Pole Building vs Stick-Frame: 12 Reasons Why Post-Frame Construction Wins

August 24, 2017

Pole Building vs Stick-Frame: 12 Reasons Why Post-Frame Construction Wins

Pole barns, or pole buildings, are general terms for a type of agricultural building. However, they are built using a methodology called post-frame construction. Let’s take a look at why when you’re comparing a pole building vs stick-frame, post-frame construction ultimately triumphs.

A pole barn has been the traditional name for a large agricultural building with no basement, a high ceiling, and wide open spaces. The slang term is referred to as “pole barns” or “pole buildings,” even though that terminology does ruffle some feathers among the building crowd.

What people really need to focus on is what’s “under the hood” — the framing methodology that makes a “pole building.” That would be post-frame construction, and there are 12 reasons why it’s superior to a stick-frame building.

Definition of a Pole Barn

We’ve answered the question “What is a pole barn?” elsewhere on our website, but essentially our definition of a pole barn is a building where laminated (multi-ply) wood posts form the main framing element that transfers wind and snow loads to the foundation.

The posts are connected with wood sidewall girts.  The roof framing system typically includes wood trusses connected by wood purlins.  Exterior cladding (often steel panels) is the “glue” that holds it all together and keeps the weather outside.

People tend to think of a pole barn more by its appearance than by its framing system, which is post-frame construction.  As we noted in a previous post, too often zoning boards judge a book by its cover.  In an attempt to control a building’s characteristics — its appearance, for example — they’ll place restrictions on this type of framing system.

The truth be told, “poles” are not used in post-frame construction.  Posts, also called columns, are used (thus the term).  However, for some reason this term sticks.  

The Parthenon

The Parthenon is an example of a building that uses columns for support.

Speaking of sticks, let’s get to this argument of post-frame construction vs. stick-frame construction.

Comparing Apples to Apples, or Structural Framing Systems to Structural Framing Systems

It would be so much easier to say let’s compare apples to apples, but if we’re comparing post-frame to stick-frame (also referred to as stud wall), we’re really talking about structural framing systems.

We’re really talking about structural framing systems.

These two systems are not defined by the interior or exterior wall system, nor the roof, ceiling, or floor finish.  It’s the framing system, and it boils down to this:  

Post-frame structures: As Dr. David Bohnhoff of the University of Wisconsin-Madison noted, wood posts are the main vertical framing element in all post-frame buildings. These posts are buried 4 to 6 feet deep to provide support.

Stick-frame structures:  With stick-building, which is more commonly used in building homes, the frames are often built over a crawlspace or basements.  The frame generally requires a continuous concrete foundation support, which results in significantly higher foundation costs.  

That being the big differences, what are the advantages of post-frame construction over stick-building?

1. Lower (or no) foundation cost  

Because post-frame structures are supported by posts that can be sunk directly into the ground, there is no major foundation structure or basement required.  Foundations can run 10-15% of overall costs, considering the amount of concrete required and excavating costs.

Foundations are a big part of overall cost.

With post-frame buildings, the posts are sunk 4 to 6 feet deep, and no concrete slab is required. A slab can be added (and usually is), but it will be at a fraction of the cost of a basement or a full continuous foundation.

2. Adaptability to varying site conditions

Post-frame systems can be designed to accommodate varying soil wall pressures either from within or from the exterior of the building wall, without the extensive excavation costs and expensive concrete foundation system needed for studwall.

3. Exterior add-ons are easier

You’ll find it easier to construct porches and larger overhangs off of posts versus studwalls.

It's easier to construct larger overhangs off of posts.

4. Speedier and safer construction

Because you’ll use less components, your construction time is much shorter, thus reducing costs. And with fewer components, there’s a smaller chance of construction damage.

5. Large wall openings for doors and windows

A big issue for agricultural, suburban, equestrian and commercial buildings is the need for large openings in walls to move equipment in and out, provide air movement and to ensure healthy environments for animals or large equipment.

Larger openings.

Posts can have on-center spacing of 8 or more feet — much larger than would be allowed in a typical stick-frame construction without using expensive headers and framing reinforcements.  This allows for large wall openings, which is ideal for large doors or retailers with large glass facades.

6. Greater strength due to transfer of force into the ground

Because solid posts are anchored at least 4 feet into the ground, post-frame buildings will transfer wind and snow loads directly into the soil at these locations.

This provides much greater wind resistance than stick-built buildings, which have weak links at the hinge joint terminations on the ends of the studwalls.

7. Large open spaces

Because post-frame construction utilizes larger membered clear-span wood trusses, you can have large open spaces without interior support walls.  This is ideal for gymnasiums, event facilities, open shelters and workshops where you need to move stuff around.

Open space without interior support walls.

8. Less site preparation

When you don’t have to pour a continuous foundation, you have more flexibility in terms of your site.  Again, the post building doesn’t always require a completely flat foundation during construction.  You can add interior gravel and do a final grade after the building is completed.

9. Superior durability

It’s simple: Post-frame utilizes larger components in its structures. The larger the component, the longer the lifespan.

Larger components have longer lifespans.

10. More insulation, fewer thermal breaks

Your energy savings will be significant compared to a stick-frame with studs 16” or 24” on-center. Post-frame building can be 8’ or more on-center, allowing for large wall cavities.  This creates more room for insulation to meet or exceed energy code requirements.

11. No load-bearing interior walls

The generally smaller-size, structural components of stick-frame construction many times require interior walls. In post-frame buildings, no load-bearing interior walls are required. That reduces the framing costs typically associated with a load-bearing wall.

It's a smart way to reduce framing costs.

12. The sky’s the limit

You can construct much higher walls thanks to the larger structural members than with stick-built structures.

We’ve listed twelve reasons why post-frame construction is far superior to stick-building.  With the flexibility, durability and lower cost of post-frame construction, stick-building simply doesn’t stand up to post-frame, especially for facilities larger than the old-style, traditional residential home design.  

We’d be interested to hear if you have additional reasons why you think post-frame rocks, and even if you have some points about the benefits of stick-frame over post-frame.

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