There are many questions to answer before you start a construction project, but the first should be this: which building type is right for you?
Before we can arrive at that conclusion, we need to explore why metal buildings are increasing in popularity, why they’re the best construction option, and whether Quonset huts are a practical building solution or simply a trend. By the end of this article, you should have a pretty good idea which type of building is the best choice for your project, but in order to arrive at a conclusion, lets explore each style in more depth.
Fundamental Differences in Design
When it comes to steel building designs, there are two basic types to consider: rigid frame and arch style – more affectionately known as Quonset huts. Wondering about the exotic naming? Quonset huts are named for where they were first manufactured during World War II: Quonset Point near North Kingstown, Rhode Island. Put simply, a Quonset hut is a prefabricated metal structure made of corrugated steel that has a semicircular cross-section. This involves self-supporting lengths of steel, usually connected in a semi-circular shape.
Conversely, rigid framing involves fixed steel structural members composed of primary and secondary framing topped off with sheeting. Rigid buildings are most often used to create expansive square and rectangular shaped buildings.
Is the Popularity of Quonset Huts an Illusion?
Just because a product is popular doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right solution for you. Think about it: did you run out and buy a Toyota Prius after you started noticing more and more of them quietly roaming your city?
Generally, consumers will buy the right car for their family or particular needs – a new building shouldn’t be any different. In certain parts of the country, especially Alaska, you may be a casualty of the illusion of popularity.
Have You Taken Notice of an Area Like Alaska?
In late 1941, the US military spent nearly $3 billion (equivalent of about $40 billion today) in Alaska to construct an impressive array of bases. According to this article from The Alaska Dispatch News 20,000 to 30,000 Quonset huts were shipped to Alaska to become bunks, cafeterias, hospitals and war rooms before becoming a familiar site in other areas as well.
If you’re in the market for a new building, though, it’s important to understand that the US government didn’t choose the Quonset hut for its structural integrity. Rather, as the Alaska Dispatch News article reports:
Essentially, the Quonset hut isn’t necessarily popular because thousands of individuals have decided it was the best solution for their project – it could be due more to convenience, comfort and price. That’s not to say that the Quonset hut doesn’t have it’s advantages, but it’s important to have comparisons of value, durability, versatility, and price before evaluating if a Quonset hut or a rigid-frame steel building is the right choice for your project.
Quonset Hut Kits vs. Metal Building Kits
Quonset huts are durable, efficiently built structures that offer a lot of usable floor space and the flexibility of a column-free design. Originally used for military barracks, offices, and storage these buildings are inherently flexible and are currently used to house retail shops, small warehouses, and agricultural storage space. Metal buildings on the other hand are used for many of the same applications and more. Here’s a quick comparison of value, durability, versatility and price to help you understand the pros and cons of each construction method.
Due to the rounded construction, arch-style buildings generally offer less usable sqaure footage when compared to rigid framing. The curvature of the roof reduces headspace, allowing less room for storage and it’s generally not wise to place anything against the walls. If ample storage is a requirement of your next structure, rigid framing may be a more space-efficient option.
|Pros||Smaller buildings are usually more affordable||Square style construction = all useable space|
|Cons||Less useable square footage and less headroom||Price per square foot is typically higher|
Rigid framing is often the design of choice for modern structures such as business expansions for America’s largest companies and individuals who need garages or workshops. This is primarily due to the durability of prefab buildings and their ability to withstand strong winds and heavy snow loads. Quonset buildings are generally less durable, even with modified versions that feature straight walls (such as the more modern version shown above). If your city often experiences inclement weather, opting for rigid framing over arch-style buildings will guarantee a sounder structure.
|Pros||Some have survived Alaskan winters since WWII||50 year structural warranty & engineer stamped for your area|
|Cons||30 year warranty if attached to concrete slab correctly||You will pay more for the increased strength|
While both design types offer clear-span framing, Quonset huts and other steel arch buildings only offer clear spans up to 80 feet. Rigid frame structures can allow up to 300 feet of clear span space, offering a completely column-free interior. Additionally, if you plan to build higher than a single story, you’ll want to stray away from a Quonset hut. Due to the rounded construction style and dome-like roofs, Quonset huts are typically unable to support multiple stories, making them less versatile than ridge frame buildings.
|Comparison:||Arch Style||Rigid Frame|
|Pros||Clear span up to 80’||Clear span up to 300’|
|Cons||One story structures only||Larger buildings are more difficult to erect|
If you’re simply after the cheapest building, a small Quonset hut may satisfy your needs, but beware of hidden hidden costs. When you compare the cost of metal buildings against the typical Quonset hut price, remember that you will need to spray foam insulate on the interior of your Quonset hut, whereas a metal building can utilize any type of insulation.
Also, in order to lock the typical 30 year warranty offered with Quonset huts, you will need to pour a thick concrete apron around the structure. This is because the sheeting of an Arch style building supports the structure and it must be tied soundly to the concrete apron. A rigid frame building, on the other hand, can be attached to simple piers which can significantly reduce the overall cost of your project.
|Size||Quonset Hut Price Range||Metal Building Price Range|
|24’ x 24’||$5,760-$7,900||$7,500-$9,000|
|30’ x 40’||$12,000-$13,000||$14,000-$15,000|
|40’ x 60’||$23,000-$24,000||Under $22,000|
The Evolution of Quonset Hut Homes
As the housing market evolves, homebuyers are becoming increasingly creative with their choices. Case in point: the tiny house movement, which arose out of a need to save money and limit adverse effects on the environment. Quonset huts are attracting homebuyers for similar reasons – they are typically very affordable if purchased used, and are architecturally interesting, as shown in the images below:
However, like tiny homes, opting for a steel home instead of a Quonset hut home is often the wiser and safer choice in the long-run. Let’s consider the specific advantages and disadvantages of steel arch buildings versus rigid frames when it comes to a residential space.
Arch Style Homes vs. Steel Homes
|Comparison:||Quonset Hut Homes||Metal Building Homes|
|Warranty||Typically a 30 year warranty is provided with the structure but there are special conditions||General Steel provides a 50 year structural warranty and a 40 year paint warranty|
|Risk||A Quonset hut home is not engineer stamped for your area, loads and seismic conditions can put your building and family at risk||Metal building homes are specifically designed and engineered for your locale, significantly reducing the chance the structure will fail|
|Used/New||You can save a lot of money if you find a used Quonset hut to repurpose as a home.||Since it was not engineered for a specific area, purchasing used is not recommended|
Need Help? Our Building Experts Are Available
As always, our expert team at General Steel is happy to help you decide which design type will be the most efficient for your intended use. Contact us today by calling 1-800-745-2685 or complete our contact form to get started on your next project.