Clear Span Metal Buildings: The Future is Wide Open


Clear span buildings are named for their large, wide-open interiors with no columns or pillars to get in the way. They are the ideal solution for gymnasiums, airplane hangars and similar spaces, but can also be great for segmented interiors such as offices and retail stores.

What Is a Clear Span Building?

Clear span buildings are named for their expansive, unobstructed interiors, which are ideal for construction projects that require large amounts of indoor space. Think barns, gymnasiums, hockey rinks, pools, airplane hangars, warehouses, manufacturing plants, and the like. They can also be great for office buildings, as floor plans can be customized to the exact needs of the business tenant and are easily adapted for new tenants and uses.

Clear span systems can provide the large column-free space an indoor pool requires 


What Does the Term “Clear Span” mean?

The “span” in “clear span” refers to the width of the building’s framing. Because the entire width of the floor from sidewall column to sidewall column is wide open without any other vertical supporting columns or posts, it’s considered “clear.”


Figure 1: Span

In addition to providing ample, uninterrupted floor area, clear span buildings can also provide maximum ceiling heights and overhead space.


How Do Clear Span Designs Work?

Clear span buildings are made with built-up steel framing (as opposed to light gauge steel or wood) and use heavier overhead support rafters instead of vertical pillars to bear the structural load.


Auditoriums are built with clear span systems to prevent obstructed views 


While they typically span between 40 to 100 feet, clear span buildings can extend up to 300, though custom engineering may be required for anything greater than 150 feet.


Unmatched Versatility

Clear span metal building systems make for extremely versatile buildings that are easily adapted to different uses, as there are no load-bearing walls (the frame does all the load-bearing) to complicate floor plans. Interior walls can therefore be removed and added without any effect on the building’s structural integrity.

This versatility has made clear span metal framing systems a popular choice for buildings with segmented interior layouts as well, such as office buildings and retail stores.


Clear span buildings also make great retail stores and offices



Rigid Frame Systems

The design of any metal building begins with the primary framing system. Most clear span metal buildings are constructed with a Rigid Frame system, which is named for its “rigid” connection points—that is, the “joints” where the metal beams meet. These stiff, inflexible joints resist the force placed on them by the building’s various components, preventing movement and giving the frame its signature Herculean strength.


Figure 2.


The Rigid Frame clear span system revolutionized construction when it caught on during the first half of the twentieth century, allowing builders to create unprecedented amounts of usable interior space. This makes it ideal for large, wide-open indoor spaces such as gymnasiums, warehouses and aircraft hangars.

Rigid frames can also be built to support additional loads, such as conveyors and cranes that move inventory in warehouses. With careful planning, these systems can be attached to the building frame to free up even more usable space.


The Advantages of Tapered Sidewall Columns

Rigid Frame systems usually feature tapered sidewall columns that are narrower at the bottom than at the top and have a tapered rafter, as shown in Figure 3 below. The precise taper is determined by the building’s engineers, based on considerations such as the width of building and anticipated snow loads.

The corner where the sidewall column and the rafter beam meet, known as the “haunch,” is another key source of the system’s strength and stability. This area, which is the thickest part of the frame and heavily reinforced with steel, is a crucial load-bearing point.


Figure 3.


The haunches are what allow a Rigid Frame system with an extremely large clear span (40 feet and beyond) to stand without any support from vertical pillars.

The tapered sidewall columns and rafter also reduce the amount of steel used (thus lowering overall cost), while maintaining the building’s structural integrity and increasing the amount of usable space.


Rigid Beam Clear Span Systems

Though tapered sidewall columns can have great benefits, some clear span designs call for framing systems with non-tapered, or “straight,” sidewall columns.

They may be used in highly specialized applications such as monorails or under-hung crane systems, or in smaller clear span buildings.


Figure 4. – Rigid Beam Clear Span (20’ to 70’)


Package Steel’s Rigid Beam clear span system features straight sidewall columns that are of uniform thickness from top to bottom (as in Figure 4), while the support rafters are tapered (the exact tapering depends on the required span and design). These systems are best suited to spans of 20-70 feet.


Single Slope Clear Span Systems

Another type of clear span framing known as “Single Slope” is specially designed for large buildings that require one-way roof drainage.


Figure 5.


Often used for individual retail buildings, office complexes, and shopping centers, Single Slope framing systems help control rainwater runoff.


The Benefits in a Nutshell

Clear Span metal buildings are extremely economical, offering the most space for your construction investment. They also reduce costs by using tapered sidewall columns or beams and entirely eliminating the need for interior columns.

Like all Package Steel buildings, they are incredibly versatile, durable, long-lasting and virtually maintenance-free.


Metal clear span buildings are easily adapted for new tenants and uses 


The Possibilities Are Endless

Clear span buildings open up a whole world of possibilities with their incredible versatility and maximal use of space. They provide the indoor space needed to maneuver large machinery such as farming and manufacturing equipment and easily accommodate various industrial operations.


Clear span buildings provide continuous floor and overhead space for maneuvering vehicles


They can also meet the most demanding indoor storage requirements, housing everything from multi-unit self-storage facilities to vehicles to aircraft. Recreational and community uses include gymnasiums and indoor pools.

Here are just some of the applications Clear Span metal buildings can be perfect for:


Modern barns and warehouses are often constructed with clear span framing systems 


Have unanswered questions about Clear Span Metal Buildings?

Call Package Steel at 1-800-225-7242 or email us at [email protected].


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