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Before You Buy

Critical Design Factors to Consider

Not all structures are created equal and because of this we are often asked, "What makes your product different?" and "What should I look for when comparing products?" We understand building designs are difficult to compare and so is making decisions around which one will provide you with the best long term value for your purchase, as well as being the safest and most functional. When comparing products, the following information will enable you to ask the right questions, ensuring you have purchased a product that meets all your requirements, and that your product is safe, minimizes your liability, and is insurable.

In order to compare designs and ensure a safe, long lasting product is purchased, it is increasingly important that customers understand basic engineering topics that relate to fabric covered steel buildings.

Steel Strength

Significant factors influencing the safety and longevity of a building are the quality, thickness (gauge) and the total amount of steel used in a structure. One of the results of inadequate steel is called "web punching". Web punching occurs when the truss webs punch through the walls of the truss chords if the steel in the truss chord is too thin. Thin steel can lead to truss chord buckling at the web connection location. This process is called "chord plastification".

Many manufacturers use the least steel possible when designing their buildings and often use thin gauge steel for their truss chords. Light gauge steel like this permits excess flexing of the truss and buckling at low web forces.

Norseman Structures recognizes that undersized steel has the possibility to fail in this manner.

To combat this, our designs require the use of larger diameter webs as well as thicker gauge steel in our truss chords, thus preventing any "punch through".

An effective way to compare building structures is by weight of the structural steel in the building. As it is unlikely a competitive design could be safely engineered using ten percent less steel than our buildings, it is likely the competitive design does not meet all building code requirements. Norseman Structures also utilizes heavy gauge steel in order to meet the needs of our customers.

Web Punching _B_cc

This picture shows an example of the dangers of "web punching". As you can see, the truss webbing has 'punched' through the wall of the thin gauge steel likely causing a ripple effect throughout the rest of the structure. The end result of this unfortunate occurrence is at best an unusable building and at worst, a catastrophic failure causing a collapse.

Web punching occurs when the truss webs punch through the walls of the truss chords if the steel in the truss chord is too thin.


Bracing is required to give the structure multidimensional strength against wind and snow load forces. It must also be strong enough to be able to counteract the force of the fabric under tension. Bracing systems include the use of purlins (square or round tubes fixed between truss sections) and cable systems that can crisscross multiple trusses.

Many manufacturers underestimate the forces on the building and use too few and too slender roof purlins and wind bracing.

Norseman Structures use larger diameter roof purlins and heavier cables to resist the fabric tension loads, as well as to provide stability bracing for the roof trusses.

Snow & Wind Loads

Building codes require engineers to consider the impact of wind and snow accumulation on building designs. However, some manufacturers treat these as separate factors and ignore the possibility of the effects of 'combined' snow and wind loads using the theory that wind will blow snow off the building.

By not considering these factors together, your building could be under-engineered allowing for the use of lighter steel and/or wider truss spacing as well as reducing the strength and cost of the building. Unfortunately, due to these factors, the structure will likely be unsafe in certain conditions exposing users to undue safety risk.

Norseman Structures understands wind will not blow snow off buildings under certain temperature and humidity conditions and considers all combinations of combined snow and wind loads required by the Building Codes.

Snow Shedding Qualities

Some manufacturers make an assumption that a sloped roof and slick fabric properties will allow snow to be shed automatically, reducing the effect of potential snow loads and allowing for a lighter and less costly structure. This, "snow shed" design theory does not always hold true.

Snow shed decreases over time. As fabric ages and becomes rougher, the possibility of snow accumulation increases, decreasing the safety factor of the building.

Certain temperature and humidity conditions also contribute to greater snow and ice adhesion to fabrics and eliminate the ability of the fabric to shed snow efficiently.

Norseman Structures always designs to the strict snow load requirements identified in local building codes. Our designs include larger diameter and thicker steel than competitors, in order to provide safe, long lasting structures.

Use and Occupancy

To reduce costs, some manufacturers use a Low Importance Factor for all buildings.

Norseman Structures only uses a Low Importance Factor for low occupancy buildings such as cold storage facilities and agricultural storage buildings, as specified by building codes. The normal importance factor provides 25% more structural capacity than the Low Importance Factor.

