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“Understanding Building Periods Under Wind Loading”

Jason Hoover, PE, SE

SidePlate Systems, Inc.

The ASCE 7 standard specifies that buildings are considered to be “flexible” if they have a
fundamental period greater than 1 second. A building’s natural frequency (n) is simply the
inverse of the fundamental period (T), and, for flexible structures, this natural frequency is used
in the calculation of the Gust Factor (G) (Eq. 6-8 in ASCE 7-05, Eq. 26.9-10 in ASCE 7-10).
Steel moment-frame buildings tend to be more flexible than other lateral systems, so these
criteria can have a significant impact on their design and their construction costs.

Several years ago I read an excellent article in Structure magazine written by Will Jacobs and
titled “Building Periods: Moving Forward (and Backward)” (PDF here: The article
describes how most research on the topic has been done for seismic considerations, and the
formulae in the building codes contain an inherent bias towards shorter-period structures.
Shorter periods result in higher seismic loading and are therefore conservative. There has been
significantly less research done relative to wind loading, however, and these same formulae are
most often overly conservative. As an alternative to using the approximate period formulae in
the code, we can use structural software to perform a dynamic analysis to determine the
building periods. One consideration here, however, is that software calculates only the stiffness
of the bare lateral frame, without any stiffness contribution from the gravity steel framing,
interior partitions, cladding, etc. These calculated periods are generally too long, making the
natural frequency too high and the Gust Factor too high. This is especially true for short-term
wind loading and elastic-level forces such as those considered for serviceability.

To date I have seen only a handful of engineering firms use these provisions in their designs,
and it’s mostly the “big name” firms. My experience has been that most engineers simply aren’t
aware of this, but I suspect that will start to change now that much of this information has
moved into the body of ASCE 7-10, as discussed below. In general, buildings with a mean roof
height <50’ can be considered rigid, but for those that are flexible:

ASCE 7-05

Commentary C6.2: “When buildings or other structures have a height exceeding four times the
least horizontal dimension or when there is reason to believe that the natural frequency is less
than 1 Hz (natural period greater than 1 s), natural frequency for it should be investigated. A
useful calculation procedure for natural frequency or period for various building types is
contained in commentary Section C6.5.8.”

Commentary C6.5.8: “However, [Refs.C6-48, C6-49] also cite lower bound estimates of
frequency that are more suited for use in wind applications. These expressions are:

For steel Moment-Resisting-Frames MRFs

n = 22.2 / H0.8 (C6-14)”
Further down in this section is discussion of how the lower-bound natural frequency can be
even higher than this:
“Observation from wind tunnel testing of buildings where frequency is calculated using analysis
software reveals the following expression for frequency, applicable to all buildings in steel or

n = 100/H (ft) average value (C6-17)

n = 75/H (ft) lower bound value (C6-18)

These equations are more appropriate for buildings less than about 400 ft in height. ”

ASCE 7-10

In ASCE 7-10 much of the above information has been moved from the Commentary into the
body of the code in Chapter 26. The above equation C6-14 from ASCE 7-05 is now Equation
26.9-2 in ASCE 7-10 with some caveats about building heights < 300’ and < 4 x the building

RECOMMENDATIONS: The recommendation is to first hand-calculate a lower-bound for the

wind natural frequency using the equation n = 22.2 / H0.8. In RAM Frame, run an analysis
using the default “Use calculated n” for Natural Frequency in the Wind Load Case:

Reference the “Wind Pressures” section of the “Loads and Applied Forces” report in RAM Frame
to see the natural frequency that was calculated by RAM’s dynamic analysis:

1) If the natural frequency from the RAM analysis is lower than the lower bound hand-
calculated above, then go back to the Wind Load Case and specify the lower-bound natural
frequency under “Use n (Hz):” and use this for your serviceability and design checks.
2) In rare cases, the natural frequency from the RAM analysis is greater than the lower bound
hand-calculated above, so you can continue using the RAM-derived one. Note that this building
is even stiffer than that, though, and you may and you may want to consider specifying an even
higher frequency (like n = 100/H noted above), particularly for serviceability checks.

If you have a natural frequency/fundamental period near 1.0, you may want to specify n=1 to
define the building as Rigid and then RAM will use those design provisions. As with most
engineering concepts, these are judgment calls and depend on your particular building. The
above equations give some justification, backed by research and by the code, for making these