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Golden opportunities: Metal building systems lead the way in cost and energy savings

It may be a surprise, but buildings are the No. 1 source of energy utilization in the United States. The building sector today accounts for 40 percent of the total.

In today's economic environment, metal building systems are the perfect solution for offering a variety of cost and energy savings. These savings are evident from the initial stages in the building process throughout the life of the building. Recent events in the nonresidential construction market show a metal building system has substantial benefits beyond its life. A metal building system is defined by the Metal Building Manufacturers Association, Cleveland, as a professionally engineered steel structure that provides cost-effective and efficient low-rise buildings for a wide array of uses. Today's metal building can be custom engineered to the end user's needs, which means the design is energy efficient.

Early Savings

The building envelope, which is a noteworthy element in the construction process, offers innumerable opportunities for an energy efficient building. Metal buildings, because of their design flexibility, can offer considerable savings in new construction and retrofit.

Today's building environment gives contractors, architects and building owners an increasing number of challenges and requirements when considering a new facility. These complex challenges, regardless of the market and facility, are golden opportunities for metal building systems.

A metal building can be estimated and designed faster than conventional construction, which impressively shortens lead times. In addition, because most metal buildings have fewer components, this allows for quicker fabrication and less time during the erection process as compared to alternative construction systems. Another outstanding benefit of a metal building is, because they can be closed in sooner, work can continue despite adverse weather.


Ongoing energy Savings

There are a number of ways metal building systems can save costs and energy. The variety of options and methods of insulation that can be used is a key feature of metal building systems. For example, factory-insulated metal wall panels have been developed and can create a facility that uses energy more efficiently.

The polyurethane foam core used in insulated metal panels has the highest R-value per inch of any of the insulation products used in commercial construction. Typical rigid board insulation has an R-value of 5 per inch.Fiberglass has an R-value of approximately 3 if not compressed. Also, unlike with rigid board insulations commonly used in construction, the R-value of the foam in IMPs will not degrade over time. The R-value of rigid board insulation can degrade by as much as 15 percent over time. Continuous insulation is a must in any building envelope for true energy efficiency.

In a recent study performed by FMI Research Services Group, Raleigh, N.C., on insulated metal panels in nonresidential roof and wall applications, of the nine most influences of whether to use insulated metal panels, 63 percent of those surveyed cited energy efficiency. In this same study, 62 percent believe the demand for more energy efficiency and lower operating costs will influence the market share for insulated panels over the next five years.

Both new building construction and retrofit is seeing increased demand for cool metal roofing products and systems. Empirical research and evidence has substantiated and verified claims of energy savings.

What is a cool roof? A cool roof, according to the Cool Roof Rating Council, Oakland, Calif., is one that reflects the sun's heat and emits absorbed radiation back into the atmosphere. The roof literally stays cooler and reduces the amount of heat transferred to the building below, keeping the building cooler and at a more constant temperature. Average energy savings range from 7 to 15 percent of total cooling costs.

Cool metal roofs need not be white. They are available in a variety of colors, which gives an aesthetic touch that can still meet local codes and save energy. They can qualify as a cool roof by using an industrial-grade coating that has high reflectance and high emittance values.

Operational Savings

Cool metal roofs also offer maintenance savings by extending the life of existing air conditioning systems. Metal roofs lower maintenance costs and extend roof life, avoiding reroofing costs. Standing-seam metal roofs are cost-effective over the lifetime of a building, and like metal wall panels, they can be designed and constructed to include insulation, which calculates to lower operating costs.

Businesses can receive tax deductions for commercial buildings. The building envelope components are eligible for one-third of the tax incentive if it meets its share of the whole-building savings.


Beyond Savings

An increasing number of contractors, along with architects and designers, are more focused on sustainable building materials today than ever before. Steel is the most recycled material available, making metal buildings the perfect choice. In addition, a metal building system affords sustainable construction techniques.

The combination of materials and design translates to an outstanding opportunity to gain LEED points and a subsequent level of certification. Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, Washington, D.C., LEED practices with the goal of making green building available to everyone within a generation. LEED provides a concise framework for identifying and implementing practical and measurable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions.

The flexibility of design along with substantial energy and operational savings are just a few of the advantages that make a metal building a strong consideration for the challenges of commercial building construction.