Many large, commercial, low-rise buildings often don’t benefit from steeply-sloped roofs the way residences and small commercial buildings might. This is because a steep roof slope would add unwanted height and unnecessary construction cost. Buildings like warehouses, retail stores, etc. are more appropriately built with low-slope roofing, commonly known as “flat roofs”. The National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA) defines low-slope roofs as those with “a slope at or less than 3:12″. Anything steeper qualifies as a “high-slope roof”. With this in mind, let’s look at some key points to consider when designing and constructing a low-slope roof.
Low-Slope Roofing Materials
When it comes to selecting low-slope roofing products, there are generally three fundamental choices:
- Asphalt/ Bituminuous Products: The traditional commercial roofing norm for many years, the use of asphalt/bituminous products has dwindled as newer, more appealing options have emerged.
- Flexible Membrane Roofing: This roofing material can be made from a variety of types of plastic/polymer-based materials (commonly known as EPDM, TPO, PVC, etc.). Rolls of the chosen membrane are laid out on the roof structure and secured in place either with mechanical fasteners (screws with large washers) or with a continuous layer of adhesive.
- Metal Roofing: Sometimes overlooked, metal roofing is suitable for different roof slopes. Many metal roofs that use standing-seam systems are rated for use with a pitch as low as ½:12.
When considering which type of roofing material to use for a building project, there are a number of significant differences that illustrate why metal roofing is often the ideal choice.
Engineered For Superior Performance
Standing-seam metal roofing is made specifically for use on low-slope roofs as it meets a number of performance requirements:
- Water resistance: Precipitation doesn’t penetrate through metal or through the standing seams where the metal panels join together. This is why they can tolerate such low slopes, allowing the water to drain away slowly and predictably without leakage.
- Rigidity: The rigid nature of metal means that there is less opportunity for ponding (standing water). This is not always the case with asphalt/bituminous or membrane roofing systems.
- Drainage: Metal roofs carry water to the building’s edge toward gutters and downspouts that carry it away from the building. Other roofing systems rely on drainage piped inside the building. This takes up space and has the potential to leak water inside the building and cause damage.
- Wind Resistance: Standardized uplift testing shows that metal roofing performs as well or better in extreme weather than mechanically-fastened or fully-adhered membrane systems.
- Durability: The most cited advantage of metal roofing is its long-term strength and durability. Engineered design and use of high-quality coatings ensures a longer lifespan—50 years or more. In contrast, other roofing types typically feature lifespan ratings of 20 or 30 years.
- Puncture Resistance: Low-slope metal roofing is more puncture-resistant than asphalt/bituminous or membrane roofing. This makes it better able to tolerate foot traffic, hail and other puncture-inducing hazards.
- Construction/ Installation Ease: Metal roofing panels are custom-made to suit specific building sizes and end uses. This customization typically means it takes less time to place and install metal roofing in the field. Further, metal panels can tolerate a wide range of temperatures and weather conditions and still install and perform as intended. Low-slope roofs are also safer to walk on with less risk of slips, falls and other hazards.
Using metal roofing on low-slope roofing systems can be cost effective in a number of ways:
- Fewer labor hours as a result of the ease of installation saves money during construction.
- Competitive material costs, particularly if the metal roofing is part of a total metal building package from a single manufacturer.
- Minimal maintenance requirements and aversion to rusting, mold growth and decay that save the building owner money over time.
This all adds up to a very favorable life-cycle cost.
The performance, cost-effectiveness and life-cycle benefits of metal roofing panels make them a viable option for low-slope roofing systems. Manufacturers like MBCI can help you select the right metal roofing products and provide information and resources to help ensure proper installation.
