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Achieving Architectural Vision With Steel Trusses: Q&A With Dennis Elledge, P.A.

For Dennis Elledge, P.A., cold-formed steel trusses were the only material that could have achieved the right aesthetic for a church sanctuary. Learn why.

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Dennis Elledge’s love of beautiful buildings is one of the primary reasons he became an architect. Yet what he especially loves is the degree of problem solving and creativity that’s required to produce thoughtful, efficient, and aesthetically pleasing designs. As a result, Elledge has spent more than 40 years working primarily in steel-framed and concrete construction.

“I love the appearance of nice buildings,” said Elledge. “But I also appreciate the problem solving involved. There’s a lot of creativity in that, like when you’re solving a complicated roof situation and trying to find the right solution. Or, with churches in particular, you’re trying to get the most out of the limited funds they may have while looking for creative ways to build.”

Elledge’s problem-solving skills were put to the test during two recent projects, each with their own set of challenges: Lindenwood University Library and Academic Resources Center (LARC) and a new sanctuary for First Baptist Church of Lake St. Louis (original article by Mike Pellock of Aegis Metal Framing). For both projects, Elledge worked closely with members of the design-build teams to balance the vision and needs of the client with budgets, building codes, and designing what is structurally possible.

Both projects also marked the first time he worked on buildings using pre-engineered cold-formed steel (CFS) trusses in place of pre-engineered wood trusses for sloped and shingled roofs. Overall, Elledge says the experience was a positive one, adding that working with cold-formed steel should be easier in the future now that he and the other team members are familiar with it.

BuildSteel recently had the opportunity to talk with Elledge about his experience with the First Baptist Church project.

What do you like about working with cold-formed steel?

Steel is more uniform and predictable, and it’s also lightweight. Life safety plays a big part, too, and steel is noncombustible, which helps with fire concerns.

What did you discover about the cost of working with steel on this project compared to the cost of working with wood?

We were able to use CFS trusses 48 on center rather than 24 on center like we would have with wood. You save money with the 48 on center, because you need half as many trusses. When it’s all said and done, steel is probably a more economical option.

What specific design challenges did cold-formed steel help you solve in this project?

The challenging part was the design goals we had. The sanctuary is a shingled, sloping roof. It’s in a residential area in Lake Saint Louis, so it needed to have a residential feel that would be compatible with that neighborhood. It was a big roof which would have pushed the limits of what we could do with wood trusses.

Can you share more about your experience with installing cold-formed steel trusses?

We learned that if you wanted to hang something from the ceiling, it’s different than with wood. We had to work with special steel truss fasteners. It wasn’t bad; it’s just not what we have done in the past. Now that we have gone down this road with these two projects, we will know how to do that in the future. We will be able to bring [this experience] to future projects.

In what ways did cold-formed steel work better than wood in this project?  

The interior has a sloped ceiling. We needed to keep the slope on the outside not too high, but we wanted to give the interior as much height as possible. Finding the right balance to make those two slopes work together structurally, that’s where the use of steel came in. Scissor trusses turn out to be very short in height, which makes them less simple structurally. I’m not sure how that could have worked with wood. With steel, you can do just about anything. It took serious attention to accomplish this particular goal, but everything worked out fine. Accomplishing that moderate slope on the exterior and the high slope on the interior with the scissors truss was the defining part of why steel was probably the only material we could have used.

If you have questions about the design or planning process of your next project, the BuildSteel team can help. Request complimentary project assistance, and one of our experts will reach out to answer your questions.

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