When it comes to building your pole barn, don’t underestimate the importance of insulation. Smart insulation practices will help you control heat loss and gain, especially from the flow of air in and out of your building – and that creates crucial advantages.

The following 5 tips will help explain those advantages and help you insulate your pole barn more effectively. We also include bonus insights on preventing moisture in your pole barn.

1. Understand just how critical insulation is for you and your pole barn

Insulation will help maintain a consistent temperature in your pole barn building. That means it will also help:   

Generate lower energy costs. Heating and cooling a pole barn can be a significant financial investment. Boosting the R-value – a measure of your insulation’s ability to resist heat traveling through it – can result in significant savings. Generally, the higher the composite R-value of your walls and ceiling, the better.

Prevent damage and deterioration. Uncontrolled air flow causes excess moisture and condensation, which can lead to rust, mold, and mildew. These things can not only damage the building itself but also the vehicles, equipment, and anything else you store inside it.

Promote a healthier environment. Controlling the heat and cold, and even the noise, with effective insulation practices helps create an overall healthier dwelling space for both people and animals.  

How will you use your pole barn?

2. Be clear on how you plan to use your pole barn

Do you want a pole barn garage where you’ll likely be working for only a couple of hours at a time – and in mild weather? Will it be a “man cave” (or “she shed”) where you might spend all day? Are you insulating your attic? What kinds of equipment and materials do you plan to store?

Insulation isn’t a one-size-fits-all construction step. Answering questions like those above is crucial because what goes in – and what goes on inside – your pole barn should determine your insulation decisions.

For example, let’s say you plan to use your pole barn for animal confinement. You may not need wall insulation because the animals themselves, especially horses, generate a lot of heat. 

In this case, we might advise you to place insulation under the steel of the roof to reduce condensation during summer or reduce radiant heat when the sun is shining. Alternatively, you may want to use a condensation control measure like a DripStop membrane (discussed more below).

Design Plans3. Start planning for insulation in the design phase

The key to insulating your pole barn effectively is to start with the right building design. That’s why the best time to address insulation is before construction begins.

A properly designed wall system – and overall pole barn structure – could improve your building’s ability to withstand cold and heat by 17%, and possibly more.

With a poorly designed building, you’ll always be fighting a losing battle, no matter what type of insulation you use. 

The following considerations can help your pole-barn’s insulation capabilities and overall performance.

Well-insulated walls = well-engineered walls. The less obstruction you have in a wall cavity, the better your insulation will work. Think of anything in your wall that’s not insulation as a bridge. Heat and cold will travel across that bridge, which is exactly what you don’t want.

A well-designed pole barn building will typically have columns placed 8 to 10 feet apart, instead of the conventional 2 feet with stud wall systems. Less obstruction equals more insulation and less chance for cold to travel through the wall. 

These factors allow for more insulation to meet or exceed energy code requirements and to lower your energy costs.

In the chart below, we compare the raw insulation value of a wall with properly spaced columns to that of a stud wall insulation system.

R-Value table

Use air/moisture barriers. A well-engineered wall often incorporates an air barrier such as Tyvek on the outside of the insulation and a vapor barrier such as a 6 mil or greater polyethylene on the inside. 

That outer air barrier also creates a surface for foam insulation to adhere to, which can be helpful: If an exterior steel panel is ever damaged and has to be replaced, you won’t need to cut and replace the foam. (See #5 below for more on this point.)

In addition, be sure to follow the sealing guidelines of your window and door manufacturers to prevent air and water from infiltrating at these openings.  

Plan for effective ventilation with vented ridges and eaves. Along with insulation, addressing ventilation will also help control the heat, cold, and moisture; promote better indoor air quality; and protect what’s inside your pole barn. 

As the diagram shows, thanks to thermal convection, warm, moist, air will rise. A ridge vent allows it to escape. (We provide our customers with a cost-effective Flow-thru Ridge Vent as standard, with a variety of options should the building require more ventilation.)

Ridge Vent

Wind hitting the roof can actually aid this process by creating low pressure, which further draws out the warm air through the ridge vent. When that warm, higher humidity air escapes through the ridge vent, it creates negative air pressure inside the building. 

That’s when vented eaves come into play, enabling the negative air pressure to draw in cooler, lower humidity air from outdoors. (Other openings, such as doors and windows, can facilitate the process.)

Vented Eaves

Note that the type of insulation you choose (addressed below), how it’s applied, and how you use the building will influence the need for more or less ventilation. Be sure to bring this up with your builder.

4. Select your insulation thickness strategically

What will your building be used for? And what R-value best fits with that use? Remember, the R-value indicates the insulative properties of the material used. The higher the R-value, the higher the insulation capacity.

