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BuildingsGuide was developed out of frustration when the owners were trying to construct a ‘backyard shop’ several years ago and had difficulty in finding a durable, secure and economical building solution that would require a minimum of maintenance. After months of research they decided that a prefabricated metal building checked all the boxes. It was through this research that they decided to share their knowledge and provide easy access to competing price quotes from local suppliers & manufacturers serving all 50 US states and Canada. Many with ‘factory direct’ savings!
BuildingsGuide.com simplifies and streamlines the process of identifying suppliers for your new building, allowing you to quickly choose the vendor or contractor best suited to your needs and budget. Since launching the service in 2004 over 200,000 purchasers have saved countless thousands on their construction projects.
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Metal Buildings – A Brief History – Technology & Terminology
The terminology used to describe steel buildings over the years has changed as the technology for designing and producing these buildings has matured. As a result of these name changes there has arisen confusion, are we talking about a structural steel building, a modular building, a prefabricated building, a pre-engineered building, or a metal building system? You may have heard these terms before but are still unsure as to what each refers to. Each describes a type of structure that is pre-designed and partially assembled in a manufacturing facility but they are quite different construction practices.
Modular Buildings – are three dimensional building segments that are produced in a manufacturing facility. Some are complete modular ‘building blocks’ that are bolted together on site to create the final building. With others being semi-finished modules that are again delivered to the site and fixed together before being finished.
Prefabricated Buildings – also referred to as prefab buildings (for more see here) are manufactured and substantially assembled at the manufacturing plant. Although early metal buildings (between the 1850’s & 1960’s) were accurately described as prefabricated buildings, modern day buildings are referred to as Metal Building Systems (see below for further description). Today’s prefab buildings consist of factory finished buildings such as toll booths, guard houses and small stand-alone classrooms.
Pre-Engineered Buildings – came into existence in the 1960s. Similar to the buildings that came before, these buildings were deemed to be ‘pre-engineered’ at the factory because they were produced from standard designs with limited configurations. Customers typically chose a steel building from a catalogue with standard dimensions such as 30x40, 30x50, 40x60, 40x80, 60x100 etc. Buildings also had standard size framed openings such as loading bays, doors & windows.
Metal Building Systems – are the modern day buildings we see being used today for applications ranging from small residential garages to large scale distribution centers with low pitch roofs, coloured wall / roof panels and possibly even custom exterior finishes such as custom fascia's and mansards. The MBS term was coined in recent years by the industry to properly describe the modern structural engineering concepts & principles used in today’s metal buildings. The term also works for modern metal buildings because these buildings do work as a system because components such as the walls, roof, main & secondary framing are an interdependent group of technologies forming a unified whole.
The MBMA defines these buildings as follows:
" Metal building systems are professionally engineered structures that provide cost-effective and efficient low-rise buildings for a wide array of uses. "
Available Building Types / Designs
The three most common building options available for both residential and commercial low-rise buildings include:
- Rigid Frame Buildings (squared-sided with peak or sloping roof)
- Open Web Truss Metal Buildings (squared-sided with peak or sloping roof)
- Quonset hut buildings (curved roof structure)
All three types can be used for a variety of purposes, and still deliver a long list of benefits (see benefits below)
Rigid Frame Buildings
Rigid frame buildings (also referred to as I-Beam Buildings or Red Iron Buildings) are primarily used as commercial and industrial building applications; such as warehouses, factory buildings, mini storage units, crane buildings & indoor arenas. They have a solid steel frame and cold rolled panels on the roof and walls. Heavy equipment and skilled labor is required to build a rigid frame building.
Made of high-quality, coated steel, rigid frame steel buildings are used for larger space requirements because of their straight wall design they deliver more, clear span, usable, interior space for less. As the steel primary framing (beams) are bolted together and braced - widths of up to 300 feet and lengths of 100 to 500 feet are not uncommon.
Rigid frames can be designed & specified to withstand wind, snow and seismic loading for all North American locations. With their sloping roof and/or low roof pitch this type of building may not be suitable for zoning in non-industrial zoned locations.
Open Web Truss Metal Buildings
These large-scale, engineered buildings employ a customized truss system to add building strength, more space, and even a second floor or mezzanine level.
Metal trusses are typically pre-engineered and delivered to the job site ready for installation based on individual specifications. Typical roof pitch is 4:12 for this type of building, making it a better aesthetic fit for residential applications such as shops, garages and auto shops. This being said, this type of building is used extensively in the retail sector for large retails stores and shopping malls.
Using a system of half- and full-sized trusses, you design the steel structure you need. These customized truss systems can be used with other building materials – wood, concrete, stucco, etc. – to create a square-sided, durable structure that will last for decades.
Using a pre-built truss system lessens construction time so your space needs are met faster, and because the building is supported by web trusses, you can build higher to accommodate the largest vehicles in your fleet, more office staff upstairs, additional storage space on the same-sized building footprint.
Unlike rigid frame buildings, open web truss structures are limited to a maximum clearspan width of 100 feet.
Quonset Hut Buildings
Perhaps the most widely-recognized pre-engineered building is the Quonset hut (or Arch Building)– a half-round building that uses the rigidity of its 18-24 inch arch panels to support the building itself.
Originally designed for military use during WWII, these buildings were designed to be quickly assembled by hand with only basic tools. The same is true today, making this type of building the ideal building kit for the DIY enthusiast. This labor saving cost coupled with the low cost of the building kit makes this type of steel building one of the most economical structures on the market.
