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Save on Monthly Energy Bills with Steel Buildings

March 1, 2022

A metal roof with solar panels installed

With each passing year, energy efficiency and sustainability become increasingly important for our planet, as well as our individual homes. Higher and higher energy consumption has a negative impact on our global environment, but closer to home, higher energy consumption can result in exorbitant monthly energy costs for our households.

Expert studies have shown that over 30% of consumers in 2021 made a concerted effort to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle through their purchasing decisions. At the same time, during the latter half of 2021 (and even into 2022), gas, coal, and electricity prices skyrocketed as a result of logistics and supply issues affecting the energy industry around the world.

If you haven’t already been factoring energy efficiency into your purchasing decisions, now is an excellent time to start doing so! If you’re planning a construction project, then you need to consider the sustainable benefits of choosing steel for your building. The costs you could save on your monthly energy bills could add additional savings over time to an already cost-effective building purchase.

Let’s examine just how energy efficient steel buildings are, and how this will help you save money every month on your heating and air conditioning bills!

Energy Efficient Recycling and Production!

Very quickly, before we examine how steel buildings help you save energy on the individual level, we wanted to briefly examine the highly energy efficient production process of most metal buildings.

Energy efficiency isn’t just something that we at Norsteel pass on to our customers, it’s something we demand from our suppliers as well. Right from the beginning of the steel production process, sustainability is at the forefront of ours and our suppliers’ minds.

Seeing as steel itself is 100% recyclable it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that, by weight, steel is the most recycled material on the entire planet. In North America alone, close to 100 million tonnes of steel is recycled each year which is more than the weight of all recycled paper, plastic, and glass combined. In addition to the recyclability of the material itself, the water that is used to process steel is also cleaned, cooled, and returned to its original source (often cleaner than when it was originally extracted). It is estimated that globally 90% of all water used during the production of steel is recycled in this way. Even by-products of steel production, like slag, are used in the production of cement, fertilisers, hydraulics, and other metallic applications. From start to finish, the lifecycle of steel is almost entirely circular.

Finally, CO2 emissions are, of course, a concern in any industrial process. Energy is required to manufacture steel components, and carbon emissions often result from the production of energy. However, the steel industry has made a concerted effort to improve its energy efficiency over the last half-century. Since the 1960s, the energy consumption per tonne of steel produced globally has been reduced by 60%; since the late 1990s alone, it has been reduced by over 30%. When we consider how much steel has been required for infrastructure and construction projects in the developing world between the 1960s and today – global steel production more than tripled from 500 million metric tons in 1963 to 1,864 million metric tons in 2020 – it’s astounding to think that the industry has managed to reduce energy consumption by 60% over that same period of time.

Graph of steel production since 1963 by country

Steel is an incredible material, not just for being characteristically durable and strong, but also because of how easily it can be re-used over and over again in so many of the different products, structures, and machines that we rely on. It is entirely possible that we may one day reach a time when 100% of new steel products produced each year come from recycled existing steel products!

How Do Metal Buildings Help with Home Energy Savings?

While the production of steel is an already highly – and ever increasingly – sustainable process, when it is used as a building material it offers even more efficiency benefits for the end user: you!

We’ll look at two major factors that help steel save you money on your monthly heating and cooling bills: the inherent reflective qualities of steel, and the ease with which advanced insulation can be installed to further prevent heat transfer. We’ll also examine a third optional way to compound the energy sustainability of your steel building.

Metal Reflects Solar Energy

Steel is a naturally reflective material, and this quality lends itself perfectly to energy efficiency and insulation from both extreme heat and extreme cold.

Thanks to the reflective qualities of steel, your metal building’s roof actually helps regulate the internal temperature of your building. Particularly with regards to warm weather, a metal building will naturally maintain a cooler temperature than, for example, a wooden building because the sun’s energy is being reflected rather than stored and transferred. This means that in the summertime – or if you live in a year-round warm climate – you’ll have to spend less on energy costs for air conditioning because the interior of your steel building will stay cool even on the hottest days.

Metal is almost as effective at trapping interior heat during the winter as it is at blocking exterior heat during the summer. Steel is still an excellent insulator for both heat and cold, but it is certainly more effective at keeping heat out than in. To learn more about how steel is a natural insulator, click here to read our blog on the subject.

