Tag Archives: pole building holes

Pole Barn Holes

The Hole Enchilada

Yesterday I began hacking away at my neighbor’s new pole building under construction. Today, I will dig even deeper (pun intended)!

Leroy and his building crew arrived on Thursday to begin building. My bride and I had to take a detour most of the day to go to Fargo to visit grandchildren and assist with cutting a set of stairs for a deck for our son, so we missed some of “the action”. Early action should have included setting up batter boards and stringlines so as to make sure the building holes ended up in the right locations, and that the building was square and columns were in straight lines.

Surprisingly, there was no evidence these steps were followed, read why this is important: https://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/2014/12/setting-pole-barn-posts/

In case you, dear reader, would like to know, I did venture over late in the day and introduced myself to Leroy and found he had been constructing pole barns for the past 43 years. We had some interesting discussion, mostly me asking polite questions and then quietly enjoying the answers while avoiding making snarky comments. After all, I was there to LEARN.

Pole FootingI found it strange – no posts were set on the front endwall of the building until after the balance of the building had been pretty much framed up. When those pole barn holes were dug, I watched as one of the crew members climbed into an overlarge hole to place a post. The hole could not possibly have been three feet deep! So much for frost issues. If you remember from yesterday – the frost depth here is 5 feet. They were only about 2’ short.

I had inquired of Leroy as to what sort of footing they used, thinking they would probably be using concrete cookies. https://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/2012/08/hurl-yourconcrete-cookies/

Well, good news and bad news in the footing department. No cookies (yaay), instead Leroy had his men throwing two bags of non-mixed Sakrete® in the bottom of each hole. Yes, you got that right – dry Sakrete in hopes ground moisture will eventually turn it solid. You can read why this does not work here: https://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/2012/11/concrete/

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the soils of this part of the United States – let me say here in SD is some of the blackest topsoil I have ever experienced. Right here along the lake, it appears to have been created from ancient lake bottom. Great for growing crops, like corn, but not so great for holding up a building. But being generous, we will assume it will support 2000 pounds per square foot. On the building across the street, this means footings of at least 18 inches in diameter. Perfectly formed and properly mixed, if those bags of premix were 80 pound bags, they would have adequately formed a six inch thick footing.  Six inches – 18 inches – it’s close!  (Not).

I asked Leroy what he was doing to keep the posts from lifting out of the ground. His solution is to drive a piece of 3/8 inch diameter rebar through the posts and call it good, although he did admit to having seen more than a few of posts treated this way pulled entirely out of the ground with the rebar bent right over!

Here are a few of my thoughts: https://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/2012/02/concrete-collars/

Come back tomorrow for another segment of the Lake Traverse pole building Saga….

SquareFoot™ Concrete Footing Forms

I really, really enjoy interactive clients. The ones who pay attention to what is going on (chances are, if you are reading this, you are one too). They help keep me on my toes, as well.

I’ve been enjoying interacting with John. Over the weekend he came up with this for me:

Squarefoot FormI looked at each of the suppliers of pole frame kits and was not impressed with the cookie base with treated pole foundation. I only found one that included a preformed concrete pillar with a top flange. I like this system. A little more labor and a wee bit more concrete but it seems to make for a better quality foundation. Whaddya think?”

My gentle readers who are long time followers know my feelings about concrete cookies. Here is an article I wrote about them:


I’ve never used the product John found, so this is a good time to check it out.

Before digging into the SquareFoot™ concrete footing forms, an examination of the standard pole building footing would be in order.

One of the beauties of pole barn construction is it is fairly low tech in the field. Holes are augured  into the ground (most typically using a skid steer), usually to a depth of either 40 inches, or greater if needed to get the bottom of the footing below the frost line.

Unless an attempt is going to be made at dropping a pre-formed chunk of concrete into the hole (aka cookie) to support the columns, the hole itself becomes the form for any poured concrete.  Columns can be placed, suspended above the bottom of the holes, and premix concrete monolithically poured to flow beneath the base of the column (as a footing) and up the sides of the column (as a bottom collar).

Pretty simple.

The premise behind the SquareFoot™ concrete footing forms is to eliminate the need for wooden footing forms. They are a unique, patented square footing form which provides a one-step process for excavation, backfill and pouring concrete.

