Building a pole barn is an ambitious task, no matter what its purpose may be. To make the process less daunting and more cost effective, we’ve compiled the following tips for a smoother pole barn construction project.
A “pole barn” can come in many forms – from a backyard garage to a horse barn to a storefront for a business. Before we get into key aspects of building a pole barn, let’s clarify what we mean by the term.
Why is it called a Pole Barn?
You may have noticed that “pole barn” and “post-frame” are interchanged quite often. While the two terms refer to the same type of building, “pole barn” happens to be 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. Builders now use laminated columns and trusses – materials that are much stronger and allow post-frame structures to be used for a variety of purposes.
“Pole barn” also originates from when buildings were not as deliberately engineered. Today, “post-frame” is more appropriate because it accurately reflects the engineering and quality of the structure built. It’s also the preferred term within the building industry.
Start with Careful Pole Barn Planning
Of course, successful pole barn construction demands smart planning first. Here are highlights of the all-important planning process. You can also get more details by checking out this post on planning your pole barn project:
- Establish what pole barn style you want. This will likely fall into one of the following categories: residential, shouse, suburban, equestrian, agricultural, or commercial/industrial.
- Check out other examples. Get help envisioning your own building by looking at photo galleries of post-frame buildings.
- Know your zoning laws, building codes, and neighborhood covenants. The simple fact is that, legally speaking, you can’t necessarily build anything you want. However, with a good plan and a knowledgeable building partner, you can usually get what you want.
- Plan dimensions for actual use. Consider access, capacity, and traffic patterns for people, animals, equipment, supplies, and inventory. Match dimensions of doors and interiors appropriately.
- Think beyond the immediate future. Pole barns are much easier to add on to than other structures. Your needs may change – and grow. Plan to allow additional space around your building.
- Make sure you’re aesthetically consistent with other buildings. Do your best to match colors and roof pitches, as well as door and window styles, with your nearby structures.
Sound Strategies for Pole Barn Construction
The insights below can help you build a great performing pole barn you can rely on for years to come. They also include cost-saving tips that won’t sacrifice quality.
1. Integrate Proper Engineering and Design Into Your Pole Barn Construction Plans
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 therefore damaged during inclement weather.
Assessing the wind loads, snow loads, and soil conditions of your building should dictate which building materials you use and how they’re engineered to fit together.
Anyone can use strong trusses or columns to build a pole barn. But construction is about more than the materials you use; it’s about how you put those materials 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.
For more information, check out this post on why some agricultural buildings fail to withstand harsh weather.
2. Choose Durable Materials
Saving money up front by purchasing less expensive, lower-quality materials is generally not a wise move. In fact, this approach can likely lead to higher maintenance, replacement, and energy costs in the long run. Ideally, you want to use materials that will last as long as your building does.
For example, purchasing an inexpensive, low-quality door may end up costing you more if you have to replace it within 10 to 15 years because the frame disintegrates, the door warps, or the hinges bend.
This point is a good rule of thumb for nearly every purchase you make for your building – from windows and doors to steel panels and insulation materials.
3. Take Advantage of the Flexibility You Have for Your Foundation
One of the biggest advantages (possibly THE biggest) to post-frame construction is the flexibility it gives you. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the foundation for your pole barn.
For example, you can sink the support structures (i.e., posts/columns) directly into the ground. That means you don’t necessarily need to pour a continuous foundation. (We detail this and eleven other advantages in our post on pole barn vs stick-frame buildings.)
And when you’re not limited by foundation requirements, you have more flexibility in terms of your site location, which creates a related advantage: You don’t necessarily need a completely flat foundation during construction. You can add interior gravel and do a final grade after the building is completed.
No major poured foundation or basement also means project costs can drop considerably. Note that excavation and related concrete costs for foundations in stick-frame buildings account for around 10% to 15% of overall project costs, and possibly higher for certain types of steel-framed buildings.
The National Frame Building Association describes the various pole barn foundation options you have, including:
- Embedding treated wood directly into the ground
- Choosing asphalt and plastic protection sleeves
- Using U- or L-shaped construction brackets and non-treated wood that is bolted into place to concrete
Please note: No matter what foundation method you choose, remember to make sure you are adequately bracing your building during construction. Your building is at its strongest when completed and when all the potential wind and weather openings present during construction are enclosed.
4. Save Money with Smart Column Spacing
Builders typically space wall columns anywhere between 6 and 12 feet apart. Importantly, the wider your column spacing, the less costly your structure is going to be because each column and accompanying truss costs you money.
But some builders lack the engineering knowledge needed for designing the columns, trusses, and related components to a specific building’s load requirements. Instead, they simply place columns every 8 feet, and put trusses on headers every 4 feet.
But guess who ends up footing the bill for unnecessary materials?
And there’s another reason why column spacing is so important: Well-engineered walls allow for more insulation to meet or exceed energy code requirements and lower your energy costs. (See more on insulation directly below.)
5. Prevent Heat Loss and Gain with Proper Insulation
Insulation will help maintain a more consistent temperature in your pole barn building, which also means it will:
- Help generate lower energy costs
- Prevent damage and deterioration of the building itself and the things inside it
- Promote an overall healthier environment for people and animals
But be sure you decide carefully on insulation. You’ll need to consider what R-value best fits with your building’s use. The R-value indicates the insulative properties of the material used – the higher the R-value, the higher the insulation capacity.
Closely related, you’ll need to choose appropriately when it comes to:
- Insulation thickness: Should you use 1- or 2-inch, or 6-inch?
