Heavenly Churches

Post-frame proves to be a divine choice...

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Cross of Glory Lutheran Church in Lockport, Ill., went with post-frame for its new facility. Built by Wick Buildings, the structure features a multi-purpose sanctuary also used as a gymnasium, classrooms, and a full kitchen. Originally planned as a conventionally-built church, post-frame techniques saved the congregation $1 million. WICK BUILDINGS PHOTO

As is the case with many types of post-frame buildings, the public at large is little aware that post-frame building design provides the best solution for the erection of churches.

Post-frame building design lends itself well to large, open interior spaces. The tall sidewalls and end walls, vaulted ceilings, and steep-pitched roofs found on many religious buildings are efficiently achieved using post-frame techniques. This makes post-frame ideal for sanctuaries and fellowship halls. Many churches also find after a number of years that they have grown to need additional wings for offices, classrooms, galleys, and storage. Once again, post-frame provides the most efficient and economical solution for building additions, retrofit/remodel projects, and accessory buildings used in a religious setting.

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Many sanctuaries feature laminated arches or trusses that are characteristic of post-frame buildings. Many people have entered churches that use post-frame design features without even realizing what post-frame is — even though the laminated columns, trusses and archways may be clearly visible. EPS PHOTO

Alan Schambach is an engineer for FBi Buildings in Remington, Ind. FBi has been a pioneer in adapting post-frame to build churches, as well as other kinds of buildings. “Many people will go with the post-frame church strictly because of time and cost issues,” he says. “The speed of construction and economy are the biggest selling points for churches. Particularly post-frame construction is good for adding classrooms and fellowship halls — far more economical than bringing in excavators and putting in continuous foundations for other kinds of construction.”

Aesthetics are key for any religious building. Of course, a church’s community of faith and devotion are more important than the actual appearance of the building it congregates within. However, the building itself is also a symbol of devotion for its parishioners.

As post-frame builders and architects know well, almost any type of external appearance created by other types of building systems may also be achieved using post-frame. “We can use vinyl siding, aluminum siding, stucco, cedar siding, vertical siding, or traditional horizontal siding,” Schambach says. “Exterior Insulation and Finish System (EIFS) products like Dryvit, masonry façade, cedar trims, Moderra concrete siding products, and others make it possible to efficiently produce majestic churches. There’s not too much we couldn’t do to match the existing exterior finish.

“When we do a brick façade, we use larger columns and cap girts with an L-brace to help limit lateral deflections that could cause cracks in the exterior facade. We may also prepare a continuous concrete foundation and bracket the columns on top, which provides us the foundation both for the building and the masonry all in one shot.”

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Above: Two churches built by FBi featuring a variety of siding and roofing finishes. FBI PHOTOS

However, the real cost advantage for post-frame is not short-term installation costs. The long-term savings in heating and air conditioning expenses give post-frame a significant advantage over other kinds of church buildings. This is primarily because of the wide spacing between structural members and the exceptionally spacious cavity created within post-frame building walls. “You can use a blanket of fiberglass insulation, 8 feet wide, with no penetrations except for columns every 8 feet and the occasional electrical or HVAC penetration,” says Schambach. “That makes post-frame churches more energy efficient than almost any others. It should be noted that the corrosive effects of certain types of insulation may void warranties with steel panel manufacturers. Also, it has been reported that certain types of insulation support the growth of mold more readily than others.”

barnFBi was one of the first contractors to use a new product called Perma-Column, which is composed of high-strength concrete and a metal framework to form the subterranean portion of building columns. “We’ve used the Perma-Column foundation on several religious structures,” Schambach says. “With that product, there is never any concern with rot or insect damage to the portion of the post that’s beneath the ground — ever. The cost of the Perma-Column product is still less than a continuous concrete foundation, especially when combined with the reduced costs due to speed of erection for post-frame.” There are a number of innovative foundation options for post-frame buildings.

Morton Buildings has designed and erected many post-frame churches. Ron Sutton, P.E., chief engineer for Morton Buildings, believes the greatest advantage of the churches they build is not price, but value. “Morton Buildings prides itself on using the highest quality materials available, which makes them similar in price to other kinds of churches,” Sutton says.

