Fabric Buildings vs. Steel Buildings: What Is the Best?

fabric vs steel buildings

Which approach should you consider when you are getting ready to build your next storage space, commercial work space, or work area – fabric buildings or steel buildings?

Today, numerous options are available, each of them offering advantages and disadvantages that deliver cost or time savings in the present as well as in the future. Exploring these options can help you to make an informed decision in figuring out which one delivers the best choice for your specific needs and budget.

Before you can decide which type of structure is best, it is important to understand what their similarities and differences are.

What Is a Fabric Building?

Teepees and tents are perhaps the oldest styles of fabric buildings. In fact, tents are still highly popular for camping trips. Larger fabric buildings are based upon the same principle of stretching a strong piece of fabric over a sturdy framework, creating a lightweight yet durable structure. Fabric buildings are sometimes referred to as tension membrane structures. This is due to the fact that the fabric is stretched tightly in order to fit it to the dimensions of the frame.

fabric buildings

What Fabric Building Styles Are There?

Fabric buildings generally begin with a frame that creates a strong foundation for your structure. Not all of them include floors. The purpose of your project typically determines which of the framing styles you select. The three most common styles are hoop buildings, Quonset huts, and rigid frame fabric buildings.

Hoop Buildings

Hoop buildings are popular choices within the agricultural industry and are often used to house livestock, pigs, or hay bales. They are also used for temporary housing or storage.

Featuring arched roofs, hoop houses are partially limited in space since the upper portion curves downward on the sides. This design is agreeable for many owners because it allows rain and snow to slide off easily, preventing unnecessary sagging and damage to the roof.

The framework is constructed from light-gauge steel arches attached to steel, concrete, or wooden sidewalls for support. As a result, the upper portion resembles a semi-circle. The sidewalls absorb the force of natural winds as well as the weight of the roof itself. Their height varies, according to the particular design selected by the buyer.

Quonset Huts

Quonset huts are primarily used when a structure needs to be built quickly for the purposes of storage or housing. They offer large, protected spaces for a variety of industries. They are similar to hoop buildings in design and purpose.

Quonset huts feature a fabric roof stretched over a series of arches crafted from light-gauge steel. Rain, sleet, and snow easily slide down the roof, avoiding unnecessary weight and stress on its supports. The sidewalls are often short and made from concrete, steel, or wood.

Rigid Frame Fabric Buildings

Rigid frame fabric buildings combine a full frame with a fabric covering. They are used for any number of reasons, including additional work space, storage, and temporary housing. This style of fabric construction delivers more space than the basic quonset hut or hoop building since the roof is not domed or sloping at the sides.

fabric vs steel buildings

The rigid framework supports the full weight of the roof. Depending on the dimensions of the structure, additional internal supports may not be needed unless the building is exceptionally long or wide.

What Is a Steel Building?

A steel building is a metal structure that is pre-engineered with steel walls and a  steel roof. It delivers both support for its framework and protection from the elements of weather. The majority of the structure is constructed from steel.

Disadvantages of Steel Buildings

The cost to put up a steel building is much more than the expense of installing a fabric building. The steel needed for this purpose is more costly than the light-gauge steel and fabric required to build a fabric structure.

Advantages of Steel Buildings

The cost to put up a pre-engineered building is less expensive than the expense of installing a traditional steel building. The time needed to put up a pre-engineered structure is also less than building a steel building from the ground up.

Steel buildings are extremely durable due to the materials being used to construct them. They hold up well against the weather and are built to last for many years. They do not undergo warping, tearing, or ripping. Steel holds up to fire extremely well since it has a high melting point.

Disadvantages of Fabric Buildings

The fabric membrane used on structures is manufactured to be strong. Nonetheless, it can rip when it becomes weakened, exposing the interior of your structure to the weather and the risk of vandalism.

Advantages of Fabric Buildings

Despite the fact that the fabric can undergo physical damage in rare circumstances, fabric buildings are still great options for anyone looking for additional space for storage, work, or livestock. Manufacturers sell replacement panels, limiting the cost of repairs to the individual section that has been damaged by high winds or other forces.

The cost to heat and/or cool a fabric building is typically much less if you opt to install membrane fabric covers. Depending on the part of the country you are in, these savings could be considerable.

The wide-open floor plan of a fabric building and the absence of numerous internal support poles allows you access to a lot of uninterrupted space. This type of openness often provides additional storage space as well as the ability to plan your use of the building freely without the constraint of internal walls.

Today, fabric buildings are used across a wide range of purposes. They offer flexibility and affordability for a variety of permanent and temporary reasons. Their unique features make them readily functional for athletic facilities, entertainment venues, storage facilities, and industrial buildings.

Due to the number of designs in rigid frame buildings, it is easy to find a style that fits your needs. The time needed to install a fabric building is minimal compared to installing a traditional structure.

For anyone on a budget or in a hurry, fabric buildings provide a simple solution. They go up quickly and can last years, particularly if you take steps to maintain them properly. Pre-engineered steel buildings are also good options, but they are usually more expensive and take longer to install.


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