One- or two-inch insulation. One- or two-inch insulation can be placed on the exterior of the building, underneath the steel. It ranges from R-5 to an R-16 value, depending on the type.

R-5 faced fiberglass insulation, for example, has a relatively low insulative value and is often used under roofs to avoid condensation on cold days and to reduce heat on sunny ones.

Alternatively, a two-inch rigid foam insulation rated at R-16 provides three times the insulative value under steel. 

In addition to providing modest heat gain and condensation control, thinner insulation also provides both a degree of noise protection from the outside and noise absorption on the inside of the building.

Six-inch insulation. A six-inch fiberglass batt typically has a value of R-19 and is thicker than what’s generally applied directly under steel. 

This type of insulation has a higher insulative property, as well as a higher cost.

Six-inch insulation is typically used with interior framed walls – often called “flush walls” in a pole barn. While it adds to the price of the building, it also allows for a number of interior finishing options such as steel, drywall, and sheeted wood products like OSB/plywood.

5. Weigh your options: fiberglass, foam or cellulose?

Most insulation comes in one of three forms: fiberglass, foam, or cellulose. Make the effort to match your material with your needs and your budget.

Fiberglass. This is the industry standard and the most commonly used. It’s lightweight and often the lowest cost insulation option. 

Fiberglass insulation comes in rolls, batts, or loose fill, in which case it’s blown in. Most builders and construction crews can properly put roll or batt fiberglass insulation in place. However, blown fiberglass requires special equipment, protective gear, and training.

Foam. While it can do a great job insulating a pole barn building, foam generally costs more. In addition to its expense, you may have to hire a person independent from your builder to install it.

Cellulose. This type of blown insulation is typically put in an attic. It’s usually made from renewable materials and has a slightly higher R-value per inch than blown-in fiberglass.

Bonus insights on moisture and condensation 

A number of other factors – and important decisions – should be involved in your insulation planning, especially as they relate to moisture and condensation. 

Consider alternative options for condensation control. When temperature and humidity conditions reach the dew point, moisture condenses on the underside of a non-insulated metal roof. And when there’s a lot of condensation, drops of water form and start to fall, potentially damaging whatever contents lie below. 

The traditional method for combating condensation is to insulate the roof so that the temperature on the inside roof panel never reaches the dew point.

However, there are simpler, more economical solutions. If you don’t plan on insulating your entire building, you’ll want to consider installing some type of condensation control system on the underside of your roof. 

For example, Wick Buildings offers the DripStop condensation control membrane, which arrives at your building site already in place and installed with the roofing panels. (The membrane is self-adhering and is applied to the panels in the pre-construction phase.)

DripStop Diagram

Using DripStop can save you thousands of dollars. It accomplishes condensation control like insulation does, but without the additional material and labor costs. This option works well for pole barns used as warehouse units, animal confinement buildings, or equipment/implement storage, to name just a few examples.

Prevent moisture even when your building is not wrapped in Tyvek. For a pole barn that’s heated and cooled, the typical construction for an insulated wall would first include air barrier/drainage material on the outside of the insulation, such as Tyvek, and under the exterior cladding. 

Ideally, you would also have a vapor barrier (typically a 4 to 6 mil polyethylene) underneath the interior liner material that creates your walls and ceiling, i.e, drywall, chipboard, paneling, steel liner, etc.

While Tyvek is recommended on the exterior, if the exterior steel is tight and you have no water penetration, then you could insulate with fiberglass batt or rigid foam without the Tyvek. Note that by rigid foam, we mean pre-formed foam sheets, not expanding foam blown onto the steel.  

Why you want a barrier layer if you use spray foam. If you are going to use expanding blown foam on the interior side of the steel, we recommend having a barrier layer such as Tyvek. 

Let’s say you have a pole barn with a finished interior, and a sheet of exterior steel has been damaged by a vehicle running into it. If Tyvek or a similar material is separating the foam from the steel, you can simply replace that sheet by unscrewing it and putting a new panel in its place.

But if there isn’t a separating barrier like Tyvek, you’ll have to cut through the steel to get the foam separated from the rest of the foam-filled wall cavity. You’ll then need to re-insulate that area and replace the exterior steel panel. 

Don’t make insulation an afterthought

There’s a lot riding on insulating your pole barn effectively, from saving money to protecting your equipment to keeping you and your family safer.

So whether you’re taking the DIY route or using a builder, be sure to identify all the ways you’ll be using your pole barn before it’s constructed. Then, educate yourself on the options. 

Making good decisions will enable you to have a well-designed and properly insulated pole barn that will perform great for many years to come.

For more details on pole barn insulation planning, check out this helpful insulation guide.

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