Designing and constructing sustainable buildings has become a mainstream expectation of most building owners. Whether for reduced energy costs, higher returns on investment, or as an organizational philosophy, “green” building solutions are in demand. Perhaps the best known and most often cited program to achieve these goals is the US Green Building Council’s (USGBC’s) LEED® rating system. While some may think that green buildings are more complicated and costly to build, that is not actually the case. This is especially true when metal building materials are used. In fact, metal buildings are an ideal and economical way to pursue sustainability goals and LEED certification. How? We break it down as follows:
The LEED® Program
The LEED program has been in use since 1998 and is now used worldwide. It is a voluntary, point-based rating system that allows for independent review and certification at different levels. These levels include Certified (40-49 points), Silver (50-59 points), Gold (60-79 points), or Platinum (80 or more points). Since it allows for choices in which points are pursued, innovation and flexibility are entirely possible as long as specific performance criteria are met. It also encourages collaborative and integrative design, construction and operation of the building.
Points are organized into six basic categories, many of which can be addressed through metal building design and construction, as summarized below.
- Location and Transportation: Metal buildings can be manufactured and delivered to virtually any location. That means they can support LEED criteria for being located near neighborhoods with diverse uses, available mass transit, bicycle trails, or other sustainable amenities. Metal building parking areas can also be designed to promote sustainable practices for green vehicles and reduced pavement. This all contributes toward obtaining LEED eligibility.
- Sustainable Sites: Adding a building to any site will certainly impact the natural environment already there. Delivering portions of a pre-engineered metal building package in a sequence to arrive as needed means that the staging area on-site can be minimized—reducing site impacts. Additionally, using a “cool metal roof” has been shown to reduce “heat island” effects on the surrounding site and also qualify for LEED.
- Water Efficiency: Any design that reduces or eliminates the need for irrigation of plantings and other outdoor water uses is preferred. Incorporating metal roofing with gutters and downspouts, as is commonly done on metal buildings, allows opportunities to capture rainwater for irrigation or other uses. It also helps control water run-off from the roof and assists with good storm water control.
- Energy and Atmosphere: Metal buildings can truly shine in this category. Creating a well-insulated and air-sealed building enclosure is the most important and cost-effective step in creating an energy conserving building. A variety of insulation methods for metal building roof and wall systems are used to achieve this. Typically, metal building construction uses one or more layers of fiberglass insulation and liners combined with sealant and air barriers. Alternatively, insulated metal panels (IMPs) provide all of these layers in a single manufactured sandwich panel with impressive performance. Windows, skylights and translucent roof panels can provide natural daylight, allowing electric lighting to be dimmed or turned off. For buildings seeking to generate their own electricity, standing-seam metal roofing provides an ideal opportunity for the simplified installation of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. Metal roofs generally provide a sustainable service life in excess of 40 years. This means they can outlast the PV array, thus avoiding costly roof replacements during most PV array lifespans.
- Materials and Resources: Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) are recognized by LEED as the most effective means to holistically assess the impacts that materials and processes have on the environment and on people. Fortunately, the Metal Building Manufacturer’s Association (MBMA) has collaborated with the Athena Sustainable Materials Institute and UL Environment to develop an industry-wide life cycle assessment report. There is also an Athena Impact Estimator that can help with providing LEED documentation. Metal buildings support exceptional environmental performance through the significant use of recycled steel and the reduced need for energy intensive concrete due to lighter weight buildings.
- Indoor Environmental Quality: Most people spend much more time indoors than outside, which impacts human health. Therefore, LEED promotes or requires using materials that don’t contain or emit harmful substances. It also promotes design options for natural daylight, exterior views and acoustical control to promote psychological and emotional well-being. Metal buildings are routinely designed to readily incorporate components that help achieve these indoor qualities.
In addition, some LEED points are available for demonstrating innovation and addressing priorities within a geographic region.
Considering the qualities listed above, metal buildings clearly provide a prime opportunity to pursue LEED certification at any level. To find out more about the LEED rating system, visit https://new.usgbc.org/leed. To find out more about successfully designing and constructing metal buildings pursuing LEED certification, contact your local MBCI representative.
