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Building Drift in ETABS
Drift is a very complex topic in structural engineering. It involves too many factors to arrive
at a suitable decision. It involves engineering judgment, the phenomenon fresh engineers
might not feel. In this article, I have tried to explain what is building drift, allowable limits,
ways and means to check in ETABS models and to control the excessive drift. Please keep
in mind, this article is not about the building drift as far as structural science is concerned,
rather this topic of drift is related to ETABS software.
First of all you must be familiar with the term story drift. For convenience, I am quoting
here the definitions from UBC-97 code:-

STORY DRIFT is the lateral displacement of one level relative

to the level above or below.
STORY DRIFT RATIO is the story drift divided by the story
1) Maximum Limits
Now what for story drift limits? What is the maximum permissible value? Well it depends
upon the type of drift. Is it seismic or wind?
For seismic, I will refer to UBC-97 code which in section 1630.10.2 talks about drift limits for
Now in simple words, the maximum limit for seismic drift is:-
delta M shall not exceed 0.025 x story ht (if building seismic period is less than 0.7)
delta M shall not exceed 0.020 x story ht (if building seismic period is equal or greater than
Important to note here is that it talks about SEISMIC drift so SEISMIC building period not
the WIND period.
Now delta M = Max inelastic response displacement = 0.7R delta S
where R = from Table 16-N
delta S = displacement from static, elastic analysis
this value is read from ETABS.
you multiply this value by 0.7R to get delta M
This was all about seismic drift, but for wind drift code is mute. I will refer you to ASCE 2005
commentary CC.1.2

So we can understand that the limit for wind drift is on the order of l/600 to l/400 for
common usage. This is common thing, however, in reality this figure can be up or down
depending upon the ductility of cladding material and finishes. However for common usage
value of l/400 is thought to be well satisfactory. Here l means story ht.
The concept of drift limits is same throughout all the governing codes, and the typical limits
of story height by some number is same, but obviously you have to take care of the process
of calculating the wind force or seismic forces. You should not calculate wind force from
one code and apply limits of another code.

2) Load Combinations

Once the drift limit has been determined separately for seismic and wind forces, now is the
need to check the actual drift vs the limit. Determination of actual drift depends on the load
combination and the period of recurrence. If not properly calculated, this may dramatically
increase or decrease the accepted drift values in model.
Seismic force E is always already factored so thats the reason its factor is always 1.0 in load
combinations of ACI/ASCE code. The recurrence period for seismic force is 50 years. In
seismic drift we do not convert it into service seismic force. Seismic drift is checked against
the direct load case of EQx, EQy etc in ETABS.
For wind drift, we need to convert 50 year wind to service wind force. It has been
recommended by ASCE commentary CC.1.2

To convert 50 year service wind force to 10 year service wind force it is multiplied by 0.7, as
the equation says, and other gravity loads; D and 0.5L are also added.
So in a nutshell we create following load combinations in ETABS to check our drift:-

DRIFTWx1 = D+0.5L+0.7Wx
DRIFTWx2 = D+0.5L-0.7Wx
DRIFTWy1 = D+0.5L+0.7Wy
DRIFTWy2 = D+0.5L-0.7Wy

For seismic drift, as discussed earlier, we do not need any combination, drift will be checked
just on EQx and EQy load cases only.

3) How to check in ETABS

Now we have obtained both the actual drift and the drift limit, but how can we do this in
ETABS easily?
Well, after creating the drift combinations as discussed in step 2, we need to do as below:-
For seismic drift goto File>Print Tables>Summary Report

Select the file name

Scroll down to the end of the page, you will find out a section about drifts, similar to this

It displays the max drift for each lateral load case for each story. As we want the drift for
wind to be on drift load combinations and not on wind load cases, so we will not compare
this wind drift without limits. In this table we are going to check just the drift values of our
ETABS model for individual seismic load cases; EQx and EQy.
As you noticed, this table shows us values in fraction format. For example 1/105 that
becomes 0.009523809524. This 1/105 value is story drift divided by story ht. It means delta
S / story ht.
Now this value is delta S. First we need to convert it to delta M by multiplying it with 0.7R.
Assume R here is 3.5 so
delta M = 0.7 x 3.5 x 1/105 = 7/300 = 0.023333 which is less than 0.025 so safe ( if T<0.7).
So instead of calculating every time by 0.7R we can check these limits in other way.
If our limit is 0.025 then the limit we get is 0.025/R/0.7. Assume R=3.5. Now the values in
ETABS are inverse so our limit is 0.73.5/0.025 = 98.
In ETABS the drift is reported as 1/x where x is some number. Now as long as x (some
number) is greater than 98 our limit of 0.025 x story ht is being satisfied. This way you can
quickly check and compare seismic drifts.

Now for the wind drifts, goto Display>Show tables, select Point displacements>Story drifts
and then select only drift combinations for results. Click on and then copy the table to
To save time you can right click on EXCEL taskbar and select maximum and minimum.
Then just select the column H or I and see the maximum value that should be less than
H/400 to H600 limit (0.0025 t0 0.00167). Again the values reported in ETABS are divided by
story ht.

4) Controlling Excessive Drift Values

sometimes you may face problem of excessively large values in drift tables in ETABS. Well
we are not going to talk about different measures and modeling techniques to control the
drift values. We are going to talk about large numbers in drift tables. Sometimes it happens
that a point or node is free in the model or is connected to a NULL line or very flexible
section. Drift tables for example the story drift table in wind captures the maximum
displaced points. Obviously the displacement of several meters in tables is not what we are
looking for. Drift values (relative) may be still okay for these points, but it requires you to
check the displacement values too before checking directly the drift. Unlock the model and
remove all free points, check for any discontinuity and modify your models to remove all
the errors.