wood ever overlap in the frame, the chances that the home will ever burn are slim. In his photo collection, he has the results of a fire of a nearby home also built with steel frames. A car in the garage caught fire, and instead of burning down the whole house, the garage roof melted and the main living space was untouched.

The tradition of wood and its historically low price are the only factors that Carpenter and McCoy can imagine are holding more contractors back from using steel.

"Steel outperforms lumber in every way," McCoy said, who also works as an EcoBroker specializing in the sale of green homes. "It doesn't warp, it doesn't shrink, it doesn't dry rot, termites won't eat it, it won't burn, it can withstand earthquakes and wind better than lumber. You can build it in any kind of weather and you don't care if it gets wet."

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or .

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