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Structural engineering: What it is, and why it matters for your next building project

Ashley Ambrosius for Progressive Dairy Published on 07 August 2019

Having the peace of mind that your dairy facility is properly designed and engineered should be a priority to anyone in the industry. After the April 2018 snowstorm the Midwest endured, engineering of dairy housing structures has been a hot topic. If Mother Nature decides to bring another storm like the historic Blizzard Evelyn, a preventative approach for your next construction project will provide peace of mind in knowing buildings are sound and, most importantly, the people and animals inside are safe.

What is structural engineering?

Structural engineers apply the principles of science to the design of the buildings. A dairy building is a complex system that is composed of structural members such as beams, columns and foundations, and the connection of these members. A well-designed building will withstand the forces of nature, such as wind and snow loads, in addition to an imposed load, such as the weight of materials. In order to properly design a building, the engineer needs to understand how the building system will behave under a combination of load conditions. The structural engineer is trained to not only calculate for the encountered event, but to ensure the building is structurally sound for years after the event.

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How does a structurally engineered building differ from one that is not?

Just as a chain is only as strong as the weakest link, so too is a building. Each beam, column and bolt in a building is a link in the chain. If any one of these components is undersized, it can lead to a building failure. Components in a properly engineered building have the capacity to carry a consistent load. Buildings that are not engineered may have some components that are overdesigned and some that are under-designed. For example, roof trusses could be strong enough, but if the walls supporting the roof trusses are weak, it defeats the purpose of the strong roof trusses.

Why should the dairy farmer care?

A dairy farmer should care about a structurally engineered building for multiple reasons. Most modern-day facilities are occupied for extended hours each day by people, either family members or employees. It is important that these people occupy a safe work environment. Secondly, is the well-being of the animals that live in the facilities. Third, today’s facilities are a major capital investment. It only makes sense to invest in a quality product that will give you security and peace of mind that everyone is safe.

What value does it bring to the dairy farmer when considering a building project?

The value of a structurally engineered building is that the dairy farmer has peace of mind that their facility is properly designed. In the event of failure, you cannot risk someone getting hurt or killed. It is extremely hard to measure the cost of a building failure in terms of lost revenue and lost capital. The stress, time and energy that goes into a farm disaster caused by a snowstorm like Evelyn takes a huge toll on you. Your farm is your pride, your whole life.

Next steps when starting the planning process of your next building project

During the interviewing stages with building contractors, it is important for the owner to ask each bidder for the credentials of their designers. Are they licensed to practice engineering? Is their engineer on staff? When the engineer is on staff, it allows for better collaboration between the owner and the general contractor during the design process, which in turn results in the general contractor delivering a better product. Out-of-house engineers may not be as concerned about costs and tend to oversize members, which unnecessarily increases the costs to the owner.

When it comes to building failure, it is easy to tell yourself that it will never happen to you. But, it could. Be proactive. Seek a quality construction contractor that provides the assurance everything you have worked your whole life for will be secure.  end mark

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Ashley Ambrosius
  • Ashley Ambrosius

  • Bayland Buildings Inc.
  • Email Ashley Ambrosius

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