Prefabricated Steel Buildings - Finding the Right Design

So you’ve decided to use steel in your next building project, and with good cause. You’ve done your research and found that prefabricated steel buildings are cheaper, stronger and more efficient than most other building styles. You’re ready to foray into the world of steel, but before you do, there are still a few decisions to be made.

Prefab steel building kits don’t come in just one size and one style. There are two prominent design types that split into different subcategories. Below, we’ll discuss the features and benefits of Quonset huts and straight wall designs so you can better estimate which building style is right for your project. A little research is all it takes to find out what type of prefabricated steel building fits your project needs.

The Quonset Hut: Cost Effective and Built to Last

Features and Benefits

The Quonset hut (or Arch Steel Building) first stepped into the spotlight during World War II. The U.S. Navy was looking for an all-purpose, lightweight building that could be easily transported and assembled without skilled labour. Today, the Quonset huts are still known for these attributes. The arched design allows for strength and sturdiness, protection against earthquakes and wind, and is relatively cheaper when compared to other styles of steal buildings.

Use and Purpose

The usage of a Quonset hut depends on the particular design you may choose. These include:

Q-Model: Probably the most popular model, this design takes the shape of an oil drum cut in half lengthwise. Its circular style maximizes strength and durability, and allows for easy expansion. Since space becomes limited as you move closer to the walls, the Q-Model is best for things like grain or crop storage, and not larger items.

S-Model: Takes a similar shape of the Q-Model, except here the “S” stands for “straight-wall.” This steel building is great for equipment and warehouse storage, as the straight-wall design allows for maximum space utilization.

P-Model: Similar to the S-Model design, save for the “P” standing for “peaked roof.” Like the S-Model, this design wastes no space and is great for storage. The peaked roof really brings only cosmetic advantages, so this model may be best suited for home purposes such as garages and workshops.

Estimates and Prices

The price of a commercial steel building will again depend on which model you choose, as well as how large your building will be. Generally, the Q-Model is the cheapest option, with the P-Model being the most expensive of the Quonsets. As a rough estimate, a 20 by 30 foot arch frame building could cost a little over $8,800. This includes materials, accessories and delivery, and not foundation costs, labour or construction. Steel buildings in the Quonset hut category are the most economically priced option.

(Also see our steel building price calculator for 'ballpark' pricing)

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Straight Wall: Innovative Design and Attractive Finish

Features and Benefits

Pre-engineered steel buildings

Having a more traditional look than Quonset huts, the advantage to straight wall, or rigid frame designs, is mainly visual appeal. Nevertheless, straight wall prefabricated steel buildings are sturdy and durable, and are still cheaper than most other construction options.

Use and Purpose

Once again, the function of a straight wall steel building depends on the design. These include:

Straight Column: This design type boasts clear open space, but usually won’t expand larger than 70 feet in width. Best used for RV storage buildings, small retail stores or other commercial functions.

Clearspan: Can take a gable shape, with a slightly peaked roof, or that of a single slope design. Like the straight column design, the clearspan frame requires no interior support, meaning large open spaces. Unlike the straight column, however, this design can span up to 150 feet in width. Perfect for athletic facilities, aircraft hangers and any type of storage.

Beam and Column: Because this model utilizes interior columns, thus more evenly distributing the weight load, these modular frames are essential when constructing buildings over 150 feet in length. As well, the distributed weight means reduced cost in the frame and foundation. This prefab steel building model is best suited for factories and warehouses.

Lean-To: Also known as a “Wing” model, this structure allows for quick expansion to a pre-existing building without disturbing it. And because it can be finished with the same material as the parent building, the lean-to is suitable for all sorts of purposes.

Estimates and Prices

Generally, straight wall designs are more expensive than Quonset huts. Still, any of the aforementioned designs will run cheaper than most other building materials. As a rough estimate, a 20 by 30 foot straight wall building could cost around $12,300, which again only includes materials, accessories and delivery, and nothing else. Straight wall steel buildings come in two varieties: tubular kits and rigid frames. Generally, tubular steel building kits are cheaper but will only serve smaller jobs.

Also see our Building Styles section for more information

Author: Conrad Mackie