No matter where they are located or what type of materials they handle, a custom fabric building can provide waste and recycling facilities with a cost-effective way to house their operation and maximize efficiency.
By Pat Mahoney

Waste management and recycling facilities must navigate a variety of challenges—from operational inefficiencies to regulatory guidelines and worker safety. Depending on location or the type and amount of materials being handled, these businesses can have vastly different needs from one another, which means there is no one-size-fits-all building solution that serves the industry. To meet all of their individual requirements, while also optimizing cost, facilities need to take advantage of customization. More specifically, they can look into custom-designing a fabric structure to improve their operation.

Fabric buildings have become a more appealing alternative in countless applications, largely due to their cost-effective nature and unique versatility. When customized, these structures can be equipped with all the features needed to streamline material storage, sorting and processing, as well as satisfy any regional building codes or environmental regulations.

Still, accomplishing this feat requires careful consideration and informed decision-making from operations. To get the most potential out of their custom fabric structure, businesses need a well-planned approach to the design process, so they can choose their ideal building components, size out the structure correctly, and stay compliant with any federal or state policies.

Left: Fabric structures can be customized with all the features needed to streamline material storage, sorting, and processing.
Right: Truss frames are often manufactured from triple-galvanized steel to provide superior corrosion-resistance. Photos courtesy of ClearSpan Structures.

Structural Components
Fabric buildings have several different components that can be customized; therefore, each facility will need to incorporate the design elements that are best suited to their needs. As a starting point, operations can select the foundation their structure will be installed on.

Since fabric buildings can employ a wide range of foundations, businesses frequently have to base their decision on the quality of their site location. Waste and recycling facility managers often look for more versatile foundation options, like blocks or helical anchors, which allow their building to be constructed on soils that are unsuitable for conventional concrete foundations. Helical anchors are a great cost-effective choice for these facilities to consider, since they require minimal sitework and can help a building be installed almost anywhere. Helical anchoring systems also give operations the ability to relocate their structure if needed, while still providing the same strength and dependability as other traditional foundations.

After choosing their foundation, operations can start to think about the design of the building itself, beginning with the frame. Fabric structures are typically built around a truss arch frame or an I-beam frame, both of which offer their own distinct benefits. Truss frames can be constructed up to 300′ wide and at any length, and they are often manufactured with triple-galvanized steel, providing ultimate corrosion-resistance against moisture or caustic materials. I-beam frames are designed for the utmost strength and can be constructed to any size, making them ideal for larger-scale facilities.

Left: It is important for operations to design their building with interior clearances high enough for the equipment they plan to use.
Right: Operations frequently have to choose their foundation based on the quality of their site location.

Depending on the manufacturer, these frames can be covered by several types of fabric cladding, but there are generally two core options. Facilities can decide between a lighter material, like polyethylene, or a heavy-duty cladding, like an architectural vinyl cover. The most frequent combination we see facilities use is a truss frame with polyethylene fabric cladding. The truss frame is well-suited to those alternative foundation options, and the poly cover offers natural ventilation and lighting that help produce a comfortable, energy-efficient building.

Once deciding on the frame and cladding they want to pair, operations can customize the openings on their structure. For waste management and recycling applications, fabric buildings are regularly designed without end walls, creating easy access for vehicles and machinery, and increasing ventilation for an improved working environment.

Scaling the Building
The size of an operation is going to play an important role in the design of their fabric structure. Whether they are expanding with a new building, or setting up a new facility entirely, each business will need to consider the amount of space they need to function properly. There are several variables that come into play when scaling a facility. The amount of available land is an obvious determining factor, but operations will also have to consider their budget, an estimation for the quantity of materials they will be handling, and how much space is needed for vehicles and personnel to work safely.

In addition to the length and width of the structure, clearance height is going to be a crucial detail for operations to acknowledge in their design. If workers need to maneuver large vehicles and machinery in and out of the building, they will want to implement the necessary clearance to do so safely and efficiently. It is important that these facilities design their building with interior clearances high enough for the equipment they plan to use. In waste and recycling operations, this can include anything from excavators for sorting, to roll-off or open-top trucks.

Regardless of size, fabric buildings offer a lower cost per square foot than most conventional structures, so operations should be able to stretch their budget farther, while still designing a facility with ample space that optimizes daily workflow.

Building Codes and Regulations
Regulatory guidelines can vary from state-to-state, whether they are enforced through building codes or environmental legislation. As a result, customization can be a huge benefit for waste and recycling facilities, helping them to create a safer work site and stay compliant with their region’s policies. To meet local building codes, operations can get their structure engineered during the design process. By taking advantage of custom-engineering, businesses can ensure their facility withstands the heaviest snow or wind loads, as well as guarantee their machinery, equipment, and stored materials remain safe.

Along with engineering, operations can also equip their building with any accessories or supplemental materials needed to bring it up to code. Fabric structures can meet or exceed any local regulations by incorporating features like flame retardant materials, fire suppression systems, or mechanical ventilation, if required. These buildings are also commonly installed in order to bring a facility into compliance with the EPA or DEP in the state by controlling water runoff issues, windblown debris, noise or dust abatement and more. Because of this, fabric buildings can be easily tailored around operations that handle hazardous waste, providing them with reliable, cost-efficient coverage. These facilities can bolster their structure with a multitude of other custom features, like drip pads or rain gutters.

Maximizing Efficiency
No matter where they are located or what type of materials they handle, a custom fabric building can provide waste and recycling facilities with a cost-effective way to house their operation and maximize efficiency. By taking a careful approach to the design process and making educated decisions, they can get a spacious, dependable structure that keeps them protected and code compliant for years to come. | WA

Pat Mahoney is a content and SEO specialist for ClearSpan Structures. For more information, e-mail [email protected] or visit