In a prior post on insulated metal panels (IMPs) we reviewed some of the basic things everyone should know about this versatile and lightweight metal building component. In this posting, we will drill down a bit more on the benefits of incorporating IMPs into a new or retrofit construction project. Here are some of the top reasons they are so popularly used in both walls and roofs:
Energy Conserving, Space Saving Insulation
Foam plastic insulation is used between the metal skins of IMPs. Such insulation has been accepted for use by building codes for quite awhile provided it meets certain conditions. IMPs have been tested and shown to meet or exceed all code requirements for construction and for energy conservation too. Part of their appeal over other ways to insulate is that they can achieve high performance in a thinner wall or roof assembly than would be required with other types of insulation, such as fiberglass. IMPs are available in thicknesses that range from 2 to 6 inches and have corresponding R-values from R-14 to R-46 allowing design professionals to select the thickness that matches the energy performance level sought in a particular building. Other insulation types would require thicknesses of at least twice as much to approach the same R-values as IMPs. Further, the metal interior and exterior skins are the only finish material needed so the total panel thickness is very space efficient. Thinner IMPs in the walls and roofs can save space in the building or on the site all while achieving high energy performance.
Durability, Longevity, and Low Maintenance
The manufactured panels are rigid and quite strong. They have been tested for compression, tensile, and shear strength with impressive numbers that come about because of the combination of the rigid foam and steel properties. The surfaces are made from the same long-lasting galvanized and factory finished steel used in other metal wall and roof panels so their resistance to weather, abuse, and even harsh conditions has been proven, making them very easy to maintain. In locations where severe weather and storms are a concern, they can also be specified to meet requirements for heavy winds, hail, and similar concerns. Plus, since the skins of the IMPs are made of noncombustible steel, they provide an ignition barrier as part of an overall fire protection scheme for the building.
Cost Saving Construction
IMPs are an “all-in-one” product that takes the place of many other products and components used in traditional construction. Instead of requiring multiple trades and materials to be installed individually over some number of weeks, IMPs are installed by a metal building contractor and allow the walls and roof to be completely closed in with a single trade. The use of concealed fasteners in the side joint of the panels makes installation quick and easy. Unlike other construction systems, the inherent strength and resiliency of IMPs means that work doesn’t need to stop over weather concerns. All of this saves a considerable amount of labor costs and can also save a lot of time meaning buildings can be completed quicker and more economically. It could also mean that an owner is able to occupy and use the building sooner, thus reducing construction financing costs and allowing operations to begin more quickly.
Versatility for Use in Many Building Types
IMPs can be used in virtually any type of new construction and for many retrofit applications too. There is a range of modular panel sizes that can work successfully with different structural elements of the rest of the building. The finished profiles and colors can all be selected to match the design needs of the building with edges, corners, and trim details all based on simple, appealing aesthetics. There are even IMPs specially designed for cold storage or refrigerated space applications. These panels may be part of the building exterior or create an isolated space within a larger building. Either way, they are designed for the rigors of a high use installation.
With such a broad range of benefits and capabilities, you owe it to yourself to check them out for a building project that you may be involved in. The best place to start is by contacting your local MBCI representative, and by signing up for our newsletter to subscribe to our blog.
Energy codes and increasing energy costs have prompted the installation of more roof insulation into metal buildings in recent years to make them more energy efficient. That is fundamentally a good thing and metal building manufacturers have developed ways to accommodate a variety of building enclosure packages that increase energy performance while still being engineered to meet the structural requirements of the building. This allows the whole building envelope to be designed and fabricated so it works as a complete, coordinated system.
The metal roofing or metal building suppliers typically don’t design the insulation systems. However, it is important to include them in the discussions or make them aware of what type of system is to be installed. It is not uncommon for a metal building to be ordered with the design stipulation of “insulation by others.” In that case, coordination is needed between the person ordering/designing the insulation system and the metal building manufacturer or roofing supplier. Since there are a great many variables in the way that insulation can be provided, it is not appropriate to think that the design of structural systems (purlins and roof bracing) and cladding systems (clips, fasteners, and metal roofing profiles) will necessarily accommodate all the same insulation in all conditions. Rather, unless the specific details of the insulation system being used in the building are communicated effectively at the time of the order, the manufacturer can not assure compatibility of the systems used with the insulation system that is to be installed.
In order to understand some of the variability in the options, let’s look at some of the common ways that metal buildings are or are not insulated.
