Steel reigns supreme as a structural material for commercial steel buildings and this is hardly surprising. It is one of the most flexible materials, with an excellent strength-to-weight ratio, relatively easy to recycle and to transport. It also scores well on the sustainability scale, which is increasingly important as many countries and economies gear up to fight and reduce the impact of human-induced climate change. The fact that steel is such a good material and that it is the chief material of the structure does not automatically mean good results. Good results are achieved by appropriating right methods, techniques, and designs, metal building erectors can truly get maximum performance out of their structural commercial steel buildings. Getting the best possible return on investment (ROI) can be achieved by careful planning of the construction project, taking good and meticulous care of legal small print for the building, and by opting for long span design for the commercial steel structure. What is meant to the success of a commercial metal building in the narrow sense here is its ROI, longevity, and its adaptability for further use.
Every (successful) project starts on paper and it is a consequence of careful and mindful planning. Every good plan endeavors to cover as many variables as possible that are relative to the whole construction process, of which there are many, and to what degree will they affect it. While it is hard to make general statements about the planning phase since it encompasses a lot of things, there are a few points that apply universally. First of all, every contractor (and client for that matter) engaged in erecting steel frame building will look into whether the circumstances around the project make room for extensive prefabrication of key segments. Prefabrication is the preferred approach to commercial metal building construction because it allows the major part of the process to happen on the workshop floor where more tools and materials are readily available, thus reducing the costs of transportation and enabling for faster modification. Secondly, it is in everyone’s interest to keep the costs as low as possible, and this is where some of the more important oversights can happen. Due to high ambition, bad communication, and sometimes plain incompetence or lack of experience, many projects end up overshooting their initial budgets by high margins. While a plethora of factors influences budget fluctuations, they very frequently happen because the planners are too careful but not mindful enough; i.e. they mistake details for accuracy. While having a very to-the-point planned project might seem like a good idea, it can often be counterproductive as it ends up becoming a false safety net. “Accurate” numbers, while might be reassuring, are almost always wrong – if someone has two million dollars to invest in a building, and calculates that they will need exactly two million dollars for it, rest assured that they cannot afford it. Good planning for a successful commercial steel building entails maximum intended use of prefabrication and a margin for error with budget costs.
What makes perfect commercial steel buildings?
The second important thing about erecting a steel frame building has less to do with the construction process itself and more with the paperwork. Namely, it is important to check and then double check and then just maybe even triple check that all the planning and construction permits are in order. This is especially important in countries like Canada and the United States with their varying degrees of legislative authorities and laws from province to province or from state to state. Damaging and/or modifying public infrastructure in ways that were unauthorized can be not only demoralizing for the whole endeavor, but financially very critical and render the whole project unsuccessful. It is important to note that much more often than not, construction permits (used here as an umbrella term for every type of permit, ranging from planning license to the permit to cut the pavements) are required from multiple different bodies that just might even seem to be unauthorized to act there. For example, a project to expand an already existing residential or commercial block without in a heavily urbanized area might still be subject to the approval of an environment protection committee of some sort. While it is a bit pointless what is the effect of different kinds of major problems (since all of them can escalate to complete stop), administrative hurdles are certainly a bit poignant because of their seeming arbitrariness.
Finally, when it comes to design, and in order to have a successful steel structure building, it is a rule of thumb to opt for long-span buildings, meaning that the constructors would aim to create buildings with the longest distances between two main supporting columns on the inside; the current standards and technology, set that distance at around 15 to 20 meters. There are several important advantages to this design that relate both to the constructors and for the future tenants of the building. The advantages for the users of the metal commercial building are rather obvious. Longer spans between main support columns are generally considered to be more aesthetically pleasing as they seem airier as opposed to spaces more densely packed with support columns. Another more important feature is the fact that fewer columns mean more space, thus granting more autonomy to future users in reshaping that space to their needs. An office floor today could be repurposed to a department store tomorrow. While erecting a structural steel building, constructors also have their own reasons for opting for long span designs. Beams that support such structures need to be of bigger depth (depth would be the beam’s height when the beam is placed horizontally) when compared to the cases when shorter spans are used. While this might not seem advantageous at first, it can be very beneficial as thicker beams allow for building services (or at least for some of them) to be run through the beams themselves, which consequently decreases the thickness of the floor. In multiple story commercial steel buildings, this difference in floor thickness might add up and allow for more floors in long span buildings of the same height than there would be in a structural steel building of the same height that does not use long span design.
Steel in itself has definitely stood the test of time and performance as a great building material, but no one using it should be lulled into complacency. Since it performs so well, the standards on the industry of erecting steel frame buildings are also higher, when working with such good and flexible materials, subpar performance is simply not an option. Opting for the long span designs, taking good care of the surrounding paperwork and paying proper attention to planning, the ROI, as well as building performance in the future, are guaranteed.