Interested in learning more about prefabricated steel buildings and how to boost their energy efficiency? Here are five ways!

A red metal building atop a snow covered hill.

When it was time to construct an outbuilding to accompany Our House in the Trees, there was no question in our mind that it was going to be made of steel. Coming from the construction world Devin has had a lot of experience with metal buildings. (Not building them himself, but being involved in prepping and finishing sites with traditionally built and steel prefab buildings.) I had already chosen a steel roof for our house, because I knew how durable they are and how steel is a highly recyclable material.

Steel metal buildings are used in all kinds of applications, including homes and acreage outbuildings, as well as office buildings, warehouses and agricultural buildings. And prefabricated metal buildings, often referred to as “prefab” structures, have emerged as a popular solution that combines efficiency with sustainability. Prefab buildings can be customized to optimize energy efficiency, thereby reducing long-term operational costs and making them an ideal choice for the environmentally conscious.

Keep reading to learn what makes steel buildings sustainable, as well as five ways to level up the energy efficiency of prefab steel buildings.

Note that this post may contain affiliate links, meaning if you click on a link and make a purchase a small percentage of the sale goes to yours truly. Please know that I strive to only feature eco-conscious products and brands.

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Are Steel Metal Buildings Sustainable?

Like any construction material, steel has its pros and cons when it comes to its environmental impact. While the manufacturing of style can be a very resource-intensive process, the most sustainable aspect of the material is that it’s essentially infinitely recyclable. It’s also nice to know, with there being so many “recyclable” materials that simply end up in landfills, that in North America 60-80 million tons of steel are recycled annually.

A red steel building next to a yellow house on top of a snow covered hill.
We chose to build our acreage’s outbuilding, which is used to store vehicles, our grader, sports equipment and – most importantly – as my husband’s workshop, out of steel because of its durability and end-of-life recyclability.

Why Build a Prefabricated Steel Building?

While our shop was “stick built” (meaning it was built piece by piece on site), there are many benefits to going the prefabricated route instead. A prefab building is constructed offsite, usually in a climate controlled warehouse, and then is shipped to the building site. Because prefab buildings are built in such a controlled environment there tends to be less waste produced. And, once transported to the site, the building can be assembled quickly and efficiently – reducing the building site’s footprint, as well as the cost.

A black metal building with wooden details.
Horse stables are one popular application for prefabricated steel buildings. (Image Credit: Coresteel via Pinterest)

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5 Ways to Boost the Energy Efficiency of Prefab Buildings

Just like with any type of construction, the energy efficiency of a prefab metal building is going to be greatly impacted by the quality of finishes, as well as the level the builder and owner are willing to invest in the details. Things such as insulation, the use of natural light, proper ventilation and the integration of solar power and smart building technology are all important aspects in creating a highly efficient steel building.

A dark grey metal roof with solar panels on top.
Metal roofing compliments solar panel installation nicely. I know this because we have solar panels on our home’s steel roof! (Image Credit: Yellowlite via Pinterest)

Install High Quality Insulation

One area that is going to make or break the efficiency of any building is insulation. What climate the prefab building is going to exist in determines the level of insulation required. But just as important as the amount of insulation is the way in which it is installed. While proper ventilation is key to an energy efficient building (more on that below), the insulation envelope should be airtight so no air is getting in or out through gaps and cracks.

Ensure Proper Ventilation

Buildings with no air flow run the risk of becoming too humid or too dry, which can impact the structure or lead to things such as mould. It also is extremely important for indoor air to have a way to exit the building in a controlled manner, such as with exhaust fans and forced air systems. Plus, proper ventilation helps with temperature regulation, which leads to less fluctuations in the building’s heating and cooling systems.

Incorporate Natural Light

Not only is exposure to natural light a necessity to human health, it also helps to cut down the need for artificial lighting during the daytime. Building features such as windows and skylights bring much needed sunlight into a space and contribute to energy savings, which is good for the environment and for the budget!

Integrate Solar Power

When we built our steel shop, we had the roof engineered to handle the additional load of solar panels. Even though we couldn’t afford to install the panels at the time of construction (and are still saving up for them), having the building be ready for future panels ensures that when it’s time to install them we know the roof is able to handle the load. As far as prefab steel buildings go, having the structure pre engineered and built to allow for energy efficient additions is a smart investment in the future.

Consider Smart Building Technology

Smart building technology has come a long way and is a field that is constantly evolving. And while I’m not a fan of automating every aspect of our lives, I can definitely get on board with energy management systems that operate independently – ensuring that things such as lighting, cooling and heating are constantly monitored.

Long Term Benefits of an Energy Efficient Prefab Steel Building

Of course, the number one benefit of any energy efficient building is the reduced impact on the environment. But there are a whole host of additional benefits, such as lower energy bills and the potential for government sustainability incentives. And let’s not forget where this post started – the benefits of using steel as a building material, which leads to reduced maintenance costs and an end-of-life plan for the building’s components.

Closeup of the roofline of a black metal building.
Steel buildings are not only a practical and sustainable choice, they have also become quite trendy over the years – thanks to the availability in finishing colours and styles. (Image Credit: ArchDaily via Pinterest)

Whether you’re interested in prefab metal buildings because of their cost efficiency, ease of on-site construction or for any other reason, hopefully you’re also considering how this type of building can be paired with sustainability-boosting upgrades such as high-quality insulation and solar panels. I know I am!

What are your thoughts on the use of steel as a building material? Are you for or against it? What about traditionally built versus prefabricated buildings in general? Comment below!



A red steel building on top of a snow covered hill with text 5 ways to level up the energy efficiency of prefab steel buildings.

Posted on January 4, 2024

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5 Ways to Level Up the Energy Efficiency of Prefab Steel Buildings

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