In our last post, we covered the pros and cons of some common types of structural options for church buildings.

Depending on the size and complexity of one’s church design, there are two more uncommon options available for creating an appropriate church building shell: fabric and precast concrete. Read on to learn more about these novel approaches to church design.

The Fabric Structure Option for Your Church Building

Fabric structures are gaining exposure as a church design option. These shells contain an aluminum structure covered by a cloth exterior and interior skins, separated by a layer of fiberglass insulation.

One reason this type of structure is becoming known is that it’s very low – cost. Another reason is that the church building can be constructed very quickly—which is why fabric shells were originally developed, as a temporary option for mining camps and movie sets.

The fact that fabric was developed as a “temporary option” is the key to understanding the downsides of this alternative. The fabric has a lifespan of only about 10 years, which means you’ll have to replace both the outer and inner fabric skins in that time.

Such structures are also easy to break in to, as the fabric can be cut with just a utility knife or debris blowing in a storm. The fabric lets in light, which helps keep your energy costs lower, but that can also potentially limit how you use your space, as you won’t be able to fully darken the interior.

The Precast Concrete Option for Your Church Design

Another uncommon  approach is to use precast concrete, also called “tilt-up” construction. This process involves casting concrete panels on site, tilting them up to form the walls of the church building, and then pouring in insulation.

In terms of durability, this option is at the opposite end of the spectrum from a fabric structure. Precast concrete buildings are extremely durable, and you certainly won’t see any light go through those walls.

There are considerations to keep in mind with this approach, however. As you might imagine, setting up concrete casting and lifting panels into place involves a lot of setup and labor, as well as special equipment. This means precast panels are only cost-effective if you’re constructing a large church complex of more than 40,000 square feet. The process also takes more time than the standard two-by-four wood framing you’re probably used to seeing in residential construction.

The Bottom Line on Structural Options

In our opinion, the best church design option for most structures less than 5,000 feet is traditional wood framing. We also believe a fabric church building should only be considered for short-term use, and precast concrete is best saved for projects over 40,000 square feet.

In our next post, we will look at the various costs and potential savings from different roofing alternatives. We covered this information in one of our recent free i3 webinars. They’re a great way to learn about every element of church building and maintenance. Watch our website and this blog as we’ll soon be announcing the topics of our 2018 webinar series.