Metal structures are far from a “new” construction trend. In fact, the first-ever metal building dates back to 1796, a last-ditch effort for a British cotton industry desperate to prevent mill fires.
But today, major corporations are turning to steel buildings more than ever. Owners love them for their fireproof materials, lower maintenance costs, and eco-friendly designs.
The steel building industry is growing along with it, offering near-endless opportunities for business owners looking to build new.
That leaves you with a big decision to make:
Will a standard box design fit your needs?
Or does your company need a more complex, customized metal structure?
The guide below will compare custom and standard metal buildings to help you decide!
What Are “Standard” Metal Structures?
Standard metal structures bring a simplistic, boxy design to small-to-medium metal commercial buildings.
Given their limited space and barebones structures, they work best for companies that don’t require a big or flashy building.
But they’re also more cost-effective than custom buildings. These so-called “steel boxes” run a lower price tag due to their default designs and smaller sizes.
It’s also true that added features on standard buildings are far and few between. As a result, there’s very little wiggle room for add-ons like canopies, solar panels, and other nice-to-have accessories.
Luckily, most manufacturers do allow for slight customizations at the structural level, such as:
- Clear span: Column-free stretches of interior space up to 150 feet
- Eave height: Floor-to-roof heights up to 40 feet
- Roof pitch: Angles as steep as 4:12
They also offer unlimited potential for building length, so yours can be as long as necessary.
With that in mind, standard metal structures are the perfect solution for:
- Metal workshops
- Medium-sized agricultural sheds
- Residential hangars
- Office space
- Auto repair shops
What Are Custom Metal Structures?
Custom metal structures are those designed to suit a company’s specific day-to-day and industry needs.
Though they take longer to engineer and may drive up the price tag, they offer far more design options. A 300-foot clear span, roll-up doors, custom framing, overhangs, and a gable roof are all up for grabs.
And that’s just the beginning on the features front.
There’s no longer a need to settle for an undersized 30-by-30 box that your company will either outgrow or find useless within a few years.
These days, your final custom design could include:
- Widths stretching beyond 400-feet with interior columns
- Taller ceilings above 40-feet high
- Steeper roof pitches 8:12 or higher
- Enhanced building loads and weather resistance
That’s precisely why these massive one-of-a-kind buildings thrive as:
- Data centers
- Storage facilities
- Manufacturing plants
- Recreational centers
- Vehicle storage facilities
Below, we’ll dig even deeper, comparing custom and standard metal structures to decide once and for all which one is best.
Custom vs. Standard Metal Structures
Given their towering size and industrial feel, metal buildings are ideal in commercial construction, not residential. Homeowners eyeing non-traditional structures are better off with prefab steel building kits for their carports, lean-tos, RV covers, and small metal barns.
But for the business execs debating whether a custom or standard structure is a better investment, here’s some info:
What They Have In Common
The devil, of course, is in the details.
Although their size and purposes are quite different, these two large-scale building options share a lot of the same traits:
- Fire-resistant, non-combustible frame which can withstand temperatures up to 1,000 Fahrenheit
- Durable man-made structure that keeps rodents, termites, and mold outside
- Longer predicted lifespan than traditional wood buildings, with many steel buildings lasting a lifetime without needing repairs
- Up to 50% reduction in energy costs due to their reflective and light-colored metal roofs
- Quicker building times (one-third of the usual time)
- More affordable materials and labor costs (lumber prices are climbing much faster than steel prices)
The common threads between each of these?
High-end structural integrity, modernized construction principles, and incredible workmanship.
Now, onto the differences …
Both custom and standard builds include the same basic elements:
- I-beam framing
- Sturdy girts and purlins for stabilization
- Stainless steel and easy access fasteners for water-tightness and simple repairs
- Sealing around all exterior windows and doors to prevent leakage
There’s also plenty of flexibility when it comes to roof pitches, eave heights, and building width/length.
Generally, standard metal building systems are a simple and economical choice for small retail centers, offices, and auto shops.
However, if your building needs a more aesthetic or functional touch with:
- Metal garage-style roll-up doors
- Weather-resistant aluminum windows
- Roof solar panels
- LED lights
- Overhead skylights
- Outdoor canopies
… your chances of finding that in a standard box design are slim to none.
Unless you plan to upsize in a few years, a custom design is almost always better.
Metal Building Prices
By now, you might already know that commercial steel structures are more budget-friendly than your classic wooden building.
So how much do they cost?
PriceItHere suggests that basic steel structures cap out at around $16–$20.25 per square foot. At $40, custom metal buildings are nearly double.
It’s a huge difference … on day one.
Yet, while custom steel buildings come with higher upfront pricing, they’re more reliable long-term investments for your company.
Assuming you met with a metal building specialist, your company inspired the design of this building. It has a canopy by the front door to greet customers in downpours, floor coating that protects against spilled chemicals, and insulation with a high r-value for even better energy efficiency.
The chances of needing an eventual expansion are lower with a custom build.
The physical size of the metal building is where standard structures have an unexpected edge.
Sure, they can be as long as you want, stretching from one end of the commercial lot to the other without any extra reinforcements. Yet, their 150-foot-plus widths make them excellent options for companies that need an interior without columns.
This wide-open alternative is still structurally sound and better for airplane hangars, barns, and buildings housing heavy machinery. The last thing you need is a forklift or dump truck knocking into a support beam.
