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An Introduction to Building Foundations

March 5, 2020

In last month’s blog series, we examined the permit process and the early stages of a new construction project. We looked in detail at what documents and information are required to begin planning for a new steel building project, and how you should get a jump on this stage of the process during the winter months, so your project is ready to break ground during the warmer months. However, now that the worst days of winter are behind us – hopefully – we turn our attention to the next stage of the build process.

From now until the end of Spring, we will focus on the foundation system of metal buildings. We will discuss in detail, what foundations do and what types of foundations are suitable to support a steel building system. The first step is distinguishing where the steel building itself ends, and where the foundation begins.

What is a Foundation?

Simply put – the foundation is the lowest load-bearing part of a building, typically below ground.

Although foundations are not part of the typical metal building package that is shipped to your build-site, all our building systems are built on top of a foundation. For this reason alone, you should have a general understanding of what a foundation is and what role it plays in the overall structure of a building. It’s also important to understand how a foundation will impact the overall cost of your structure.

The foundation required in the erection of a Pre-Engineered building generally involves a concrete slab with concrete footings (see adjacent image). The footing is extra concrete, usually rectangular in shape, poured and formed under a column or some other structural support member of the building. A footing distributes the load carried by the building system support members into the supporting soil.

Connecting Structure to Foundation

When a customer orders a metal building system, the structure is carefully engineered taking into account the appropriate buildings codes and loads of their structure and their particular site location. Careful calculations are made which seek to measure the precise concentrated loads at each spot where a column meets the floor of the foundation.

It is at this connection point on each column that a metal base plate is required. This pre-punched metal plate is the connecting plate that joins the building to the foundation. The metal base plate is pre-punched to fit over the anchor bolts.

foundation
The diagram above details how a single column is connected to the foundation.
Foundation Base Plate
This is an example of a base plate; where a column is connected to the underlying foundation.

Who Designs the Foundation?

Just as your building will be designed and stamped by a structural engineer who is certified to practice in your specific province or state, so too will your foundation be designed and stamped by a foundation engineer who is specialized and certified for your specific area.

Once your building has been engineered, within the permit drawings package, you will be provided with precise locations for the positioning of anchor bolts within the foundation. You will also be provided with building reactions. These are specific to each structure and are important calculations on which your foundation must be based.

Foundation Drawing permit office
The anchor bolt layout drawing above shows exactly where each column will meet the ground.
Metal Base Plate
Each metal base plate connects to the foundation with anchor bolts – this drawing shows the required diameter.
Building Reactions
Calculation are made regarding the precise concentrated loads at each spot where a column meets the floor.

You will take the permit drawings for your building, to a foundation engineer who will design a foundation to meet the requirements of your specific structure and site location.

There are many different choices for your foundation. Together with your foundation engineer, you will determine which foundation suits your soil conditions, specific location and the application for your building.

How To Create a Metal Building Foundation

If you’re considering erecting a metal building, you’ll first need a foundation for the building to rest on. Not only is the foundation a crucial piece of how strong and rigid the metal building will be, but the foundation will also help protect the metal components from corrosion and other damage as a result of excess moisture or water. 

That said, while you can certainly try it yourself, it’s often best to hire a concrete contractor to do the work for you. After all, problems with a foundation can jeopardize the integrity of any building that sits on top, and that could be a real danger for the equipment or people inside. In addition to following industry standards and best practices, a contractor experienced in laying foundations will also help you avoid common pitfalls and give your new building the best chance of standing the test of time.

But before any work can start, you’ll need to secure a building permit first. A building permit is what allows you to create that metal building foundation, as well as erecting the building that sits on it. If you neglect this step, you could end up facing fines and other penalties, and you may even be required to tear down your building, or a significant part of it, after it’s all said and done. That’s because inspections and the permitting process can be extensive, and if you just barrel ahead and hope to figure it out later, it can mean significant backtracking, if not an eventual reboot of the entire project.

Once you’ve secured the building permit, the next step is to decide on metal building foundation details like where the building will go and the exact footprint of the building. To keep things simple, and especially if you’re using one of our pre-engineered steel building kits, you’ll want to stick to classic rectangular designs instead of going with something more complicated. Keep in mind that things like soil and drainage are important when it comes to the longevity and integrity of your metal building and its foundation, so make sure you get the opinion of a professional and exhaust all avenues and options before moving forward.

Now it’s time to prep the site for the foundation. Hire surveyors to stake the area and clear away any trees, shrubs or rocks. While you can certainly try to level the ground by hand, it’s often best to hire a professional. They’ll be able to advise you on the type of foundation your metal building needs, whether it’s a ground mount or concrete slab. For longevity, a concrete slab is best, though in instances of metal garages and other storage areas, you may be able to get away with a ground mount foundation.

Depending on the type of metal building foundation you opt for, specialized work will be required to create a foundation that will enhance your metal building’s strength, not detract from it. After the foundation cures, you’ll be able to start assembly up top. However, keep in mind that improper curing can reduce the strength of your foundation by up to 50 percent, jeopardizing the integrity of the building itself.

Get Started Today!

Foundations are a critical component of the full building package. When you engage Norsteel we become your partner throughout the entire construction process. Click here to contact us today for a free, no obligation quote on your next building project!

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