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Builder strong on steel frames

John HartContractor William Green is building a home on Gold Country Drive off of Pleasant Valley Road and near Lake Wildwood. Here he displays the steel studs holding the heating system and water heater in the garage of the home. The walls of the home are also made of the steel beams not wood.
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

This is the first in a periodic series on different types of construction in Nevada County.

Your father’s Oldsmobile could be in Will Green’s garage.

Or in the dining room walls.



Green, owner of William Green Construction, has finished building his first steel-frame construction house. The metal used to frame the house is recyclable and “could contain some Toyotas,” Green quipped.

Green, who used to do high-end remodels in the Bay Area before he moved to Nevada County two years ago, had an epiphany one day when he was keeping the homefires burning.




“I was throwing 2-by-4s from a construction site into the fire because they burn more quickly than anything,” Green recalled.

Green wondered if that made sense for homes in sunny – and often excessively dry – California to be made out of such flammable material.

“I grew up in Europe and we don’t have wood houses,” said the Worcestershire, England native.

Green chose a gently sloping lot in Wildwood Ridge near Lake Wildwood.

Aside from being nearly fireproof, “you can’t say the house is fireproof because there is a little bit of wood (the trim) and there will be furniture inside,” Green explained. Steel doesn’t rot or get mold and is not prone to termites, he said.

However, it can rust if water gets inside, he added.

Bill Litchfield, owner of Bill Litchfield Construction in Grass Valley, started using steel framing in commercial building about 25 years ago, “because we were getting some pretty good economies out of it. It’s cheaper in commercial construction than wood, and it has better structural capabilities than wood does,” Litchfield said.

Another advantage of steel framing is more open space inside a building, Litchfield said. Builders can place an 80-foot-long steel span with no interior supporting posts.

“You walk into the building and you don’t have to arrange everything around those posts,” Litchfield said. “It gives you more flexibility inside.”

Flexibility is something people question when it comes to steel-frame construction.

Nevada County is in a seismic 3 zone, and all types of construction has to be engineered to those standards and, thus, flexible enough, said Barbara Bashall, executive director of the Nevada County Contractors’ Association.

Steel-frame construction is more common in Southern California and, especially, in Las Vegas, Nev., Bashall said.

“All those houses have steel frames,” she said.

In Nevada County, Litchfield has used steel framing in the Clydesdale Commerce Center in Whispering Pines, Sierra Group Exhibits in the Loma Rica Center near the airport and the Grass Valley Police station.

“I have lots of them,” Litchfield said about steel-frame buildings in Nevada County.

The Quail Ridge Senior Living, a series of handsome new buildings on Sutton Way and Dorsey Drive, is made of light-gauge construction, and Litchfield ticks off the advantages.

It’s half as expensive as framing in wood, and “it’s stable, it’s straight, doesn’t warp, twist or bend like wood does,” Litchfield said.

And it’s light, he said.

“The people assembling it can lift more pieces of it at a time,” so it cuts down on labor costs, Litchfield said.

Green used a flexible metal to create curved interior walls, something very difficult to do with wood.

Neither Green nor Litchfield could offer a per-square-foot cost, comparing steel framing over wood framing.

“Everyone in our business hates to give square-footage prices, because is there no typical construction,” Litchfield said. “There’s so much variation in floor plan, features like five bay windows, that it’d be hard to quote prices.”


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