Buildings that do not have any heat or air conditioning in them may not need for an insulated roof. This could be true for outdoor shelters, some agricultural buildings, or vehicle storage buildings. However, uninsulated metal roofs have the potential for “roof rumble” as they move due to thermal expansion and contraction, wind, or weather as there is no insulation to mask or deaden this noise. Absence of insulation can also lead to condensation during certain times of the year if temporary heat is added to the building. This condensation builds up and can drop or fall onto whatever is below. Many times condensation issues are mistaken for roof leaks when in fact it’s a mechanical design issue of the building envelope that’s not been properly addressed. If neither sound nor potential condensation are a concern, then there’s no problem. But if either or both need to be avoided, then some basic level of insulation may be prudent.
Over the Purlin Systems:
One of the most common insulation systems for metal buildings and/or open framing systems is to simply install rolls of blanket insulation. In this case, fiberglass insulation with a reinforced liner is draped over structural beams and purlins. The rolls are supplied to length by the insulation supplier based upon the roof structural layout and the required “R” value necessary for the building envelope in thicknesses that can vary from 3″ to 12″. Is is this thickness to be installed over open framing that the metal building/roofing supplier must be made aware of. Based on this thickness, the panel profile can be verified to determine if it can be used as well as confirmation of the correct clip heights and screw lengths for installation. Keep in mind that the supplier will offer a guide to the installer based upon insulation thickness. As insulation can vary by manufacturer, it will be up to the installer to make adjustments as needed in the field to ensure proper placement and hold modularity of the steel system. (See Respect the Module: Metal Roofing Panels are Modular for Good Reason)
Cavity Fill Insulation Systems:
When higher “R” values are required for roof insulation, a single layer over the open framing system may not be sufficient. When that occurs, the designers of the building envelope may need to employ the framing cavity to add more insulation. There are also variation on the cavity fill approach.
One means is to simply introduce a second layer of unfaced blanket on top of the faced insulation. Sometimes referred to as a “sag and bag” approach, here the first layer of insulation over the purlins is ordered to accommodate larger amounts of drape between the roof structure to permit another layer of unfaced insulation to be added on top. This increases the insulation thickness between the purlins but keeps it thin enough to be compressed to accommodate the roof panel installation. For coordination purposes, the thickness of this upper insulation over the purlins needs to be known by the building manufacturer so the clips and fasteners can be properly sized. Likewise, the amount of insulation draping between the purlins needs to be known to determine if purling bracing or other accessories may potentially interfere with the insulation installation.
Other types of cavity fill system may include a faced batt or face roll insulation with long tabs, which are secured to the tops of roof purlins and nest fully into the purlin cavity to fill the space more effectively. This helps in eliminating greater compression of multiple layers of insulation on top of the purlins and permits an additional layer of unfaced insulation on top of the roof structures and/or a thermal spacer block. This system may also require some intermediate banding to support the insulation between the primary supports.
A liner system may be installed that employs a continuous vapor retardent material. This liner is secured to the bottom of the roof structure and additionally supported with metal banding allowing the cavity to then be filled with unfaced insulation between the purlins. More unfaced insulation can also be added on top of the purlins as well. In all of the cases where cavity fill systems are used, it is important to advise the building manufacturer/roof supplier which type is being used to ensure proper panel clip heights and screw lengths. This is important because these systems can and will interfere with the roof structural bracing making them more difficult to install. The metal building supplier may be able to offer bracing alternatives or remedies to eliminate some or all of the bracing that would otherwise be in the way when installing the roof insulation. There may also be suggestions on how to avoid impeding or penetrating the vapor barriers which could lead to condensation issues. Overall, it is best to discuss and coordinate all of these items ahead of time.
Rigid Board/ Composite Systems:
In this insulation approach, rigid foam insulation board is used to achieve the sought after energy performance. Commonly, these use metal deck panels over the roof structure thus supporting the insulation and a vapor retardant material on top of the deck. The insulation and the metal roofing can then be secured to the framing substructure or to the metal deck itself, which means the details of attachment need to be reviewed and engineered to avoid adverse affects on the roofing system.
