steel building

Pre-engineered metal buildings can be customized for almost any application at almost any budget: manufacturing plants, warehouses, worship centers, retail shops, agricultural buildings, and more.

Metal buildings can be as customized or as minimal as your application requires—and the cost will reflect that. The exact cost per square foot of your pre-engineered steel building will depend on many factors, such as size, building type, complexity of design location, and even the time of year.


The first thing you’ll need to think about when designing a metal building is how much space you need for your application. You’ll need to work with your local authorities to determine how much space your application requires based on your building’s occupancy category, how many people will occupy the space, and how much equipment you’ll need to store.

A church committee, for instance, should work with the fire marshal to size their building so it will comfortably fit their congregation according to their area’s building codes. But if you’re building a riding arena, the size you choose will largely depend on personal preference.

As the size of your building increases, the cost per square foot goes down due to bulk pricing. All else being equal, a 10,000-square-foot warehouse will cost less per square foot than a 300-square-foot shop.


Your building’s occupancy category (i.e., I, II, III, or IV) will also impact your building’s price. A building’s category is determined by how many people will be inside, whether it’s temporary or permanent, and the function of the building. Different categories have different design requirements which can influence the final price of your steel building package.

Agricultural buildings are a good example of a category I building. They’re categorized as such due to their low level of hazard to human life if they fail. Essential facilities like church buildings and police stations, however, are categorized differently because their failure would pose a high risk to human life—these are category IV buildings.

Depending on your building’s category, there may be a host of non-negotiable design elements you’ll need to include such as lights, HVAC ductwork, and sprinklers. Your building needs to be designed to support the load of those elements required by your category or application.

When comparing quotes, you need to make sure your building has been designed to support your application’s load requirements and comply with your local building codes based on its occupancy category. To verify this, look at the collateral loads of each quote you’re considering.

Collateral loads—measured in pounds per square foot (psf)—are a design load factored into your steel, allowing it to support any items you need to suspend from the ceiling. The collateral load will increase as you suspend more elements from your building.

An agricultural building might only require a collateral load of one psf to support a light system. A church building will have a much more complex design with a ceiling, lights, ductwork, and possibly a sprinkler system. This will put you closer to 5 psf collateral load.

As you suspend more elements from your ceiling, your building’s cost per square foot will increase. You might receive one quote that’s much cheaper than the rest, but the building won’t meet your permit requirements. Looking at each quote’s collateral load will save money and headache in the long run.


Building codes and load requirements vary greatly from region to region. This is due in part to the varying seismic risk, temperatures, and snow/wind loads of different locations.

An area’s Seismic Design Category will range from A (low seismic risk) to F (extremely high seismic risk). Areas with high seismic risk will have stricter design requirements. Some counties in particular have strenuous and specific codes you’ll need to comply with regarding seismic risk. For instance, LA County requires your steel building manufacturer to submit documentation stating that the welds were inspected using an X-ray to ensure they’re structurally sound.

The temperature and weather conditions of your area can also affect the price. A building in Michigan or Minnesota will need to be able to support immense snow accumulation and be insulated against extremely low temperatures. And a building designed to withstand heavy wind loads of the Florida coastline will be priced very differently than a building in a lower risk area.

Stricter codes require specific design features and documentation, driving up the final price of your building.


Purchasing your steel building in winter, and December in particular, is a great way to save money. Typically, winter is a slow time for steel building manufacturers, and they’ll be willing to cut you a better deal. If you’re willing to let your building sit for a few months before erecting it, this is a good way to cut costs.

December is also a good time of year due to the tax incentives: You can write the expense off if you purchase before the end of the year.


There’s a significant cost difference between a four-walled “box building” with a gabled roof and a custom-designed two-story school building. The more complex the design and the stricter the requirements of the application, the more expensive the building.

Additionally, a hangar building typically requires a wide, high-fold door which will add to your cost. Substituting a standing seam roof for the more standard and economical PBR roof will add cost. Adding a second floor or a basement will add cost, as well as increasing the spacing between bays on your sidewall.


Make sure to have a budget in mind when you call your metal building consultant. There are simple ways to cut costs for your building without sacrificing quality, and your metal building distributor will offer advice for how to get the functionality you need with the funds you have.


Ally Hooks is the director of operations at Searcy Building Systems, a nationwide distributor of pre-engineered metal buildings. With more than 17 years of experience in steel building design, she assists general contractors and end users alike in customizing buildings that fit their budget, design, and application.

Modern Contractor Solutions, October 2018
Did you enjoy this article?
Subscribe to the FREE Digital Edition of Modern Contractor Solutions magazine.