The modern construction industry most regularly utilizes two major building methods: pre-engineered building construction and conventional (or traditional) construction. Conventional construction uses different materials like concrete, masonry, or wood that are constructed on-site, whereas pre-engineered steel buildings use components that are manufactured off-site and then delivered to the construction site. These two building methods are similar in that they each include design, foundation, framing, and finishes, but have the processes through which each of these steps are carried out differ greatly.

Conventional or Traditional Construction


Traditional construction occurs much more slowly on a step-by-step basis. First excavation is carried out and foundations are laid before framing can begin. Every step and piece of the building process must be completed before moving on to another step, which makes scheduling more complicated. Time and scheduling will depend on the efficiency of the tradesmen involved. The design process of conventional construction can affect the scheduling significantly, especially if the build is a complicated design. When each component is designed from scratch, as is usually the case with conventional construction methods, even a small construction project can take as long as six to ten months.

Advocates for conventional construction argue that it can be ideal for complex designs, but not only does it take longer, it also costs more than pre-engineered construction. While conventional building methods can often produce more complex buildings, this method has higher labour costs and produces a lot of construction waste. Conventional construction can provide more flexible design options, but it also requires thorough, ongoing maintenance.   Because conventional construction materials like stone and concrete weigh more than those used in pre-engineered buildings, these buildings can actually weaken foundations over time.

Check out! Glossary of Steel and Metal Building Terms.

Pre-engineered Steel Building Construction

Pre-engineered construction removes any need for a project architect or engineer. Due to its streamlined approach, the design of a pre-engineered building  is quick, efficient, and flexible. Pre-engineered construction by its nature provides for simpler design. Each component is pre-fabricated to suit the design, after which  the steel structures are delivered to the construction site.

With their simple design and prefabricated metal building components, prefab steel buildings can be quickly erected onsite. Also, since the framing components are pre-fabricated, foundations are accurately determined based on weight unlike in conventional construction, avoiding the dreaded weakened foundation mentioned earlier.

Advantages to Choosing A Pre-Engineered Steel Building

Construction Time Is Reduced

Pre-engineered buildings almost always take less time to construct than other building types. This is because the pre-engineered building components are designed and pre-built to be easy to assemble. With other building types, many processes and steps take place right at the construction site.  With pre-engineered buildings, many of these steps happen before the parts have even left the factory.  A small shed, for example, that would normally take weeks to build can take days.  Larger buildings, like commercial structures as big as ten thousand square feet, are often completed in less than three months.

Costs Are Reduced

Because pre-engineered building components have been specially engineered to fit together easily, steel building kits are much less complicated to assemble than other building types. When the parts arrive at the construction site, the skill level required for their assembly is substantially lower because the components are prepared in-plant and often with automation. State-of-the-art computer-aided design and manufacturing processes (commonly referred to as CAD/CAM) are used to design and produce structural components with high strength-to-weight ratio, minimizing raw material costs and waste. Between the reduced time of construction and the level of skill required, construction costs can be reduced by more than half using pre-engineered buildings.

It Is Easy To Expand A Pre-Engineered Steel Building

Pre-engineered steel buildings are dynamic by nature, as they are built and designed to be modified quickly and economically before, during, and after the building is completed  to accommodate all types of expansion. Pre-engineered buildings are usually  expanded by removing the end of the building, erecting new framework, and adding matching roof and wall panels.

Pre-Engineered Steel Buildings are Durable and Weather-Resistant

Steel is one of the strongest building materials available in  today’s market.  It has the highest strength-to-weight ratio of any construction material, at about 25 times greater than wood.  In fact, steel frames are actually lighter than wood frames. Steel can also withstand extreme weather conditions including high winds, severe snow storms, hurricanes, and even earthquakes. Steel is also not susceptible to termites, creeping, cracks, splitting, rotting, and fire like wood is. Metal buildings structures are usually treated with special coatings like galvalume that protect their paint and surfaces from rust. Reputable manufacturers typically offer extended warranties on their paint and coatings that can last decades.

Steel Buildings Are Not High Maintenance

Pre-engineered steel buildings and their components require little to no maintenance.  When it comes to keeping things clean, their surfaces are easy to clean with just soap and water.

You Know Where Your Building and Its Parts Came From

With pre-engineered steel buildings, one company is responsible for all of the separate components that make up a building. Customer and construction manager do not have to maintain a list of where each component came from, in case repairs under warranty are required.