All of the above systems typically require attention to providing additional air and vapor barriers and proper cutting and fitting during installation so as not to cause unwanted infiltration or to prevent condensation from occurring. For these reasons and more, some people will consider the use of closed cell spray-on foam insulation, which can continuously provide all of these features in one product. It can also be installed after the roof is completed and structure is weathertight.
In the case of metal buildings, spray-on insulation is typically applied in the field onto the inside face of installed roof panels and sometimes wall panels too. There are, however, a few concerns with this approach in metal buildings. First, if conditions are not right and the panels are not properly prepared, then the spray foam can, in fact, trap moisture between the insulation and the metal components it is sprayed onto. That can lead to corrosion of the metal or deterioration of the insulation. Secondly, not all spray foams on the market are intended for this type of use so they don’t always adhere well to some metal panels, meaning it could become loose and fall away. Finally, continuous spray foam in this application will not always be able to expand and contract at the same rate that metal does. In some cases, that could mean that the foam suffers from differential movement causing it to break or lose adhesion.
For all of these reasons, be certain to research all options before considering or selecting a foam spray-on insulation that will not negatively impact your roof performance. If a foam insulation is preferred, it may be worth considering the use of insulated metal panels (IMPs) that are designed, engineered, and fabricated to be compatible with metal building construction.
Recognizing all of the above variations and options, the key point to remember about insulating metal buildings is the importance of communication between those designing and ordering an insulated metal building and those who are manufacturing and fabricating it. To find out more about the best ways to do that, contact your local MBCI representative.
When using compressible insulation, say for instance fiberglass batt, consideration must be given to how that insulation is going to be deployed in the actual wall or roof. For instance, installers might place the insulation across the framing members and then smash it down with the cladding and run a screw through to the underlying structure. The problem here is that the insulation is rated with some R-value—and that R-value is determined by an ASTM procedure that also determines what its tested density is. So in essence, it’s ‘fluffy’ insulation.
One manufacturer’s insulation, however, might be thicker than another’s. The contractor is buying an R-value, not a density or a thickness. The insulation is tested to that R-value at whatever thickness and density¹ is needed to achieve it. Let’s say R-19 fiberglass batt is specified, but then it is put in an assembly and smashed down flat… now it’s not R-19 anymore; it’s now R-something else. That’s a thermal bridge—when the insulation’s R-value has been compromised.
Unfortunately, thermal bridging is almost impossible to eliminate. In the example above, another choice might be to put it between studs. Except in this situation, the studs break the insulation. While it’s not pinched, the studs are separating it. Whether the studs are metal or wood, in either case it’s still a significant thermal short circuit or a thermal bridge.
Even with the highest quality insulation systems—insulated metal panels, for example—a joint is required. Building is not possible without putting neighboring panels together. Therefore, insulation is discontinuous. While it’s impossible to avoid thermal bridging, there are two requirements to ensure the building performs the way it needs to perform.
- Thermal bridging must be mitigated. In other words, the designer or installer has to try to eliminate as much of it as possible.
- If thermal bridging is unavoidable, it must be accounted for in some fashion, which usually means putting more insulation somewhere to make up the difference. This is called a “trade-off” and is allowed by most building energy efficiency codes.²
Why Insulated Metal Panels?
Insulated metal panels then are the best bet, because although the joint is a thermal bridge, in effect, it is not nearly as impactful as breaking a line of fiberglass with a stud or smashing the fiberglass between the panel and a framing member. In the illustration below, R-value doesn’t just vary at that point where the panel and the stud meet. The entire insulation line gets smashed and one would have to go some distance from the stud before the insulation returns to its normal, fluffy thickness. These issues need to be mitigated and accounted for.
Manufacturers such as MBCI and Metl-Span publish insulated metal panels as U-factors because the joint is tested as part of the assembly (both mitigating and accounting for the aforementioned issues). These values can be found on product data sheets and technical bulletins, such as Metl-Span’s Insulation Values technical bulletin, published January 2017.
- ASTM C 665 – 12, Standard Specification for Mineral-Fiber Blanket Thermal Insulation for Light Frame Construction and Manufactured Housing, Table 1, Footnote c.
