Tag Archives: stick built construction

Helping a Student with His Post Frame Thesis

Post frame buildings are becoming more relevant as a design solution for residential construction. I recently was contacted to assist a student and will let him tell his story:

mr owl tootsie roll pop“My name is George xxxxxx, I am currently a thesis student at Auburn University’s Rural Studio, located in Hale County, Alabama. I am looking into pole barn // post frame construction as a method for quickly building strong homes. Hansen seems like it has more experience in this methodology than most in the nation, where most contractors are afraid of diverging from traditional stick-frame construction. I am particularly interested in the structuring of your residential homes (the retirement home in Decatur is beautiful), and your opinion on steel vs. wood roof framing. If there is an expert who would be willing to spend some minutes this week answering a few of my questions it would be greatly appreciated! Also, if you have more questions about the Rural Studio I would be happy to answer them to the best of my ability.”

Being all about education and post frame, my answer was to the affirmative and here are George’s questions and their answers:

“We have seen a lot of other builders using steel trusses for both residential and commercial applications, however, your portfolio shows a large number of projects using wood trusses spaced significantly further than the typical 2′-4′ you see in stick frame. 


  • 1. When do you make the decision to go wood over steel?
  • 2. In relation to residential projects, is one more advantageous than the other in terms of detailing, cost or time?
  • 3, What kinds of applications do you use the 12’+ spacing, is it something you would employ for a small home? 
  • 4. What are your typical dimensions of wood posts?
  • 5. What are your standard dimensions between posts?
  • 6. Do you use girts or studwalls in the framing of residential post frame construction?
  • 7. Does using girts provide greater lateral stability?
  • 8. Why, in your opinion, has residential construction been dominated by stick frame construction, while post frame is a viable alternative?”


Mike the Pole Barn Guru responds:

1) We use wood over steel trusses 100% of the time.

2) Prefabricated wood roof trusses are highly engineered products subject to intensive quality control standards. Every truss is fabricated from engineer sealed drawings with design wind and snow loads specific to the jobsite upon where trusses will be used. Each manufacturer must keep a log of all trusses produced and any deviation from sealed drawings (higher grades of lumber used, larger pressed steel connector plates, etc.). Every truss must be stamped with appropriate information about it as well as the fabricator’s name and location. