Metal Building Design

Building Types

Metal buildings have come a long way from the standard warehouse designs of the past. Today, creative new design ideas have captured the imaginations of architects and building owners alike. The development of advanced insulation systems has supported the evolution of metal building structures into the banks, showrooms, offices, and shipping centers we see today.

Insulation in Buildings

The National Energy Standard for all nonresidential buildings with heating and cooling systems (ASHRAE Standard 90.1) sets minimum requirements for the energy-efficient design of new buildings in ways that minimize the use of energy.

The Standard specifies minimum R-values (thermal resistance to heat flow or insulation) or maximum U-values (the rate of steady-state heat flow) for building envelope construction assemblies. One of the most cost-effective ways to ensure that metal buildings meet the minimum U-value requirements of Standard 90.1 is to install NIA Certified Faced Insulation® in the building envelope.

NIA Certified Faced Insulation® is an advanced fiber glass insulation system designed specifically for metal buildings. Only insulation that is "certified" for use in metal buildings can guarantee 100% of the stated R-value after lamination and help ensure that metal buildings deliver temperature control, condensation control and sound control to meet the requirements of today's energy and building codes.

Benefits of NIA Certified Faced Insulation

  • Thermal Control: NIA Certified Faced Insulation® acts as a barrier to slow down the movement of heat, keeping it inside the building in winter and outside in summer.
  • Condensation Prevention: NIA Certified Faced Insulation® limits the passage of water vapor and prevents it from condensing within the insulation or on the cold building wall.
  • Noise Control: NIA Certified Faced Insulation® reduces the level of both exterior and interior noise by preventing transmission of exterior sounds to the interior of the building, and absorbing reverberating sounds within the building.
  • Attractive Appearance: The laminated facings on NIA Certified Faced Insulation® provide a bright, attractive wall and ceiling treatment that acts as a reflector to increase light efficiency. Engineered to withstand the rigors of installation, facings are fire retardant, have good tensile strength, rip-stop characteristics and puncture resistance.

Condensation Fact Sheet for Metal Buildings

  • What Is Condensation?
  • What Is Relative Humidity?
  • What Is Vapor Pressure?
  • How Are Dew Point Temperature, Condensation and Relative Humidity Related?
  • Troubleshooting Condensation Problems
  • Types of Condensation and How to Control Condensation
  • What Are the Effects of Moisture?
  • The Importance of Vapor Retarders

What Is Condensation?

Condensation occurs when air is cooled to a temperature at which it is 100% saturated. In simple terms, air has a given capacity to hold water vapor. Warmer air has a greater capacity to hold water vapor than cooler air. Consequently, the total amount of water vapor that the air can hold is primarily a function of its temperature. As air is cooled, its capacity to hold water vapor is diminished. When cooled to a temperature at which it can no longer hold the water vapor it contains, the air is considered saturated and “condensation” (liquid water) will become visible on surfaces.

What Is Relative Humidity?

Relative humidity is a ratio of how much moisture vapor is in the air, compared to the air's total moisture vapor capacity at a given temperature. It is a measure of the moisture loading in the air.

If the relative humidity is 50% at 73°F, the air contains 50% of its water vapor capacity at that temperature. If this same air is then cooled, the relative humidity of the air will increase. This is because the air has less total capacity to hold that same quantity of water vapor when its temperature is reduced. When the air is cooled to a temperature at which its relative humidity increases to 100%, it is saturated and condensation will form.

What Is Vapor Pressure?

  • Vapor pressure is the driving force that moves water vapor through a vapor retarder.
  • The higher the temperature and humidity of the air, the greater the vapor pressure.
  • High vapor pressure exists on the warm side of the vapor retarder while low vapor pressure exists on the cool side.
  • Moisture vapor moves from areas of high vapor pressure to areas of low vapor pressure.

How Are Dew Point Temperature, Condensation, and Relative Humidity Related?

The dew point temperature is the temperature at which air cools to its saturation point and condensation begins to form. Dew point temperatures can be determined, in Table 1, if the temperature and relative humidity of the air are known.


