Pre-Fab Steel Buildings. Simplified.

We’ve put together this information in the most unbiased way possible, in hopes that it creates a better experience for those looking to start or investigate the feasibility of using a steel building for their new construction project.

The Journey

Step 1 - What To Know

Is a pre-fab steel building even the right solution for the project?

Step 2 - Pre-Planning

Planning will make or break your project, here is what you absolutely must know.

Step 3 - Clarity & Steps

Here's how to go about getting a pre-fab steel building project done, the right way.

Step 1 - What To Know

Steel Building Types

Picking the right type of steel building is critical.

Tube-Frame: Cheapest type, warranty of usually up to 5 years, good for temporary projects but not permanent ones. Usually for projects 750 square feet or less. The building technology is younger than red-iron but far older than cold-formed.

Cold-Formed: Affordable pricing for length of product, warranty of usually 40-50 years, good for permanent projects. Usually for 750-10,000 sq ft. projects. Limited on the width of the building, approx. 100' width maximum. The building technology is the most modern by far.

Red-Iron: Highest pricing, warranty of usually up to 40 years, good for permanent projects. Usually only for +10,000 sq ft. projects. Large widths are possible. The building technology is the oldest by far.

GENERAL RULE: Pick the right type of steel building for how long you want it to last and how wide you need the building to be.

Property Conditions

Your property needs to be set up well, to have the project go well.

Existing Structures: Sometimes, a property has a maximum "allowed new build square footage". Know if the size of building you want fits.

Sight Lines: If you or your neighbors have a view you don't want obstructed, think about where you are putting the building.

Weather: If the property gets heavy snow, wind or rain, the building will probably need to have a custom set of load ratings. With any type of building, steel or otherwise, this will increase the cost of the building naturally, as more material is needed.

GENERAL RULE: Absolutely call your local permitting office with your address in hand and ask them about the topics above.

Legalities & Permitting

In some jurisdictions you can do a steel building, in others you can't.

Permits: Sometimes you need a permit, sometimes you don't. No one can tell you if you do besides your local permitting office.

Set Backs: Usually, a building has to be a certain amount of feet away from property lines, existing structures, roads, etc.. to get a permit

Inspections: In most jurisdictions where a permit is required, you will have an inspection on the concrete footing forms and after the building has been erected.

Accessory Documentation: Some jurisdictions require a more in depth permitting process, which will require an Architect's office to be involved.

GENERAL RULE: You must call your local permitting office and get their feedback on the items above.

Step 2 - Pre-Planning

Steel Building Supplier Type

Get a building from the right type of company for you, there are options.

Manufacturer Direct: Usually market rate pricing, sometimes you can purchase from a manufacturer, other times they only sell through dealers, similar to how buying a car works. Sales and design process is usually less efficient, stricter contracts, stricter level of service. Manufacturers prefer working with dealers and their systems usually reflect that. After order support, realistically, is either very fast or sluggish at times due to manufacturing capacity. For example, missing materials on a delivery may be delivered in a week or could take up to 2 months.

Manufacturer's Dealer: Usually better than market rate pricing, if it is exclusively a dealer it is usually either a smaller team of people or a larger 50+ person operation. Sales and design process is efficient, higher level of customer service but still somewhat strict. Dealers prefer working with one-time buyers and their system reflects that. After order support is mostly dependent on the manufacturer, though dealers usually have backup systems to get things done quicker. For example, missing materials on a delivery may be sourced from another vendor.

Contractor Sourced: Usually quite a bit above market rate pricing, the level of communication is usually not as informed though it can feel more honest and simple. People mostly purchase from contractors because of word-of-mouth from other people. They are usually quite slow on the design and sales side because their processes are built for constructing the building, not designing it. Unless the contractor was referred by a trusted relationship, it is usually a better idea to go with another suppler of the building so you take on less risk of loss in case the contractor becomes over-capacity and can't get to the project in a reasonable amount of time.

All Inclusive Turn-Key: Usually, you will be paying them double to quadruple the individual market rates for each step of the project. That comes from the massive expectations that is taken on by these companies. The other types of suppliers will have you, as the client, managing some parts of the process, I.E.: checking in for timelines, dealing with delays and such. This company type will usually do the following: building, delivery, unloading, concrete, installation, permit application and approval, architectural designs and more. The overall process of working with this type of supplier is much slower but the client is kept very informed. They will give you updates occasionally as the project moves. These types of companies are mostly for people who are willing to pay a super-premium price in exchange for needing to plan and manage less. I.E.: A total project cost of $150,000 with another supplier type usually costs $300,000 to $600,000 with this type of supplier.