As a simplified description – a hole is dug with a backhoe or mini-excavator, and the SquareFoot™ is placed in the hole with a construction tube inserted (aka Sonotube®). For pole building construction, a pressure preservative treated column would be inserted into the tube and suspended in the assembly, then premix concrete would be poured in.

Having built plenty of footing forms, in my younger days, I can see the advantages of the SquareFoot™ for typical residential and commercial stick frame construction. For pole buildings, I just am not feeling the love (and the soundfootings.com website does not show post frame as an application).

Why add the expense of a plastic footing form and a construction tube, plus the time and effort needed to place, when the nicely augured hole, does everything needed?

Add to that – my largest concern structurally comes with filling in around these forms with dirt.  If they are not compacted to the density of pre-excavated soil, there is a propensity for lateral motion of the columns.  So there is more work again – having to refill dirt around the concreted columns and having to tamp…tamp….tamp!  With a monolithic concrete pour into a cleaned out augured hole, once the concrete is poured, you are done!

Hard Rock Clause

When I was first constructing pole buildings, I found out the hard way why it is essential to have a clause in my agreements which covered the unknown – also known as “what you can’t see below the surface”.

rock clauseIn my case, we had contracted to build a 36 foot wide by 60 foot long horse stall barn – so there was a plethora of holes to be dug. Depending upon which hole we were at, 12 to 18 inches below the surface we hit a huge shelf of granite. Under the entire building!

After five days of renting an excavator with a ram hoe attachment, we finally got the holes dug, as well as losing any profits we ever anticipated making on the project!

What got me onto this subject is a recent project Hansen Pole Buildings supplied for Wallace Brothers Construction, Inc. (https://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/builders/portland-or-contractor.php). Ritchie Wallace was concerned about hitting rock at the site, and we asked him if he had a “hard rock clause” in his agreement with his client – which he did.

A fair hard rock clause covers both parties. It allows the builder to recoup extraordinary expenses due to one thing which cannot be controlled – what is underground. It also keeps new building owners from being taken advantage unfairly.

Granted, it has been 15 years since I was building, but for the benefit of all concerned, I will share the language we used:

“Purchaser shall absorb all costs incurred from unknown conditions such as rock removal, poor digging conditions, or poor soil bearing capacity; including but not limited to jackhammer, backhoe or auger rental (plus delivery and operator charges), sonotubes (plus delivery and installation) or dynamiting.”

“Seller’s price allots a maximum average of 30 person-minutes per column hole for hand-digging or 10 equipment minutes per column for auguring, with excess time to be paid for by Purchaser at a rate of $90 per person hour, or every portion thereof, for all office or administrative time and $60 per hour for project managers, superintendents, carpenters, laborers, etc.”

Weirdly enough, we never had to charge any client under this hard rock clause – as the few rare instances where issues came up, the clients always opted to take care of the issues themselves!

Whether a pole building contractor, or hiring one, I strongly encourage making certain this possibility is one which is negotiated in advance.

Just like the adage, “good fences make good neighbors”, a fairly written contract makes for good times between builders and building owners. When in doubt, get it in writing

Dear Guru: Why is My New Pole Barn Quote Much Higher?

Welcome to Ask the Pole Barn Guru – where you can ask questions about building topics, with answers posted on Mondays.  With many questions to answer, please be patient to watch for yours to come up on a future Monday segment.  If you want a quick answer, please be sure to answer with a “reply-able” email address.

Email all questions to: PoleBarnGuru@HansenPoleBuildings.com

DEAR POLE BARN GURU: Just one question…for now… the difference in the 11,000 price and the 43,000 price is just the building plans/instructions?  SARAH from anywhere USA

DEAR SARAH: I have to admit, this question on your pol barn quote had me initially stumped, until I looked back at the history of quotes you had received from us.

Back in 2011, you asked for a quote on a fully enclosed 60’ x 120’ x 12’ building, with a 12’ wide roof only shed along one side.  This pole barn quote included features like a 3’ wide insulated commercial steel entry door, with factory painted steel jambs; a 12’ wide x 11’ tall all metal framed sliding door; polycarbonate eave lights on both 120’ sidewalls; a polycarbonate vented ridge; and roof insulation.

Recently, you asked for a new pole barn quote for a roof only 40’ x 60’ x 12’ building, with a 12’ wide roof only shed along one side. The only other features were the vented ridge and a cupola.

