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A truss is essentially a triangulated system of straight interconnected structural
elements. The most common use of trusses is in buildings, where support to roofs, the
floors and internal loading such as services and suspended ceilings, are readily
provided. The main reasons for using trusses are:
Long-span, curved roof trusses, Robin Hood Airport, Doncaster
(Image courtesy of Tubecon)
Opportunity to support considerable loads.
Members under axial forces in a simple truss
1 - Compression axial force
2 - Tension axial force
A steel roof truss is used to replace a typically roof truss which is made from wood.
You may also find a steel roof truss system in larger buildings or in commercial projects.
The purpose of the truss is to support the weight of the roof and keeps the walls steady.
A steel roof truss, like a wooden one, is triangular in shape. They are installed the same
way as a wood truss and do the exact same job. The major differences between a steel
roof truss and a wood truss include durability, strength and resistance to the elements.
Use of trusses in buildings
Trusses are used in a broad range of buildings, mainly where there is a requirement for
very long spans such as in airport terminals, aircraft hangers, sports stadia roofs,
auditoriums and other leisure buildings, etc., or to carry heavy loads, i.e. trusses are
often used as transfer structures. However, this article focuses on typical single storey
industrial buildings where trusses are widely used to serve two main functions.
To carry the roof load:
To provide horizontal stability:
Two types of general arrangement of the structure of a typical single storey building are
shown in the figure below.
Vertical trusses are supported by columns.
Lateral stability provided by portal trusses.
Lateral stability provided by longitudinal wind
Longitudinal stability provided by transverse wind girder and vertical bracings in the gables (blue)
girder and vertical cross bracings (blue)
Longitudinal stability provided by transverse wind
No longitudinal wind girder.
girder and vertical bracings (green)
Portal frame and Beam and column arrangements
In the first case (above left) the lateral stability of the structure is provided by a series of
portal trusses: the connections between the truss and the columns provide resistance to
a global bending moment. Loads are applied to the portal structure by purlins and side
In the second case, (above right) each vertical truss and the two columns between
which it spans, constitute a simple beam structure: the connection between the truss
and a column does not resist the global bending moment, and the two column bases
are pinned. Transverse restraint is necessary at the top level of the simple structure; it is
achieved by means of a longitudinal wind girder carries the transverse forces due to
wind on the side walls to the braced gable walls.
Types of trusses
Trusses comprise assemblies of tension and compression elements. The top and
bottom chords of the truss provide the compression and tension resistance to overall
bending, and the bracing resists the shear forces. A wide range of truss forms can be
created. Each can vary in overall geometry and in the choice of the individual elements.
Some of the commonly used types are shown below.
Pratt truss ('N' truss)
Pratt trusses are commonly used in long span buildings ranging from 20 to 100 m in
length. In a conventional Pratt truss, diagonal members are in tension for gravity loads.
This type of truss is used where gravity loads are predominant (see below left). An
alternative Pratt truss is shown (below right) where the diagonal members are in tension
for uplift loads. This type of truss is used where uplift loads are predominant, such as
Pratt truss (gravity loads)
Pratt truss (uplift loads)
It is possible to add secondary members (as illustrated below left) to:
Create intermediate loading points
Limit the buckling length of members in compression (without influencing the
global structural behaviour).
For the Pratt truss and any of the types of truss mentioned below, it is possible to
provide either a single or a double slope to the upper chord of a roof supporting truss.
An example of a double (duo-pitch) Pratt truss is shown (below right).
Pratt truss with secondary members
Duo-pitch Pratt truss
A Pratt truss – University of Manchester (Image courtesy of Elland Steel Structures Ltd.)
Modified Warren trusses – National Composites Centre, Bristol
(Image courtesy of Billington Structures Ltd.)
In this type of truss, diagonal members are alternatively in tension and in compression.
The Warren truss has equal length compression and tension web members, and fewer
members than a Pratt truss. For larger spans the modified Warren truss may be
adopted where additional restraint to the internal members is required (this also reduces
Warren trusses are commonly used in long span buildings ranging from 20 to 100 m in
This type of truss is also used for the horizontal truss of gantry/crane girders.
