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Pallet Racking Buyers Guide [2022]

Pallet Rack Buyer's Guide

Pallet Racking Buyer's Guide 2022

Let's take the stress out of buying pallet racking. Buying Pallet Racking looks easy on the surface, but as you get into it, it can start to feel more overwhelming. This pallet rack buyer's guide was built to help serve you and make the buying process easy. We want you to end up with the pallet racking that you need.

To be able to discuss some of the options you are facing and maximize your vertical space we need some common terms that we both understand. 

Pallet Racking Terminology

Now that we have that out of the way, here is the step by step plan to figure out what pallet racking you need for your warehouse.

  1. Determine What Depth Upright You Need

  2. Determine What Height Upright You Need

  3. Determine What Capacity Upright You Need

  4. Determine How Wide of a Beam You Need

  5. Determine What Capacity Beam You Need

  6. Determine What Kind of Pallet Rack Decking You Need

  7. Figure Out How Much Pallet Racking You Need

Now, lets get started!

What Depth Pallet Rack Upright Frame Do I Need?

Selective pallet racks can be used to store many depths of pallets and increase storage capacity. When buying pallet racks you want to make sure that you get the correct depth of upright frames for your rack system. Standard pallet rack upright frames depth is 36", 42", and 48".

Most standard pallets are 48" deep and are designed to go on a 42" deep upright frames. Now you may be saying, why would I want my pallet rack to be more narrow than my pallets? This is because you want 3" of overhang on either side to make sure the pallet loads are sitting directly on the beams, not the wire decking. The picture below is a representation of this.

The wire decking is supposed to act as a safety feature, not necessarily be supporting the load by itself. Now that being said you can get a wire deck made to be able to support whatever load you need, but note that wire decking is not good at supporting point loads.

So if you have a variety of pallet sizes what is the best option? Say you have 36" deep, 42" deep, and 48" deep pallets. For this type of scenario we would recommend 42" deep upright depth and make sure the wire decking is manufactured to support all the loads.

Correct Depth of Pallet Rack Upright

What Height Pallet Rack Upright Frame Do I Need?

When designing your selective pallet racking systems you want to maximize your vertical space as much as possible but there are a few things you should consider:

  1. Ceiling Height Limitations

  2. Equipment Reach Limitations

  3. Fire Code Limitations

  4. Rack Structure Limitations

Ceiling Height Limitations for Pallet Racks

Ceiling height will obviously restrict how high you are able to go with your pallet storage. You should also take into consideration any low hanging items from the ceiling such as sprinkler pipes or lights. You want to make sure your pallet rack loads, not just your racking uprights will be under your ceiling clearance.

Equipment Reach Limitations for Pallet Racks

To most effectively design your pallet rack system you want to make sure that your forklift is able to reach to top level of the desired shelf. There should be an information plate on your forklift that will tell you what the overall lift of the forklift is.
Something too also consider is the back rest on the forklift. When you are getting to that top shelf, you want to make sure the back rest is not going to hit the ceiling or plumbing above even if the pallet on the forks will not.

Fire Code Limitations To Height of Pallet Rack

A good rule of thumb is the top of your pallet load needs to have 24" of clearance from the sprinkler heads above. You don't want to get closer than this regardless because you run the risk of busting the sprinkler head and then you have a real mess on your hands.

Rack Structure Limitations

There is a height to depth ratio of 6:1 that you are not supposed to exceed with pallet rack or you run the risk of it tipping over.

Well how does the 6:1 ratio work and what do I do if I need to exceed it?

For example if you have a 42" deep upright, you can go 252" high with your upright before you exceed the 6:1 ratio. If you exceed this ratio, the racks will need to be tied back to back, anchored to a wall, or top tied to another row to ensure structural stability.

Determine What Capacity Upright Frame You Need

This one gets a little tricky so bear with me and there are examples below to clarify.

There are several things that affect the capacity of the upright.

