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Buying a Steel Frame House

Zenyx Griffiths

Written by Reviewed by Mike Ashton

8th Sep 2021 (Last updated on 28th Oct 2022) 7 minute read

Steel framed houses are considered as ‘non-standard construction’ or ‘non-traditional’ properties. If you’re considering buying or selling a steel-framed house, you should know that there will be added implications when it comes to finding insurance, a mortgage and a property survey.

Modern steel framed houses are built using a modern method of construction and will often have great strength to weight ratios when they are constructed. Many steel frame properties will be difficult to notice at first due to the external brickwork, render or other types of cladding which conceal the frame. If you’re looking to purchase a steel frame home, it’s advised you arrange a building survey (level 3 home survey) to thoroughly inspect the home before finalising the transaction.

Compare My Move work with a number of professional property and finance experts to create insightful guides that will aid you through the process of buying and selling property. In this article, we will discuss the differences between a steel frame house and a traditional brick house, the type of mortgage you will require to purchase one and the complications you may face during the process.

This article will cover the following:
  1. Steel Frame Houses vs Brick Houses
  2. Can You Get a Mortgage on a Steel Frame House?
  3. Problems With Steel Frame Houses
  4. Why Do You Need a Building Survey (Level 3 Survey)?
  5. Is it Difficult to Sell a Steel Frame House?
  6. Should You Buy a Steel Frame Building?
  7. Next Steps of Buying a House

Steel Frame Houses vs Brick Houses

Brick-built houses are considered as the standard or traditional construction in the UK, with the vast majority of properties being built this way. According to The Architect’s Journal, an estimated 150,000 steel houses have been built in the UK. It is a rare and more recent form of construction which became popular after the Second World War as post-war housing shortages caused a demand for rapid, temporary houses which could be provided quickly with the post-war material shortages.

When building traditional brick properties, the builders usually lay a concrete foundation and erect the walls on top of that using layers of bricks and mortar. The floors and roof structure will then mostly be made from wood. Most steel construction, however, uses a mild, light or hot rolled steel frame, with an external brick, concrete or other skin built over this to conceal and protect it from the weather.

Various lengths of light steel will be used to frame the property similarly to the way timber studs are used. These will be attached to the concrete foundation where a variety of materials could then be used to complete the final structure of the house. These materials could include any type of render such as bricks or cement. The design of the frame in question should have been developed in line with the architecture’s original design.

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Can You Get a Mortgage on a Steel Frame House?

It’s generally easier to purchase a steel-framed house as a cash buyer as it can be more difficult to get a mortgage on such a property. It’s not impossible to get a mortgage on a steel frame house, but you should seek the help of a mortgage broker to ensure you find the correct lender.

Many mortgage lenders will be quite restrictive about the type of steel framed properties they are willing to lend on, especially if they have previous experience with a defective home. Some lenders may not grant mortgages on this type of house at all as they are non-traditional properties.

When assessing a mortgage application for a steel frame house, most lenders will define the properties as 1 of 3 categories:

A - The home is mortgageable in its original condition.

B - The property could be mortgageable 'following an approved scheme of repair'.

C - The property is defective and therefore unmortgageable.

Non-Standard Construction Mortgages

One option available when buying a steel frame house is to apply for a non-standard construction mortgage. These mortgages will be different to mortgages for standard buildings as a non-traditional property can be a higher risk to the lender.

Before obtaining a mortgage application, you will need to know what type of non-standard property you’re purchasing. If the property is indeed a steel frame building, you can apply for a non-standard construction mortgage. Many lenders will require you to have a home survey carried out as a condition of their mortgage offer. It is usually a good idea to have a survey carried out whether the lender requires one or not.

Problems With Steel Frame Houses

1. Potential Structural Issues

Most steel-framed properties were a necessary response to the severe housing and material shortages following the second world war, but the steelwork has often deteriorated with age. Many are now over seventy years old and well beyond the age for which they were originally designed.

