building process

House Construction in South Africa-Timber or light steel frame construction

  • Creation Date: Wednesday, 29 May 2019


The vast majority of people in this country are only prepared to think of building their homes with traditional bricks and mortar.

There are however a number of alternatives that one might wish to consider but having said that, much depends on how adventurous you want to be and also regarding what is available in your area.

I am going to post a number of articles over the next while on alternative construction materials that you might wish to consider.


In this one, I am going to deal with timber frame and light steel frame construction. With timber frame construction, there are quite a number of specialist contractors who will be able to build a timber frame home for you but is also quite easy for anyone with any kind of carpentry skill to do it. As an architect with some general timber frame construction knowledge, I have made a number of alterations and additions to my own timber frame home without much difficulty. There are many books on this construction method and all the materials and equipment you need will be available from your local builders' merchant.

Light steel frame construction, however, requires specialist engineering, fabricators and erectors but apart from the framing, the construction for the rest of the building is essentially the same as for a timber frame house. Whether you decide on timber or light steel framing, there a number of cladding options, both inside and outside that you can consider.

Internal walls. For cladding, the internal walls, the lower end “standard” is 12,5mm gypsum board, which can either just have the joints skimmed, or be fully skimmed. The better finish would be 15mm gypsum board with a moisture board being used in bathrooms and possibly laundries. This gives a more “solid” feel to the wall. Alternatives for inside include Magnesium Oxide board, OSB (Oriented Strand Board) and in some cases, 19mm shutter board. There are also a number of other alternatives that can be considered for the more adventurous such as timber sheet panelling, solid timber planks, metal sheets and even a combination of some of the above.

External walls. There are also a number of alternatives when it comes to external cladding. The most common finish is Fibre Cement building planks in a shiplap structure. One can also use Fibre cement sheets, Magnesium Oxide Board and a variety of timber from machined half-logs to timber planks or a rougher timber, corrugated metal sheets and in fact, whatever your mind can imagine.

One of the big items to consider whenever you are building any form of drywalling is the insulation and soundproofing which needs to be inserted into the cavity. There are a number of products available on the market and my strong recommendation is that you install the best that you can. These would include foil insulation, waterproofing and cellulose fibre blankets or similar.  Once you close the wall, there will not be an opportunity for change if the insulation or soundproofing you have installed is not adequate.

If you are contemplating building with timber framing, do your research regarding the materials that you would like to use and consider using items that will add a bit of character to your investment.

Article written by Les Abbott. Pr Arch.