Quonset huts are easy to construct, simple to maintain, highly adaptable to any storage or space requirement, and low-cost – with Quonset metal buildings starting at just $5/square foot.
In addition to the traditional semi-circular shape (Q-Model), modified Quonset designs have been introduced in recent years. These buildings have the added benefit of straight walls with a curved roof profile, providing more usable internal space along with a more pleasing aesthetic for residential applications such as garages, shops and homes.
Quonset buildings are available in widths ranging from approx. 16 – 150 feet.
How much is a new custom building going to cost?
This will depend on a number of factors. Namely, how large a building? What level of interior & exterior finish will be required? Will the building be self-build or will a general contractor be responsible for construction & finishing? All of these factors will have a bearing on the final building price.
This said, building packages range from $7.00 - $15.00 per square foot (the larger the building the lower the price). Foundation costs are approx. $4.50 per square foot. And, assuming the building is going to be erected by a GC prices can be in the range $7.00 - $14.00 per square foot.
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Benefits of Pre-Engineered / Metal Building Systems
Detailed below are some of the most important features and benefits associated with modern metal buildings:
Cost Saving Benefits:
Steel buildings can cost 35-50% less to build than conventionally constructed buildings such as stick-built or post & beam buildings.
- Speed of Occupancy
Due to the fact that the cutting and drilling of assembly holes etc. is completed in the factory the building components arrive at the job site in a ready to assemble state. The fact that no on-site measuring and cutting is required can reduce the overall construction time by 40-50%, equating to lower assembly & labor costs coupled with a faster return on investment (ROI).
- Reduced Material Cost
Again, because on-site cutting and preparation is eliminated material waste is virtually non-existent.
- Building Accuracy
With modern Computer Aided Design & Drafting technology building components are accurately produced at the factory, resulting in buildings that fit together first time. This level of accuracy again limits the amount of waste material and contributes to short construction times. With accurate design and components, contractors can make more accurate project estimates and virtually eliminate the extra cost of excessive materials and other unexpected expenses in the building process.
- Insurance savings
Due to their inherent fire resistant properties, coupled with post production finishes, insurance premiums on metal buildings can be up to 40% less than those for wooden frame buildings.
- Reduced Maintenance Costs
Unlike wooden structures, metal buildings will not rot, warp, crack and do not require re-painting. With rust resistant finishes and high-performance paint finishes most buildings are supplied with a 30-40 year warranty against chipping, cracking, blistering & peeling.
- Energy Savings
Accurately engineered buildings ensure that doors and windows close tightly reducing heat loss (or cool air escaping). Modern high-tech paint finishes can reflect up to 70% of the sun’s rays which in turn helps keep HVAC costs down.
- Improved Strength, Rigidity & Durability
With the strength of the buildings steel components, coupled with modern engineering principles, buildings can be designed to withstand hurricane force wind speeds between 70mph right up to 180mph. Due to this fact alone, most new commercial & storage buildings erected in Florida are constructed from steel. The same is true for snow loading, making metal buildings popular in both Colorado and Alaska.
- Dimensionally Stable
Metal buildings won’t expand or contract with moisture levels and structural members are all secured with rust-resistant bolts.
- Reduced Fire Risk
Due to the all steel construction & components, the chance for indoor or outdoor fires is extremely low.
- Improved Grounding in Electrical Storms
Steel buildings are considered to be ‘Green Buildings’ as they have a lower negative environmental impact (energy use, raw material consumption, created material waste) than other building options.
Steelbuildings are 100% recyclable, making them a sustainable, recyclable, reusable building option. Buildings are also produced from 30% (or more) recycled steel, such as fridges, cars & industrial scrap. According to the ‘Steel Recycling Institute’ steel is North America's #1 Recycled Material – totalling over 80 million tons per year and representing more than paper, plastic, aluminum and glass combined.
- Reduced Waste
Buildings are produced and erected with far less waste material – typically 2% for steel compared to 20% for lumber
- Energy Efficient
As described previously, pre-engineered buildings are far better at maintaining a constant internal temperature, reducing overall heating/cooling costs.
- Less Toxic
Since steel framed buildings do not have chemically treated members (as is the case with lumber to prevent rotting), future contamination is not a concern.
Other Notable Benefits:
- Flexibility of Expansion
Due to their modular nature, metal buildings can be expanded quickly and cost effectively by disassembling one end wall and adding additional clear span sections. In most instances, the removed end wall can then be re-used.
- Ease of Relocation
Small to medium sized buildings (1,200 – 10,000 square feet) can be dismantled and relocated easily.
- Unlimited Architectural Possibilities
Modern, architecturally designed pre-engineered buildings do not have to resemble the ‘beige box’ buildings found in industrial parks. Architects have many roofing and wall panel options available to them to provide the desired building aesthetic. In place of metal cladding for the walls options available include brick veneers, concrete, masonry, precast concrete panels and glass fiber reinforced concrete to name a few.
Tools & Resources:
We also offer additional construction resources including: our buyers guide, building & construction articles, sample floor plans and educational resources sections for the DIY & home building enthusiasts who requires additional information whilst researching a new metal building. We have also added a number of structural engineering calculators to help specifiers, contractors, engineers, and structural engineering students calculate measurements such as snow loading analysis, seismic base shear & wind loading analysis amongst others.