Many types of steel frame properties can develop structural issues, making these houses much more difficult to sell, insure and get a mortgage on. Steel can corrode, adding to the potential safety issues. This corrosion is usually not easy to detect and you may require an intrusive survey to investigate inside the walls.

2. Poor Insulation and Energy Efficiency

Steel conducts heat around 300-400 times faster than wood and reduces the insulating properties of the walls by approximately 60%. This could result in the property receiving a rather poor EPC rating. Condensation can occur against the frame, accelerating corrosion and other damp-related risks.

3. Steel Frames Aren’t Always Easy to Detect

When you view the property, you may not be able to tell that it’s a steel frame house. This makes it even more difficult to detect any issues or defects. Whilst subsidence in brick houses will result in large cracks around windows and door frames, you may require an experienced and specialist surveyor to detect the risks in a steel-framed home.

4. Non-Standard Construction

As steel-framed properties are regarded as non-standard construction, you may potentially need to arrange a more intrusive survey as well as a Level 3 Home Survey, which can greatly increase your overall costs. This survey will provide you with further information on the condition of the property and it’s structure, as the body of the steel frame will usually be concealed behind brickwork, concrete panels or render..

5. Maintenance Can Sometimes Be Difficult

When dealing with a steel frame house, special tools will be required for its maintenance. It can be rather difficult to make adjustments to the panels should you encounter inaccuracies and you will likely require the help of a specialist.

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Why Do You Need a Building Survey (Level 3 Survey)?

No matter what type of property you’re buying, you should always arrange a property survey before finalising the sale to ensure it’s a safe investment. As steel-framed houses are considered non-traditional properties, it is usuallyadvised you arrange a Home Survey Level 3, previously known as a building survey or full structural survey, as it is the most thorough type of inspection available.

A Level 3 Survey is best suited to older properties, properties in poorer condition, or those built with non-traditional materials. This means it is usually the best choice for steel frame houses. However, it would also be helpful to find a RICS property surveyor who has experience in surveying steel frame properties as they will have the necessary experience and knowledge to highlight any potential concerns.

It’s important to note that some surveyors may recommend arranging a second, more intrusive survey to assess the building’s overall safety. Some surveyors will not be completely confident stating that the steel frame home is structurally sound and will advise you to arrange another inspection because of the unusual form of construction. Who pays for this additional survey must be discussed between the buyer and seller.

Is it Difficult to Sell a Steel Frame House?

Yes, due to problems mentioned earlier in the article, it is generally more difficult to sell a steel frame house compared to a traditional brick house.

Steel frame properties can be notoriously difficult to insure and get a mortgage on, meaning many buyers will likely avoid this type of home.

Should You Buy a Steel Frame Building?

There are some advantages to purchasing a steel frame house, such as:

  • Steel is a very durable material
  • Steel can often cope better with water damage than wood
  • Steel has a very high strength to weight ratio, meaning a lighter frame can often be used
  • Approximately 60% of structural steel sourced in the UK is recycled, according to The Waste Resource Action Programme (WRAP)

However, despite these potential benefits, buying a steel frame property can be a difficult process. The transaction will likely take longer than usual as it can be difficult to find a mortgage lender and an insurer who is willing to cover a steel building.

It will likely also increase the cost of buying a house as you might require a specialist property surveyor to conduct a rather intrusive survey. You will also require a much more substantial deposit when purchasing the property and could be expected to pay a higher interest rate.

Ultimately, the choice to buy a steel frame house will depend on a number of factors such as your budget and the date you’d wish to complete by. They can be very tough properties to sell so don’t forget to consider the potential issues that may crop up further down the line.

Next Steps of Buying a House

This article has been part of our home buying guide. In the next article, we look at PRC properties and the problems that can arise when owning one. To learn more, read what is a PRC property?

Zenyx Griffiths

Before Compare My Move, Zenyx once wrote lifestyle and entertainment articles for the online magazine, Society19 as well as news articles for Ffotogallery.

Mike Ashton

Reviewed by Mike Ashton

Director, Cambridge Building Surveyors

With over 20 years of experience in the property surveying industry, Mike Ashton is now the director at Cambridge Building Surveyors.