Steel Buildings  Can Be Functional AND Look Good

Steel construction technology has come a long way since steel first hit the market over half a century ago. These days steel buildings can be finished with the same exterior coverings that structures made of any other building material are. With prefabricated steel buildings, you can choose to add a finish that will prevent your steel building from sticking out like a sore thumb.  Traditional finishes like stucco can be used to decorate pre-fabricated steel buildings or panels with a preferred color and texture combination can be used.

Pre-Engineered Buildings are Sustainable

Building construction and maintenance consumes a significant amount of energy, greatly increasing our eco-footprint. Choosing a pre-engineered steel building for your construction project is an environmentally responsible decision for many reasons.

Disadvantages to Pre-Engineered Steel Buildings

Design & Expansion Constraints

Buildings may  require additions to accommodate growth. It is important to note that pre-engineered steel buildings usually only accommodate expansion if the addition is an extension of the existing building in a direction parallel to the ridge of the existing building.

One may, however, easily build additional floors and expand the existing structures if they work closely within the constraints of the existing build.

You can learn more about how easy it is to expand steel buildings here.

Durability and Longevity Issues

Some detractors of steel buildings claim that metal siding and roofs fade quickly and are easily dented.   They argue that pre-fabricated steel buildings do not age well and look considerably different after a period of time.

Recent advances in steel building technology and finishes, however, have provided for increased longevity and strength, helping to avoid these concerns.

Finishing Details May Take Time

Finishing construction on pre-fabricated steel buildings has been said to be difficult. Because of the nature of the exterior walls in metal building systems, drywall cannot be directly attached without adding additional structures. If walls require insulation, an additional wall is generally used, decreasing the interior square footage. Also, the columns in prefabricated steel buildings are considered by some to be large and bulky, making them difficult to hide.

However, if you work with a reputable steel building provider, they will work closely with you to ensure these details are finished to your specifications and will make sure to communicate any timing changes or issues.

Why Steel is a Great Choice for Your Next Construction Project

No other building material dominates the industrial construction market like steel. Worldwide, steel framing constitutes nearly 95% of all new industrial construction projects.

What gives steel its competitive edge? Let’s review!

Steel is flexible. Mezzanine floor layouts are commonplace in pre-engineered steel building design.  These layouts allow steel building owners to easily expand or contract usable space by adding and removing floors, openings, and interior walls.

Steel is precise. Manufacturing of steel building components is  partially automated to ensure their precision. The finished steel component is then subjected to rigorous quality control testing to ensure reliability and consistency.  Prefab metal buildings have many customization options available for your specific needs.

Steel is safe. It is the safest choice for nearly every building project or need, urban or rural, commercial or municipal. Years of extensive testing have ensured metal building kits are designed and engineered to strict safety standards. Recent advances have assisted engineers and architects in finding and catching potentially hazardous issues before construction even begins, allowing them to correct mistakes before they become an issue.

Steel is environmentally friendly.  Steel buildings can be easily equipped with insulation that does not omit toxic by-products. Steel is also lightweight, making it easier to move around than wood or concrete, reducing fuel use and vehicle emissions from transportation.

Steels lasts a long time. Despite inclement weather, fire, earthquakes, or flood damage, properly designed steel lasts longer than any other building material on the market. Steel requires minimum maintenance, and unlike other building materials, it is resistant to rot and will not chip.

Steel looks great. Because of its unparalleled flexibility and strength, steel can be manufactured with unique and beautiful designs in mind. Steel is easily given texture through a variety of finishes that provide it with an aesthetically appealing appearance.

Steel can reduce your costs.  Steel provides for considerable economic benefits, including accelerated turnaround times, reduced costs and labor expenses, and the possibility for an earlier return on your investment.

The Bottom Line

Pre-engineered construction isn’t ideal for every project type.  Certain complex designs require conventional construction methods. Pre-engineered buildings are ideal for commercial and industrial construction projects such as pole barns, warehouses, garages, self-storage facilities, and office buildings.  Pre-engineered buildings have a quicker turnaround time and can often be delivered within two months (as compared to six to ten months for conventional builds).

Between easy scheduling with less subcontractors, quick installation, and lower waste, the pre-engineered steel building method reduces costs and increases productivity. Only you know the exact specifications and needs that your building should fulfill.  Choosing the right building method is the first step in any building project.  If your design restraints are not too restrictive, pre-engineered buildings can provide for lower costs, lower waste, low maintenance, durability, stability, and ease of expansion in your next building project.