7 Great Reasons Why Steel Framing is the Ideal Choice for the Caribbean

Steel framing in the Caribbean

Construction in the Caribbean comes with its own unique set of constraints and opportunities. Steel framing is a great choice in the face of the Caribbean climate, both at sea level and inland.

Whether you are planning to build a low-rise single-family unit close to the beach, or a multi-level commercial and residential building in a city centre, lightweight, galvanized steel frames deliver the resilience and value you are looking for.

Taking your dream from a desk top drawing to reality has become faster, less expensive, and more attainable with the steel frame technology that we have today.

At US Frame Factory we can ship steel frame kits right across the region, and support you and your project every step of the way.

The Caribbean Dream

The Caribbean is the dream, paradise destination for many North Americans who head to the region year-round to sample the sun, sea and superb atmosphere. Many have taken the plunge and either made the Caribbean their home or invested in real estate to guarantee their piece of heaven.

For those of us who live year-round in this perfect part of the world, the flip side of extreme weather events, and seismic activity makes living here an interesting adventure.

Caribbean beach sunset living the dream steel frame construction
The unrivalled beauty of a Caribbean sunset.

Building the Dream

As long-term residents know full well there are many challenges which can take their toll, from hurricanes to humid salt air, insect attack to seismic activity.

Dominica is one of the first of the 13 Caribbean nations that has set climate resilience, and the ability to withstand natural disasters into its building code.

High Caribbean Standards

The main Caribbean Uniform Building Code (CUBiC) sets the bar high for building standards in the region and recognises the superior fire resistance of steel framing.

The code is based on both British Standards and the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), which makes it a comprehensive guarantor of construction standards across the Caribbean.

But it’s not just compatibility with code that makes choosing a steel frame a great choice.

Light gauge steel frame construction
Design versatility of light-gauge steel.

Seven Reasons Why Steel Fits the Bill

With all the challenges the Caribbean climate and geology has, steel is well placed to take on all-comers. Here are the seven top reasons why a galvanized steel frame should be your first choice.

1 Engineered For Wind Resistance

Coastal regions are exposed to the sea breeze day in, day out. From a light wind that will tousle your hair to a full blown high-category tropical storm, any building has to be able to withstand the worst the Caribbean can throw at it.

Steel frames are designed to be resilient in the face of hurricane force winds, with bracing and shear wall technologies that far outstrip timber.

At US Frame Factory our light gauge steel frames are engineered to withstand wind speeds of up to 160 mph, giving you confidence that your home will still be standing after the storm has passed.

2 Designed to Cope with Seismic Stress

The Caribbean has a live seam of seismic activity that sends waves of ground pressure through inhabited areas regularly. The world may only be informed when a major quake strikes, but the earth moves more regularly than that in this part of the world.

The shear wall resilience that can be built into a steel frame, and the drift technology of it’s structural assemblies can ensure minimal damage. When the ground moves, a steel structure can move with it in a managed way.

Whether your area is used to regular tremors, or braced for intermittent shocks, light gauge steel has the flexibility, the resilience and the connections to help control the outcome.

Steel framing in the Caribbean
Light gauge steel can roll with the punches.

3 A Low-Cost Alternative to Concrete

Reinforced concrete has been a go-to construction method in the Caribbean for decades due to its resistance to wind and the way it can stand up to hurricane force storms and flooding events.

This is all very admirable, but concrete crumbles over time and the reinforcing, if exposed, is extremely vulnerable to humid, salt air. The rusting process can make the reinforcing bars expand, splitting the concrete and weakening the structure.

Weigh up the Options

The weight of reinforced concrete also means that the foundations required to support a building have to be big enough to cope.

A steel frame is, on average, between 40% and 70% lighter than traditionally built concrete frame structures. As a result, a lightweight, but strong, cold-rolled galvanized steel structure needs far less concrete in the ground to support its weight.

A galvanized steel frame won’t need concrete protection either as it is already protected from the effects of sea air.

Steel framing in the Caribbean
Brilliant Caribbean sunshine on a galvanized steel frame.

4 A Need for Speed

A modular steel frame construction is not dependent upon shuttering, concrete deliveries, or drying times. Once the oversite foundation is ready the frame can be lifted into place.

On average, a light gauge steel frame building can save up to 30% in construction time from start to finish.

On larger projects expect to be able to put together 10,000 square feet of frame every ten to twelve working days.

A steel frame kit, labelled and ready to go, can see your dream rapidly become reality with a minimum of skilled labor.

It’s ready to go right out of the box.

Tall Caribbean light gauge steel frame
Rapid assembly will pay dividends.

5 Clever Carbon Credit

Every building has a lifespan. Some are designed to last a century, others between 50 and 75 years. A steel framed building can give up its structure to recycling in its entirety with a potential recycled rate of 98%.

Concrete can be recycled, but currently the proportion sits at just 20% of all demolition arisings, and it is usually downcycled into aggregate for fill. Timber does less well with a recycling rate of just 17%. The rest goes to landfill.

The recoverability of steel also means that a good proportion of the steel frame that has arrived on your site is likely already recycled.

Controlled Conditions

A frame that has been designed and built off-site in factory conditions will have been put together under controlled conditions with all waste immediately set aside for recycling.

It means that the contractor doesn’t have to worry about what to do with off-cuts, or over-ordered materials on site.

When your pre-made frame arrives, everything you need will be labelled ready for assembly.

Complex Caribbean steel frame in the sun
Pre-made steel frames keep carbon costs down.

6 Fire Resistance

Save money while saving lives. Sounds good doesn’t it? According to the Caribbean Uniform Building Code (CUBiC), a steel frame requires less plasterboard protection to internal partition walls, and external walls, than timber.

The codes have been recently reviewed and upgraded in 2022 to ensure that they are more resilient to emergency situations such as storms, floods and other events that might cause fire.

A timber stud wall construction will require a minimum of two sheets of 3/8” gypsum drywall plasterboard as opposed to just one sheet recommended for a cold rolled steel frame.

A Code for the Caribbean

The recent update to the building code published by the Commonwealth of Dominica spells out exactly what is required to ensure your building is safe in a fire event.

Published, and monitored by the CARICOM Secretariat in Georgetown, Guyana the Caribbean Uniform Building Code (CUBiC) governs construction standards for thirteen nations in the region.

A saving on drywall may not be that big of a financial deal, but it will also save weight, save time and resources, and get you into your dream home faster.

7 A Turn-off for Termites

Unless they have stepped out of a science-fiction movie, you won’t find termites tackling a cold-rolled steel framed home. Termites will take on timber as it is a naturally occurring material that they are designed to recycle into building blocks for their own homes.

Not so galvanized steel, which has no attraction to these or other pests. Insulate below the siding with mineral wool, spun from molten rock, and you will have a home that is in an ultimate pest-proof position.

The slim profiles of light gauge cold-rolled steel maximises the continuity of insulation and minimizes cold-bridging.

Keep your cool with essential insulation.

Final Thoughts

If you are planning on building your forever family home in the Caribbean, then a pre-made frame shipped directly from our factory to your gate will not only save time and money, but also alleviate concern over suitability and whether it will stand the test of time, and the tests of times to come.

Making the decision to build with a light gauge steel frame will save money and resources immediately. It means less digging, less concrete, and fewer hours worked to go from dream to reality.

The versatility of cold rolled steel means that whether your perfect home is a modernist cube, or a traditional study of heritage style, it has the means to deliver your vision.

Contact us today to find out how we can help you turn your dream into reality.

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