The quality of post-frame buildings and their flexible design aspects are crucial to the success of post-frame churches, in his opinion. “The wide bay spacing and large clearspans provided by post-frame design allow them to have a great deal of flexibility for internal finishing,” says Sutton. “It’s easier to complete quality finish carpentry inside than working around steel girders. It’s also fairly difficult to keep a stud-frame wall straight with such high eave heights. If you use good, straight columns, tall walls in a post-frame church are superior to stud-frame walls.

perma column concrete columns

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Churches are one of the many types of structures offered by Morton Buildings, including (clockwise from top left): Meadowview Presbyterian in Lexington, N.C., which features two education wings, an entry foyer, a gymnasium/ auditorium, and brick sidewall; Center Grove Presbyterian in Edwardsville, Ill., which has a shingled roof, brick sidewall, circle top windows, and porticoed entry porch; and Sugar Creek United Methodist Church of Chatham, Ill., featuring a sanctuary with seating for 300 people, eight classrooms, a 250-person fellowship hall/basketball court, and brick and cedar siding.

“You can use a variety of wall and roof coverings, which is an advantage of all post-frame construction. You also may avoid expenses generated by installing traditional exterior materials, such as concrete block or brick masonry, by using new materials that create the same look but are less expensive and quicker to install. Unlike buildings that use a continuous concrete foundation and will require a frost wall in the winter, post-frame churches may be erected in all seasons without taking extra measures. And of course, post-frame diaphragm design makes the buildings more resistant to loads from wind, snow, and earthquakes.”

For educational wings, fellowship halls, and other annex buildings, Sutton notes that post-frame provides a more noticeable cost advantage for erection than the sanctuary and other tall religious buildings. “We regularly add annexes and classroom space to existing churches that are growing and need more room. New building wings, retrofitted additions, remodeling projects, and annexes may be added more economically than other kinds of buildings.”

Borkholder Buildings also has a long tradition building post-frame churches. The firm was founded in 1962 by Freemon Borkholder using designs based upon the Amish tradition. As many people are aware, Amish communities have erected buildings using post-frame techniques throughout their history.

JB Stillson, sales manager for Borkholder, explains the company’s philosophy: “Our goal is to blend our customers’ needs with our years of experience, and arrive at a practical application that matches budget with beauty. We work with our dealers to create a design-build team that works with the local church to create the design. Our biggest advantage is that the design department works well with church building committees.”

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Borkholder no longer erects buildings; it works with contractors who are authorized to erect building packages they cater to meet the requirements of each project. “We offer a design-build project where we work directly with the building committee of the church,” Stillson says. “Once we have the floor plan to their liking, then we get into the mechanical design and exterior elevations that would go with that floor plan. It usually takes between four and five months to go through that process, because we’re working with various committee volunteers and church staff. In essence the building committee becomes a part of the design team.

“With our engineering and design department, we are able to use all different kinds of materials, including cedar siding, metal siding, vinyl siding, architectural building foam trim (Styrofoam with plaster or cement on it), brick, stucco ... you can do just about anything the customer wants, and the budget will allow.”

Stillson also notes that church additions are the most economical use for post-frame. “Many assume that if they double the size they will double their heating costs, but that’s not the case if the addition is post-frame. The economy and speed of erection, and the economy of the building in the long-term — we usually install 9 inches of R-30 insulation in the walls — make it the best choice for churches. The interior finish will take about the same amount of time as any other type of construction and may have similar costs, but the exterior shell goes up a lot quicker.”

Gil Friesen of Stockade Buildings of Kansas City doesn’t normally build post-frame churches. But when the congregation he belongs to needed a new building, he volunteered to donate his skills, experience and staff to help them out.

“I sold them materials at cost and provided a crew of carpenters, and they provided volunteer labor,” Friesen says. “They acted as their own GC; they had a job manager and a construction manager/superintendent they hired. We did the design work using post-frame design elements we use on other buildings. The church hired an architect, who got an initial drawing from me. He loved the idea! Stockade designed the primary structure and he added architectural features, interior design, electrical specifications, and created mechanical drawings.

“We designed a 76x82 post-frame structure, with lean-tos all around. He added a car canopy and portico, steeple, and windows to make it pretty. It had a standing seam roof and vinyl siding, and we used Stockade’s flushwall system, which features inset girts to create a 6-inch wall cavity.

perma columns

“In the main sanctuary we put in triple-laminated trusses with an inch-and-a-half spacer, so it looked like a five-ply,” says Friesen. “It looks like a sawtooth on the bottom of the truss. Then we varnished and stained the trusses because they’re exposed from the interior of the sanctuary. It has bottom-cord ties and a warm wood ceiling. Purlins on the top cord were 2x8s, which allowed 8 inches for insulation.”

Energy Panel Structures of Graettinger, Iowa, puts a slightly different spin on post-frame churches. Chris Spaeth says EPS uses post-frame columns, along with structural insulated panels for walls and roofs to give the building a larger span. “We can go 30 feet tall, 100-foot clearspan, and 12-foot on-center bays; that’s what churches need, a larger opening,” Spaeth says. “You can do that when you use the combination of SIP panels, glulam columns, and Gruen-Wald’s Ultra-Span truss system. We buy their system, engineer it, then sell it with our panels.”