GENERAL RULE: There are 4 main sources of steel buildings in the US market and it is critical to understand how each of them goes, to know what to expect.

Budgeting & Financial

A building project is a larger investment, budget well.

General Budgeting: Create a break down of all costs you expect with the project. Approximations are OK, though they need to be as close as possible to reality. I.E.: building, erection, concrete, permitting fees, architectural drawings cost, etc.. Once you have a general budget number, add another 10%-15% on top to be safe, very commonly in new construction there will be unaccounted costs which will arise. Some costs are variable and it is possible that you will have to work some to find pricing for certain steps of the project, this is natural.

Additional Budgeting: Depending on the purpose of the building you may also need to know approximate costs for: interior buildouts, electrical, plumbing, sheet rock, fans, lighting, hvac, solar and amenities. Our recommendation is to just briefly contact companies that do the work and get at least 2 rough quotes from them to get an idea of what it will cost.

Financing Types: I.E.: Credit unions, new construction loans, home improvement loans, home equity loan, business loans. Research each type of loan presented here briefly and you will find the right type of financing vehicle to secure capital for the project. Often times, smaller banks are more competitive in their rates so you have a better deal that way. Realistically, a lot of clients don't use financing and will pay cash as they are using the project as a means to reduce their tax burden.

Timing of Quotes/Budgeting: Because quotes and pricing from companies usually go up over time, the numbers you prepare will be a moment-in-time view of the market as it is. That means, if you wait 2 years to do the project, you will need to repeat this budgeting process and most likely, you will find that costs have increased.

Investment Perspective: Realistically, a pre-fab steel building built with the cold-formed or red-iron building type from any supplier type usually will generate a positive return. Of course, if you are paying a super-premium price with an all inclusive turn-key company, you won't get as good as a return as you would otherwise and they would effectively absorb the immediate appreciation you would have gained. Often times, as long as the building is appropriate for the property, we see that a client can take the total cost of their project, multiply that value by 2X to 4X, and add that to the properties value. From an investment perspective, it is a great idea to talk to a property appraiser before doing the project, if this appreciation is an important feature of the project.

Long-Term Investment Thinking: If you have think you might be selling the property with the building on it down the road, ensure that elements of the building are not too custom as to keep away potential purchasers of the property. For example, an 8'x8' door may work perfectly for you right now but someone with wider vehicles would naturally prefer a 10'x10' door. This is not to add a paranoid level of discretion over small details but rather to help you think about the future of the property, if you want to sell it down the road.

GENERAL RULE: It is supremely better to over-budget than to under-budget. Investigate types of finance vehicles and understand the investment side of the project.

Common Issues

Knowing common issues people face will help you be prepared

Permit Approval: Sometimes permits aren't accepted, because people didn't call their permitting office. You would usually lose some of the initial investment.

Engineering Revisions: Occasionally, you may want to add or change something about the building after engineering documents have been made. This would result in some cost for the engineering revision itself and any additional material costs needed to complete the change.

Delays: Because manufacturing, of any building system or good, is actually quite a difficult task, delays are more common than one would believe. Most delays are corrected and fixed before a client is aware though sometimes a larger delay, like inventory of raw goods being too low, will cause a noticeable delay. In a manufacturing process, there are an almost infinite amount of possible points of delay. While any company in the manufacturing industry is constantly pursuing perfection, there will still be occasional hiccups and it must be understood that it is not uncommon.

Missing Materials on Delivery: For the same reason as to why delays happen, missing materials on a delivery of materials is also not uncommon. This is not unique to any one company but to the manufacturing of building systems industry as a whole. It must be understood that every single project consists of literally thousands of individual pieces and thus, the chance is greater.

Damaged Materials on Delivery: Again, as there is thousands of individual materials necessary per project, there is bound to be at least some slight scratches on the materials.

Overcapacity Contractors:
As contractors make profit mostly through the actual installation of buildings, they can become unresponsive at times.

Material Price Changes: Working directly with a manufacturer, depending on how long your project takes to put into fabrication, you may be responsible for paying increased material costs to adjust for current market rates as steel or lumber is a commodity.

Overall Project Timeline: While it is possible to have a project meet the exact timeline as predicted, the reality that it happens is practically 0%. A new construction project will almost always take at least a little longer than how it would be "in-the-perfect-world" because of weather, capacity, mistakes, fixes, delays, etc.. There are too many variables that affect the timeline for you as a client to reliably do every project with 100% accuracy of timing.