Your first quote was three times the square footage, included a sliding door, eavelights, poly ridge vent and roof insulation….and all sides of the main building were fully sheeted with steel, fully trimmed out.

This is a lesson in why trying to compare price only, ends up being nothing short of confusing for all involved.

For you, or any client, we will happily compare any quotes, to make sure all is apples-to-apples.

DEAR POLE BARN GURU: I have a client looking at a large shop building with a 30 wide 80 long side shed ( 4-12 pitch) that he intends to use for living quarters, BUT…He would like to have some kind of vaulted roof in the side shed.  I currently have the shed with shed trusses, so two questions: Can we get scissor shed trusses that may be have a 2-12 interior pitch? How would we recommend that he insulate the roof of the side shed? Do you have any alternate ideas on getting some kind of vaulted ceiling in the living quarters? The building has a 20 psf flat roof snow load. RESEARCHING RICK

DEAR RESEARCING: With the relatively low roof load, you could monopitch scissor truss the side shed, but will probably get a maximum of 1.5/12 slope, unless your client can stand a parallel chord truss which would be about 3 feet deep. If so, then he could have 4/12 slope inside and outside.

With trussed vaulted ceilings, placing unfaced insulation batts between the ceiling joists will be the most effective method of insulating.

DEAR POLE BARN GURU: Couple of things I’m seeing that I thought was taboo in building a pole building- concrete filling the post holes !!! The pole barn I built 12 yrs ago, and am currently using,  I back filled the holes with sand so it wouldn’t heave during winter. Second is my concern with post load using the double trusses on sandy soil with 12 ‘ centers. My current barn (different locations) uses 24″ centers in hard clay. Just a couple things of interest there. Thank you.  MOPAR MIKE

DEAR MOPAR: Good questions. And can be addressed with several answers.

First – what is it the embedment of the column really has to do? It must resist uplift, overturning and settling.

These factors are addressed more thoroughly here: https://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/blog/2013/02/concrete-pier/

Next – there is absolutely nothing wrong with properly pressure preservative treated wood in contact with concrete. In fact, the Building Codes require it!

Find about more on this subject at:


Filling holes with sand is not going to prevent frost heave – the sand provides no resistance to heaving.

To read how to prevent frost heave: https://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/blog/2011/10/preventing_frost_heaves_in_pole_building_construction/

The sand also does nothing to address the crucial issue of uplift (the building wanting to be sucked out of the ground).

Here is some “in depth” (yes pun intended) reading on preventing uplift in pole buildings:


As to your second concern, you take the load and divide it out across the roof area.  I am guessing your posts are not every 24”, but rather the trusses.  Whether you have single or double trusses – it ALL gets transferred into the number of posts at whatever spacing you have and then down into the ground.  Regardless of how the trusses and posts are spaced, you need a concrete footing large enough to distribute the load.  I am not talking about concrete cookies, which I talk about in older blogs.  What I am referring to is a monolithic concrete collar around every post designed to support the loads.

As to your concern about the roof loads being transferred through the columns and into the ground adequately – regardless of how the trusses are spaced, the columns carry the roof’s live and dead loads, multiplied by one-half of the truss span (plus any overhangs), times one-half of the distance to the next adjacent columns (in both directions).

Here is a very good article which explains more thoroughly how this works:


DEAR POLE BARN GURU: Do wind braces help support the horizontal beam that they are connected to? CHILLIN’ IN CHOKOLOSKEE

DEAR CHILLIN’: I am going to take a stab at your reference being to knee braces supporting roof trusses, as this would be the most likely answer.

If this is the case, then I would recommend reading this article: https://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/blog/2012/01/post-frame-construction-knee-braces/

In the case of an angle brace supporting any other horizontal member, the greatest dictate as to if it is effective or not is typically the adequacy of the connections. In most cases, the brace ends up being a waste of time and materials.

DEAR POLE BARN GURU:  What is the thickness of your exterior steel? CLICKING IN CLINTON

 DEAR CLICKING: Most of those who invest in new Hansen Pole Buildings chose 29 gauge steel for their siding and roofing, however there are some who prefer to use 26 gauge. We offer the flexibility for people to select what best meets their needs. For more information on steel gauges and thickness please read: https://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/blog/2012/01/steel-thickness/ and https://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/blog/2013/10/steel-thickness-4/

Dear Guru: Should I Use Concrete Sonotube Foundation?

Welcome to Ask the Pole Barn Guru – where you can ask questions about building topics, with answers posted on Mondays.  With many questions to answer, please be patient to watch for yours to come up on a future Monday segment.  If you want a quick answer, please be sure to answer with a “reply-able” email address.

Email all questions to: PoleBarnGuru@HansenPoleBuildings.com

DEAR POLE BARN GURU: I am planning to build a post-frame house 32×40. I built a 16×16 post-frame barn last Summer as practice and found that I hit bedrock at 2 to 2.5 feet. I know that most post-frame buildings require a 4 foot hole with a concrete footing to keep the post from settling, while also providing lateral strength. I don’t seem to need the depth for settling issues since I’m building on bedrock, however, I lose the lateral strength of a deeper hole. Is there a way to add lateral strength? Also, since I’m not getting that support from a deep enough hole, would it be better to use a concrete sonotube foundation with sturdi-wall brackets to mount my posts?


DEAR DIGGING: If you think about it, a sonotube filled with concrete and a bracket on top, is going to provide less lateral resistance than a column in a hole filled with concrete. Depending upon building dimensions, exposure to wind and soil conditions above the bedrock, it is very possible increasing hole diameter and using a complete concrete encasement could do the trick.

As you firm up your plans, we can provide a preliminary hole layout. From this, you can dig the holes and give an exact measure to what point solid bedrock is encountered. This will allow for a design to be created which will minimize the amount of digging and concrete, without negative effect upon your structure.

DEAR POLE BARN GURU: 30×48 pole bldg. was just completed. The 4×6 posts were set on cement cookies 16″ x 4″ every 8′ and then packed with dirt. Is it too late to remedy this situation? Should I dig down to each cookie and pour some cement to encase each post?  The bldg. was just completed last week, so dirt is still freshly packed. What do you suggest? EVENTFUL IN EVANS CITY

DEAR EVENTFUL: It is not too late, but it will involve work which could have easily been avoided. The concrete cookies are not going to be adequate to prevent settling and they do nothing to prevent uplift.

I’d start digging. Make sure the bottom of the hole (directly above the cookie) ends up larger in diameter than the area closer to the surface. You should probably go to two foot diameter and then pour at least 18 inches deep of premix into the hole.

Ask the Pole Barn Guru: Can I Build on Bedrock?

Can I Build on Bedrock?

Email all questions to: PoleBarnGuru@HansenPoleBuildings.com

drilling column holeDEAR POLE BARN GURU: It looks like on two of my pole footings (24 x 36 barn) I’m going to hit bedrock about 2.5 feet down into my 4′ footing.  Is my only option to rent a jack hammer and keep chunking away at the bones of the earth until I hit depth, or do I have another option? BEDROCK IN BOLTON

DEAR BEDROCK: My first recommendation would be to contact the engineer who designed your building. Often times, a larger diameter hole can be utilized to offset the lack of depth. In the column embedment calculations, the depth of the hole is squared, while diameter is not, so (depending upon the design wind load) you may end up with some fairly large holes. If the original design does not call for the holes to be backfilled with concrete, you should consider doing so with these two, to prevent uplift issues.

 If you opt to try for a lesser depth, you should also discuss with your building official. In the end – if the Building Inspector ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

 Me – I’d probably be out there with a jack hammer.

DEAR POLE BARN GURU: How to anchor a pole barn on solid rock? I’ve an almost perfectly flat expanse of bedrock that I’d like to set the building on as I’m unable to use it for any other purpose (and apart from the rock, the location is ideal). Is it possible to use anchor bolts drilled & epoxied into the rock? Building use would be agricultural storage. GNASHING IN NASHVILLE

DEAR GNASHING: While the bedrock may appear to be exactly what it is, you might want to consider having a Geotechnical Engineer take a look at it, to determine if indeed it actually is adequate to support a building.

 Assuming the bedrock is adequate, there are brackets we can provide which can be used to anchor buildings to solid rock (they are actually designed to attach columns to existing concrete foundations or floors). When you put in a request for a quote, make sure to let us know the circumstances, as well as the amount of grade change from high point to low across the rock.