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Aluminium vs. Light Gauge Steel: How Do They Compare When Used as Structural Materials?

14 September 2018

These days, metal framing is commonly used as a structural material on both small and large commercial and residential construction projects thanks to its strength, durability and long life.

While structural steel has been the traditional choice, more and more project managers are discovering the many benefits of choosing aluminium or light gauge steel. The lighter weight of these materials makes them easier to work with, which brings many cost and time savings to the build.

So, the question is, which is the best choice for your project: aluminium or light gauge steel?

To help you make the right call, in this article we’ll share the benefits of each material in these important areas: strength and weight, cost and time, durability and maintenance, and flexibility and design.

Strength and Weight

A key benefit of aluminium is its high-strength to weight ratio. As a structural material, it’s strong enough to support large spans of glass, while also being lighter than timber, concrete and structural steel which reduces the weight load on foundations. The lighter weight of aluminium structural framing also means it’s faster, easier and more economical to deliver, handle and install on site than the traditionally used heavier materials.

Light gauge steel also has an extremely high strength to weight ratio, retaining the strength of steel, without the added weight. It’s generally stronger than aluminium and is also light enough to reduce the load on foundations and simplify transportation and installation. The strength and lightweight properties of light gauge steel makes it an ideal choice for multi-storey commercial and residential buildings.

Cost and Time

The price of aluminium usually falls somewhere between the cost of stainless and basic steel. However, when you incorporate the overall cost savings on time, labour and equipment due to the ease of handling and installation, it becomes a very cost-effective option for many projects.

While it can cost more to purchase up front, light gauge steel framing can significantly cut the overall time and cost of large scale projects due largely to its predictability and accuracy. Lightweight custom steel frames can be installed quickly, reduce the need for scaffolding and open the site for follow on trades sooner, all of which helps get the job done faster and reduces project costs.

Durability and Maintenance

Aluminium structural framing is made from alloys that are durable and long-lasting. The natural oxide coating of aluminium provides a barrier to corrosion, plus, it’s also weather-proof and immune to damage from UV rays. This means aluminium requires minimal maintenance over its long lifespan to keep it at its best.

Light gauge steel is unaffected by moisture-related issues, and is resistant to mold, rot, rust and corrosion. And because it won’t crack, shrink, splinter, split, swell or warp, it has an extremely long and maintenance-free lifespan.

Flexibility and Design

When it comes to custom metal fabrication, aluminium offers unlimited design potential. It can be manipulated into almost any shape for both structural and decorative features using common metalworking processes including rolling, forging, casting, welding and extrusion.

Light gauge steel is also a great option for custom metal fabrication and offers plenty of flexibility for designers to create modern and unique buildings.

Final Word on Aluminium vs Light Gauge Steel

Both aluminium and light gauge steel share plenty of common benefits, with a few subtle differences. While light gauge steel is generally the stronger of the two, both have very high strength to weight ratios. The lighter weight of both materials also saves time and money in comparison to timber, concrete and structural steel as they can be installed faster, reduce labour and minimise equipment hire.

Aluminium and light gauge steel are both durable and long-lasting with the added benefit of low-maintenance due to the resistance to harm from the elements, moisture and corrosion. Light gauge steel can be easily manipulated into a vast array of designs, however aluminium is the king when it comes to flexibility, offering designers almost endless possibilities for customised metal fabrication.

So, which is the right fit for your project? There’s no real clear-cut answer – it comes down to the unique specifics of the job. To find out if aluminium or light gauge steel is the best choice for you, contact our friendly team for expert advice on 1300 782 950 or email sales@sbsgroup.com.au.


This article was written by the team at SBS Group. Since 2003, we’ve been helping builders, architects and developers realise and achieve smarter methods of building using light gauge steel framing solutions.

We call it the BUILD SMARTER™ system. Find out more about the system and watch the latest BUILD SMARTER™ update video here.

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