Reasons to Buy Used Utility Poles for Pole Barns

Here are the top three reasons – Money, Availability, and Recycling/Reusing.

Trying to save a few bucks on your pole barn and don’t care about longevity or ease of use, then used utility poles may be the answer. Most people, who are going to invest an average of $50,000 into a new building, prefer to have a design solution which can be relied upon however.

As discussed in my recent articles, most utility poles are replaced due to decay issues. Oil based preservative treatments (like penta or creosote) are affected by time and gravity. As the treatment chemicals wear thin at the ground line, decay begins to occur and the utility company replaces the pole. In an attempt to reuse the poles, the portion which was at the former ground line (the decay zone) should be cutoff and properly disposed of in a landfill. This leaves the remainder of the pole being the portion with little or no treatment chemical remaining.

If one of these poles happens to rot in a new pole barn, the cost to replace it will be more than what was initially “saved”, even if the poles were free.

Building a pole building which requires a structural review of the plans? (In my humble opinion, all plans should be so reviewed.) Building officials are probably not going to “buy in” to the use of used utility poles. Why? There is no way to determine if what remains will meet with the minimum code requirements for preservative treatment.

Fully enclosed building? Many will find the odors of oil based chemicals to be an issue, not to mention having the chemicals continuing to leech from the posts. Even the CCA (Chromated Copper Arsenate) treated pole can no longer be used in residential applications due to EPA (Environment Protection Agency) regulations.

Ease of use – used utility poles are round and tapered. In order to place them in a building so dimensional lumber can be properly affixed, the sides of the pole which will be attached to, are best cut to a flat surface. Besides complexity, this also adds the issues of hazardous chemicals being placed into the air, both as fumes and in the sawdust. Dealing with the taper, means the poles will not be set plumb, in relationship to the actual center of the pole, but will instead be leaning outward, so the outside face is vertical. This may be less of an issue, unless an interior finish of some sort is to be added at a later date.

Many utility companies have used poles laying around – they are not easily disposed of, as they should be taken to a landfill and buried as hazardous waste. This makes the utilities all too happy to either give them away, or to sell them at what seems to be a bargain.

And, while I am all for recycling and reusing, this is just one place where it does not make sense from a practical or economic standpoint.

20 thoughts on “Reasons to Buy Used Utility Poles for Pole Barns

  1. I’m building a tree house that will need two telephones poles for additional support of the structure. 12″ diameter at the butt is large enough. One will need to be 20′ in length the other 16′ in length. The weight should be distributed straight down. It will not have sway due to the other trees as addition anchors/support of the platform.

    1) How far in the ground must they be sunk?
    2) Will they need concrete?
    3) What type and treatment of the pole is necessary?
    4) What is the range of expense not considering delivery?
    5) Can used poles be purchased?

    Thank you for your assistance.

    1. Gary ~

      Thank you very much for your interest. My personal opinion is you would be far better ahead to utilize say pressure preservative treated timbers (treated to UC-4B or better) than telephone poles. They will be less expensive, easier to work with, and will not have the potential for carcinogens or oily surface residue as telephone poles would be.

      Without all of the design parameters, all I can give is some rough ideas.

      1) probably at least 1/3 of the overall length of the column should be embedded.
      2) probably would be best, unless they will support a large downward force, or your soils are very weak, a 24″ diameter concrete backfilled hole will probably be adequate.
      3) I would go with a waterborne treatment other than ACQ
      4) telephone poles, no idea. Treated timbers, somewhere around $1 per board foot
      5) telephone poles, probably – you could contact your local utility companies

    2. I am looking for some poles to make pole barn. Can we count you to help with some 20′ poles
      Thanks. Richard Quintana
      (904) 674-1335
      Jacksonville., Fl. 32254

      1. Hello Richard,
        Sure. We’d love to help. The poles come with the purchase of a complete materials kit. We don’t sell plans or materials only, or any parts. We find it best to be an all or nothing sale. If it is only posts you need, check with your local lumber yard. But first, consult a registered design professional for engineered plans.
        Thank you,

  2. Eric W Broadbent

    Looking for 3 – 22 ft. 1- 20 ft & 1- 16 ft. Treated & dried beams I’m making a homestead entrance for ranch would like to know how much what type of material & delivered I am in so. West Va. Bath co. Zio is 24460 please contact me Thanks Eric

  3. how far apart would you recommend to place rea poles for a building that is 70 feet wide. Our residential code is 35 pounds per sq foot here. We would be using 7″x15″ bridge plank for the trust support.

    1. I recommend you engage a RDP (Registered Design Professional – architect or engineer) to design your building and provide sealed plans. Or even better – contact a supplier of complete post frame building kit packages who can provide the correct materials AND engineer sealed plans for your building. You do not want to create an expensive failure.

    1. Highly unlikely. Most utility poles are treated with chemicals which would be unsafe for an inhabited building.

  4. At local khoury league ballfeild some feild lite poles are showing decay ,can we cut them and reset poles, they were always so tall special trucks were needed to maintain them what do you think? Someone is trying to milk us on new poles

    1. admin Post author

      Most utility poles like these have been treated with oil based chemicals. These are affected by gravity and will eventually settle to the butt end of the pole. When treatment gets thin enough at ground line, they begin to decay. If you cut them off and reset them, the area now in contact with the ground will have little or no treating chemical and will have a very short life span.

  5. I have a stream running through my land and am thinking utility poles might bridge it and give me a base for a foot bridge across it. There are two spots where the banks are above flood stage. I don’t want cars, trucks, or tractors to cross, but maybe an ATV if there is firewood to harvest over there. Could “anchor” to poles on either end on gabions filled with stone and maybe even concrete to keep them from shifting.

    Bedrock here is not very deep, so drilling holes for utility poles uses what looks like mining equipment boring down into the earth.

    What do you think? Yeah I’m nuts, my Dad was a civil engineer who served in the Seabees during WW II

    1. admin Post author

      It might work, depending upon span. I would encourage you to enlist the services of a Registered Professional Engineer to verify your plan is adequate, if your Dad is not able to do so.

  6. The property I purchased has a pole barn. The pole barn was built to cover/protect a RV. The poles are weathered looking, not oily or have any tar but have the exterior marks of being pressure treated. Is there a way to determine what the poles are treated with?

    1. There is no easy method to tell what preservative chemicals were used in treating if a treatment tag is not visible.

  7. Hello I live in webster ny. I have a creek behind my house. My father has built 3 bridges over the creek using hemlock trees. Some of the trees were ripped in half so we could move them into position as a stringer. We only use trees that die or fall over. Uproot etc… we use ripped hemlock as crossmembers and make a corduroy style road on top of the cross members. We are both mechanical engineers but dad is 86 and I’m 59. I would like to repair one of the bridges cross members using telephone poles. I’m wondering where I can buy or obtain these.i saw local power company and maybe home depot. I’d like the pokes delivered if possible. And I would gladly pay for delivery and installation. My email is 585 314 5431. Don Crandall. Webster. NY 14580. Thank you very much


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