Overall Project Timeline: While it is possible to have a project meet the exact timeline as predicted, the reality that it happens is practically 0%. A new construction project will almost always take at least a little longer than how it would be "in-the-perfect-world" because of weather, capacity, mistakes, fixes, delays, etc.. There are too many variables that affect the timeline for you as a client to reliably do every project with 100% accuracy of timing.

Underbudgeting: If a client does not diligently plan their numbers and budget, it is possible to have the project fall through due to financing being under-secured.

Contractor/Supplier Change Overs: Sometimes, if a contractor or supplier is too far above their capacity and can't service a project well, a client will need to move to another supplier or contractor to complete the work needed to ensure good timing on the project. This can seem harsh if it is your first time doing a new construction project but it is an accepted and understood reality in the world of new construction.

GENERAL RULE: By reading and understanding general pain points, you can better prepare your plan for success and understand that patience is required with new construction.

Step 3 - Clarity & Steps

Ensuring A Good Deal

There are many companies, which one is right for you?

Market Rates: By comparing three similar quotes for the same product, ensuring that it is in fact the same product, you can find where the market is at for the product. If you see that two of the three quotes you have are within 5% of each other but the third is 30% higher, you can directly ask that third company why their quote is high. If they can reasonably explain why, you should go back to the other companies and ask why they are so low. Doing this type of back and forth investigation into the quotes allows for a better understanding of what each company is actually going to do.

Gut Feeling: It is often that our gut feeling about a company is true. That doesn't mean we should judge a book by its cover immediately but if we don't like the feeling of a certain company, it probably isn't for us, and that is ok.

Supplier Type: Previously in the second step, we talked about picking the right supplier type, ensure that the companies you are actively getting quotes from are of that type of supplier.

Pricing: It is unfortunately not uncommon for some companies to use older steel pricing to lower the quoted number, it is fair to investigate any difference in the quoted prices to ensure that everything is correct and update to date. Steel pricing is usually set monthly and it is reasonable to ask a companies rep if the steel pricing their using is from the current month.

Transparency: A companies level of transparency, honesty and willingness to answer any questions you have should be a heavy indicator of whether you would like to work with them or not.

GENERAL RULE: Picking the right company is mostly about how you feel about them though you still need to be diligent in ensuring you're paying a fair market rate.

Overall Steps to a Project

Learn the steps, so you always know what's next

Planning: Getting budget, quotes and plan of action in order

Starting Engineering: Usually a deposit is placed with the building supplier to start your engineering documents

Architect Needed (?): It is possible that you may need architectural drawings for your permitting office, you should have discussed this previously with your permitting office or the supplier.

Permitting: Permit application filled out, documents attached and submitted to them.

Fabrication: After permit approved, you now put the building into fabrication

Concrete Work: After permit approved, you now start the concrete work. Sometimes an inspection is needed prior to the pour

Delivery: Delivery of the building materials occurs

Installation: A contractor erects the building on the slab

Building Shell Inspection: You or a rep from your county, if required, will complete a final inspection.

Accessory Build-Outs: If you are doing any interior or exterior modifications, these would happen now

Finished: You can now enjoy the building for your purpose

GENERAL RULE: For the three regular supplier types, excluding the "All Inclusive Turn-Key" supplier type, these steps should be fairly close.

Focus & Patience

The mentality needed to ensure a good project and a happy outcome

Humility: If this is your first time doing a steel building project or even if you have done it a few times, these projects require a sense of humility. It is human nature to want to control every little aspect of a project, especially if we are paying for it or emotionally invested in its completion, but with a new construction project there will be things outside of anyone's control as seen in Step 2's "Common Issues".

Patience: While timelines and performance metrics are expected to be met, new construction mixed with manufacturing will at times test our patience. It is natural.

Focus: During the planning phase especially, we can lose sight of the end goal of the project quite easily and find ourselves hyper focusing on the smallest of details, which really have little impact at all. It is perfectly OK to take a day away from the project and coming back to it to ensure we don't lose focus.

Teamwork & Collaboration: When we are grateful, patient and humble, working with others is natural as other people will want to work with you. Maintaining a good mentality is critical to ensuring that everything moves well.

GENERAL RULE: Getting a new building and doing new construction is not a simple task, nor should it be taken on lightly. You should go into it with the mentality of gratitude, patience and understanding.

Kindly only submit your design on the 3D Building modeler if you're in the quote stage but feel free to play around with it regardless