Can I Design My Own Metal Building?

Published August 4, 2017 by Whirlwind Team

metal building design

Designing your own metal building isn’t a difficult task if you can pay attention to detail and seek assistance when you need it. Many steel building manufacturers sell prefabricated buildings that can be customized to your requirements. The good ones offer consultation for design and can help you find a reputable contractor.

The benefit to designing your own metal building is obvious; you can develop a design that exactly fits your needs. Today’s steel buildings have options for color, trim, roof design, and so much more that you may find yourself overwhelmed with choices.

However, the design and build process has several steps to take before you break ground.


The cost of your metal building depends on a number of factors including size and use, but your budget must cover more than the building materials. You need to add the following for a true picture of the costs above and beyond materials:

  • Design
  • Drawings
  • Foundation
  • Labor
  • Tools and equipment
  • Utility installation
  • Permits

Depending on the vendor, some of these items are part of the price of the building; most will include the design and drawings as part of the price. Transport and shipping costs are determined by the distance to your jobsite from the manufacturer’s plant.

The building manufacturer does not design the foundation so you will need to consult an independent foundation engineer. A general contractor can provide all the labor, material, and sub-contractors if you need one. If you choose to build on your own then you will be responsible for securing all of the labor, material and sub-contractors.

Some buyers don't realize that obtaining permits from the local building authority is an expense and time consuming. The contractor may take care of obtaining them, but you will need to pay for them.

The impact of your site location on designing your own metal building

The exact location of your site determines which of the many building codes must be met.

  • Drainage: Your building should sit slightly higher than the immediate surroundings to allow water to drain away from the structure. The site drainage should also not cause a problem to surrounding buildings. You may be required to retain all the water run off on the property which will require a retention basin. Additional land may be needed.
  • Environmental exposure: Some of your building options are affected by the local environment including exposure to sunlight, humidity and salt air, pollution, and heavy snow or rain.
  • Seismic activity: Your building design will need to be able to withstand the seismic activity of the surrounding region.

Requirements for the site location are regulated by zoning and building codes.

steel building design

Zoning and building codes for steel building design

Before you purchase a building, you need to make sure your parcel of land is zoned for the type of building you are placing on it. Zoning is meant to govern the uniform appearance of a specific area and separate different types of structures and activities.

For example, you cannot build a warehouse on a parcel in an area zoned as residential. However, depending on the building you design, you may be able to request a zoning change or variance. You may be able to get a variance for a small restaurant in an area zoned for residential.

Most municipalities zone for:

  • Commercial
  • Residential
  • Agricultural
  • Industrial

Contact your local zoning board or look online to determine the zoning restrictions for your land.

Once you determine you are allowed to erect your building on your land, you need to comply with the local building codes, which are regulations created by elected officials and building professionals to regulate the design, construction, repair, alteration, general maintenance, and environmental requirements for buildings in their city.

Most municipalities adopt the IBC (International Building Code) as a basis for the local code. They make additions to customize the code to their region. California has extensive building codes regarding seismic events while coastal areas may have codes addressing high winds and extreme weather events.

Bear in mind that the code changes periodically as building technology evolves and issues are discovered through experience and catastrophe.

The building code is enforced at the local level; every new project must submit plans before ground is broken. The local building department reviews the plans for approval and may require revisions and resubmission.

You will need permits at each stage of construction:

  • Foundation
  • Rough framing
  • Complete rough in of plumbing, electrical, and HVAC
  • Insulation
  • Drywall
  • Final inspection and certificate of occupancy

Noncompliance to secure permits will at least involve a fine; potentially, you may be required to demolish your new building at your own expense.

You can find copies of the local building code on the city websites, at the public library and from local code officials.

Your plans are also reviewed for permitting and must address all the building code requirements for the specific building type. Most permits have fees attached, and certain parts of the building process may include more than one permit.


Metal building accessories

Here is where you face your trial of choice: selecting trim, frame openings, ventilation, and roof design options.

  • Trim includes gutters and downspouts; eave, rake, and corner trim; door, window and opening trim; and ridge trim.
  • Framed openings are doors, windows, vents, and roof penetrations.
  • Ventilation choices must be made with the regional weather and building use in mind. Ventilation is required to regulate the humidity within a building and supply fresh outside air.
  • Roof type depends on whether you expect the building to experience high winds, heavy snow, and other weather events. Also, if you are thinking of putting solar panels on the roof, some roof types work better than others. You should always consider using a standing seam roofing system as it will give you the longest service life and is less likely to leak. Some manufacturers will guarantee the standing seam roof not to leak for 20 years or more. (Conditions apply)

Foundation design

Your foundation is more than a concrete slab poured onto the ground. Consult a local foundation engineer who has expertise in the local soils. If incorrectly or poorly designed, the foundation could fail at any point in the future, saddling you with expensive repairs.

The foundation engineer requires an anchor bolt setting plan with building reactions included to design the appropriate foundation for your steel building. The building manufacturer must provide the bolt setting plan and the reactions as part of their service.

Want an estimate for your steel building?

Whirlwind Steel can help you determine your budget. You can design and price your metal building online for an instant quote with our Quick Quote Generator. All you need to know is the width, length, height, and roof slope of the building you hope to build.


While it won’t include anything but the basic building price, the Quick Quote Generator is a handy tool that shows you a ballpark price for a particular size building up to a width of 75 feet and a length of 450 feet.

You can design your own building, and we can fabricate it. You just need to keep all the details in mind, so your structure will be built in an area zoned for its use, complies with all local building codes, and has a custom-designed foundation. Whirlwind can help determine which building codes apply according to the location of your site and assist you with your design options.

Quick Quote Generator



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