Pre-Engineered Metal Buildings: A Construction Alternative

Mary Blount Elemetary

by Rob Smith, Owner, Montane Building Group

Once primarily used for industrial warehouse, storage, and manufacturing, today pre-engineered metal buildings (PEMB) account for a wide array of industrial and commercial structures including retail stores, office buildings, entertainment arenas and even schools, churches, and government facilities. All while being custom designed to meet specific dimensions, structural needs, and building codes.

More than just four walls and a roof, a PEMB is a structure that is built using a structural steel framing system specifically engineered to fit your project requirements. All of the predetermined components of the structure are fabricated off-site under precise factory conditions. Components are pre-cut, pre-punched, and pre-fabricated per your design specifications. The complete package is then delivered directly to the project site where they may be assembled on-site by a contractor.

There are significant benefits associated with working with a metal building system. First and foremost is the tremendous time savings metal building systems represent when compared to conventional construction methods. Conventional construction methods require the designers, detailers, and contractors to reinvent the process for each new project, which can take a significant amount of time. A study published in the Journal of Construction Engineering and Management revealed that up to 50 percent of time on the jobsite is devoted to wasteful activities, including late deliveries, poor coordination of materials and trades, and correcting field mistakes.

Due to the systematic nature of the building design and delivery, the metal building system process provides a consistent design experience for the project team. Highly experienced metal building designers oversee the engineering and structural fabrication. Materials are then shipped from a single-source supplier to the jobsite. The building framework is installed by a contractor, allowing for subcontractors to begin their work faster and in a more consistent manner.

The supplier takes responsibility for the engineering and fabrication of the components it supplies, and works with the contractor on the design of any other elements of the building shell. It is important for the design professional to ensure that the design criteria, particularly lateral drift and deflection of the primary frame and secondary supports, are compatible with the chosen wall materials and other project requirements. Most suppliers provide a “letter of certification” with each building that assures the metal building system has been designed in accordance with specified state and local codes or other specific project design requirements. A variety of warranties are also offered for metal building systems. These address various building elements, such as finish warranties on roof and wall systems and weathertight warranties on roof systems.

Advantages of PEMB include:

VWCost Efficiency – Construction time and material costs are more predictable than conventional construction. With PEMB components manufactured and shipped from a controlled site, there is less labor and human error costs to consider. Recycled steel retains all the strength of virgin steel, no matter how many times it is recycled. Steel claims both the highest strength-to-weight ratio and the highest recycled content of any building material. Consequently, less material creates a much stronger structure than with other building materials.

Design Flexibility – The time that this process takes in a conventional construction project is significantly reduced due to the fact that these structures are created using standardized components that work together easily to allow greater flexibility and customization. What types of design flexibility can architects incorporate in a metal building? Designers can select straight or tapered columns, solid or open web framing, variable or odd-sized bays or modules, single-slope or double-slope buildings, with centered or off-center ridges, in increments up to 1/16 of an inch. These systems can be integrated with a wide variety of wall materials, such as concrete masonry block, brick, tilt-up concrete, curtain wall, or metal panels. Flat conventional roof design have given way in popularity to a water-shedding design, in which a sloped roof is a key element in the overall image and function of the structure. Sizes of PEMB buildings can vary tremendously, from small office or retail centers of 5,000–10,000 square feet, up to massive distribution, warehouse, or transportation hubs, some well over a million square feet in size.

Decreased Construction Time – While computer technology has streamlined metal building design, detailing, and engineering, savings also come through advances in the fabrication of structural elements. Since all elements are factory fabricated, they are precut and pre-punched under precise factory conditions. As a result, quality is increased and waste is decreased. Building erection time and costs are more predictable, since all parts are manufactured and shipped to the site; typically within 6 to 8 weeks from the time an order is submitted. Components arrive pre-fabricated, which means there is no welding or cutting required and construction crews may immediately begin erecting the structure. Erecting steel framing is simple and logical, generally cutting construction time by 33% over other building methods.

Audi TulsaStructural Strength & Low Maintenance – Structural steel is strong and built to last. Specialty coating applied to components allow for the resistance of corrosion and dirt. The longevity and sustainability of a PEMB will save time and money during the lifespan of the building. One of the great advantages of steel building construction is the low maintenance factor. You can install it, utilize it and nearly forget about any up keep. It is fair to say that prefab buildings are virtually ‘Maintenance Free’. As opposed to wood framed buildings, steel is impervious to weathering. It will not rot or crack and is also not vulnerable to insect attack. That means you do not need to battle moisture, monitor the aging process and protect against pests. Also, unlike timber buildings metal buildings do not require painting every couple of years.

The roofing has the same advantage, eliminating the need to wrestle with shingle replacements and plywood decking. The popularity of steel roofing is growing in the commercial and residential building industry mainly because of the reduced maintenance requirements. This also translates into less operating costs for a metal building. Less maintenance is an attractive option. In most cases PEMBs come with a 25-30-year warranty. Most of the maintenance involved in a steel building is maintaining the support structures and accessories around it. The steel itself will remain strong, stable and hassle free for decades.

Easily Expandable – Businesses often outgrow their facilities and benefit from an expansion. PEMB’s allow for easy expansion of existing facilities. Expanding a metal building usually involves the removal of an end or side wall, the erection of additional structural frames, and matching the existing wall and roof coverings to the addition. Manufacturers routinely perform assessments to add on to a metal building system, including structural and roof drainage analyses. An expansion or remodel is made much simpler due to standardized design and efficient assembly processes.

With lower costs and speedier construction times, one might think PEMB’s must all look like boring uninspired squares. On the contrary, this building option offers the ability to combine and select components to create framing, wall, roof, and other specialized design options to create a customized structure. With various colors, textures, and shapes to choose from, the options for these components and how they can work together enables designers to create something truly unique. There are many options in regard to architectural detail or finish materials, that enable an aesthetically pleasing appearance, consistent with that of conventional construction, all without compromising on speed and cost-efficiency.

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Montane Building Group is proficient in working with Pre-Engineered Metal Buildings, utilizing Butler Manufacturing Systems as northern Nevada’s Butler® builder. For more information, please contact them at 775.624.3966.