- Wood Frame vs. Steel Frame Building Systems -
The type of building structure you choose will have long-term implications.
You have likely heard the term, pole barn. There are hundreds of these structures scattered throughout Door County. Simply put, a pole barn is a wood framed structure. Most commonly, these structures are used for personal storage, smaller garages, agricultural and in some cases, small commercial buildings. Alternatively, steel framed structures are chosen for durability, value and more permanent long-term solutions.
PBS’ experience causes us to consider alternatives to wood framed structures, particularly for wider and taller buildings (40’ and wider with heights 14’ or greater). Recent winters of 2017-2019, saw dozens of collapsed wood framed structures in Door County. These structures collapsed under heavy snow and wind loads. We live in an area with harsh uncommonly difficult weather conditions that require close attention to the right building choice.
Let us look at a couple practical reasons to consider a steel framed structure as an alternative to a wood framed / wood-trussed building.
1. In order to insulate and prevent heat loss through the roof of a wood framed structure, a “ceiling” with additional wood structure is required and then attached to the underside of the all-wood trusses. In a steel framed structure, we are able to insulate directly to the underside of the roof with High R values eliminating the need for the cost and weight of an additional ceiling structure.
2. Bay spacing in a wood frame structure requires closely spaced bays given the inherent lower structural strength in the wood framing. This design creates a veritable forest of perimeter columns and trusses throughout the building. The roof slope is steep to be able to minimize the deflection that a wood structure can withstand. This is not an issue with the inherent strength of steel framing.
Wider wood framed buildings will require much larger trusses or doubling and tripling trusses at each truss station adding to material and erection costs. Depending on the application, the taller exterior ridge height required to accommodate the steeper roof slope is not always desirable or aesthetically pleasing.
Commercial buildings by function work well with wider spans and taller interior clear heights. Fire suppression is required in most wood framed buildings over 5,000 sq. ft. while steel framed buildings by virtue of the structural member (steel) are fire resistant allowing for larger buildings before fire suppression is a requirement . The safety, engineering and long term overall value perspective, is worthy of serious consideration.
A wood frame structure might work and be a viable solution for the owner of a smaller back yard shed, garage or AG application. However, this does not always transfer to a more substantial building use. To design a building with personality and differentiation in overall look, wood framed architectural variations become difficult and prohibitively expensive to implement. You will notice an almost predictable look in wood framed structures (high slopes with cupolas, wainscots and very rectangular lines) as the ability to design around building codes, and the required frequency of columns make it difficult to add the design flair of a more flexible and substantial steel structure.
Yes of course in the right application, PBS will incorporate a properly engineered wood frame structure. However given rising commodity costs, engineering benefits of steel, and our prevailing weather conditions, PBS is transitioning whenever practical to steel framed structures for our Door County customers. Where wider and taller structures or commercial buildings are desired, steel framed structures will be recommended in our building designs going forward.
PBS is committed to provide our customers with the highest caliber design and construction of commercial, AG and personal storage buildings available in the Midwest. If you have any questions about what building solution is best for you, please contact our design-build team at (920) 868-2229 or click here. We look forward to serving you!