Fabric Shelter Vs Steel Shed: An Honest Comparison

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Fabric Shelter Vs Steel Shed: An Honest Comparison

If you’re reading this article then chances are you are wanting to find out why you would consider a fabric shelter or fabric building, over against a traditional steel shed.

Let’s take a quick step back in time – whilst the steel shed has been around for centuries, did you know fabric structures date back at least 40,000 years? Fabric has also been used in many other applications including sailboats, balloons, and even early airplanes.

Fabric Shelter Consideration

It’s important to realise from the outset that the modern day ‘Fabric Shelters’ are a great deal more sophisticated than ‘tipis’, ‘tents’ or ‘marquees’. They’re made of a solid steel framework, which is covered by a strong, waterproof fabric membrane. In many cases, these fabric shelters can withstand winds of up to, and over 300km/h! They’re engineered to be permanent, but designed to be relocatable.

An image of a fabric building

Yet you may still wonder why a fabric shelter would be a viable alternative. Lets go into some more detail.

Relocatable

One key advantage of fabric shelters, is that they’re relocatable. Fabric shelters are easily moved and can even be erected on another site (you’ll just need to make sure the shelter is engineered for the right wind region). The cover and frames are manageable sizes for handling and freight. The shelter can also be easily bolted together, and un-bolted.

However, relocating a steel shed is not so simple… parts often need to be replaced or waterproofed. All the roof and wall sheets will have screw holes that are tedious and difficult to line up agin.

Of course; its not a requirement in every situation for the structure to be relocatable, but its a great feature to keep in mind if your project is short or medium term, or for those industries where you move from project to project.

Natural Light

Due to the nature of the fabric used in a fabric shelter, the fabric lets light in – even on grey days! This means you only need to rely on artificial lighting for night operations, resulting in a saving in energy costs. Check out the light a fabric shelter emits:

Image of a fabric shelter showing natural lightFabric shelter interior – notice the amount of natural light!

By contrast, a steel shed doesn’t let in light unless you install clear or translucent roof sheets. This is an option, however you may end up with dark patches and find you still need to rely on artificial lighting.

Image of steel shed interior showing lightSteel shed interior with some clear roof sheets

The fabric shelter is definitely the winner.

Cooler

The fabric is non-conductive, and doesn’t radiate heat. If the fabric shelter is open-ended, this will allow for airflow, resulting in a cooler working environment in the warmer months. You will still get some heat transfer, however it will be minimal in comparison to a steel shed. 

By contrast, steel is a good conductor of heat – as you’ve probably found out after leaving that spanner in the sun or when you grab the seat belt buckle by mistake when the car has been sitting in the sun all day (ouch!).
Steel sheds also radiate the warmth of the sun into the shed, making it feel hot and stuffy. To help improve this you could consider fans or airconditioning, roof insulation or selecting cooler colours for the sheeting.

Image of steel shed heat diagram Image of fabric shelter heat diagram 
Steel Shed Heat Diagram
Steel conducts and radiates heat.
Fabric Shelter Heat Diagram
Fabric is non-conductive and doesn’t radiate the heat as much.

The fabric shelter is the cooler option 😎.

Fully Certified & Engineered

Many people consider Fabric Shelters to be weaker or not as sturdy as steel sheds. This is not true. Fabric shelters are designed, engineered and manufactured to the same Australian Standards and Wind Code requirements as steel sheds. Fabric shelters are just as sturdy as steel sheds, and can even withstand cyclones. 

Regardless of whether you are selecting a fabric clad or steel clad building, you will want to ensure it is engineered and certified. Check out our article on the importance of fabric shelter engineering.

Modular

As well as adding to the structure, fabric shelters can also be divided into several smaller structures for future mobilisations. So a particular sized shelter might suit your project now, but who knows what you’re next project might be? Its a flexible option – when it comes to re-use or a change in project requirements, you can adapt your structure to suit. Here’s a good article showing how even a simple container-mounted fabric shelter is modular: Can I Join Container Shelters Together? .

Steel sheds aren’t normally modular, as they’re designed to be more of a permanent solution.

Permanent Vs Temporary

Temporary

Fabric shelters are relocatable and modular, which makes them ideal for a temporary solution or for use on short term projects like this one: A Mobile On-site Fabric Shed for S&L Steel.

By contrast, steel sheds aren’t really designed to be a temporary solution or to be relocated.

Permanent

There is a myth that Fabric Shelters aren’t a permanent solution. This is not true. Fabric buildings are used globally for warehousing, bulk storage, indoor sports facilities, machinery storage, workshops – and other uses that require the fabric building to be a permanent solution. Whilst most Fabric Shelter suppliers offer a 10-year warranty, the fabric is known to last well over 20 years before you would need to consider replacing it.

Steel sheds are very much a permanent solution, although maintenance might be required if parts of the structure happen to corrode. Condensation in metal sheds is also a commonly reported problem, which can cause damage to the structure of the shed and its contents.

Summary

There’s no right or wrong, or no ‘one-size fits all’. Depending on your project requirements and scope, you might not be able to compare a steel shed with the fabric shelter. The steel shed might well be the right solution, or you might find the fabric shelter option is definitely a viable option.

In summing up, here is a table showing the comparison of the features listed above:

FEATURESTEEL SHEDFABRIC SHELTER
Relocatable❌ βœ…
Natural LightβŒβœ…
CoolerβŒβœ…
Fully Certified & Engineeredβœ…βœ…
ModularβŒβœ…
Temporary SolutionβŒβœ…
Permanent Solutionβœ…βœ…
Although you may need to replace the cover after 20 years.

Download the full comparison below (it includes more features!).

Shed or Shelter? Download the guide.

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