Truss: Definition, Design & Types

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  • 0:00 Background on Trusses
  • 0:34 Definition of a Truss
  • 1:17 Types and Designs of Trusses
  • 3:34 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Benjamin Truitt

Benjamin has a Bachelors in philosophy and a Master's in humanities.

In this lesson, we'll learn about a truss, which is a versatile design that allows structures to safely transfer weight to its foundations and anchors.

Backgrounds on Trusses

Are you sitting in a room that is dry right now? Do you have lights on and music playing? Are you sitting in a chair that was shipped across the country? If so, you are benefiting from the use of trusses. The humble truss is an integral part of our world, and the many kinds of trusses are used to stabilize our roofs, to bridge rivers and canyons, and to erect buildings and structures that can withstand shifting weight, wind, and snow so that they do not collapse. As we will see, the truss is a structure that is key to construction!

Definition of a Truss

A truss is a structure that takes advantage of the inherent geometric stability of the triangle to evenly distribute weight and to handle changing tension and compression. The truss uses a web of triangles that are joined so that pressure and tension are applied to the points of the corners of each triangle to take advantage of their stability to support a structure. By connecting a series of trusses together, an enormous amount of weight can be safely transferred to load-bearing beams, walls, or to the ground directly. In the diagram, the triangles used in the bridge are built to deal with lateral wind. The uneven force that the bridge takes from wind is then safely distributed by the stability of the truss design.

Truss Diagram
Truss Diagram

Types and Designs of Trusses

Beyond the use of triangular forms to give the truss stability, there is no specific design that determines the look of a truss. The design of a truss is truly determined by how and what the truss is used for. If the truss is used in buildings or towers, then the truss is designed to deal with shifting stresses that building may face, from wind and weather, or to carry weight evenly and safely to the foundation. By contrast, a truss used in a bridge will use triangular patterns to ensure that the strain of a train or car is safely distributed to columns or to the land. While there are many applications of the truss, from products to architecture, they are most commonly used in roofs, bridges and towers.

Roof trusses are frequently used in the construction of slanted roofs to stabilize shifting weight that they are subject to in the course of their lifetime. The roof you are sitting under right now may be subject to snow that piles up on top of it or wind that hits it from one direction or another. The truss makes sure that the changing forces that the roof may encounter, known by architects as live load won't cause it to shift or collapse.

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