Spaeth says EPS designs churches with columns either exposed or buried into walls, depending on the desired look. “Most of the time they want the wood look, they want the wood exposed,” he says. SIPs are also a useful application for churches’ adjoining gymnasiums or recreation centers. “The panels are solid walls, they offer extreme durability and impact resistance,” Spaeth says.

Post-frame building
By combining structural insulated panels with post-frame techniques, Energy Panel Structures can achieve 30-foot tall, 100-foot clearspan churches. EPS PHOTO

On church jobs, EPS typically competes against masonry and steel. Spaeth says post-frame SIP churches speed up erection by up to 40 percent over conventional framing, can offer 10 to 20 percent savings on overall building costs against masonry, and 20 to 30 percent savings on heating bills.

Wick Buildings in Mazomanie, Wis., says their post-frame church business has grown substantially in the past five years. Through word-of-mouth they went from one church project to the next. They offer complete design-build and stamped engineering plans, and have a lot of prepared church designs already in their files that others may modify to meet their needs.

Kevin Miller, president of Custom Structures - a Wick Buildings dealer in Ashland, Ill. - talked about his experience working with church committees on building projects. “We start from the ground up and work with them hand-in-hand,” he says. “We’ll probably meet with the church committee a dozen times through the course of the project. We don’t really like to let volunteers step into the project to perform specific building work due to the unpredictable quality and other problems that may arise; but we will offer a discount sometimes for work they ask us to leave incomplete. For instance, if they want to complete the painting we will leave it unpainted.”

Acoustical issues can be important in a church building, especially a sanctuary or gym or other multi-purpose room. “We use a lot of acoustical steel for interior walls and acoustical ceilings, especially in multi-purpose rooms,” says Miller. “Often we’ll also carpet about 8 feet up on a 14-foot wall. A lot of interiors use vinyl composite tile and sheetrock, and that makes the sound bounce way too much. The carpet makes a world of difference in those cases.”

Wick Buildings reports they do more church additions than new churches. “You’re always working with an existing church that is of a different type of construction. We’ve erected quite a few post-frame buildings with a brick façade, so they will match the rest of the church. Sometimes we will install a 12-inch wall with a 4-inch brick ledge so they can put a brick wall on it later. That’s because people often won’t donate money for a church building project until they see dirt flying. That way, later they can take off the siding and just lay the brick later when they get more money donated, since brick is so expensive.”

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Ross River, president of River Service Company in Maquoketa, Iowa, which is also a Wick dealer, has built quite a few church structures over the years. Most include recreation halls and church social halls, as well as turnkey churches. One of the most recent churches River built is a 10,000-plus square foot church in Dubuque, with an added Sunday school wing and covered driveway entrance. “It is better insulated by far than most architect-designed church buildings,” River says. “In the coldest month last year, it only cost $350 to heat the church.”

River explains, “The simplest way to state it is that the uncompressed features of post-frame wall insulation are almost identical to the sidewall insulation found in a top-quality 2x6 wall home. In steel frame buildings the insulation is crushed down to zero where it crosses the big steel purlin or girt. This causes frosting around purlins and fasteners. Frosting, in turn, leads to condensation and then the condensation leads to rusting of purlins and a whole lot of other secondary problems.

“As far as the roofline insulation of a steel building compared to the attic and uncompressed blown insulation in the post-frame, the disparity grows into a much larger advantage for the post-frame,” River says. “We’ve seen some independent energy analyses in which, on the same bid, the steel building was only making R-10.43 whereas the post-frame blown insulation attic was R-38. And, the R-38 cost less than the R-10.43!

“Dubuque is a very complicated code area, and we met and exceeded every demand made by the city engineering staff. The head of the church board even wrote us a tremendous letter of thanks and pointed out that our job cost approximately half of what an all-steel contractor had bid.”

The letter from church board chair John Riley to River Service Company states, “The finished product is much nicer than we ever imagined and we received many compliments. Through the building process I was very impressed with the quality of the Wick materials and the professional Wick crew sent in to build the building ... I have enjoyed the friendship that developed with you [and others], as you handled the sub-contractors and did a great professional job as general contractor.”

This story originally appeared Frame Building News magazine, the official publication of the National Frame Building Association. To subscribe to Frame Building News, please visit www.FrameBuildingNews.com. For more information about the advantages of post-frame construction, visit www.PostFrameAdvantage.com.


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