Metal Buildings

There is a common variety of steel structures known in the industry as “metal buildings.” These buildings are most commonly used for warehouses, distribution centers, and industrial facilities. Often these buildings house goods and equipment that are critical to the economy and that are worth many times the value of the building itself.

Exponent has investigated metal building failures due to a wide variety of causes, including lack of adequate Z-purlin bracing, lack of field-installed compression flange bracing of the primary frames, inadequate shop welds, unanticipated drifting snow, excessive loads hung from the roof framing, removal of critical members during renovation, and overloading (i.e., loads in excess of those prescribed in building codes.)

In contrast to the usual design and construction process, metal buildings are typically engineered, manufactured, and supplied by a single company. The components are shipped to the site for erection by others. The building foundation is usually designed and constructed by other contractors. Metal building designs have been optimized over the years to minimize the amount of steel and labor required, resulting in very low cost per square foot.

The advantages of metal buildings are:

  • Single source for design and fabrication of the structure
  • Optimized engineering software and manufacturing procedures that result in efficient designs
  • Well-defined quality control procedures at the plant
  • Speed of erection
  • Lightweight structures, which is a benefit in regions with high seismic activity

However, the high degree of optimization associated with metal building structures can also increase their vulnerability to failure. Design and fabrication efficiency of these structures, and the fact that they typically receive no incidental benefit from architectural features, can reduce the margin for error that is inherent in conventional buildings. As a result, an error in the design, fabrication, erection, or even use of the building can have catastrophic results.


Our services include:

  • Investigation of collapses and structural damage
  • Stabilization of damaged structures
  • Development of disassembly plans to minimize the possibility of further collapse and further damage to contents
  • Meteorological studies to determine the history of snow loads on the building
  • Investigation of water leakage through the roof and wall panels
  • Damage due to hail storms