10 Tips to Go Green with Your Next Steel Building

Published June 20, 2018 by Whirlwind Team

eco friendly metal building

Regardless of how you feel about current climate science, it’s never a bad thing to consider sustainability and energy efficiency when designing your projects. A multi-faceted approach to the location, orientation and customization of your steel building will serve the Earth as well as your pocketbook.

From the location you select for your structure to the type of paints you use, you have an abundance of choices on your way to going green with your next steel building.

1. Property Location

An eco-friendly metal building begins with a property that balances sun and shade exposure, protection from wind and harsh environments and utility availability. As with all property, it's best to avoid major flood zones, wetlands, hurricane-prone coastal areas or protected wildlife habitats.

To extend the “green-ness” of your building, locate it near public transportation, bike trails and community resources to eliminate driving requirements.

One option for a green location is a greyfield or infill site where a structure stood previously. Doing so avoids razing greenfield sites and minimizes the excavation required if you can reuse the existing foundation.

2. Building Orientation

Along with sun and shade balance, the direction your building faces has an impact on natural lighting as well as heating and cooling efforts. An east-west orientation is an ideal way to maximize seasonal sun exposure and cross ventilation.

Your goal is to optimize for sunlight in the winter and shade in the summer. Also, limit the amount of paving in the area and use light-colors to pave the rest as needed, to mitigate heat island effects. Rectangular structures should face north or south to limit the amount of exposure to the sun as it moves across the sky.

A northern exposure may be more comfortable in predominantly hot regions of the country while a southern exposure can mitigate heating needs in colder climates.

3. Cool Roof Technology

The roof has the most exposure to solar radiation. Preventing heat transfer through the roof to the attic is a simple matter of reflectance and emissivity. A cool roof consists of white panels to reflect the sun’s heat away from the structure and includes specially pigmented paint to re-emit absorbed heat.

The best cool roofs are constructed using steel panels, which are ideal for mounting solar power systems to produce electricity for the building and the local grid. Depending on the amount of energy produced, you may be able to sell the excess to the local energy company.

4. Insulation

Besides keeping heat from transferring into the building, you also want to maintain the interior environment without additional energy expenditure. Adding insulation to the roof and wall panels, as well as the floors, prevents the escape of heated or cooled area from inside your building, reducing the load on the heating and air conditioning units.

To insulate in areas where wiring and pipes run, use spray-foam insulation to get into the nooks and crannies and seal the area better than batt or blanket insulation.

green steel building

5. Interior Layout

The interior of the structure is an important element of energy conservation. As with orienting the building according to the path of the sun and the amount of solar radiation you wish to capture, the interior layout should also be designed to capture or eliminate heat as needed.

Living areas on the north and south reduce the amount of light and heat during the day while non-living area should be placed on the east and west sides of the building.

If necessary, locate areas used in the morning on the west side of the structure while rooms used in the afternoon can be placed on the east, for comfort and energy conservation.

Planting trees if none exist on the property can also help shade the structure and act as a windbreak.

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6. Heating, Air Conditioning and Ventilation

Whole house ventilation paired with ceiling fans increases the flow of air throughout the structure. As the air moves through, moisture is evaporated, reducing the chance of corrosion and mold. Smooth ventilation also reduces the load on the heating and air conditioning units.

Attic fans increase the speed of the airflow and provide a means of cross ventilation, which can reduce the need for air conditioning.

Zoned heating and air conditioning allow you to heat or cool specific areas instead of the entire building. A zoned system costs a bit more up front but pays for itself over time in lower utility bills.

7. Windows and Lighting

Careful consideration in the placement of windows enhances natural lighting without increasing heat transfer. Low-E window coating reduces radiant heat transfer and acts in concert with the insulation to reduce energy use.

For additional lighting, select LED or CFL bulbs for your lighting fixtures. Both emit less heat and use less electricity than traditional incandescent bulbs. LEDs, in particular, have a long life, requiring the purchase of fewer bulbs over the lifetime of the fixture.

8. Overhangs and Awnings

An overhang or awning above windows facing the sun can lower your air conditioning bills in the summer by reducing the light entering the building. Retractable awnings are available that can be rolled up or self-stored during storms or high winds as well as on cloudy or winter days when you need the sunlight for heat.

An overhang or awning is also a handy place for customers or employees to stand out of the sun or weather while waiting to enter your establishment. Overhangs, awnings and covered porches are building styles worth bringing back to their original intent - to control the indoor environment in a time of no air conditioning or electricity.

9. Low or No VOC Products

Most paints, wood finishes, carpets, flooring and other finishing products emanate volatile compounds that create a slightly toxic environment in enclosed spaces. Select low or no-volatile organic compounds (VOCs) to reduce indoor air pollution and create a comfortable space.

10. Expand Upward, Not Outward

The smaller the roof exposure, the easier it is to control the interior temperature economically. Roofing and foundation materials are minimized while the opportunity for natural light and cross-ventilation are maximized.

Even so, a smaller building is more economically operated than a large one. It takes fewer resources to build and less energy to run.


There is no single way to go green and each project will have different requirements. Use these ten tips as a starting list for each new project to optimize the energy efficiency and livability of the building while providing an aesthetically pleasing environment that is easy on the eyes and the wallet.

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