Custom buildings support slightly larger clear spans of up to 200 feet. But, their real claim to fame on the size front is the extra square footage and higher ceilings.
With interior columns, your steel building could extend up to 480 feet long. And, their 40-foot-plus eaves (ceilings) provide a little extra room for multi-story shelving units and bulk manufacturing machinery.
Over 50,000 square feet of fl0or space isn’t unusual in custom builds!
Related: Our Complete Guide to Flatwork
It protects your expensive machinery from rain and snow, and when it’s made of metal instead of asphalt, it’s reflective enough to cut your heating and cooling bills in half.
But did you know that the roof’s style and pitch make a difference, too?
Most standard metal buildings boast somewhat slanted gable <4:12 roofs, lending to a boxier, industrial design and decent snow and water spill-off.
Custom builds deliver far more plentiful options, especially if you’re building in a rainy or snowy region.
A steeper slope (8:12+) lowers the risk of water and snow build-up on the roof to prevent future leaks. Traditionally wind-resistant hip roofs are also available on custom designs.
Workmanship and Durability
Because the structural fundamentals remain the same, both types of steel buildings are equally durable and well-crafted.
Assuming you chose a reliable construction company, your new commercial structure will be made of heavy-duty I-beams, trusses, fasteners, and panels.
It should also be:
- Corrosion-resistant (when treated with a protective coating)
- Pest- and rodent-proof
If durability is your main concern, it’s a toss-up. Both standard and custom metal buildings are built to last.
Interestingly, warranty terms depend more on the construction company you hire than the type of building.
Many manufacturers offer a one-year warranty on workmanship, a 50-year promise on trusses, and a lifetime guarantee on fasteners.
However, customizations are a slightly different story.
Your choice of exterior paint could secure you a 25 to 45-year warranty. If your company prefers a barely slanted gable roof (<4:12), you might not qualify for a snow load warranty at all.
In the construction world, “lead time” is the technical term for “how long it’ll take to deliver your materials from the time you place your order.”
As you might expect, standard box designs also have quicker turnaround times due to their smaller size and simplistic designs.
So how long can you expect to wait?
Small storage buildings can take as little as six weeks, whereas larger manufacturing plants and data centers could take more than 16 weeks.
Many large corporations have enough funding in their budgets to purchase a building outright. Yet, growing companies might not be able to afford a 30,000-square-foot metal building.
But is it completely out of reach?
Smaller metal structures offer flexibility that’ll be like music to the ears of those in your company’s financial department:
The rent-to-own option (or RTO).
Think of it as paying the mortgage on a house. With each monthly payment you make on time, you’re slowly inching toward complete ownership. Plus, these deals often come with instant approval!
Keep in mind that many companies cap this RTO at $10,000–$20,000 in total. Unfortunately, that leaves you with slim pickings for size and features. You’ll see this option more for smaller garages, barns, and hangars.
Potential Resale Value
Business higher-ups don’t only think in the present — they also weigh how today’s decisions will impact the company in the long run. That’s why the topic of potential resale value comes up.
When you decide to upsize or relocate in the future, will you recoup what you initially spent on this building?
The good news:
Steel buildings, in general, maintain high resale values because they last a lifetime, require far fewer repairs, and are eco-friendly.
The bad news:
Custom metal buildings don’t always fly off the market.
If it’s a cut-and-dry storage facility, sure, finding another self-storage company willing to invest in it won’t be too challenging. But more company-specific customizations could limit potential buyers.
Benefits of Custom Metal Structures
If your budget allows and your company has a long-term vision, a custom metal building is a better investment in most cases.
But if everything so far still hasn’t convinced you, this just might:
Custom buildings allow more opportunities to match your building to your brand.
If you want the public to recognize your company’s buildings by their red exterior paint and iconic black roofs, custom builds are your best option!
Return on Investment (ROI)
Custom metal buildings offer plenty of perks in the ROI arena, too:
- Lower costs to heat and cool the building, thanks to reflective roofing and insulation
- Fewer repairs needed
- A facility that meets your company’s needs from day one
- No wasted funding (order just what your business needs)
- Lower insurance costs
- Long-term warranties to cover any major repairs
The more use your company gets out of the building, the more those upfront costs become worthwhile.
It’s also a one-time investment; choose the right custom design now, and you won’t have to worry about wasted resources or replacing your building in a few years.
If you’ve ever rented a business facility or purchased a previously owned building in the past, you know first-hand how bittersweet it is.
Sure, it’s more affordable, and the lead time is practically non-existent. Yet, it only has some of what you need and a lot of what you don’t.
You’re paying more out-of-pocket for unnecessary skylights and 10,000 square feet of floor space that sits empty. It could also be missing a reliable HVAC system or a steep roof to prevent rain from building up.
Custom builds guarantee the most bang for your buck.
More Customization Options
Piggybacking off of that previous point, a custom build allows you to erect a structure that fits all of your criteria:
That means your company has the creative liberty to select:
- Exterior paint color, type, and paneling
- Roof pitch, style, and color
- Structural features that prevent pest, mold, and weather damage common in your region
- Square footage
- Interior columns (or clear span)
- Solar panels and other energy-efficient features
- Types of windows and doors
- Ceiling height
- Extra storage space
With a standard metal structure, you’re stuck with whatever the building manufacturer includes in the package.
Metal structures are leaps and bounds above traditional wooden buildings. Yet, custom building designs are almost always better for corporations envisioning a long-term investment and appropriate branding.