  1. Gauge and Size of the Column

  2. Beam Spacing

  3. Manufacturer

  4. Seismic Considerations

Gauge and Size of the Column

Gauge and size of the column play a large role in determining how much weight your pallet rack system will hold. The lower the gauge, the higher capacity of the upright. Column gauges can range from 15 gauge down to 11 gauge. 15 being lighter capacity and 11 being higher capacity (I know this seems backwards).

Column Sizes are generally from 3" x 1.5", 3" x 3", or there is a 4" wide and 5" wide column for extremely heavy scenarios. The smaller the column the lower the capacity and lower the resistance to damage is a good rule of thumb.

Beam Spacing

There is not one capacity for an upright, it changes dynamically based on how the beams are spaced vertically. This one is a little bit surprising but the more beams you have per bay of pallet rack, and the tighter the pallet rack beams are spaced, the higher the capacity of the upright will be.

This is because the beams give the rack more structural integrity.

How to Calculate Upright Frame Capacity

Pallet Rack Manufacturers put out upright capacity charts of there standard sizes that are based on the gauge and size of the column on one axis and beam spacing on the other axis. You read the chart by identifying the gauge of the column and then identifying the LARGEST TOP OF BEAM TO TOP OF BEAM DIMENSION.

Top of Beam to Top of Beam Dimensions

So in the example above if you have Interlake Mecalux Pallet Racking (welded style which is green) 75F Column (should be stamped on it) you would have 18,500 lbs. @72" beam spacing if your upright is less than 21'.

Interlake Mecalux Upright Capacity Chart

Manufacturer of the Pallet Rack

You have to identify which manufacturer your pallet rack is made by so you can use there chart to determine the capacity of your pallet racking. All manufacturers have a little different design and have been pre-engineered to be able to tell you how much weight it can hold in your specific scenario.

Seismic Considerations for Pallet Rack

If you live in a seismic zone such as Los Angeles, all of these calculations kind of go out the window and need to be addressed by an engineer for the specific location that your pallet rack will be and what pallet loads will be put on it.

Determine How Wide of a Pallet Rack Beam You Need

Pallet Rack Beams commonly called horizontal supports or step beam come in several different standard sizes. The most common step beam sizes are 4', 8', 9', 10', and 12'.All of these different widths come in different capacities based on your pallet load.

You want atleast 4" of clearance on either side of the pallet (and any pallet overhang) to be able to comfortably get you pallet in and out of the rack without hitting the rack. Also keep in mind you need 4-6" of lift off above the pallet before you place your next beam level.

Here is a reference guide for the most common standard pallet widths and there corresponding beam sizes:

  • 48" wide beam - (1) 40" wide pallet

  • 96" wide beam - (2) 40" wide pallets

  • 108" wide beam - (2) 48" wide pallets

  • 120" wide beam - Usually just 1 really wide pallet around 108" wide

  • 144" wide beam - (3) 40" wide pallets

What Width Pallet Rack Beam Do I Need?

Determine What Capacity Pallet Rack Beams You Need

Standard beam heights range in size from 2.5" to 6.5". The smaller the profile the lighter the capacity of the beam. Smaller profile beams are generally used for hand stacking items or light weight pallets. Pallet Rack beam capacities are based on evenly distributed loads.

To read a beam capacity chart there are 2 axis' with information. There is the beam width and the beam height. So in the chart below, if you had an Interlake Mecalux Teardrop Beam 108" wide x 5" high you would have a capacity of 6,150 lbs. per pair based on the 50E Profile.

Interlake Mecalux Beam Capacity Chart

Beam capacities are done on a per pair basis using the front and back beam determining the capacity of the entire shelf level. With a 6,150 lbs. capacity beam (per pair) you can store 2 pallets 3,075 lbs. next to each other and be right at capacity.

Determine What Type of Pallet Rack Decking You Need

There are many different options for selective pallet rack decking and some people do not even use any decking. Wire Decking is by far the most common decking system for pallet rack as it is the most versatile and economical. Pallet supports are also commonly used.

Not sure what size wire deck you need? Check out this post on what size pallet rack deck do I need?

