3 Easy Steps To Understanding Steel Building Blueprints

Learn how to read steel building blueprints

Pop culture philosopher, Yogi Berra, once said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up somewhere else.” This mangled, yet profound, quote is one of the Golden Rules when you embark on a steel building project for the first time.  The way you get to where you’re going – whether your project is a basement remodel or a complete pre-engineered steel building, is your design drawing.

To the uninitiated, a steel buildings drawing can seem overwhelming, resembling an ancient hieroglyphic text that you need to decode. Rest assured, you’re going to find that the detail drawings (or blueprints as they used to be called) are actually fairly simple to decipher, and as a million motivational posters confirm, “You got this!”

I’m not going to speak about what you can expect from other companies because the standard in the industry is that there is no standard. I will write, however, about why the decision to choose Armstrong Steel is a no-brainer when it comes to your first time steel building project.

Depending on the complexity of your pre-engineered metal building, you should expect 12-20 pages of steel building drawings, called ‘approval drawings.’ These are not to be confused with your permit or construction drawings which will come once you’ve approved these initial plans.

At this stage in the process, you’ll need to really wield your most useful tool, your imagination. Are the doors and the windows where you want them to be? If you look out a window what will you be seeing? Is the view appropriate? What about doorways? Can you get from here to there easily? If this is a workshop or a barn for instance, are you going to need room for trucks, deliveries or outside storage? Walk yourself through the day-to-day use of your steel building and make any changes to the drawings now. Believe me, it’s infinitely easier to put in a new doorway with the stroke of a pen rather than a carbide cut off wheel once the walls have been erected.

As a side note, most steel building companies do not provide you with the approval drawings ahead of time to make changes, but Armstrong Steel encourages you to make changes at this point.

Your approval drawings will include a ‘3-D isometric drawing,’ which is basically a bird’s eye view of your complete structure. It’s easy to identify because it’s always drawn at an angle. Again, this is not something that other companies typically provide but Armstrong believes this drawing is critical to visualizing your finished product.

You’ll receive 4 ‘elevation drawings’ – drawings of each of the 4 sides of the building.

A ‘roof plan’ is what your pre-engineered steel building system will look like from above, and the ‘anchor-bolt plan,’ is critical because this is where you will begin construction on your building. This anchor-bolt plan is the drawing you’ll take to the foundation engineer who will design the foundation so you can begin to pour the concrete for your steel building.

Reading these drawings isn’t as difficult as you might imagine. Follow these steps and you’ll know most of what you need to know about the drawings:

1.  Take the time to understand the cover page of your drawings. 

The cover page includes a written description of the steel building specifications. It will also detail other important information like what it will be used for, your name, the building location and a description of how your completed structure will be finished – for instance the panel types and colors.

The most important thing this page details is the information about the building code being used in the design as well as snow, wind, seismic & collateral loads your building is designed to tolerate. This is the information your building authority/plans reviewer as well as your homeowners association will be interested in when providing you your building permit if one is necessary for your steel building project.

2.  Shapes reference items on the detail page on the back plan

Engineered drawings include several symbols and shapes. All of these shapes mean something, but, don’t worry…they’re standard. On Armstrong Steel Buildings plans, there are really only two shapes with which you need to become familiar. The diamond shape with numbers in it refer to your trim. Your trim package is what makes your pre-engineered steel building look fit & finished. As you read the plans, you’ll see a trim table in the upper right hand corner of the page. This will explain the type of trim you’ll be using and where it will go.

Circled numbers refer to additional drawings on other pages. These provide specific instructions on smaller component sections of the building. They’re very easy to understand, but the circle indicates that this section of the drawing has a more detailed assembly instruction in the detail pages of the drawing package.

3.  Imagine the finished building from the ‘3-D isometric drawing.

From this drawing, picture how your metal building will be used and decide, at this point, if you want changes to the door or window placement, walls or exterior features you are going to need. You should also imagine how your metal building will be positioned on your land. This will help you determine if you would like different views or doors that provide access from existing buildings or other landmarks on the property, or if there are other important factors such as sunlight in the morning or evening.

Once you’ve made your changes, an Armstrong Steel engineer will take your design and ensure it’s structural integrity. A top notch steel building supplier like Armstrong Steel, will provide this, at no additional charge, as part of your purchase of a pre-engineered steel building.

The new ‘permit drawings’ will arrive to you with an ‘engineer’s seal and dated signature.’ This seal is a de-facto certification that your structure has been fine-tuned and prepared to handle the code and load requirements as described on the cover page of the drawing package.

For many first time steel building customers, this is one of the most exciting phases in the project. It means you’ve committed yourself to a plan on paper! Think about it, before this, your first steel building project existed merely in your imagination – but now, it has a plan- it’s no longer a wish, it’s become a list of things to do.

And there is one HUGE advantage to choosing a pre-engineered steel building for your first time building project which I should probably mention. What makes a pre-engineered steel building so perfect for your first time project is the fact that ALL THE PIECES YOU NEED COME IN THE PACKAGE, (other than standard trim and panel fitting) there is no cutting, drilling, carpentry work or measuring. Because of this, your steel building drawings package is no longer a hieroglyphic code you need to decipher but a simple set of instructions on how you can assemble your dream. Yes, you. Yes, your dream. “You Got this!” remember?

Check out more information on the Armstrong Process.

As a first time builder, you’ve probably experienced anxiety at feeling ‘in over your head.’ Did the plans cause you worry or unease? Is there other information on your plans that you haven’t been able to decipher? Comment below and I can help you make heads or tails of your questions.

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