The stereotypical image of Steel Buildings are probably steel-clad, warehouse-type buildings. Though this structure was and still is an important part of the industry, it is by no means the only one. Appearances can be deceiving as the structure can be outfitted to handle almost any type of external material such as wood, masonry, and glass. At present, Steel Buildings make up about half of the low-rise, non-residential building market. These systems are in use today as offices, banks, shopping centers, showrooms, and other retail and service structures in addition to their industrial and institutional applications. The principal advantages of these systems are speed of construction and economy. Fast construction can reduce much of the financing and funding headaches which often accompany traditional construction methods. These buildings, typically, are very flexible and can be expanded quickly and simply catering better to tenant needs. Economies from predictable overhead costs, lower energy costs, and economical maintenance can contribute to cost savings by the users of these systems.
Obviously, for Steel Buildings to have become so successful in such a competitive area as low-rise non-residential buildings, whose owners are usually very concerned about time and money, they must be attractive from an economic standpoint. The design and construction costs, as well as the time it takes from concept to completion, must be a key factor in their selection. In a survey conducted in 1984 by Building Design & Construction, the primary reasons their readers selected Steel Buildings Systems for their projects were, the firm price of the project, single-source responsibility and firm time of delivery.
Unlike conventional construction, an owner who desires to use Steel Buildings Systems in his new project, does not have to obtain the services of a design professional for structural design, since the buildings are designed and structurally guaranteed by the manufacturer. Although this is changing, design professionals are normally only used for the design of the foundation, utilities, electrical and mechanical systems, and collateral areas, such as external veneer. This greatly reduces the cost of design, since the structural portion of the average Steel Buildings System can be completely designed by one engineer on a computer in several hours.
Construction costs are also reduced, often being 20% less than conventionally built projects. In addition to material costs, two other reasons cause this, single source procurement and the lower labor cost experienced by the factory based Steel Buildings systems industry. Single-source procurement allows job progress to be much more predictable and work is more efficient. This affects not only the Steel Buildings systems portion of the project, but the specialty subcontractors as well. Therefore, with fewer variables and lesser risk, less contingency has to be included in bid prices. The effect of wages can be even more dramatic. According to the MBMA, factory structural steel fabricators earned an average of $9.01 per hour in 1986 nationally, while the average building materials worker on-site earned $13.03. In addition, factory work does not suffer weather delays, which can add substantial cost.
Numerous examples can be cited to reinforce the economic benefits of Steel Buildings systems. In one case a six-story office, in Virginia Beach, Virginia, was being built on compressible soil. The architect who designed the project decided to use a Steel Buildings system because the lighter building, 1.8 million pounds less, allowed the use of a spread footing instead of piles, which reduced foundation costs by one-third. In another project, the architect estimated that using a Steel Buildings system for a 61,980 SF warehouse/assembly plant in Solana Beach, California, reduced costs from $30 to about $22 per square foot.
In another case, a 180,000 SF air-freight terminal at Miami International Airport was built using a Steel Buildings system after bids for conventional construction came in over budget. The resulting facility cost $150,000 less than the original amount.
In 1980, the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers initiated a study to verify the cost effectiveness of Steel Buildings systems and their applicability to military construction. Twenty facilities were selected in the Fiscal Year 1982 Army Military Construction Program (MCA) as potential sites for the study. Funding cuts resulted in only three of these projects being programed. The projects involved a battalion headquarters at Fort Drum, New York, a physical fitness center at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana and a fire station at Fort Stewart, Georgia. All three projects were independently administered.
The two-step procurement process was selected as the vehicle to obtain these buildings. This process called for the submission of a technical proposal, with no restrictions as to the type of construction proposed. Then, the firms which met the technical requirements were asked to submit bids, with contract award to the lowest responsive bidder. Two of the three contracts awarded were for Steel Buildings systems. The study team determined that,
"Pre Engineered Building systems allowed significant cost savings over conventional construction methods in two of the three pilot projects. These savings are evident by comparisons with Government estimates for conventional construction and with bids in the same procurement. Furthermore, it must be noted that winning contractors proposed Pre Engineered Building systems by choice, recognizing that such an approach could give them a competitive advantage in each procurement. Advantages cited were (a) prefabrication and fast delivery, (b) standardization in construction procedures and simplified erection, and (c) single-source supply for most major building components."
Steel Buildings systems can be procured and constructed up to 33% more quickly than conventional construction. This is primarily due to the standardized nature of the industry. Structural designs can be produced much more quickly, as may structural material procurement and erection. Since the mechanical and electrical systems are designed and procured in the same manner as conventional construction, no time advantage is realized in these areas. This may be a critical factor in building completion, if these systems are complex and difficult to procure. However, the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers pilot project did not experience any unusual procurement difficulties in these areas.
In Corps of Engineers pilot project, the two buildings which were constructed using Steel Buildings systems were completed in 63% and 88% of the time forecasted. The building which used conventional construction took 60% longer than expected. At least in this limited sample, Steel Buildings systems clearly demonstrated that they have superior project completion times. This fact can be of critical importance to the typical user of this type of construction.
Many commercial projects have also experienced similar results. In one project, for a four-story motel in Clemson, South Carolina, the architect estimated that using a Steel Buildings system cut construction time from one year to nine months. The architect for a 106,000 SF commerce center in Westerviile, Ohio, also estimated that construction time was cut by 45 to 50 days.
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