Nashville Wire Waterfall Wire Deck

If you want to learn about all the different types of pallet rack decking and which one works best for you, check out this article.

Figure Out How Much Pallet Racking You Need

To maximize your storage space you need to figure out how much pallet rack you need. To do that you need to do the following:

  1. Measure the perimeter of your space. Note any columns or obstructions

  2. Determine how much aisle spacing you need based on your forklift

Measure the Perimeter of Your Space

First off if you have a large space you may want to call in one of our professionals so we can measure your space and lay your facility out in CAD to make sure you get exactly what you need. We offer this as a free service. But if you are feeling froggy and want to try it yourself, you need to measure the perimeter and place any obstructions or columns in the building.

Make sure you leave floor space for staging and unloading trucks. Also remember it is not good to have columns in your selective rack aisles because they will be subjected to forklift damage. You like to have the building columns in the flue space or inside of a bay of rack.

Determine How Much Aisle Spacing You Need to Accommodate Your Lift Truck

Here is a good rule of thumb for determining necessary aisle spacing when buying warehouse racking.

Head Length + Load Length + 12" add on for flexibility. Now let's break this down.

Head Length of Forklift

The distance from the back of the forklift to the front of the load's back rest

Load Length

The length of the pallet down the stringer (board that spans the length of the pallet) taking into account any pallet overhang.

12" add-on

It is nice to add 12 extra inches of flexibility to make sure you can comfortably navigate your pallet rack systems.

6" add - on

In addition to the 12" the extra 6" will accommodate any pallet overhang.

Pallet Rack Aisle Clearance for a 3-Wheel Forklifts

Most warehouses prefer 11-12' clearance for this style

Pallet Rack Aisle Clearance for 4-Wheel Forklifts

Most warehouses prefer 13'-14' clearance for this style

Pallet Rack Aisle Clearance for a Stand Up Forklift

This style of forklift only requires 10.5' to 11.5' as it is able to make tighter turns when you are storing and retrieving pallets in your warehouse pallet racking.

Pallet Rack Aisle Clearance for an Order Picker
  • Unguided Cherry picker needs 76" of clearance

  • Guided Cherry picker needs 52" of clearance

Pallet Rack Aisle Clearance for a Swing-Reach or Turret Truck

For narrow aisle systems the aisles will need to be between 7'-9' depending on the lift. Pallet overhang into the aisle needs to be taken into consideration.

Pallet Rack Aisle Clearance for a Deep Reach Truck

A deep reach truck features a longer scissor and heavier capacity. Because of this it requires an additional 12" -18" of aisle spacing making the minimum aisles from 9'-11'. However newer electric models only require 4'-5' of space!

Well, that should put you in a position to get started designing your warehouse racking system. If you are feeling overwhelmed with all this information and don't know where to start, reach out to us and let us help. We will do all the hard work for you!

So when you send in a request and want a quick response back here is what we need:

  1. Depth of the Upright Frames
  2. Height of the Upright Frames
  3. Capacity of the Upright Frames
  4. Width of the Beams
  5. Capacity of the Beams
  6. Decking Choice
  7. Qty's of everything.

3 Responses

Elle Jones

Elle Jones

February 09, 2023

I appreciate you providing this buying guidance for pallet racking solutions for warehouses. I concur with you that it is critical to consider the dimensions of your space’s perimeter. The size of the things you plan to store on the racking systems in your warehouse should also be taken into account, in my opinion. I’ll be sure to keep this in mind as I prepare to rent a warehouse where I can store, pack, and get ready to distribute all of my products for my cosmetics company. Thanks!

solar roofer

solar roofer

September 06, 2022
The diagram is detailed, and the explanation is clear.

Charlotte Fleet

Charlotte Fleet

July 05, 2022

Thank you for your guide to buying pallet racking systems for a warehouse, Sterling. I agree with you that it is important to take the measurements of the perimeter of your space into account. I think it would also be smart to consider the size of the items you will be stocking on the racking systems in your warehouse.

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