Table 1: Dew Point Temperatures

                                                                                                                    Percentage of Relative Humidity
0 10 15 20 25 30 35 40 45 50 55 60 65 70 75 80 85 90 95
10                                 9 9
15                         9 9 9 12 12 15
20                   9 9 12 12 15 15 17 17 20
25               9 12 12 15 15 17 20 20 22 23 23
30           9 12 12 15 17 20 22 23 23 25 27 28 29
35         9 12 15 17 20 22 23 25 27 28 29 31 32 33
40       9 12 17 20 22 23 27 28 29 31 33 35 36 37 39
45     9 15 17 22 23 27 28 31 32 35 36 38 39 41 42 44
50     12 17 22 25 28 29 32 35 37 39 40 42 44 46 48 48
55   12 17 22 25 28 31 35 37 39 41 43 46 48 49 51 52 53
60   15 20 25 29 32 36 38 41 44 46 48 51 52 54 55 57 59
65 9 17 23 29 33 37 40 43 46 48 51 53 55 57 59 60 62 63
70 12 22 25 32 37 41 45 48 51 53 55 58 60 61 63 65 67 68
75 17 25 32 37 41 46 49 52 55 58 60 62 64 67 68 70 72 73
80 20 25 36 41 46 50 53 56 60 62 65 67 69 71 73 75 77 78
85 23 32 39 45 50 55 58 61 64 67 70 72 74 76 78 80 82 83
90 27 36 43 50 55 59 62 66 69 72 74 77 79 81 83 85 87 88
95 31 40 48 54 59 63 67 70 73 76 79 81 84 86 88 90 92 93
100 33 44 52 58 63 68 71 75 78 81 84 86 88 91 93 94 96 98
105 37 48 56 62 67 72 76 79 83 86 88 91 93 95 89 100 102 103
110 41 52 60 66 72 76 80 84 87 90 93 95 98 100 102 104 106 108
Degrees in F                                    

Troubleshooting Condensation Problems

High Interior Relative Humidity:

Excessively high interior relative humidity equates to high interior vapor pressure and is often the cause of condensation problems. High interior relative humidity can be a function of the building's end use, HVAC system, or improper construction practices. Human respiration and perspiration can also contribute to a significant amount of moisture in the building's environment. Other common sources of indoor moisture include:

  • Combustion
    Oil and gas fired heaters give off a significant amount of moisture to the air. Water vapor introduced to the air through combustion is sometimes very difficult to detect because hot exhaust gasses can hold large quantities of moisture. As exhaust gasses cool, condensation can form on cold exterior surfaces. To avoid this situation, flue gases should always be vented outside.
  • Excavated Earth
    Significant amounts of moisture can be introduced into a building before it is completed. As damp soil within the building is excavated, moisture will likely evaporate. If the building is enclosed, this moisture will become trapped within the structure and elevate the relative humidity within the structure. As soon as the temperature drops below the dewpoint of that air/water mixture, condensation will form. NOTE: The higher the relative humidity, the higher the dewpoint temperature.
  • Concrete
    Fresh concrete is another large source of moisture within a building. A 100,000 ft² freshly poured 4” concrete slab has the potential to give off approximately 24,000 gallons of water into the building. When concrete is poured after the building has been enclosed, proper ventilation is critical to remove the excess moisture vapor. Ventilation should always be considered as a preventive measure during the construction schedule.

Types of Condensation and How to Control Condensation

  • Visible Condensation
    Visible condensation is evident when water appears on cool surfaces; it can be clearly seen. This type of condensation can form on windows, purlins, or exposed exterior fasteners. While a nuisance, this type of condensation is far less damaging than hidden condensation. It can be controlled by adding insulation, proper ventilation, and by reducing relative humidity levels.
  • Concealed Condensation/Moisture
    Concealed condensation is the most difficult to deal with and can be the most damaging. It occurs when moisture vapor condenses within the insulation system behind the vapor retarder or in other concealed building cavities. Potential causes for concealed condensation are:
    • Improper vapor retarder selection;
    • Improper placement of the vapor retarder;
    • Improper installation of the insulation system;
    • Roof leaks;
    • Water Infiltration;
    • No structural air barrier;
    • High humidity levels;
    • Inadequate ventilation; and
    • Incorrect pressure differential between the inside and outside of the building—this is a critical factor that must not be overlooked.

    What Are the Effects of Moisture?

    Moisture from rain, ground water, and concrete all increase the relative humidity in a building and increase the probability of condensation. Liquid moisture has the potential to create severe problems in metal buildings.

    • Metal and Condensation
      Most of the surfaces in a metal building are protected against corrosion/rust under normal operating conditions. However, when metal parts are exposed to moisture for extended periods of time they can oxidize, become weaker, and shorten the life expectancy of the building. Even though many surface treatments are applied to ferrous and non-ferrous metals to prevent oxidation, the best protection is to eliminate a key component—moisture.
    • Fiber Glass Insulation and Condensation
      Fiber glass is the most commonly used thermal insulation in metal buildings. The presence of condensed water in fiber glass insulation will significantly increase its thermal conductivity and reduce its insulating value. Fiber glass insulation, however, is durable. If allowed to fully dry and return to its design thickness, fiber glass will revert back to its original insulating value. (Note: This statement pertains only to thermal performance. No claims are being made with respect to mold related issues associated with condensation or roof leaks)

    The Importance of Vapor Retarders

    The vapor retarder, commonly called "insulation facing" provides several benefits in the metal building. As the exposed interior surface of the building, the vapor retarder provides condensation control, fire resistance, and an attractive and strong finished surface since most vapor retarders are scrim reinforced for resistance to rips and tearing during and after installation. The most common vapor retarders have a surface made of white polypropylene film or white vinyl film. They have varying amounts of scrim reinforcing for strength, a fire retardant adhesive and a backing layer made of kraft paper, polyester film, or aluminum foil.

