If you need to add shelter to your homestead easily and economically, pole barns are right for you. They’re the fastest, most cost-effective way to build permanent, solid shelter to store equipment, house livestock, or function as a garage or workshop facility. You can even use the pole barn approach to build a year-round home. A big part of the attraction is simplicity. There are only four steps involved in pole-barn building, and the first one’s even optional! None of the work requires fancy tools or finely honed skills.
The steps to pole-building success are simple: Create a level base pad (if you want more than just the earth underfoot), set poles vertically into holes in the ground, connect them across the top with beams and braces, then put roof trusses on top. No need for a complicated foundation, either. Even in regions with cold, frost-prone winters, pole barns endure well with nothing more than the simplest connections to the earth. And if this weren’t advantage enough, pole barns also offer the option of using your own logs and rough-cut lumber for many parts of the job. The only thing wrong with pole barns is the name. This building approach is so much more useful than for building barns alone.
If you’ve never constructed anything large before, then a pole building is a good place to start. The illustration and information you’ll find in this article will equip you to custom build your own durable pole barn based on universal design and building principles. Most building authorities require simple plans for project approval, though many will accept hand-drawn versions. Agricultural extension services across the continent also offer basic pole building plans for free. You can buy fancier ones online. Either way, success ultimately comes down to the kind of hands-on know-how you’ll find here.
Create a Base
Besides the fact that you’ll need to locate your pole building on flat, well-drained ground, consider adding fill to create a raised base area. This isn’t necessary for all applications, though it provides a more level floor space that’s raised enough to keep water from draining in, even during wet seasons.
There are four reasons crushed rock screenings are my favorite choice for a raised base. Screenings are usually less expensive than other types of aggregate because they’re a byproduct at many quarries. Screenings also are small — typically less than a quarter-inch in diameter, with lots of stone dust mixed in. This makes screenings easy to rake and level accurately. They pack down firmly, too. And screenings don’t ruin the future growing potential of soil forever. When your pole barn needs to come down after its working life is over, scrape off the screenings and use them somewhere else. Unlike larger grades of crushed stone, the leftover screenings that the loader can’t remove will disappear when you till the soil.
Before you order any fill for a base, you’ll need to mark out an area to guide the location and level of material required. Read “Stake Your Ground,” below, for tricks that speed this process and the work of laying out wall post locations later.
The plan shows the 8-foot pole spacing that’s common for enclosed walls on most pole-barn designs. You can stretch that to 12-foot spacing on open sides where animal and machine access is required.
Pressure-treated timbers make good poles for small designs, and reclaimed utility poles (as long as they’re in sound condition) or rot-resistant logs cut from your own forest are good for large ones. The key is to select the right diameter poles for the height and spacing you’re planning (check with your local building inspector).
If you have health and environmental concerns about using pressure treated lumber, there’s good news. Today’s most common wood preservative compound, abbreviated ACQ, replaces the arsenic-bearing substance called CCA that was used to preserve wood until 2003.
ACQ is one of a handful of new preservatives that are thought to be significantly safer than CCA. But all these new products do have a downside. They’re much more corrosive to nails, screws and support brackets than CCA ever was. And as you’d expect, this corrosive action is greatly enhanced in the presence of moisture. As a minimum, use hot-dipped galvanized nails and screws when building your pole barn. Better yet, for critical connections where additional fasteners can’t be driven in later, use stainless steel.