“Metal building systems now account for over 50% of new low-rise, non-residential buildings in the U.S.,” proclaims the 2014 Annual Report of the Metal Building Manufacturer’s Association (MBMA). This stunning statistic may take some by surprise, but not us. With the potential to create sleek, contemporary designs or new twists on the traditional, the use of metal in today’s construction has taken an entirely new turn – for both practical and aesthetic purposes.
Why Metal Building Is On The Rise
Neither rain, nor snow, nor even hail (or earthquake!) can really penetrate a building fashioned from a material like metal. Virtually unshakable when compared to the more vulnerable brick and mortar, the strength of its seeming fragility is also found in its low maintenance, durability, innovative designs and the ability for a metal building to be “sealed” to create a moisture/vapor barrier.
More prevalent in European countries, the metal building trend has taken off as a versatile building material for a litany of reasons. Like the ubiquitous use of recycled textiles into floors, countertops, and wall coverings, metal as a building material no longer carries the single-purpose-use commonly associated with gigantic commercial spaces like sports arenas or storage facilities.
Plus, open floor plans have been the contemporary trend in residential home design. The need for streamlined space is prevalent in commercial building as well. The solution? Bring on the metal! In comparison to the structural supports and load-bearing walls needed to shore up traditional building materials, metal delivers an obvious adaptability with its much higher strength/weight ratio. More design alternatives and larger, uninterrupted space are made possible while complying with modern tastes.
Yet while metal buildings are impervious to air and water, they are not completely immune to the elements. Because metal is such an excellent conductor, it is able to transfer heat from warm air (full of moisture) on the exterior to a cool air in the interior and cause condensation. So, as with any structure, it pays to insulate your metal building. [Read more about that here and here.]
Whether completely constructed from metal, or as a component of the “fabric” of the building, metal’s malleability makes it a prominent player in contemporary construction.
On The Horizon: Construction and Tariffs
Riding the metal building high into 2018 might just be a little more challenging if, and when, President Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs (especially steel) become reality. Obviously, a rise in materials costs would not be great news, should the tariffs become the law of the land.
According to Philip Gibbs, an analyst at KeyBanc Capital, the tariffs might give steel stocks a short-term “sugar high,” he told Reuters, but that unsustainable pricing could eat into demand from manufacturers.
The National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB) came out against the tariffs proposal, with the association’s chairman saying the tariffs would hurt consumers and make housing less affordable.
“It is unfortunate that President Trump has decided to impose tariffs of 25 percent on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum imports,” said Randy Noel, chairman of the NAHB. “These tariffs will translate into higher costs for consumers and U.S. businesses that use these products, including home builders.
“Given that home builders are already grappling with 20 percent tariffs on Canadian softwood lumber and that the price of lumber and other key building materials are near record highs, this announcement by the president could not have come at a worse time.”
Of course, the metals world is still in wait-and-see mode regarding the tariffs, which have yet to become actual law.
Innovative Metal Building Designs
It makes sense that our interest in metal buildings comes from the fact that we sell tape to that industry. But at the same time, some of these buildings can impress just about anyone due to their incredible design and architecture. For example, each year the American Institute of Steel Construction recognizes outstanding achievements in steel building with their award IDEAS2 (Innovative Design with Engineering and Architecture in Structural Steel). Here are just a few of our favorite past winners:
Projects Less Than $15 Million
Denver Union Station
The centerpiece of this massive renovation to Denver’s historic train station is the Commuter Rail Train Hall. The structure is composed of 11 steel arch trusses that span 180 feet and support a tensioned PTFE fabric. The dramatic design calls for the canopy to rise to a height of 70 feet on either end and swoop down to 22 feet in the center providing the functional benefit of protecting passengers from the elements while still providing view of the historic station.
Projects $15 Million-$75 Million
Florida Polytechnic University Innovation Science and Technology Building
This impressive 162,000 square foot, two-story building features a 250-foot long glass and steel atrium with 94 operable louver arms that move during the day to provide shade from the sun. Circling the building is a continuous pergola with 84-arched aluminum leaves that offers an aesthetic value as well as additional shade for the upper level terraces and ground level arcades.
Projects Greater Than $75 Million
The Vegas High Roller
At 550 feet high, the Vegas High Roller is the largest observation wheel ever built. It was designed to appear as lightweight and minimalistic as possible, giving the passengers a feeling that they were floating in space. This was achieved by using a single steel rim element and a single cabin support bearing. The designers and engineers had the added challenge of building the wheel to offer a stable ride in all but the highest wind conditions and ensuring that the wheel would have a design life of 50 years. Without much in the way existing data to work from, the structural engineering firm was required to create its own models and tests and work closely with the client and general contractor to make sure all of the design criteria could be implemented.
So, let’s dispel the myth that metal buildings are for short-term use only. The truth is quite the opposite. Long a standard in commercial and industrial markets (think warehouses, distribution centers, and industrial facilities), metal building is stretching its strong, versatile fingers into commercial office buildings, retail, and governmental construction. Why? Because metal structures are increasingly recognized as reliable, energy efficient, cost-effective, aesthetically pleasing, and, our favorite, sustainable!