Tips for Building Pole Barns
Pole barns are incredibly versatile. They can just as easily be a lofty hangar for agricultural equipment as a luxury equine stable and training arena, a merchandise-stuffed commercial space or even a surprisingly comfortable home. They’re time-, labor- and cost-effective solutions for building exactly what you need when and where you need it.
In fact, they’re often viewed as such simply built structures that some of their best benefits are either taken for granted or overlooked entirely. The building experts at Franklin Building Supply want your pole barn or building to be everything you envision. Here are a few tips to consider as you make your plans.
1. Understand exactly what qualifies as a pole barn.
Pole barns are also known as post-frame buildings, and that’s exactly what makes them what they are—the post-based frame. Posts, timbers or columns serve as the building’s main vertical framing. They’re the load-bearing element that handles the weight of the building’s roof and walls.
Traditionally, posts are sunk four to six feet into the ground for stability. However, some designs anchor columns to a concrete slab or foundation. Standard construction uses horizontal wall girts to provide lateral stability against wind, with a splash board at the bottom and a wall header at the top. In similar pattern, roof purlins cross the trusses.
Pole barns can have all sides clad and insulated, three, two, one or even none for a pavilion effect. Floors can be just about anything as long as it’s level and stable—dirt, gravel, rubber flooring over rolled stone, pavers or even a concrete pad. Roofs come in every material and shape—shed, gable, hip or gambrel. All told, pole barns are simple yet strong, easy builds.
2. Site it right.
Placement may seem simple. After all, you’re just sinking poles or timbers, but even if you’re thinking of your structure as a temporary one right now, many times, owners later wish they’d left room for an access or allowed for a future convenience. Be sure to consider your options carefully:
- If you site your building on the hill, for example, will the constant wind be a blessing or a curse?
- Which way does wind usually drive rain or drift snow?
- If you site the building low, will fog, damp and lack of ventilation cause problems?
- How difficult will running electricity, water and waste systems be to serve that location?
- Will you be drilling a well to ensure a water supply before you build?
- Will the floor be level, or will it require leveling and stabilization?
- If you’re pouring a slab, how thick will it need to be, and will you have the needed access?
- Will erosion or drainage present a problem?
- Will damp and rot shorten your timbers’ lifespans?
- How will sun strike the roof and walls and affect temperatures?
- Will the building obstruct your line of sight to other areas of the property?
- Will the building look like it belongs in the location?
- Will lighting schedules disturb other parts of your property or your neighbors?
- Will it be accessible?
3. Look at size in terms of function.
Pole barns are popular because their larger building components allow proportionally large enclosed spaces without the need for internal load-bearing walls. The biggest, widest, highest rectangle or square possible, however, may or may not be the best option to serve your building’s intended purpose. Instead, use functions and traffic patterns to determine the dimensions that will serve you best, keeping in mind that the larger and loftier an enclosed space is, the costlier it will be to heat or cool.
While you may need a pole building’s open spaciousness, you may also want private areas suitable for office space, storage, animal stalls, personal conveniences like restrooms or living quarters, laundry facilities, repair rooms, equipment or inventory, for example. Longer and narrower may work better than big and wide if you’ll lose storage space to traffic clearances. Likewise, an ell or a central area with a wing or two can offer both separation for some activities along with a common area that serves both.
4. Allow for utilities.
Assess needs for water, power or waste systems realistically. Will you really never need to visit or use the pole barn in the dark? Will you really be able to stand working in an unheated space with no climate control and no personal facilities? What about visitors or clients? How will you power your tools and equipment or recharge dead battery packs or a phone? Depending on what you’re doing, you may need to power exhaust fans, have access to centralized compressed air, maintain online data access or steam clean diesel engines, for example.
Even if you’re planning on maybe adding conveniences later, wiring, plumbing, drains and other system components will be more difficult to install once insulation, interior walls, ceilings, floors and the contents of the building are in place.
5. Plan to brace and build for weather and climate.
Pole barns transfer snow loads and wind shear into the ground. They can only do that, however, as well as they’re designed and built to do it. The most common cause of pole barn structural problems—especially in agricultural settings—is the failure to plan for typical area weather and climate conditions and to build and brace for them.
Humidity, snow loads, exterior temperatures, interior temperatures, and wind uplift all play roles in issues like corrosion, rot, heave, load shift and condensation. All of these affect how much a finished pole barn will shift over time. However, many failures owe to construction errors because the bracing in place couldn’t withstand a bout of weather. Proper bracing during construction is essential to good engineering. Together, they determine whether a pole building will stand and for how long.
6. Consider bay doors, man doors, windows, porches and overhangs.
Pole buildings allow for large, multiple doors and windows without structural compromises. The right doors and windows can offer advantages in ventilation, lighting, convenience, function and looks, but always check ratings for qualities like thermal insulation, resistance to water seepage, thermal breaks, wind load ratings and proper installation. Where air can go, water will usually also, and if wind defeats a bay door, uplift can cause additional significant damage.
Don’t forget that porches and overhangs can extend storage and functional areas, define entryways or even add a break in a roofline. A portion of a pole barn can remain an open pass-through area, or porch extensions can wrap a corner or add a gallery. These little extras in design can significantly extend functional areas as well as offer shade or shelter.
7. Research and comply with local building codes.
Permits and building codes vary at the local level and by a structure's intended use. Requirements for an agricultural pole barn intended to store rounds of hay may differ considerably from a pole barn built as a commercial equine performance and training arena, for example, or an auto repair business. Likewise, the trend in pole barn homes allows a scale of open floor plans and space typically found only in extremely expensive homes or repurposed barns, but it also entails its own set of code requirements.
Because they don’t need a foundation, pole barns and buildings are often viewed as temporary structures, but commercial or residential usage and zoning may introduce additional, more restrictive building codes that supersede those for casual personal agricultural use. Mistakes can result in costly do-overs, tear-downs, or future inability to sell or rent the property. In contrast, a sturdy structure built to code may be the asset that prompts a future buyer to close the deal.
8. Let Franklin Building Supply help you build your pole barn.
Whether you’re a do-it-yourselfer ready to throw up a pole barn in the next week or so or you’re looking for someone to build a distinctive pole building just for you, Franklin Building Supply is ready with everything you need—from supplies and building components to advice and expertise. Stop by one of our locations—we have 16 to choose from in Idaho and one in Elko, Nevada—and let one of our experienced pros help you with building exactly what you need when and where you need it.