Modified Warren truss
North light truss
North Light truss
North light trusses are traditionally used for short spans in industrial workshop-type
buildings. They allow maximum benefit to be gained from natural lighting by the use of
glazing on the steeper pitch which generally faces north or north-east to reduce solar
gain. On the steeper sloping portion of the truss, it is typical to have a truss running
perpendicular to the plane of the North Light truss shown.
The use of north lights to increase natural day lighting can reduce the operational
carbon emissions of buildings although their impact should be explored using dynamic
thermal modelling. Although north lights reduce the requirement for artificial lighting and
can reduce the risk of overheating, by increasing the volume of the building they can
also increase the demand for space heating. Further guidance is given in the Target
Zero Warehouse buildings design guide .
Saw-tooth (or Butterfly) truss
A variation of the North light truss is the saw-tooth truss which is used in multi-bay
buildings. Similar to the North light truss, it is typical to include a truss of the vertical
face running perpendicular to the plane of the saw-tooth truss shown.
There are two different types of X truss :
If the diagonal members are designed to resist compression, the X truss is the
superposition of two Warren trusses.
If the resistance of the diagonal members in compression is ignored, the
behaviour is the same as a Pratt truss.
This type of truss is more commonly used for wind girders, where the diagonal
members are very long.
The Fink truss offers greater economy in terms of steel weight for short-span highpitched roofs as the members are subdivided into shorter elements. There are many
ways of arranging and subdividing the chords and internal members.
This type of truss is commonly used to construct roofs in houses.
Aspects of truss design for roofs Truss or I beam
For the same steel weight, it is possible to get better performance in terms of resistance
and stiffness, with a truss than an I-beam. This difference is more sensitive for long
spans and/or heavy loads. The full use of this advantage is achievable if the height of
the truss is not limited by criteria other than the structural efficiency, e.g. a limit on total
height of the building. However, fabrication of a truss is generally more time consuming
than for an I beam, even considering that the modernisation of fabrication equipment
allows the optimisation of fabrication times.
The balance between minimum weight and minimum cost depends on many conditions:
the equipment of the fabrication factory, the local cost of manufacturing; the steel unit
cost, etc. Trusses generally give an economic solution for spans over 20 or 25 m.
An advantage of the truss design for roofs is that ducts and pipes that are required for
operation of the buildings services can be installed through the truss web, i.e. service
In order to get a good structural performance, the ratio of span to truss depth should be
chosen in the range 10 to 15. The architectural design of the building determines its
external geometry and governs the slope(s) given to the top chord of the truss. The
intended use of the internal space can lead either to the choice of a horizontal bottom
chord, e.g. where conveyors must be hung under the chord, or to an inclined internal
chord, to allow maximum space to be provided.
To get an efficient layout of the truss members between the chords, the following is
The inclination of the diagonal members in relation to the chords should be
between 35° and 55°
Point loads should only be applied at nodes
The orientation of the diagonal members should be such that the longest
members are subject to tension (the shorter ones being subject to compression).
Types of truss member sections
Bolted angles to form lightweight, long-span trusses
(Image courtesy of Metsec plc)
Many solutions are available. The main criteria are:
Sections should be symmetrical for bending out of the vertical plane of the
For members in compression, the buckling resistance in the vertical plane of
the truss should be similar to that out of the plane.
A popular solution, especially for industrial buildings, is to use sections composed of
two angles bolted on vertical gusset plates and intermediately battened, for both chords
and internal members. It is a very simple and efficient solution.
Typical element cross sections for light building trusses
For large member forces, a good solution to use is:
Chords having UKB and UKC sections, or a section made up of two channels
Diagonals formed from two battened angles.
The web of the UKB/UKC chord section is oriented either vertically or horizontally. As it
is easier to increase the resistance to in-plane buckling of the chords (by adding
secondary diagonal members) than to increase their to out-of-plane resistance, it is
more efficient to have the web horizontal, for chords in compression. On the other hand,
it is easier to connect purlins to the top chord if it has a vertical web. A solution could be
to have the top chord with a vertical web, and the bottom chord with a horizontal web.