Luckily, there is an easy way to ensure your steel building stays warm during the winter months…

Insulation Options

When it comes to additional insulation for your building, steel offers a variety of options. Choosing the best insulation for your building requirements can be a tricky thing and ultimately, it’s best to speak with one of our building consultants for guidance. First of all, it’s important to understand that the type of insulation you should use is largely dictated by what you are using your building for, as well as by your location. To achieve energy code compliance in Canada, you will need to consider your climactic zone. In many cases there are strict requirements that are enforced by the permit office when you seek approval for your project. Speaking with a member of our team to determine which package is right for you, will not only ensure that the temperatures are properly regulated in your building, but also, that your insulation package will meet the expectations of the permit office for your township or municipality.

There are four main types of insulation that are used in metal building structures:

  • Glass wool (aka Fiberglass);
  • Mineral wool;
  • Spray foam (check with metal building manufacturer on whether your structure can accommodate this form of insulation);
  • Polyisocyanurate (sometimes called “Poly-iso”) rigid board insulation.
Spray foam insulation being applied
Spray foam insulation being applied

There are some general conditions in which each of these types of insulation are typically used. For example, poly-iso board has the highest r-value (the measurement used to determine the resistance to thermal transmission) per inch of any of the types of insulation. However, poly-iso board is flat and comes in large, continuous pieces, making it harder to install in buildings with irregular shapes. Spray foam insulation, on the other hand, has a slightly lower r-value per inch (R4.3 for spray foam vs. R6.2 for poly-iso board), but because it is administered in a spray it can be installed in pretty much any imaginable building scenario.

However, rest assured that no matter which form of insulation you use in your building, it will result in much better temperature regulation. Once insulated, your steel building will reflect solar energy (and thus heat) during the summer, and it will also be much better at retaining heat during the winter. This will result in less mechanical temperature regulation, which will in turn result in a smaller energy bill for you each month!

To learn more about r-values, or the different types of insulation, click here to read our blog on that subject.

Solar Panels to Further Reduce Costs

Thanks to the durability and strength of metal roofs, more and more customers are choosing to install solar panels on their steel buildings to further offset their energy usage. And, thanks to advancements in technology, the cost of installing solar panels has come down significantly over the last decade or so.

Metal buildings are incredibly strong from a structural point of view, so the addition of solar panels to the roof of a steel building should be no problem. At Norsteel, we don’t directly sell or install solar panels, but our expert team is always standing by to help you with your project. If you are thinking about a building project, or are still in the planning stages, and are considering the addition of solar panels to your steel building, then be sure to mention this to your building consultant. He or she can ensure that the right structural supports are in place to allow for solar panel coverage. If you already have your building constructed, then consider reaching out to the building consultant who helped you originally – they can confirm whether the design of your building is suitable for solar panels and if there is a solution to bring it up to the proper specifications.

Solar panels being installed on a steel roof

In terms of costs for solar panels, there will be significant variation from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, so it’s best to do your own research based on where you live. Keep in mind, most governments offer special energy efficiency tax credits and rebates to make the installation of solar panels even more cost effective. In addition, most provincial or state governments offer some kind of “net metering” program, whereby your household gains energy credits for any excess energy you produce, and this is applied to your monthly energy bill to reduce the cost. Be sure to do some research on your local, state/provincial, and federal government programs before investing in solar panels.

Save on Energy Costs with Steel Buildings!

Steel is an incredible building material, and one which offers strength, durability, and ease of customization, all while remaining energy efficient! If you are considering a new construction project and are concerned about the environmental impact of your building or want to ensure that your new building won’t result in exorbitant additional energy expenses on a monthly basis, then steel is your best option!

If you have any questions about the energy efficiency and sustainability of steel buildings, click here and fill out the contact form or give us a call at 1.866.971.7575 to speak with a professional building consultant today. We hope to hear from you!

About the author 

Michelle Keenan

Michelle is one of two owner-operators of Norsteel Buildings, alongside her husband Sean. Michelle has more than two decades of experience in steel building design and construction, and has worked with thousands of customers over the years to make their building dreams come true. Under Michelle's leadership, Norsteel has been recognized as one of the Top 100 Builders in North America 5 years in a row.

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