Stick Built vs Pole Barn Construction

Why are the stick-built and pole-barn businesses so different?

 This question was posed to me recently, along with the following commentary:


“Forgive me if this strikes you as a dumb question, but I’m having trouble figuring out why the pole-barn and residential construction businesses are so divided. From what I can tell, companies that do one type of construction don’t do the other. Are the building techniques and materials really so radically different that you need to go to different suppliers and truss makers to get materials? Let me know. Thanks.”

This brought back memories of the first pole building I constructed myself. For those of you who are long-time readers of my articles, you will remember I was brought up in a family of framing contractors. The motto seemed to be, “wood is good”. Stick frame construction felt easy, the Building Codes spell out a prescriptive set of rules for size and spacing of just about anything we needed to build.

Pole buildings – not so much.

Three plus decades ago the Code didn’t even mention post frame construction, pole buildings or pole barns. Very few “pole barns” required building permits, and many which should have had permits, were constructed without them. It was a far more lax world in which we lived!

Back to my first pole building experience…..everything I knew about pole buildings, at the time, had been told to me by an old time pole builder, George Evanovich. Keep in mind, to me at age 23, anyone over 40 seemed old!

George gave me some guidelines for how to quote labor, I sold a building and it was off to make money!!

Ha Ha Ha.

When the building was done, I was left trying to figure out where I had gone wrong, because I spent a whole lot of time and didn’t make much money.

Eventually the little cartoon light bulb turned on above my head…..I had “stick frame” mentality, where studs run vertically and rafters go from plate-line to ridge. I had created a mental cluster, when all I had to do was rotate my thinking by 90 degrees! Poles, although traditionally set into the ground, can be attached to a concrete slab “just like stick built” – using anchors. Although the cost of the anchors is far more than a few more feet on each pole.

Turn all your framing 90 degrees – so the “studs” become horizontal girts – and there you have it – pole building construction! In the West, trusses are set further apart than in residential but they are also double trusses instead of single members.

The major difference in stick built vs pole barn? Pole Buildings will have fewer connections, fewer pieces – meaning fewer places for things to “go wrong”. Pole construction can have the same exact roofing and siding as any stick built – any roof slope and often can offer more advantages for moving walls around “inside” since they are non-load bearing.

But – back to my story…over 30 years ago. The next building – I made a ton o’ money on! It was all in my head.

And back to the original question – the techniques of construction are really the difference. Lumber is lumber and truss fabricators are truss fabricators, so the general suppliers are the very same folks for stick built vs pole barn construction type.

Most builders with framing experience go through the same learning curve I went through, they lose their shirts on the first building, but never come back.

I do know one thing – if I would have had available plans and instructions like Hansen Pole Buildings provides, when I did my very first building, I would not only have made money, but my client would have had a far nicer finished building!

4 thoughts on “Stick Built vs Pole Barn Construction

  1. My wife and I are considering building a pole barn home. Not sure how to figure out if we can or not. Do banks even finance for a pole barn home? I am curious to hear your comments on this. I live in southern Illinois, and I know that there are a lot of people around here that do that.

    1. Any institution which finances homes should finance a post frame house – it is all in the presentation. The post frame house should be presented as being “wood framed” which is exactly what it is. Chances are fair if you go to the lender and tell them you want to build a “pole barn” home, you will be rejected due to the negative connotation of the term “pole barn”. Post frame buildings can be entirely Code conforming – however I would strongly encourage having the plans done by a registered design professional (RDP – engineer or architect).

  2. I am so thankful knowing the difference now between pole and stick building. Sharing your experiences with other people is really amazing!

  3. I want to build a pole barn shed in my yard soon, so thanks for sharing this. I like your point about how pole buildings have fewer connections that stick-built ones. I will have to find a set that is easy to put together so I don’t make any costly mistakes.


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