- Insulation material: Should you use fiberglass, foam, or cellulose?
Get helpful information in our post on how to insulate your pole barn.
6. Focus on Appropriate Ventilation
Your post-frame building needs to be more than just a structure. It should be a complete system that’s engineered and built to help ensure good indoor air quality. That starts with controlling the airflow with a proper ventilation system.
How much ventilation will you need? That’s a crucial question because constructing a ventilation system isn’t a one-size-fits-all effort. It should depend on how you’ll use your building. For example:
- A suburban building or living space. If you plan to work or live – or just spend a lot of time – in your pole barn building, you’ll need additional ventilation. In fact, commercial and residential building codes specify the amount of “air turns” needed in a human-occupied space to ensure adequate air quality for maintaining good health.
- An animal confinement structure. When large animals like livestock and horses breathe, sweat, and generate waste, you’re going to have higher levels of moisture and odor and thus a greater need for more ventilation to improve air quality.
- Using (or just storing) chemicals. Using spray paint, high-strength cleaning materials, or other strong chemicals demands a high-ventilation environment. And if you store chemicals like fertilizer or other off-gassing substances in your enclosed building, you also need increased ventilation.
Then there’s also the question of whether a passive ventilation will be adequate – or if you’ll need a powered system.
Ultimately, no matter what goes in (and what goes on) in your building, the fundamentals of proper pole barn ventilation need to apply. Check out our post on pole barn ventilation for more details.
7. Choose the Right Doors and Windows – and Install Them Properly
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 your building, as well as the overall cost-effectiveness of your pole barn.
For example, thanks to improvements in tracks, trolleys, materials, and construction techniques, today’s slide doors, even large ones, are much easier to operate than your dad’s old slide door. They’re also less costly than overhead garage doors or hydraulic doors.
Be sure to think about how often you’ll access the equipment you’re storing. You may not need to spend as much as you think on a door you won’t use frequently.
Also, follow the manufacturer’s guidelines when installing these components and make sure to insulate the space around them properly. This is crucial if you want to prevent heat from escaping during the winter and keep heat out during the summer. (Learn more about insulation in our post on how to insulate your pole barn.)
8. 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 conventional method for preventing this is to insulate the roof underside 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.)
Using DripStop can save you thousands of dollars. Remember, it’s not an insulation, yet it effectively controls condensation in non-insulated buildings, but without the additional material and labor costs that come with insulation.
This option works well for pole barns used as warehouse units, animal confinement buildings, or equipment/implement storage, to name just a few examples. Check out our post on how to prevent condensation under a metal roof for more information.
9. Weigh Your Options on Soundproofing Materials
How important is noise reduction to you? Some people will install a sound-absorbing ceiling material, but that isn’t always the most cost-effective option to reduce noise.
A perforated steel liner with insulation behind it can help reduce noise, especially in commercial and shop environments.
Communicate with your builder about your budget and your soundproofing needs before plunging in. Your builder could be aware of a nifty feature or money-saving tactic you may have overlooked in your research on soundproofing.
10. Install Wainscot and Save in the Long Run
Wainscot for a pole barn typically takes the form of 3 ½-foot steel panels placed at the bottom of the building. It’s usually a different color than the rest of the wall, though it can be the same.
Why would you want to install this? While it may cost a bit more upfront, wainscot can be a great money-saver in the long run.
Think about it like this: What happens if you accidentally run into the side of your pole barn with a lawnmower, tractor, or truck and create major dents or scrapes? Or what if that mower kicks up stones or other debris that dents, scratches, or in some way visibly damages your pole barn wall?
With wainscot, rather than replacing the entire length of sidewall, you would only have to replace the 3 ½-foot sections that were damaged.
11. Find Less Costly Ways to Make Your Building Attractive
Talk to your builder about ways to enhance your building’s appearance without adding too much cost. For example, consider a gable pop-out over an entry to get a more residential look instead of shelling out for expensive siding or roof materials.
And for a fancier wainscot, your builder can offer brick or stone materials specifically designed for pole barns.
12. Choose an Interior Liner System Over Drywall
Using a steel flush wall liner system can be much less expensive than finishing your interior with drywall.
You can also use wood liner systems such as plywood, tongue and groove, or OSB (oriented strand board) to create an attractive yet functional interior for a workshop or man cave.
And if you plan to wash vehicles, equipment, or livestock, there are plastic panel systems that will keep water out of your walls and flowing into your floor drains.
In short, be aware that you have a number of durable interior options for what you need – besides hanging and finishing drywall.
13. 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? Maybe, 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 seemingly small problems – e.g., a misaligned door, a hole in the side steel – can morph into significant ones down the road if they’re not addressed quickly and properly.
Mother nature has a way of finding those small areas needing attention, and making them bigger.
Your Turn for Next Steps: DIY or Find a Builder
The right design, the appropriate materials, and smart construction practices are essential for a durable, low-maintenance post-frame building you’ll enjoy for years to come. Now that we’ve provided insights for a better pole barn construction project (and believe us, there are many more), your next step is to decide if you should build it yourself, or find a builder.
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. (You may want to check out how a DIY pole barn project can become disastrous to see what we mean.)
Building a pole barn is no small undertaking, and everyone has different capabilities and timelines – and budgets. In fact, it’s likely that the most important thing for you to consider is expense:
- How much will this cost you, in terms of both time and money?
- Are you willing to take the risk if you find yourself in over your head?
- What is the potential cost later if you don’t do it right the first time?
Those are big questions. Understand that you don’t have to go it alone. 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.