This guide covers the typical construction process for a rigid-frame metal building. If you are interested in learning about Quonset hut construction, see our page on Quonset huts for more details.
Metal Building Construction Process
As with any project, there are several stages to constructing a pre-engineered building. Detailed below is an overview of the project. See our article on the build process for a more in-depth look at the entire planning, designing, and building erection process.
You have three major choices to make about who will do the work and how it will be organized:
- DIY (do it yourself)
- Self Build (being your own contractor)
- GC Build (hiring a general contractor)
It’s also important to understand the difference between a general contractor, a subcontractor, and a steel erector.
A general contractor (GC) is the manager of the entire project. The GC will plan, estimate, coordinate the subcontractors, keep records, oversee overall quality, project safety, and more.
A subcontractor will perform a specialty part of the project, e.g., plumbing, electrical or concrete work.
A steel erector is a subcontractor with particular knowledge and skills in building your steel-frame building. Most general contractors do not have the same specialized level of knowledge, particularly for larger construction projects.
Option 1: DIY Erect a Metal Building
Erect your own building - yes, it’s possible.
Of course, we cannot decide for YOU. Someone reading this page might be the equivalent of three or four construction professionals – or be someone who really doesn’t like to change a washer in a faucet. You will need to choose when deciding to build your own building.
Benefits of DIY– Some Points To Consider
Is construction simple enough for you?
A pre-engineered building kit is like a giant erector set. It will come with detailed construction plans. Every piece will be numbered and specified in the construction manual. For smaller buildings (under 3,000 sq ft), DIY is certainly an option for those with some construction experience. Larger buildings will typically require construction cranes, specialized equipment, and know-how, so those are best erected by an experienced erection crew.
Will you really save money?
The short answer is yes, you can save on the construction fees of around $4-$8 per square foot if you elect to build your own building. But, consider that erecting a metal building is quite complex, and it may involve several subcontractors. Someone without experience may struggle with all the project planning, organizing, and project management. Before you decide to DIY, get an estimate from at least three reputable steel erectors. Then estimate the costs for doing it yourself, including equipment rental and operator costs for any specialized tasks. Learning on the job and making the inevitable rookie mistakes will likely drag out the construction time.
What’s the value of your time?
And don’t underestimate your time needed or short-change its value. Could you be earning money during that time? Are there other projects that might get neglected?
Enjoyment, satisfaction, and bragging rights!
Another factor that doesn’t have a monetary or time value is the satisfaction and enjoyment of doing the job yourself. For some buyers, this is a critical point.
How To Erect A Metal Building
The first step is laying your building's foundation of the correct size, depth, and strength. Even when erecting the building yourself, it is almost always a good idea to have the foundation done by a qualified contractor.
Once you have the foundation in place, we would suggest that the most important points in erecting a building yourself are reading the supplied assembly instructions and planning ahead. Yes, it’s worth saying to...
- Read the entire set of instructions to get the big picture.
- Read the first section carefully.
- Then start with the first section, going one step at a time while reading each step carefully.
- Proceed to section 2 and repeat… and so on.
Detailed construction plans and erection instructions are included with the building kit package.
Here we have a brief summary, just so you have a rough idea, right now, of what's involved.
Step 1: Install the columns or install an entire preassembled primary frame.
Step 2: Install the frame rafters (unless installing preassembled primary frames).
Step 3: Install secondary framing (wall girts and roof purlins).
Step 4: Complete the end wall framing (vertical and horizontal members).
Step 5: Install windows and doors.
Step 6: Install the wall sheeting and wall insulation.
Step 7: Install roof sheeting and roof insulation.
Step 8: Install trim and flashing.
Step 9: Install gutters and downspouts door canopies (if ordered).
For a detailed look at the construction process and to see a typical construction manual click HERE.
What equipment is required to construct a metal building?
You’ll need many basic tools that should be in any DIY-er’s toolbox, such as wrenches, channel locks, drills, caulking guns, plumb bobs, and more. Plus, specialized wrenches for tightening high-strength bolts. You will need plenty of ratchet straps to help square the framing before finally tightening the frames in place.
You’ll need a power screw gun with an adjustable clutch to prevent stripping the washer on self-drilling screws. A few more specialized tools that the average person may not have are:
- rotary hammers
- torque wrench
- load binders
- bull pins
And you’ll need lifting equipment with qualified operators, such as a forklift, front-end-loader, or crane, depending on the size of your building. For some smaller buildings, a tractor (or equivalent) with a front bucket or rear lift arm will suffice.
To lift crew personnel, you need a scissor lift or scaffolding.
As a rule of thumb, you will need a four-man crew to erect a small 30x40 steel building, and the installation can be completed in 3-6 days.