Importance Categories

Use & Occupancy Factor
Low Importance
(Category 1 USA)
Buildings that represent a low hazard to human life in the event of failure, including:
  • Low human-occupancy buildings where it can be shown that collapse is not likely to cause injury or other serious consequences
  • Minor storage buildings
Normal Importance
(Category II USA)
All buildings except those listed in importance categories Low, High, and Post-disaster 1.0
High Importance
(Category III USA)
Buildings that are likely to be used as post-disaster shelters, including buildings whose primary use is:
  • As an elementary, middle or secondary school
  • As a community center
Manufacturing and storage facilities containing toxic, explosive or other hazardous substances in sufficient quantities to be dangerous to the public if released
Post-Disaster Used for enhanced building performance, which is critical to the community in an emergency or disaster. 1.25

Fabric Bracing

Some manufacturers rely on the fabric to give the building trusses lateral strength. This allows them to reduce the size of the truss members and the amount of bracing in the structures. This in turn reduces the cost and strength of the building.

Competitive Design
Some designs rely on the fabric cover to brace the outer truss sections. This does not work if the fabric is damaged or if snow/wind loads are uneven, which is often the case.

Competitive Design
Ripping of the fabric cover may cause failure of the truss system.


Norseman Structures' designs do not rely on fabric to brace the truss chords. Our buildings are designed to meet all wind and snow load requirements based on adequate internal bracing.

Norseman Design
Norseman's designs use strong steel bracing systems to secure the truss - not the fabric cover.


End Truss Strength

As truss sections at each end of the building do not have bracing on both sides, unlike other trusses internal to the structure, there are different load demands on them to be considered.

End Truss Strength _cc

Many manufacturers do not adequately consider all loads on the end trusses when checking the effects of fabric tension. This can lead to failure of the end truss, which will lead to failure of the entire structure.

Norseman Structures considers both vertical and horizontal fabric tension in combination with design snow and wind loads on the end trusses.

Exposure Factors

Shelter from winds by adjacent buildings, trees or terrain can have a significant impact on the wind and snow load requirements of buildings. Correctly choosing the exposure factor is very important!

If the proper exposure factor is not selected, a building may use substandard bracing or truss and web steel and may not meet the requirements for the specific location. For example, a building located in an area defined as "Open Terrain" may require a 90 mph144.8 Km/h wind rating, but may only be rated for 80 mph128.7 Km/h if the importance factor used did not meet the design requirements for the site.

If the building is sheltered from wind by adjacent structures or trees, it should be designed for an increased snow load, since less snow will potentially be blown off the roof. Adjacent structures can also cause drifting of snow which increases snow loads on the building.

Norseman Structures only uses wind and snow load reductions for sheltered or exposed conditions in strict accordance with building codes. Generally, Norseman Structures uses the 'Open' classification in order to ensure your building meets all current, as well as future needs. The classifications, as well as brief explanations, are as follows:

Rough Terrain _c _web Rough Terrain (Exposure C - Canada, Exposure B - USA)
Suburban, urban, wooded areas, center of large town. Although this generally depicts 'rough' terrain, there are areas of 'open' terrain. For this reason, 'open' terrain should be selected if there is any question about the type of terrain.

Open Terrain _b _web Open Terrain (Exposure A - Canada, Exposure C - USA)
Few trees, scattered trees, open water. Buildings classified as 'open' require as much as 30% more capacity and strength than those classified as 'rough'.

Steel Specifications

Many manufacturers use the steel strengths advertised by their steel supplier, instead of the steel strengths stated in the building codes and steel specifications. Use of steel strengths higher than those specified by the ASTM or CSA specifications should not be used, due to lack of consistency of strength and elongation requirements. This could result in a 30 percent under capacity in some cases.

Complete Structure Engineering

In order to have a fully engineered building, every component of the building must also be engineered - from screws, to cables, to trusses, to doors. In order to ensure you have a properly engineered product, it is important to ascertain whether all building components are engineered. At Norseman Structures, we use exclusively engineered parts. It is important to note that any piece retrofitted on site or incorrectly engineered will affect the structural integrity of your engineered product.

Enclosure Category

A building with significant openings in the fabric such as air vents, fabric doors, or overhead doors not designed to resist the specified wind loads is subject to significant wind pressures or suctions. This means any overhead doors or man doors must be rated to the design wind speed. Failure of a door or window could result in wind forces as much as 50 percent higher than the design wind forces. Norseman Structures design all door frames and components to resist the design wind speeds. In buildings with large openings or fabric doors, Norseman Structures designs the building structure to resist the additional wind pressures caused by the openings in accordance with the building codes.

Thermal Factor

Some manufacturers use a thermal factor of 1.0 which is only appropriate for heated buildings, or even 0.9, which is only appropriate for heated greenhouses, to reduce the design snow load on the building. Norseman Structures uses the correct thermal factor of 1.2 for the design of unheated fabric buildings.


We are confident that if these suggestions are taken into consideration, our customers will have the knowledge that allows them to ask the right questions when purchasing a fabric covered steel building.