Pole Barn Designs vs. Steel Buildings

Which building system is right for your project?

Pole Barn Designs versus Steel Buildings

A Brief History of Pole Barns

The history of pole barn construction in the United States can be directly tied to some of the most difficult times in the country’s history – The Great Depression – which devastated the world economy and put financial stress on the vast majority of the American public.

At the same time as the economic downturn, agriculture technology was progressing from rudimentary manual techniques to the widespread use of mechanized power. With more high-powered machinery in use and the economy slumping, farmers needed cheap solutions to house their suddenly extensive collection of tractors, plows, combines and cultivators. The pole barn offered farmers everywhere a quick and cheap solution at a time when an individual farmer and his family were solely responsible for construction.

Are Pole Barns Really Popular or Just a Tradition?

Pole barns are still common in rural parts of the country, although many of the barns are in a state of disrepair as they have faltered due to weather damage or a lack of maintenance. The pole barns of today are mostly constructed out of a sense of tradition, as the structures are a direct link to the past.

Declining Interest in Pole Barn Designs Over Time

The graph below provided by Google shows the declining interest in pole barns over the past decade.

The New Preferred Method of Construction

For many legacy farmers, the pole barn on their property is a symbol of their family history. But as the farmers of earlier eras opted for more innovative farming equipment, the industrial leaders of today are choosing more innovative building structures, including steel buildings.

What is a Pole Barn?

Pole barn construction relies on wooden poles that are anywhere from 4 inches to 12 inches in diameter. The wooden poles form the skeletal structure of the building and are responsible for supporting the roof and overall stability of the building. The poles are just 96 inches apart and often set in unsettled ground.

How Pole Barns Are Constructed:

Holes are dug and wood poles are placed into the shallow holes in the ground.

What is a Pole Barn

How Metal Buildings Are Constructed:

Columns are anchored to a concrete pad or concrete piers.

Steel Buildings vs Pole Barns
Are Pole Barns Dangerous?

Soil conditions can change quickly, which makes this aspect of pole barn designs especially inconsistent and even potentially dangerous. As the ground shifts, the wooden poles are liable to move, which is likely to compromise the structural integrity of your building.

Soil Conditions for Pole Barns
In fact, there are a whole host of similar issues that come along with using wood as the primary building material for your pole barn designs:

  • Highly combustible: Pole barns are susceptible to fire damage, which can be dangerous for building users as well as animals housed in the building. More than 200 horses every year are reported dead due to barn fires, according to the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. The dangers that come with the wooden structures also contribute to higher insurance costs.
  • Decay: Pole barn construction often lacks the precision of steel construction, leaving gaps and holes in the structure over time. These holes can lead to leaks, which kickstart the process of rot and decay. Wood is extremely vulnerable and offers the right combination of moisture, temperature and oxygen to produce destructive fungi that can leave your building exposed and defenseless to extreme weather.
  • Pests: Raccoons, possums, mice, rats and termites pose a serious threat to the quality of your building, and more importantly, the animals that are housed there. These pests are capable of gnawing through wood pole barns, which not only causes structural deficiencies, but also gives them access to your livestock’s feed supply.

Advantages of Steel Buildings

Pole barn designs were celebrated in the 1930s because they were affordable and relatively easy to construct. Those same principles are still promoted by pole barn manufacturers, but it’s increasingly obvious that their time has passed.

While the wood structures are sometimes the less expensive option up front, their low cost quickly balloons once maintenance and repair are factored in. Here are a few advantages that pre engineered steel buildings have over traditional pole barn construction.

Pole Barn or Prefab Building for Tractor Storage
  • Durability: Steel is known for its strength and consistency. Unlike wood, steel will not rot, warp, crack or expand.
  • Design Flexibility: Metal buildings can be customized to fit the specific needs of each customer. This flexibility allows you to easily modify your building to ensure your work process is as efficient as possible. Pole barns aren’t designed with expansion in mind.
  • Clear Span Architecture: Many pole barn structures are limited to a width of 90 feet, whereas metal buildings can stretch as far as 300 feet without the need for interior columns. This allows for more uninterrupted working space in your building. Clear span architecture also keeps your structure from sagging as loads are transferred to the building walls as opposed to interior columns.

The Future of Construction

Even as the global economy lags behind the U.S. economy, commercial real estate company JLL projects further increases in construction projects around the country throughout 2016. Office, industrial and retail construction all showed significant growth in 2015 with retail leading the way. This growth coincides with the growing trend of urbanization, where younger people are choosing to live in major urban areas as opposed to the suburbs many of their parents preferred.

Some would argue this isn’t a trend at all, but is actually the natural progression of a growing country. These new urban dwellers are showing a preference to rent living spaces over owning homes, which has led to large increases in commercial building construction and multi-unit housing.

As Americans increasingly prefer to live in cities, it’s important that our construction methods are best suited for these construction environments. That makes steel buildings the overwhelming choice over the pole barn construction methods that many of us grew up with.

Are All Modern Construction Styles the Same?
General Steel Building Systems

General Steel buildings come pre-welded, pre-drilled and pre-punched at a factory, which ensures consistent, precise and reliable construction that can’t be matched by pole barn methods. The steel industry has a long history of providing safe, strong and efficient structures – but it’s the possibilities of the future that make it the only choice for modern construction.

Need Help? We’re Listening

Create your own history by designing a metal building. We offer quick metal building prices and have all the resources for you to get started today. Contact us at 1-800-745-2685 for more details.

Photo Credits

Soils Map: geology.com
Pole Barn Photo 1: en.wikipedia.com
Pole Barn Photo 2: northamericanfarmer.com

Article Name
Pole Barn Designs vs. Steel Buildings: Comparison
Can’t decide between steel buildings and traditional pole barn designs? Learn more about why steel buildings are the more durable and cost-effective option.
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General Steel
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