- ASHRAE 90.1 – 13, Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Ride Residential Buildings, Section 5.6
- High Performance Green Building Products – INSMP2A (CEU)
Commercial projects aren’t one size fits all. By bringing in metal panel products to suit the individual need, designers and architects can provide custom solutions for a variety of applications. Single-skin metal panels and insulated metal panels (IMPs), if used correctly, can together add both aesthetic and functional value to your projects.
While IMPs can provide superior performance with regard to water control, air control, vapor control and thermal control, you may sometimes find your project requires—from an aesthetic perspective—the greater range of choices available in single-skin profiles. Let’s spend a little time looking at some of the reasons behind the growing trend of specifying a combination of insulated metal and single-skin panels.
Benefits of Insulated Metal Panels
Insulated metal panels are lightweight, composite exterior wall and roof panels that have metal skins and an insulating foam core. Their much-touted benefits include:
- Superior insulating properties
- Excellent spanning capabilities
- Insulation and cladding all in one, which often equates to a shorter installation time and cost savings
Benefits of Single Skin
Single-skin panels, on the other hand, with their expansive array of colors, textures and profiles, may have more sophisticated aesthetics. They can be used on their own or in combination with IMPs. It should be noted, too, that single-skin panels can—in their own right (as long as the necessary insulation is incorporated) —satisfy technical and code requirements, depending on the application.
Beyond aesthetics, when it comes to design options, single-skin products offer a wide range of metal roof systems, including standing seam roof panel, curved, and even through-fastened systems. As for wall systems, those may include concealed fastened panels, interior wall and liner panels, and even canopies and soffits, not to mention exposed fastened systems. Therefore, you have a wide range of not only aesthetics options but VE (Value Engineering) options as well.
So, in what situations might the designer or architect choose to combine the two panel types? Let’s examine a couple of specific scenarios related to the automotive or self-storage worlds as a means of illustration. In both of these types of applications, it is not uncommon for the designer to recognize the importance of wanting to keep the “look” of the building consistent with branding or to bring in other design elements.
Single-skin panels can be used as a rain screen system in the front of the building or over the office area, and would provide the greater number of design options. In the rest of the building, designers can take advantage of the strength, durability and insulation benefits of IMPs. Although you could use one or the other for these examples, the advantage of mixing the two would be achieving a certain look afforded by the profiles of single-skin, while still adhering to stringent building codes and reducing installation time—which is the practical part of using IMPs.
Focus on HPCI IMP Systems
One great example of a current trend we’re seeing at MBCI is the use of the HPCI-barrier IMP system, along with single-skin panels. The High Performance Continuous Insulation (HPCI) system is a single system that is a practical and effective replacement for the numerous barrier components found in traditional building envelopes.
A big benefit to using the HPCI system is that the barrier wall is already in place. In terms of schedule, the HPCI barrier system is typically installed by contractors who are also installing the single-skin system, eliminating the need for multiple work crews, and thereby minimizing construction debris and reducing the likelihood of improper installation. With a general lead time of four to six weeks for the HPCI and a week or two for the single-skin, the installation goes fairly quickly. Therefore, it appeals as the best of all worlds—a single system meeting air, water, thermal and vapor codes (ex.: IBC 2016, NSTA fire standards) plus the design flexibility of a single-skin rain screen product. (Note: The HPCI panel must be separated from the interior of the building by an approved thermal barrier of 0.5″ (12.7mm) gypsum wallboard to meet IBC requirements.)
Bottom line, HPCI design features and benefits include the following:
• Provides air, water, thermal and vapor barrier in one step
• Allows you to use multiple façade options while maintaining thermal efficiency
• Easy and fast installation, with reduced construction and labor costs
As designers, architects and owners are getting smarter about a “fewer steps, smarter dollars” concept and an increased awareness of applicable codes and standards, not to mention lifecycle costs, the trend towards maximizing the strengths of available systems will continue to grow. Whether the right choice is an IMP system, single-skin or some combination, the possibilities are virtually endless.