Steel Buildings Versus Tiltwall and Concrete
When Does Concrete and Tiltwall Make More Sense Than
There are several factors that may make
other methods of construction, most notably tiltwall
construction, a better choice than steel buildings.
The most obvious factor is the building's
size. For projects less than 50,000 square feet, steel
is generally the least expensive alternative. For a
building of this size, the fixed or "open the door"
costs of a tiltwall construction project (like the rental
of a large crane, for example) make it more expensive
than steel, even though concrete is usually a less expensive
raw material. As projects become larger than 50,000
square feet, however, the lower price of concrete starts
to offset tiltwall construction's fixed costs and this
method becomes cost-competitive with a metal building.
The larger the building, the more advantageous tiltwall
moble crane lifts the panel and tilts it
into position over the footing on this tiltwall
construction project in the Dallas / Ft.
Worth, TX area. In many cases, tiltwall construction
is a better - and even more economical -
choice than steel buildings.
The cost of the steel building kit will
usually be lower than a price quoted for a concrete
building, even a tiltwall building. If customizing or
modifications to the kit are necessary to meet the owner's
needs, these design costs must be included when comparing
the prices. Also, the kit price may not include costs
that are normally incorporated into a quote for a tiltwall
or traditionally constructed building. Some of those
costs include concrete foundation, permits, erection
and assembly costs, taxes, electrical wiring, plumbing,
environmental controls, ductwork, interior finishing,
The location of the project will also
influence whether a steel building is even an option.
Builders in agricultural or lightly populated areas
generally have fewer code restrictions placed on them.
The closer a building is planned to a densely populated
area, the more stringent the fire codes, building permitting
requirements and other municipal standards become. In
some cases steel buildings can not be used in certain
areas for this reason. Other times, fire codes may require
steel buildings to be built further apart than tiltwall
structures, requiring a larger plot of land for the
project. This is why, in urban areas, buildings closer
to the downtown area are generally made of concrete
and steel buildings become more common on the outskirts
The reason steel buildings face greater
code limitations is that they generally offer less fire
protection than tiltwall or other concrete buildings.
While steel is not combustible, it is not considered
fireproof because it can distort or lose its structural
strength when exposed to heat. Further, a fire on one
side of a metal wall can generate destructive heat on
the other side, damaging the property inside. Steel
building designers use a variety of technologies, from
sprays to fire-retardant panels or blankets, to mitigate
the fire-resistive problem. By comparison, a typical
6.5" concrete wall has a fire resistive rating
of four hours or more. Tiltwall and concrete provide
superior fire protection for the property and people
inside a building.
The intended use for a building will
also influence whether steel or concrete is the best
choice. In general steel buildings work very well for
storage buildings, indoor sports facilities, work shops,
and aircraft hangers, but they are less suited for higher-trafficked
buildings. Comparatively speaking, steel walls are less
durable than concrete walls. This holds true in the
face of natural forces (bad weather, earthquakes) as
well as for truck or forklift accidents. When a building
is damaged by a vehicle, the damage is generally more
localized and less expensive to repair for a tiltwall
or concrete building than for a steel building. For
owners who want to build a warehouse or other facility
where trucks or forklifts will be used, this can be
a very important consideration. Defense contractor facilities,
prisons, or other buildings that require positive security
also are much better suited to impenetrable concrete
than to comparatively insecure steel.
While steel is reasonably durable, concrete
remains the material of choice for buildings that require
less upkeep and maintenance over the years. Concrete
is impervious to corrosion, rotting, rust or insect
infestation; tiltwall buildings created in the 1940s
are still standing today with little apparent wear.
The fact that builders in earthquake-prone California
now use tiltwall construction for 90% of their single-story
commercial projects indicates that concrete buildings
are cost-competitive and extremely durable.
When factoring in potential repairs
and ongoing maintenance, it's apparent that the real
dollar difference between operating a steel building
and a concrete building can be significant. Further,
the added fire safety and durability of a concrete building
will usually be reflected in lower insurance premiums.
If the owner decides to sell the property, they will
most likely find that a tiltwall or other concrete building
depreciates less and than a steel building will.
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