Pole Barns vs. Steel Barns

Published July 14, 2015 by Whirlwind Team

Farmers and livestock owners are always in interested in affordable options when it comes to feed and equipment storage, not to mention more secure shelter for increased livestock numbers. Pole barns can seem like an ideal solution at first. They are affordable, do not require a foundation and are fairly versatile.

Be aware, however, that the materials you select to build your pole barn are the key to its many benefits, which may lead you to pursue different avenues. Typically, pole barns are made from wood, and that means they are inherently vulnerable to moisture damage, rot, pests, fire and other threats. For this reason, we recommend building a pole barn-type structure out of more durable products such as steel or metal, or skipping the pole barn idea all together and opting for an affordable metal barn instead.

What is a Pole Barn?

A pole barn is a versatile building with a simple assembly process. The structure is foundation free, saving the expense of excavation, any necessary soil amendments and the costs of pouring a concrete slab. Once the ground is leveled, your team - professional or volunteer - will use poles or posts, set in the ground, and spaced 8-feet apart. For this reason, you will sometimes see pole barns referred to a post-frame construction.

The posts provide vertical support. Girts are added to provide horizontal support. Once those components are in place, the building is set with a roof and, typically, corrugated or steel panels are attached to the outside. Voila! You have a barn. The problem is that you have a barn that is not as durable in the long-term, which can lead to expensive repair and replacement costs down the road - potentially sooner, rather than later. For this reason, many farmers are opting to build metal barns as an alternative to pole barns.

The Benefits of a Metal Barn Over a Pole Barn

Metal barns are more affordable. One of the most touted benefits of a pole barn is that it is cheap - but cheaper is only better when you're comparing apples-to-apples. If your wood pole barn burns up in a week, or is laden with termites in five years, your stuck needing a new barn - and cheap-times-two is more costly than your metal barn would ever be in the long-term.

Metal barns are more durable. A foundation, steel framing components and a well-design metal barn will outlast pole barns by a long shot. Consider that high-quality metal roof and siding components often have warranties of up to 40-years and it's obvious that metal barns are a permanent solution for your farm's livestock, storage and equipment storage needs.

Metal is impervious to most threats. While wood is often more economical at the outset, it has its own list of "issues" when it comes to annual maintenance requirements and structural longevity. Wood is susceptible to both pest and fire damage and must be sealed regularly to prevent rot and moisture damage. Steel and metal building components will require much less maintenance and, when built well, are virtually impervious to traditional structural threats.

Things to Keep in Mind When Building Your New Barn

Whether you opt to construct a pole barn or a higher-quality metal barn, there are things you will want to keep in mind before purchasing a kit and beginning construction.

  1. You probably need a permit. Even if your pole barn is going to be as bare bones as it gets, sans foundation, utilities or interior finishes, odds are you need a permit. Schedule an appointment with your local building department so you do things by the book, preventing costly penalties and consequences down the road.
  2. Understand the limits. Due to their simple design, pole barns cannot be built in excess of 90-feet. If you have large equipment storage needs, you may want to upgrade to a different version of a metal agricultural building that accommodates larger clear spans.
  3. You can't have a basement with a pole barn. If you are using your building for residential or hobby purposes, it can be nice to have a basement space for additional storage. While this is not possible when you use pole barn construction, you can incorporate a basement space with most metal barn plans.
  4. Pole barns are rarely your cheapest long-term option. It's a good idea to look at your long-term goals before you decide on a specific barn for your property. Do you plan on expanding? If so, a more traditional steel barn may be a better option as expanding pole barns to suit your needs can be expensive. Also, pole barns are not as easy to insure as more traditional options. Always compare and contrast your first and lifetime costs.

Contact Whirlwind to learn more about the benefits of affordable metal barns.

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