Safety equipment is critical: gloves, hard hats, boots, and goggles for the crew, plus fire extinguishers and a high-quality first aid kit.
DIY Metal Building Kit Construction - Mistakes to Avoid
Here are some common mistakes that will jeopardize the durability and longevity steel buildings are known for, not to mention compliance with local building codes and regulations.
Not Obtaining the Proper Permits
Almost all building projects in almost all areas will require permits and inspection. Failure to have the correct permits could result in considerable delays and financial costs. You have probably heard of people having to dismantle a building because they didn’t have the correct permits.
Poor Site Preparation
You must consider any obstructions, such as overhead power lines and underground pipes. Heavy trucks need to have clear, safe access. You need to have a place to store your building parts, preferably protected from the weather.
The ground must be prepared - cleared, and leveled. You might need to bring and compact structural fill to get to the proper elevation.
Then your foundation must be prepared properly. We recommend using a professional for the foundation, even if you will erect the steel building yourself.
Not Following Directions
Your building kit package will come with detailed directions. In the strongest terms, we recommend that you follow the construction process outlined in the instructions point by point, no matter how experienced you are with do-it-yourself projects. Failure to follow directions could mean accidents or a building that hasn’t been put together correctly and might be susceptible to storms, rain, or snow damage. In particular, use the correct tools and follow directions precisely in joining the building parts together.
Assembling a steel building could be straightforward if the directions are followed carefully.
Cutting The Metal Components
Pre-engineered metal frame buildings come to you precisely measured and cut. If you think you need to cut or redrill a hole, something has almost gone wrong. If necessary, contact your building supplier, or the manufacturer, for advice.
Not Following Safety Procedures
Please don’t short-change this. We’ve all seen ads about preventable accidents. Use proper safety equipment and follow procedures. You will work with heavy metal framing members and sharp wall/siding panels.
One point you may not know is that falls are actually the leading cause of injury in construction. Research and follow all possible preventative measures to keep you and your crew safe.
Not Fully Planning the Project
Any savings you may have made by choosing to construct your own building can quickly evaporate if the project doesn’t run smoothly and to schedule. If you budgeted for 5 days and it ends up taking 10 days, the additional equipment rental charges will be double the amount you budgeted for. Planning is key!
Option 2: Be Your Own General Contractor (Self-Build)
You remain the day-by-day manager of the project: planning, organizing, hiring the subcontractors, taking care of insurance, pulling the relevant permits and more.
The main advantage of being your own general contractor is in cost savings. Typically, a general contractor will add 10-20% to the overall cost for the time and expertise they bring to the project. That adds up to a considerable saving if you can take over that work yourself. You can also make sure that you get EXACTLY what you want. You can, for example, make changes in the finish without arguing with your general contractor about the signed contract.
The main disadvantage of being your own general contractor is that you probably don’t have their experience and industry connections. Planning and organizing everything, getting permits, and dealing with subcontractors and suppliers is A LOT of work – work that can go a lot more easily with an experienced hand at the helm.
But if you have the right temperament and abilities, it’s entirely possible that you can successfully be your own general contractor and that your project can work out well.
Option 3: Hire a General Contractor (GC)
Your construction project will be far less stressful with the help of a general contractor. Your GC will hire, manage and oversee all the relevant subcontractors (building erectors, insulation installers, electricians, plumbers, etc.) responsible for constructing your building.
You won't have to worry about figuring out complicated timetables or getting the proper permits. All of it will be handled by your general contractor.
The fact that the general contractor will always serve as the only point of contact for the project is another advantage. Your general contractor will be able to intervene and resolve any issues that may arise should something go wrong with your project or if there is a dispute amongst trades. Since they have seen it all, general contractors are equipped to address any issue that may arise.
General contractors bring a wealth of invaluable expertise and ideas to your project. They know the processes involved in construction projects and the order in which tasks should be completed. You won't have to worry about interpreting building codes or other regulations. The GC will also pull all the relevant permits on your behalf.
GCs typically charge 10-20% of the total project cost.
Some points to consider:
- Are you comfortable finding and hiring all the relevant sub-trades?
- Do you know of a reputable, local steel building erector?
- If a worker isn’t doing their job properly, would you know to spot that?
- Would you have the language to direct them properly?
- Do you know all the applicable OSHA safety standards or the time to research them?
- Do you have any experience in negotiating pricing with subcontractors?
- Do you think you can plan the overall project to be completed as efficiently as possible?
A quality general contractor will cost you but will do a huge amount of critical work and complete the project professionally, on budget, and on time. They could also provide ideas and suggestions for your particular project that you may have not considered.
For More on the Build Process
See our overview of a metal building project including planning, designing, erecting and more ...