Steel frame is often regarded by housebuilders as the expensive brother of timber frame. But a new system is set to revolutionise the way 21st-century homes are built by bringing steel within reach.
Banro Sections’ Freeframe system, which was launched last month, is based on steel-frame modules. Houses are constructed by assembling modules to form the walls, ceiling or floor. The modular nature of the system means that it is flexible, so a variety of house forms can be created by simply adding or subtracting modules. The company also produces a steel roof-truss system, to give a complete steel-framed house.
The manufacturer says the system stacks up environmentally, too. The frame is made from steel that is 80% recycled, 100% recyclable, and has a life expectancy of more than 60 years.
The frames can be assembled into modules at the factory or delivered to site as steel strips on the back of a lorry. One lorry-load of strips provides enough steel “to fabricate panels for around 25 houses,” says Banro sales director John Skivington. In a temporary fabrication shop on site, the strips can be bent into modules, which are then assembled into walls.
Freeframe has been launched just as steel- and timber-framed housing are enjoying a mini-boom. There are several reasons for this: the move towards off-site fabrication in response to the Egan agenda; the Housing Corporation’s drive to embrace efficiency; a labour skills shortage; planning constraints pushing development on to brownfield sites; and the likely impact of changes to Part L of the Building Regulations, which could be met cost-effectively using framed construction.
An advantage of steel over timber is that it does not shrink or warp, so snagging is reduced on steel-framed houses. Some housebuilders are already using steel frame as metal stud partitioning.
Banro is now waiting for construction to start on the first project to use its system. The Walsall-based firm is working with Cartwright Pickard, which designed the Murray Grove modular housing in east London, for the Peabody Trust, on a local scheme that will incorporate Freeframe.