How to Avoid a Disastrous DIY Pole Barn Project

August 12, 2016

How to Avoid a Disastrous DIY Pole Barn Project

Part of the fun of any DIY project is learning new skills to complete a project. However, there is a point where you venture too far into the unknown and begin to cost yourself time, money and perhaps even your own personal safety.

If you’re a DIYer with lots of time on your hands and potentially cash to burn, by all means, you can take a shot at any pole barn project. But if you’re on a budget and time is of the essence, there are tipping points when you can find yourself in over your head.  Many pole barn jobs can get extremely complicated, and if you’re not careful, can lead to some significant mistakes.

We reached out to Gordon Sebranek, who manages the Engineering Department at Wick Buildings, for some insights. Following are nine potential pitfalls he outlined to help you decide if you’ve bitten off more than you can chew on your pole barn project.  Be sure to listen to his audio interview for details beyond the post below.

Wick Interview - Gordon S (1)

1. Pole Barn Too Big

Gordon says a good cutoff point for a DIY-worthy project is anything over 10 feet tall and 45 feet wide. Anything larger requires a bigger crew, special equipment, and as you’ll see below, some tricks of the trade.

2. Crew Size Too Small

A typical pole barn project needs at least three people. Four is even better. Lots of things are doable with two people, but there are some tasks that simply require more bodies.

Gordon refers to setting trusses as an example. “You need one guy at the end to guide it, someone to run the skid steers, and someone on the roof, running purlins to brace the trust,” he said.

3. Trades Too Tough to Learn

You can watch a YouTube about how to complete a specific construction task, but there are some construction jobs that flat-out require talent.  “I can hang sheetrock,” Gordon notes, “but I can’t tape joints to make it look professional.”

Smoothing drywall compound requires a deft touch, and many of the following trades have areas that require both experience and talent. Gordon recommends sub-contracting for:

  • Concrete
  • Electrical
  • Plumbing
  • Insulation

4. Can’t See the Big Picture

Construction talent is required when you execute the plans – but what about creating the plans?

You have to be able to build it in your head.

Gordon notes that designing a pole barn requires some innate talent as well. “You have to be able to build this in your head,” he explains. That requires envisioning how everything fits together in a building.

Beyond a natural conceptual ability, Gordon said that most designers have advanced schooling in the field, typically a four-year college degree in construction management, or a two year degree in architectural design.  And even then, there’s a certain amount of on-the-job experience required to hone that talent.

“We start out entry level designers with simple buildings, and as they get more comfortable, we move on to more complicated jobs,” he said.

5. Planning Not a Strong Suit

One area that is often overlooked by DIYers is the task of pre-planning.  Wick’s approach is much more in-depth than scratching out a shopping list for a lumber yard.

“We give very detailed instructions on how this gets put together,” Gordon said. These construction instructions include line items that specify parts and procedures for construction. They range in size from 20 to 100 pages, and the designer specifies how the project will fit together.

The point is to methodically think through every element of the project beforehand. It’s not that a DIYer can’t do this, it’s just that many don’t have the time, patience or understanding how to create a thorough construction instruction packet.

6. Don’t Have the Experience

Much of what we’ve alluded to already could be lumped under a general heading “experience.” This is a difficult category to write about, because we simply can’t tell you all the tricks of the trade that will help.

An oversight could significantly impact your building.

Consider Gordon’s explanation about making a pole barn square:

You have to set up your batter boards, run your strings to make sure you’ve got a square box outline to fit your building in. Then you have to make sure all your columns are plumb. But even though you’ve got all of the columns plumb, when you get your trusses set, you have to make sure you’ve got a straight wall at the top and the bottom.

That’s a simple procedure for a builder who’s done it a thousand times. But for the novice, it’s an oversight that could significantly impact your building.

7. Don’t Know the Specialized Building Tricks

General building training and experience is great, but there are also specialties within post-frame construction that require a different knowledge base.  For example, free-stall dairy setups involve a number of unique parameters. And these specialized projects tend to also require specialized equipment.

8. Lacking Time and Money to Make Mistakes

This category is entirely subjective. As we mentioned earlier, if you have unlimited time and money, then you’re never really in over your head. But if you are on a tight timetable or budget, you may soon find yourself in some serious soup.

Gordon notes that the length of a project depends on the specifics of the size and complexity.  He’s seen an experienced person design a 30 x 50 building in two hours. “Some jobs might take six weeks, because they’re very involved,” he said.

Project durations become longer depending on your experience level, too. Do you have the patience to teach yourself how trim out a building nicely, and to correct mistakes if and when they happen?

9. Don’t Know the Safety Requirements

You’re in over your head when you don’t have the appropriate safety tools to protect yourself on difficult jobs. Or, more accurately, when you don’t know what you need to do to protect yourself.

Know the safety requirements.

Wick Builders and the outside contractors that they work with adhere to OSHA requirements. Safety is the top priority on every job. It’s our opinion that if you don’t know the safety requirements for every job, then you are in over your head.

You only go around once, folks. Don’t short-change the safety requirements for a construction job.

Recap: DIYer Checklist

Here’s a simple checklist of projects that could leave you up the proverbial creek without a paddle;

  • Too big – avoid buildings over 10 feet high and 45 feet long
  • Specialty building – anything requiring unique features (horse stalls on an equine building, for example)
  • Technical trades – contract out for electrical, plumbing, insulation, etc.
  • Safety – if you’re not versed on the required safety measures, please call the pros

If you find yourself in over your head, click on the Find a Builder link to get some help!

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