Light Gauge Steel vs Red Iron Kits

light gauge steel kit being built in Indonesia, US Frame Factory Metal kits

To go with Light Gauge Steel vs Red Iron Kits are important considerations for developers and design builders. For years, red iron kits were popular for creating large warehouse-style buildings. However, there is a new type of construction using primarily prefabricated light gauge steel systems that is on the rise in the USA. Each has its pros and cons.

A red iron building is a type of pre-engineered metal building that gets its name from the red-colored steel beams used as its primary structural support. The term “red iron” refers to the red-colored oxide coating applied to the steel beams to protect them from rust and corrosion. Red iron buildings are designed and constructed using a pre-engineered system of metal framing members, which are manufactured off-site and delivered to the construction site for assembly. These buildings are popular in the commercial and industrial sectors because of their durability, flexibility, and affordability.

A light gauge steel building (LGS) is a type of construction that uses cold-formed steel framing members, made from thin sheet steel, as the primary structural support for the building. This type of construction is also commonly referred to as light steel framing or LSF. LGS building construction involves the use of steel studs, steel wall panels, joists, and trusses that are prefabricated off-site and assembled on-site using bolts and self-tapping screws. These components are made from galvanized steel, which is lightweight, durable, and resistant to corrosion.

Design Phase

oth LGS and red iron require engineering stamps for construction. The most efficient large red-iron manufacturers often have a wide variety of pre-approved engineered kits, with the vast majority of them being rectangular. On the other hand, LGS manufacturers take on projects that are typically more case-by-case and require unique engineering.

A typical red iron building is rectangular with large open spans.

A three story 100% light gauge steel apartment development.

Light Gauge Steel Wall Panel Manufacturing

Red iron buildings are built in welding shops. The members are constructed specifically to plans and welded, then powder-coated and painted for on-site application. A high degree of skilled welding labor is required.

Light-gauge steel members are roll-formed and assembled in a factory setting. The labor is less skill-intensive as LGS members are labeled as they’re produced by the machine.

Dave Cooper walks through a LGS manufacturing plant in Ohio to show how its assembled.

Red Iron Manufacturing

As you can see from this video Red Iron manufacturing is very involved and and requiring a high level of skilled welders in coordination with computer design.

Light Gauge Steel Erection

Light gauge steel wall panels are typically erected using a process called panelization, which involves prefabricating the wall panels off-site and then assembling them on-site. Here is a general overview of the process:

  1. Wall panel design: The wall panels are designed using computer-aided design (CAD) software, which creates a detailed plan for each panel.
  2. Panel fabrication: The panels are then fabricated off-site in a factory or workshop, using cold-formed steel framing members that have been cut to size and shaped according to the design specifications.
  3. Panel delivery: Once the panels are completed, they are transported to the construction site, usually on a flatbed truck.
  4. Panel installation: The wall panels are then lifted into place and secured to the building’s foundation using bolts or screws. This process typically involves the use of cranes or other lifting equipment to hoist the panels into position.
  5. Wall panel finishing: After the panels are installed, they are finished with insulation, sheathing, and other materials to provide additional structural support and improve the building’s energy efficiency.

Overall, the panelization process allows for faster and more efficient construction compared to traditional on-site framing methods. It also allows for greater accuracy and consistency in the construction process, since the wall panels are fabricated off-site under controlled conditions. Common issues are not complete accuracy of the kit to concrete slab size. Light gauge steel panels my require a bit of on-site modifications to fit the slab perfectly.

Red Iron Erection

Red iron building systems consists of primary and secondary framing members, wall and roof panels, and accessories. The primary framing members are usually red-painted steel columns and beams that support the weight of the building. The secondary framing members are steel purlins and girts that provide support for the wall and roof panels.

Common issues are not complete accuracy of the kit to concrete slab size. This can be costly if not caught early as red-iron beams are difficult to modify on site.

Which type of building is right for your project?

Complex buildings with multiple interior partitions its overall cheaper to go with LGS. As you’re framing all along the inside you might as well frame on the outside as well. Big buildings with large open spans like gyms or churches you should go with a Red-Iron building solution. The large spans achieved by the red-iron allow for the utmost strength and span. If you have a building that requires both you should consider a combination of both.

Red-Iron Uses

  • Churches
  • Gyms
  • Industrial shops
  • Warehouses
  • Airplane hangers
  • Simple rectangular shapes with large open spans

Light Gauge Steel Uses

  • Multifamily Housing
  • Complex Storefronts
  • High-end housing
  • Office Buildings
  • Storage Buildings
  • Complex shapes and several interior partitions

Cladding considerations

In red-iron buildings, steel or aluminum panels are a popular choice for cladding due to their durability, cost-effectiveness, and ease of installation. They come in a variety of profiles, finishes, and colors to meet different design requirements. If you want something more traditional like hardy siding, you need to frame in the walls normally to add more support.

Light gauge buildings, because of their more traditional and standard framing with regular partitions, can pretty much use any type of cladding


The cost of a red-iron building typically ranges from $6 to $12 per square foot for the structural shell itself(no interior walls), excluding any additional costs for the foundation, site preparation, permits, and finishing. On the other hand, the cost of a light gauge steel panelized building can range from $8 to $20 per square foot for the structure itself including interior walls. While its no exactly comparing apples to apples the more interior walls you have the more Light gauge steel makes sense.

Additional Recourses

Online bid estimation

Structural Metal Studs

The Zero Waste Framing Challenge

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *