Tag Archives: pole barn piers

Working With a Building Official for Footing Design

Working With a Building Official for footing designs

Long time readers have read me opine on how Building Officials are our friends: https://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/2012/04/i-like-building-officials/

One of our clients recently received this email from his Building Official and shared it with me (red added by me):

“The Town of xxxx stopped plan review on your project because pole buildings with the type of foundation that was called out on your plans have a track record of failing in a short period of time in this area and the soil conditions that exist at your location won’t allow piers to be dug as called out in the plans The ground is full of rock. It was our intent to not have you try and build something that was not going to work and cost you a lot of money. With a frost depth of only 18” “T” foundations are the acceptable method of construction in that area and should be a lot less expensive.”

I responded asking for more explanation of wording in red, and heard back:

We have a few pole barns in xxxx that are much larger in size and in areas that will allow piers to be dug without interference of large rocks below grade. The pier design that they used allows the wood post to sit on a gravel base so any water that might drain down along the side of post after the wood shrinks from age is allowed to drain away.

They also pour concrete up to 3” above the top of the pier and slope the concrete away from the post. Your design traps water at the bottom of post and allows the water to be wicked up by the end grain of the post and promote rot. Although the building codes does allow treated wood foundations to be buried we strongly discourage the use in our jurisdiction.

Thanks for your understanding.”

Thank you very much for your timely response. 


I am probably remiss in not having offered a better introduction of myself. I studied architecture at the University of Idaho and have been Technical Director at Hansen Pole Buildings since 2002. I joined ASAE (now ASABE) and ICBO in the mid-1980s. The IBC references ASABE work for post frame buildings which was produced by the structural committee of which I was a member of. I am a frequent contributor as a writer for publications such as Structural Building Components, Frame Building News and Rural Builder magazines. I have also reached out to you on Linkedin, should you wish to know more about me.

We are currently working with Mr. Bxxx on a design solution to incorporate a continuous footing/foundation or thickened edge slab with bracket mounted columns. We and our engineer had not been advised by Mr. Bxxxr as to the soils/rock conditions at his site until quite late in the game. It is my expectation, with Mr. Bxxx’s continued assistance, to have an acceptable design solution arrived at shortly.

While an embedded column pier design on a gravel base sounds wonderful, Code does require a concrete or otherwise approved footing below isolated columns in order to properly distribute weight of building and applied loads. Actual testing of pressure preservative treated columns for over 60 years has proven there to be no decay of properly waterborne pressure preservative treated wood even in the most severe climates (this testing is ongoing in Mississippi). UC-4B rated pressure preservative treated wood is rated for structural use in fresh water, so a column being wet would not increase its chances of decay. In order for decay to occur there must also be oxygen, which is only present in the upper few inches of soils.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns regarding any post frame building structure. I would also invite you to subscribe to my blog, where there are currently over 1800 searchable articles regarding post frame construction.

“Thank you for your comments. The failures we have seen may have quite well been from pour constructions procedures done 10 to 15 years ago. No way to tell. 

I will look into your articles and may have to change our policies”

Building Officials are not our adversaries and provided with accurate data policies can be crafted to create a winning solution for all parties involved!

Don’t Sink the Pole Barn Floor

Don’t Sink the Pole Barn Floor

Reader Clay has contributed the beginnings of this article, with a concern his pole barn floor might sink. Thank you Clay.

“I am about to construct a 24’x32′ building to be used as a woodworking shop.

I am strongly considering a pole barn.  Now I do not want a concrete slab. My intentions are to construct a raised wood floor.  I fully understand that I will need to construct piers in the interior area to support beams and floor joist.  My concern is attaching the perimeter area to the poles of the barn.

Knowing that I will have multiple 600 to 800 lb. pieces of equipment, with the perimeter of the floor system attached to the poles of the barn, will the load be too much causing the poles to sink.  The result is my floor going out of level over time. Do I need extra support around the perimeter of the floor?

 Thank you in advance for your assistance.”

Your consideration of a pole barn (technically a post frame building) is probably going to be not only the best design solution but also deliver the most bang for your invested dollars. I am just like you, my preference is to work/live/play on wood floors rather than concrete – it keeps my knees from screaming at me!

You have a couple of things going on.

The first is the concentrated loads you will be placing upon the floor in terms of your multiple pieces of 600-800 pound equipment. A typically “residential” floor is most normally designed for a live load of 40 psf (pounds per square foot). I normally tend to design on the conservative side. Take the actual weight of a given piece of equipment and divide it by the square footage of the area below the piece of equipment – this will give the design load for this portion of your floor. I would tend to design all of my floor to meet the most highly loaded area. There is going to be someone who will jump on me for not just designing to support the small concentrated load. Yes, this could be done, but again – I tend to go towards being conservative in my designs.

Secondly, when you invest in an engineered building (the key word here being engineered, with plans and calculations done by a registered professional engineer) all of the connections are designed to support the given loads. Footing under the columns will be appropriately sized to adequately distribute the loads across the supporting soils. Done right, your pole barn wood floor will provide many years of tough use without moving downward.

What all of this means is – your new engineered pole barn with  wood floor is not likely to perceptively sink.