Overhead Space in Storage Facilities
Tips & Tricks

Soaring to New Heights: Overhead Space in Storage Facilities

Have you heard of storage facilities? Nearly every industrial operation requires storage space, whether to hold equipment or organize stock before shipment. Generally, these are large, open buildings with few internal partitions, perhaps only a small office area for staff to congregate; for agricultural companies, there may be more segmentation, such as a dairy barn or pig pen, but these may not necessarily reach the top of the building as they would in a residential structure. Ceiling height is an underappreciated element of a good warehouse or barn for an obvious reason: it enables you to store more through careful stacking. The average distribution center is approximately 31 feet high, or about two and a quarter storeys of a residential building, but typically is only one floor. 

However, this presents challenges for the construction team should they choose the wrong equipment or materials, which is why understanding design principles is a vital element of planning a new warehouse or barn. 

Designers Must Balance Weight Distribution Versus Overhead Space

To understand the critical interplay between height and width in a warehouse or barn, it’s important to understand how these buildings are designed. Agricultural or industrial buildings differ from residential buildings in that they usually have no load-bearing walls; if there is internal support, it is typically large columns rather than flat planes like in a home. 

This means that most of the weight from the roof is instead distributed to the exterior walls through trusses, which take the roof load and extend it out from the center, then down to the walls. There are various truss types, which differ in the length of the roof they are meant to span and the internal support that helps to disperse the weight.

While trusses are excellent for ensuring that a building is stable yet open, they are also heavy and reduce the available height for storage. Designers must then balance how much support is necessary versus how much space is needed vertically and horizontally. Building higher requires sturdier trusses, and building wider requires more truss lengths, leaving construction teams with one option: choosing light but strong trusses that don’t unnecessarily shrink the vertical space.

Selecting Between Wood and Metal Trusses

Builders typically have two options for truss materials: wood and metal. Both can be appropriate options in the proper context, which greatly depends on how significant the overhead is to your operation. 

Wood trusses are often cheaper, but they are also heavier and take up more space. It’s also vital that the wood be extremely high quality and expertly attached. Construction teams must drive in brackets that connect the sections without splitting the wood, and there must be a snug fit between each piece. Wood joists can take more time to put together because they need to be planed, shaped, and bracketed together.

Even with the best installation, though, wood is still vulnerable to the elements, and this is more apparent in storage or agricultural settings, where a lack of insulation exposes the components to high heat or humidity. It needs to be regularly examined and treated to avoid rot, and it may need to be fully replaced within a decade or so.

In contrast, metal trusses are light but strong, providing more overhead space because they don’t need to be so bulky. You can find bar joist trusses for sale that span up to 50 feet, and because they are mass-manufactured and won’t need any reshaping upon installation, they can be placed faster than wood trusses.

While metal will last longer than wood, one of the primary concerns with bar joist trusses is that they can be more expensive, particularly if you have a specialized application and need them to be custom-ordered. The price difference isn’t always very significant, but it can be a challenging upfront cost for those on a tight budget.

Which Truss System Is Best for Your Overhead Needs?

When choosing between materials, you need to think about exactly how tall you need your warehouse or barn to be. If you’re storing large equipment, like cherry pickers, then you’ll definitely want metal trusses, as they provide much better headroom than wooden trusses. 

On the other hand, if you have a hobby farm and will only be storing a few hay bales above your animals, wooden trusses would work well because they’ll provide some storage space and give a bit more insulation during the cold winter months. 

Cost is of primary importance to most farmers and business owners; you’ll want to run the numbers, get quotes from multiple manufacturers, and assess the cost over a period of time. For example, metal trusses are a larger upfront expenditure, but they will last longer and require less maintenance.

Lastly, aesthetics, while rarely a concern for agricultural and industrial buildings, may also play a small role in your decision. Metal trusses can look very striking against a wooden roof, while wood trusses provide a more traditional feeling. 

Storage buildings and barns have a unique construction and require different materials than residential homes; you have numerous decisions to make regarding size, height, and internal support. Both metal and wooden trusses can be valid options depending on your needs, but metal trusses often have more applications and can provide more versatility in your storage space. 

Photo by Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition on Unsplash

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