Building a pole barn is an ambitious task, no matter what its purpose may be. From meeting building codes to actual construction, these are B-I-G projects. To make the process less daunting, use these 14 tips for pole barn construction.
A “pole barn” can come in many forms. It can be a backyard garage, a horse barn, or a storefront for your business. Before we get into some of the important parts of building a pole barn, let’s clarify what we mean by “pole barn.”
You’ve probably noticed that the terms “pole barn” and “post-frame” are interchanged quite often. What is the difference between the two?
Why is it Called a Pole Barn?
While the two terms refer to the same type of building, “pole barn building” happens to be slightly more dated.
Historically, these buildings were called pole barns because builders used poles — similar to telephone poles — to support the rafters making up the roof of the building.
Eventually builders began constructing with square columns which, compared to round poles, were easier to work with. Now builders use laminated columns and trusses, which are much stronger and allow post-frame structures to be utilized for many purposes.
The term “pole barn building” also originates from when buildings were not as technically and deliberately engineered. “Post-frame” is more correct, as it more accurately reflects the engineering and quality of the structure built.
14 Tips for Pole Building Construction
Ok, now that you’re clear on the terminology, let’s take a closer look at some important tips to consider as you begin your project.
1. Choose From the Different Types of Pole Barns
The type of building you choose will determine a variety of things, including building code requirements, ventilation, materials – the list goes on. Start by choosing from one of these broad categories before you talk with a designer or an engineer:
- Suburban (pole barn garage, man cave, she shed, shouse, storage space for equipment)
- Equestrian (horse barn, stable, arena)
- Agricultural (livestock building, feed storage, equipment storage)
- Commercial (office, warehouse, mini-warehouse, retail)
Example of a Suburban Building
2. Check Out Building Codes
Building codes vary depending on the city or state in which you live, as well as the type of structure you plan to build. For instance, a building used to house your retail business will adhere to different codes than a simple garage in your backyard.
For more details, check out why failing to know zoning laws, building codes and neighborhood covenants can cost you big-time when it comes to pole building construction.
3. Integrate Proper Engineering and Design Into Your Pole Barn Plans
Assessing the wind loads, snow loads and soil conditions of your building will dictate which building materials you use and how they are engineered to fit together.
Anyone can use strong trusses or columns to construct their building. But construction is about more than the materials you use, it’s about how you put the pieces together.
For instance, your strong truss needs to be properly connected to a strong column. And that strong column needs to be properly embedded into the ground, or attached to the building’s foundation.
No matter how strong your materials are, if you neglect to engineer them together the right way, your building will not withstand the elements.
4. Look for Flexibility in Your Pole Barn Foundation
One of the biggest, if the not THE biggest, advantage to post-frame construction is that it gives you flexibility. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the foundation for your pole barn.
Speed, time and cost all tilt in your favor when you use post-frame construction. Post-frame structures give you the option of the support structure (posts/columns) sunk directly into the ground. This option means there is no major foundation or basement required, as we detail in this post on pole building vs stick-frame.
Your pole barn foundation design will be based on the build type you pursue, whether it’s a bulk storage facility or a horse barn. You have multiple pole barn foundation options. The website Post-Frame Advantage detailed many in this post, including:
- Embedding treated wood directly into the ground
- Using “U” shaped construction brackets and non-treated wood that is bolted into place
- Choosing asphalt and plastic protection sleeves
5. Create a Pole Barn Layout That’s Tailored to Your Usage
When designing a pole barn building, consider traffic patterns and access for people, animals, equipment, supplies, et cetera. Be sure that the dimensions for your doors and material movement areas will be wide enough to accommodate your traffic.
For example, if your building is designed for retail or storage insert an outside access door that is four feet wide. You’ll avoid scraping your door and trims when using a hand cart to move your stock from delivery vehicle to your storage area or retail shelves.
Or when you’re building horse stalls, plan your building width to a 14’ center aisleway between stalls, as a 12’ aisleway may feel cramped.
6. Be Consistent With Other Buildings
If you’re building close to other buildings, you want to ensure aesthetic consistency. Be sure to match a new building’s aesthetic to surrounding buildings, as well as its overall design. Start at the planning stage, and pay close attention to the details.
A new addition should not stick out from the other buildings. Just like when you’re building an addition with a residential home, you want to ensure any new construction remains consistent with the surrounding neighborhood. You want to be consistent with other buildings on your property so do your best to match colors, roof pitches, doors and windows. Today’s quality post-frame suppliers have a lot of options to help you with this.
