Reduce Energy Costs with Metal Buildings

Published February 22, 2016 by Whirlwind Team

energy costs metal buildings

While the price of gasoline is currently on the low side, energy costs for heating and cooling buildings continue to rise. In warmer areas of the US, it is common for residential homeowners to pay over $300 a month for cooling. In the meantime, heating oil and natural gas prices in colder climes take a chunk out of the Christmas Club account.

Imagine the bills for a commercial building; it will make you shudder. Choosing to build with pre-fabricated steel construction can lower those costs, some of them up to 40% or more.

Energy reduction starts with steel production…

Over the past 40 years, the steel industry has reduced, recycled, and reused its way toward substantial energy and resource savings.

  • Steel production now uses over a third less energy than in 1976
  • Water is reused at a rate of 95%
  • 100% of scrap steel is recycled into new steel

…And continues with recycling

Further savings are found in recycling steel, which takes less energy to do than producing virgin steel. In fact, North America has been recycling steel for over 170 years.

Fun Fact: Steel is the most recycled material in the world.

Following the EPA’s admonition to “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,” the steel industry has stretched natural resources in a variety of ways. Because steel is so strong, it reduces the amount of framing material while constructing durable frames. If the building becomes obsolete, the steel framing can be reused to redesign or rebuild for a different use or the steel can be recycled into yet another steel product.

Since every steel product contains recycled steel, you can picture how many BTUs of energy are saved annually across the globe. Structural steel averages 77% recycled material including scrapped automobiles. The more steel is recycled, the less of it will make its way to a landfill. For every ton recycled we save 250 cubic feet of space.

Energy reduction in prefabrication

Steel building prefabrication has become highly efficient with little waste. Efficiencies have been found across the board in:

  • Design
  • Engineering
  • Manufacturing

With offsite prefabrication, less time is needed at the job site to erect the frame which, in turn, reduces the energy needed to power tools and construction vehicles. Precision engineering cuts down on rework at the site and all metal cutting takes place offsite as well.

Longer lifecycle = reduced impact on the environment

Steel is highly durable, requiring less maintenance and lasting longer than any other construction material. Energy savings realized from the reduced maintenance schedule and the decreased need for major repairs makes the carbon footprint of a metal building even smaller.

Steel buildings can last decades longer than other structures and better resist damage from:

  • Wind
  • Snow
  • Earthquakes
  • Fire
  • Lightning
  • Termites

An added bonus: by building with steel, fewer trees are cut for wood framing. With more trees the air remains cleaner and resupplies oxygen to the atmosphere.

Save energy by starting at the top

The right roof can save you 40% or more annually on your energy bills.

Asphalt, the typical roofing material, traps heat while a metal roof reflects solar energy. A white roof has the highest reflectance of any roofing product thus a white or reflectively coated metal roof can really cut the heating and cooling bills.

If it’s 90 degrees outside, a white roof can be 80 degrees cooler than a black roof. If the roof also has a reflective coating, the summer cooling bill may be cut nearly in half.

In urban settings, the heat island effect can keep temperatures from dropping overnight and make daytime temperatures rise. A highly emissive (energy-reflective) metal roof can lower the air temperature by nearly 12 degrees, so the finishing coat  is extremely valuable in saving energy. In fact, a re-emissive roof surface with a pre-painted or granular coated roof saves even more than bare metal; it can re-emit up to 90% of absorbed solar radiation.

Here in Texas, a “cool-coated” roof reduces energy use by 7-15%. Plus, the coating on the roof retains 95% of its reflectivity for years.

Other energy reducers

Metal buildings lend themselves well to various modifications that can save even more money on the utility bill.

Poorly sealed windows and doors are a major source of heat loss in most buildings. You can more easily install well-fitted windows and doors in a metal building that is pre-fabricated to precise measurements. There are also a number of sealants available to keep them tight, each geared toward a specific purpose.

Over time, repeated heating and cooling can shrink or damage concrete and wood, but steel remains strong. All you need to do is replace the sealant every so often. Films, low-emission glazing, blinds, and solar screens can be added for an even greater energy reduction.

Insulation within the walls and ceiling provide another layer of protection from heat loss in the winter as well as keep the building cooler in the summer. The metal framing members are perfectly shaped to hold several types of insulation. Add in a high performance or EnergyStar rated heating and air conditioning system to the mix and energy use will plummet.

To keep the thermostat steady, install a lock to limit the number of people who can adjust it. Each one degree the thermostat is lowered translates into 2-3 % savings on cooling costs.

Go green with gusto

Energy usage and utility bills are two of the largest on-going expenses of a commercial building or a private residence. Build with steel, use a white or reflective coating on the roof, fill the walls and ceiling with insulation, and reap the savings in lower heating and cooling costs.

Being green is that easy.

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