Fabric Buildings vs Metal Buildings

As a Company engaged in manufacturing tension fabric buildings, one of the questions that comes up early in every GNB project discussion is how does fabric clad steel frame construction compares with metal clad steel frame construction. Fabric is not a good fit for every application but for many “it presents the opportunity to do more, better, and with a budget that is controlled and manageable – not just the construction dollar budget, but the construction time budgeted and the budget amounts for operating costs.”

A fabric clad steel frame structure is a permanent building, not unless required, temporary, not a tent, not a short term solution for a long term need. It is permanent, durable, and built to stand the test of time. It is a solution that represents the best of both worlds.

Key Points in Comparison of Fabric Clad Buildings vs. Metal Clad Buildings:

  • Fabric cladding is completely sealed, eliminating cracks and allowing dramatically less interior conditioned air to leak out
  • Non-thermally conductive – does not conduct or radiate heat or cold to the interior of the building, making it easier to create and maintain interior temperature. Typical temperature moderation experience is 15-20 degrees warmer or cooler (depending on the season) of the interior air relative to the outside air. Open web truss design allows for unimpeded airflow through the building, allowing for more efficient circulation of air and making it easier to maintain the interior temperature
  • Allows natural light into the structure, creating a safer environment (no shadows or dark spots), reduces outfitting expense by a considerable margin by eliminating 80%+ of interior lights needed to purchase and install, reduces maintenance costs with this elimination of lights, reduces energy consumption by a significant factor because interior lighting is eliminated or greatly reduced
  • Different load transfer with lighter weight fabric cladding and open web truss design reduces foundation costs by a significant amount
  • Efficient, adaptive open interior with completely open interior space – no interior support columns needed (also reduces foundation cost as there are no piles needed for these interior support columns)
  • Durable – hail doesn’t damage it, and the flexible nature of the fabric cladding makes it more resilient – it doesn’t dent, crease, or get bent
  • Ease of maintenance and repair – modular panel design allows for sections to be replaced easily and quickly with a rapidly deployed crew of just a few simple hand tools.


A building with metal cladding is not tight; linear cracks are everywhere on the structure, including every seam and joint. A fabric-clad structure is sealed tight, and every seam and joint is sealed. This sealed factor makes the structure far more energy-efficient than metal by preventing the “leakage” of interior conditioned air to the exterior.

A metal-clad structure is an excellent conductor of heat and cold, which isn’t good when one is trying to keep the interior warm in the winter and cool in the summer. It creates a real problem when trying to efficiently condition the interior space at minimal cost and with lower energy consumption. There is no way to get around the need for vapor barriers and insulation when using metal cladding.

With fabric cladding, particularly in Southern regions, the interior temperature is controlled easily by simply providing air movement within the structure. The open web truss design facilitates the movement of air, as opposed to a closed, solid beam design commonly associated with metal building construction. The open truss design allows free airflow; the closed beam design serves as a baffle, creating air disturbance rather than flow. In other words, moving the same amount of air in a closed beam takes more output than it does in an open web truss design.

While metal cladding does not seal the building for air escape, it does an excellent job of sealing out natural light. This defeats an advantage that is a natural aspect of fabric clad structures. Translucent light not only saves you tremendously on the operating cost but also reduces by a huge number the cost of purchasing and installing lights and the continuing maintenance requirements of the lights and replacement bulbs. The fabric cladding means that, during daylight hours, little, if any, artificial lighting will be needed. And at night, because of the naturally reflective nature of the bright white interior coating, few lights are needed, and at a lower wattage, to achieve the desired lumen. All this goes completely away with metal cladding. Natural light is also a tremendous advantage from a safety standpoint, as the issues created by the shadows from artificial lighting go away. No shadows, no dark spots, and no problem when the power goes out.

The weight of the fabric cladding and the open web truss design allows for a completely open interior – no interior columns to work around or create accident opportunities. This is an enormous advantage for any application moving forward. A definite asset is building a structure that allows for the most versatility and the best opportunity to adapt to change.

Durability – this is an advantage of fabric buildings. Hail doesn’t dint or damage it; it bounces off. The fabric is resilient. It doesn’t dent or crease like metal cladding. Modular design – should a panel become damaged, only the affected panel section has to be replaced. The roof panels are separate from the sidewall panels, making repairs or replacements simple and fast.

These are but a few relevant advantages of fabric building construction.