7. Focus on Appropriate Ventilation
Every type of pole building has unique ventilation requirements. For example, suburban buildings can be used as a living space more often than other types of post-frame buildings, and will have different cooling and heating requirements.
Buildings used for agriculture, particularly livestock, will require different types of ventilation.
Animal confinement spaces can build up an excess of moisture, which in turn, can lead to smelly odors and other problems.
Animals’ lungs are larger than human lungs, and omit a lot of moisture. When combined with animal sweat and waste, a barn can develop poor indoor air quality. Whether it is passive or powered, make sure you have enough ventilation to keep air fresh.
8. Choose Windows and Doors Specific to Your Usage
For suburban buildings, select windows and doors for access and ventilation. Insulate them properly to prevent heat from escaping during the winter months, and to keep heat out during the summer. No one wants to do maintenance on a four-wheeler in a freezer or an oven!
Check out more details in our post on how to insulate a pole barn.
9. Know Your Limits if You Choose the DIY Route
We know there are plenty of options out there if you choose the DIY route. However, there are also plenty of pitfalls.
We’re not discouraging you from choosing the DIY route — just be sure you know your limits. In this post, we detail how to avoid a disastrous DIY project, which includes some of the following things to watch out for:
- Choosing a pole barn that’s too big for you to handle
- Not having a big enough crew
- Trying your hand at trades that are too difficult to learn
- Failing to plan for the big picture
The list goes on. Check out our post before you choose the DIY route.
10. Think Bigger With Your Site and Building Planning
When deciding where to put the building on your site, consider looking ahead for future expansion.
Your needs will grow, and rather than having to move or take down a building to build a bigger one, think about leaving space around your building. Maybe you’ll need more office space in the future, and since post-frame buildings are easy to add on to, you’ll have the room to do it.
Let’s go back to horse barns again. The number of horses you have will determine the plan for your building — from how many stalls, and how much extra space you need, to whether you want a tack room to store bridles, saddles and grooming supplies.
You may have no intention of moving beyond this number, but even if you don’t, you should plan as if you will (because our experience tells us horse owners always want more space). Ensure you have room to grow, because most likely you will.
11. Prevent Condensation
We talked earlier about proper insulation, and the important role it plays in your pole barn. In cases of condensation, insulation alone won’t be effective in preventing condensation within the pole barn.
The goal of insulation is to keep the inside-to-outside difference low enough at a specific humidity level to prevent it from reaching the dew point. However, there are cases in which the temperature level or humidity level will be so great between inside and outside the pole barn, that condensation will occur.
Check out our post on how to prevent condensation under a metal roof for more details.
12. Plan for Inclement Weather
The stability and lifespan of your pole barn building will be greatly influenced by its design. Too often buildings — especially agricultural structures — are not properly engineered and are damaged during inclement weather.
The key is ensuring all the elements in the building are balanced. Some elements of building are designed properly for inclement weather, but others are not. The chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and without proper engineering, the building will fail, as we detailed in this post on why some buildings fail due to inclement weather.
13. Choosing the Right Doors and Windows
Doors and windows contribute to a pole building in so many ways. From aesthetics to ventilation to lighting, choosing the right doors and windows for your building is essential to the short and long-term viability of the building. Check out our posts about choosing the doors and windows for your pole barn.
14. Align Yourself With a Vendor Who can Make Pole Barn Repairs
If you build your pole barn correctly, you won’t have to worry about repairs, right? Typically, that’s the case. But any building will require some general maintenance from time to time, and if there is a freak storm and you experience significant damage, you’ll need someone who handles pole barn repairs.
Remember that small problems — a misaligned door, a hole in side steel — can transform into significant problems down the road if they’re not addressed quickly and properly.
Next Steps: DIY or Find a Builder
Now that we’ve given you 14 tips for building a pole barn (and believe us, there are many more), your next step is to decide if you should build this yourself, or find a builder.
This will be a big undertaking, and everyone has different skill sets and capabilities. The most important thing to consider is expense: How much will this cost you, both in terms of time and money, and are you willing to take the risk if you find yourself in over your head?
Those are big decisions. If you’d rather work with an expert, be sure to click on our Find Your Builder link and we’ll align you with a post-frame builder in your area.