Are Light Gauge Steel Frame Buildings Environmentally Sustainable?

Light gauge steel framing is a rapidly growing segment of the metal construction industry. According to MarketResearch, North America has seen an explosion of growth at about 4% since 2021. Nearly one-third of new commercial construction in the U.S. last year was of light-gauge steel buildings. These buildings typically have a structural framework weighing less than 40 pounds per square foot, as well as walls, roofs and other components made from lighter materials. This blog post covers everything you need to know about sustainability in light-gauge steel buildings, including:

What is a Light Gauge Steel Building?

A light-gauge steel building is a structure made from light-gauge steel (LGS) structural beams and columns, as well as a variety of other structural and non-structural LGS components such as concrete forms, roof decking and wall panels. Light-gauge steel buildings often have floor-to-floor heights above 10 feet, with exterior designs that make extensive use of glass, and a construction method that uses prefabricated systems to reduce on-site labor.

A light gauge steel building is generally less than 40 pounds per square foot in total building weight. This is far lighter than the average building today, which weighs in at around 100 pounds per square foot. Light-gauge steel is generally used in commercial and industrial applications, but they can also be used in some types of residential construction.

Non-combustible light gauge steel structures are a code requirement for certain structures. Light-gauge steel frames will always go with fire-resistant sheeting and will not add up to the fire load, in case a fire happens in a building. LGSF usually resists fire for up to 120 minutes. 

The Environmental Benefits of Light Gauge Steel Buildings

The main environmental benefit of LGS is reduced GHG emissions from manufacturing, transportation, installation and building use. Light gauge steel buildings may also require fewer embodied energy and water resources. Light-gauge steel can be made from recycled materials and manufactured using energy-efficient processes. The steel manufacturer may use a variety of green and sustainable practices. Light gauge steel framing materials are 100% recyclable with only 2% wastage, compared to timber’s 20%. 

LGS-framed buildings are less heavy than conventional buildings, so they require less energy to transport and install. They also require less energy to operate – particularly in heating and cooling – because lighter materials and less enclosure area mean less thermal resistance. Many green building rating systems and standards have specific credits and references for sustainable light gauge steel buildings. These may include LEED, BREEAM, Living Building Challenge, Net Zero Buildings, Passive House and Cradle-to-Cradle.

Tips for Being Environmentally Friendly with LGS

When looking for a light-gauge steel building, follow these tips to be more environmentally friendly:

  • Choose renewable, recycled or less carbon-intensive steel. – The steel you select should be made from materials as close to their source of origin as possible. This means using steel made from renewable or recycled materials. It also means using steel made from less carbon-intensive sources of energy than coal – such as natural gas, coal or hydrotreater.
  • Choose a standard-design building. Standard-design buildings are pre-engineered to a specific structural design using standard materials and finishes. They are most often assembled offsite in a factory setting using a modular construction method. This not only reduces on-site labor but also reduces the use of embodied energy in the materials.
  • Make sure your contractor follows best practices. – Make sure your contractor follows the latest LEED and green building standards. This is critically important if you plan to certify your building with credits such as reduced CO2 emissions and improved indoor air quality.


Light-gauge steel buildings are a great way to achieve sustainable construction. These buildings are generally made from recycled materials and energy-efficient processes, plus they often have lower embodied energy than other construction types. Light gauge steel buildings are not appropriate for all types of construction, however, so it’s important to consider their limitations before building. 

If you’re looking for panelized light gauge steel buildings, contact Shinn Buildings. We will be able to help you make an informed decision about the design and options are best for your needs.

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About the Author:

Stan Beck

Principal & CEO at Shinn Buildings, LLC

Stan oversees the entire workings of Shinn Buildings. Stan hones in on the Sales and Marketing Department for Shinn Buildings and its subsidiaries. Stan works closely with our engineers, and partners to bring accurate estimates to clients and prospects. He loves spending time with his family and working at the church during weekends.