    Vapor Retarders inhibit/significantly reduce the transmission of moisture (from the warm side) into the insulation, thus reducing potential for condensation. The amount of moisture that permeates through the facing is a function of the facing’s permanence (perm rating) and the vapor pressure differential on either side of the facing. The greater the temperature and relative humidity inside the building, the higher the vapor pressure. Conversely, cold dry air has very low vapor pressure. It is this difference in vapor pressure that drives moisture from the warm interior to the cold exterior.

    Additionally, a vapor retarder may also function in a metal building as an air barrier. Therefore, it is critically important that all seams, joints, and through penetrations be sealed to maintain the continuity of the vapor retarder/air barrier system. The vapor retarder can also impact the overall acoustical performance of the insulation system and reduce lighting requirements due to high light reflectivity of most white metal building facings.

    Vapor Retarder Ratings

    Vapor retarders, commonly referred to as “Facings,” are rated by the amount of moisture that can pass through them. Facings with lower perm ratings are more effective vapor retarders. Flexible vapor retarders come in a wide variety of materials and perm ratings. The most common are membrane vapor retarders, which are typically laminated to fiber glass metal building insulation. Materials with ratings of greater than 1.0 perm are not classified as vapor retarders. In building construction where a high humidity environment is probable, a facing option with 0.02 or 0.09 perm is recommended. Perm ratings for the facings most commonly used on metal building insulation are shown in the table below:

    Vapor Retarder Type Perm Rating
    PSK Polypropylene/Scrim/Kraft 0.02 - 0.09
    FSK Foil/Scrim/Kraft 0.02
    PSKP Polypropylene/Scrim/Kraft/Metallized Polyester 0.02
    PSP Polypropylene/Scrim/Metallized Polyester 0.02
    PSF Polypropylene/Scrim/Foil 0.02
    VRP Vinyl/Scrim/Metallized Polyester 0.02
    VRV Vinyl/Scrim/Vinyl 0.90
    Vinyl Plain Vinyl 1.0

    For applications where a permeable insulation covering is required, most membrane vapor retarders can be perforated to increase the permeability and allow moisture migration.

    Installation Guidelines

    • Install the vapor retarder on the warm side of the insulation. In most locations within the United States, this is the inside surface. However, in warmer humid climates, the warm side may be to the exterior of the insulation. It is best to consult the architect or engineer on the project when this is the case. Refrigerated buildings and coolers are also applications in which the vapor retarder may be placed to the exterior side of the insulation.
    • The insulation must be thick enough to maintain the surface temperature of the facing above the inside ambient air dewpoint temperature.
    • Seams, joints, and penetrations should be sealed to retard the passage of water vapor around facing and into the insulation.

    Seam Sealing Techniques

    Insulation is supplied with the vapor retarder facing wider than the fiber glass insulation. Most facings are 6” wider than the laminated insulation. The extra facing may be supplied as two 3” tabs, or one 6” tab. There are a number of different techniques employed for fastening these tabs. Sealing can be achieved by gluing, taping, or stapling. Three of the most common techniques are shown below:

    • Two 3” Tabs—Stapled, Folded, and Re-stapled.
      When two 3” tabs are supplied, the tabs are pulled between adjacent runs of insulation and stapled every 8”, approximately 1/4” to 3/8” from the bottom of the faced side of the insulation. After the first stapling, the tabs are then folded over and stapled again. The second row of staples is to be placed between the original staples yielding tabs with staples every 4”. Caution: Do not staple too close to the base of the tabs because the staples may pull out and result in a poor vapor seal.
    • One 6” Tab—Overlapped, but not Sealed
      When the insulation is supplied with one 6" tab along the length of the fiberglass, the 6" tab should overlap the adjacent run of fiberglass. No tape or sealant is applied.
    • One 6” Tab—Overlapped and Sealed with Double-Faced Tape
      This is the same technique as number 2 above; however, a strip of double-faced tape is applied under the tab to seal the tab to exposed surface on the adjacent run of insulation.

    Which Technique Is Preferable?

    A study sponsored by Lamtec and conducted at the Johns Manville Technical Center compared the relative performance, with respect to water vapor movement, of the 3 most commonly used metal building insulation sealing techniques. For comparison, a test was also performed with an unseamed section of facing.

    The tests were run with the only variable being the seaming technique used to join the 2 adjacent runs of insulation. The data below shows the relative performance of the various closure techniques. The water vapor transmission rate shown here is in terms of grains per hour-ft2.

    Sealing Technique


    No seam, 0.02 perm facing


    1 – 6” Tab, Taped


    2 – 3” Tabs, Folded/Stapled/Folded


    1 – 6” Tab, No Sealant


    *These values should not be confused with the “US Perm” (grains/hr-ft2-in Hg) rating commonly used to classify vapor retarders.

    As can be seen, the 6” single tab with tape performed best in this study, followed by the staple/fold/staple system and the 6” single tab without tape. It should also be noted that the data shown above only represents one data point at each test condition. This data should only be used for comparative purposes.