Another range of solutions is given by the use of hollow sections, for chords and/or for
internals. Structural hollow sections are popular due to their efficiency in compression
and their neat and pleasing appearance in the case of exposed trusses. Structural
hollow sections, however, have higher fabrication costs and are only suited to welded
Different types of steel section used in trusses
Typical joints in welded building roof trusses
Types of connections
For all the types of member sections, it is possible to design either bolted or welded
connections. Generally in steelwork construction, bolted site splices are preferred
to welded splices for economy and speed of erection. Where bolted connections are
used with bolts loaded perpendicular to their shank, it is necessary to evaluate the
consequences of 'slack' in connections. In order to reduce these consequences
(typically, the increase of the deflections), solutions are available such as use
of preloaded bolts, or limiting the hole size.
Hollow sections are typically connected by welding whilst open sections are connected
by bolting or welding, which will usually involve the use of gusset plates.
Small trusses which can be transported whole from the fabrication factory to the site,
can be entirely welded. In the case of large roof trusses which cannot
be transported whole, welded sub-assemblies are delivered to site and are either bolted
or welded together on site.
In light roof trusses entirely bolted connections are less favoured than welded
connections due to the requirement for gusset plates and their increased fabrication
Profile shaping of tubular sections for joint fabrication
It is necessary to design the chords in compression against the out-of-plane buckling.
For simply supported trusses, the upper chord is in compression for gravity loading, and
the bottom chord is in compression for uplift loading. For portal trusses, each chord is
partly in compression and partly in tension.
Lateral restraint of the upper chord is generally given by the purlins and the transverse
roof wind girder.
For the restraint of the bottom chord, additional bracing may be necessary, as shown in
the figure below. Such bracing allows the buckling length of the bottom chord to be
limited out of the plane of the truss to the distance between points laterally restrained:
they serve to transfer the restraint forces to the level of the top chord, the level at which
the general roof bracing is provided. This type of bracing is also used when a horizontal
load is applied to the bottom chord, for example, forces due to braking from a
Thick black dashes - two consecutive
Blue - The purlin which completes the
bracing in the upper region
Green - The longitudinal element which
closes the bracing in the lower region
Red - Vertical roof bracing
The roof purlins often serve as part of the bracing at the top chord. Introduction of
longitudinal members at the lower chord allows the trusses to be stabilised by the same
It is possible to create a horizontal wind girder at the level of the bottom chords, with
longitudinal elements to stabilize all the trusses.
Design of wind girders
Transverse wind girder
In general, the form of a transverse wind girder is as follows:
The wind girder is arranged as an X truss, parallel to the roof plane
The chords of the wind girder are the upper chords of two adjacent vertical
trusses. This means that the axial forces in these members due to loading on
the vertical truss and those due to loads on the wind girder loading must be
added together (for an appropriate combination of actions)
The posts of the wind girder are generally the roof purlins. This means that
the purlins are subject to a compression, in addition to the bending due to the
It is also possible, for large spans of the wind girder, to have separate posts
(generally tubular section) that do not act as purlins
The diagonal members are connected in the plane of the posts. If the posts
are the purlins, the diagonal members are connected at the bottom level of
the purlins. In a large X truss, diagonals are only considered in tension and it
is possible to use single angles or cables.
It is convenient to arrange a transverse wind girder at each end of the building, but it is
then important to be careful about the effects of thermal expansion which can cause
significant forces if longitudinal elements are attached between the two bracing
systems, especially for buildings which are longer than about 60 m.
In order to release the expansion of the longitudinal elements, the transverse wind
girder can be placed in the centre of the building, but then it is necessary to ensure that
wind loads are transmitted from the gables to the central wind bracing.
Transverse wind girders are sometimes placed in the second and penultimate spans of
the roof because, if the roof purlins are used as the wind girder posts, these spans are
less subject to bending by roof loads.
The purlins which serve as wind girder posts and are subject to compression must
sometimes be reinforced:
To reinforce UKB purlins: use welded angles or channels (UKPFC)
To reinforce cold formed purlins: increase of the thickness in the relevant span,
or, if that is not sufficient, double the purlin sections (with fitting for the Zed, back to
back for the Sigma).
Longitudinal wind girder
It is necessary to provide a longitudinal wind girder (between braced gable ends) in
buildings where the roof trusses are not 'portalized'.
The general arrangement is similar to that described for a transverse wind girder:
The chords are two lines of purlins in small buildings, or additional elements
(usually tubular sections)
The posts are the upper chords of the consecutive stabilized roof trusses.