Metal Building Codes & Permits

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When you start your metal building project, you will find many steps that need to be checked off before digging your foundation can even begin.

Obtaining a building permit is one of them. You have probably already obtained a zoning permit which says the you can build the type of building that you are planning and use it for the intentions that you’ve listed.

A building permit is separate from the zoning permit and covers different issues. Let’s take a look what building codes cover and some of the considerations around getting your building permit so you can get your project under way.

What’s in this guide?

Why Building Codes?

Building codes go all the way back to the Babylonian empire where the famous Code of Hammurabi decreed punishments for shoddy builders—think possible death sentence.

Fortunately, punishments for faulty construction are not so severe today. Today, municipalities adopt building standards into law and enforce them for nearly every structure before they are even built.

Building codes state the minimum requirements to create safe buildings. Meeting these requirements help prevent death, injury, and property loss in the event of a natural disaster.

They also as enable access for disabled persons and help maintain healthy indoor environments. Codes cover every detail from structural design to stair tread width to electrical systems. Building professionals spend much of their time ensuring that these requirements are met.

Building codes are large and the details can change every year. So, nearly every location requires a professional to formally approve (stamp) a design to make sure your building meets code.

If your building design does not meet code, the code official will reject your application. Most metal building companies that provide structural parts or kits have design professionals on staff. Their services are usually included in the price of the building.

The International Code Council (ICC) Building Code

Until about 25 years ago, building codes varied by region and multiple standards existed. In the US, the three main codes were the National Building Code (NBC), the Standard Building Code (SBC), and the Uniform Building Code (UBC).

Many parts of these codes were similar. However, engineers doing business in more than one location were forced to apply different requirements to their structures.

To unify the codes and simplify the design process, the federal government established the ICC. The ICC created the International Building Code (IBC).

Most of the United States adopted the IBC. Individual states and cities can still add their own more stringent regulations on top of the IBC—like hurricane design loads in Florida or earthquake loads in California. But, the basics are the same everywhere.

The ICC constantly works to improve the IBC, putting out new editions every few years. Especially after large natural disasters like hurricane Katrina, the ICC will make major changes.

These changes are usually requested by insurance companies. Some insurance companies offer discounts for buildings that meet certain standards beyond the code requirements. Contact your agent for details.

Building Code Requirements

As mentioned, building codes cover a great many details, but the structural engineer designing your metal building is concerned with just a few that affect the basic structure itself: the foundation, floors, roof, and walls.

Engineers consider forces on the structure like wind, snow, people and animals, heavy equipment, and earthquakes. The impact and severity of each of these varies by location, surroundings (like forests or tall buildings), and individual building design.

For instance, a building in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado will have a much higher snow loading than the same house in Mississippi on the coast. The Mississippi house will have to consider hurricane winds that the Colorado house will not.

The engineer will calculate these loads for your specific location and apply them to your building’s design. This determines how many and how large the beams and columns must be.

When you order a metal building, the company will ask you for your location so that they can apply the proper loads to the building you choose.

Special Considerations for Metal Buildings

Metal buildings must meet all the same requirements as buildings made out of any other material. But there are two areas that are of particular importance to steel buildings: 1) the specifications for the steel itself and 2) climate control.

Steel Specifications

Metal buildings must be constructed using steel that meets or surpasses the minimum stated in the code. Because these are legal requirements, materials must be carefully specified.

Due to the large diversity of material types, grades, and classifications, the IBC includes many specifications by “reference.” That means that instead of spelling out specifics for every detail, the IBC requirements include references to other standards that deal specifically with that issue. This is especially true for material standards and specialty trades. This reference makes them part of the IBC.

According to the Metal Building Manufacturers Association (MBMA) “the IBC points designers to the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) for hot-rolled and built-up plate beams and columns and the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) for cold-formed steel members….Metal building system designs are required to comply with both the AISC and the AISI specifications.”

Climate Control

Another set of standards of particular importance to metal buildings come from the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). Because metal is an excellent conductor of heat, maintaining acceptable levels of temperature and the control of moisture in the building require special attention.

Metal buildings gain and loose heat quickly. This means the interior can quickly become too hot or too cold. Both can be a health threat to human and animal occupants, and if uncontrolled, can lead to excessive heating and cooling costs. Overheating can also cause material damage to the building’s contents.

When there is a large difference between the interior and the exterior temperatures of the building, condensation can form on the interior of a building. Condensation can result in rust and mold. These can create problems for your building and health issues for humans and animals.

The solution to these problems is insulation. How much insulation you need depends on the building’s use and location.  Nearly all metal buildings require at least some insulation. The IBC incorporates standards set by  ASHRAE and the IECC by reference. Learn more about insulation in metal buildings here.

Applying for Your Building Permit

What is required from you to show that your building meets all the code standards? Well, it’s a multi-step process. You need to budget sufficient time (sometimes months) and money to complete the process before you order your metal building. And, the first step is a Building Permit.

A building permit is legal approval to construct your structure. You must submit a set of blueprints and specifications to the local Building Code department for review and approval.

However, getting a final approval is not always as straight forward as it may seem. Locations (and sometimes even individual interpretations) vary a lot. It’s a good idea to consult with the code department about your plans before you have them drawn up. This can help avoid pitfalls and save money and time.

When you submit your plans, the local government will require an application and fees. Fees can range from a few hundred dollars to multiple thousands, depending on your location and project.

In general, the steps for permitting a new building include:

  • Building permit application and fee payment
  • Initial review of plans and documents
  • Building Code compliance review
  • Zoning compliance review
  • Plan review and mark-ups for revision
  • Building Permit issuance

You may need to modify your plans to satisfy your local department’s requirements. Each round of blueprint revisions means additional fees to your engineer or architect of record. So, plan accordingly. If you are ordering your metal building from a company, they may include revisions in the building’s cost.

Other Permits and Fees

Alongside your building permit, you will need to obtain permits for electrical systems, plumbing, and heating, as well as ventilation and air-conditioning systems. Each of these, including building construction, involves inspections at the time of work. Both permits and inspections involve additional fees. Your contractor or engineer/architect can help you navigate the permitting process.


Navigating the complex world of building codes and building permits can even cause  professionals to feel overwhelmed and frustrated. The process can also be time consuming and expensive. Let our experts guide you with the design and planning your metal building project and help you get your building permit as quickly as possible.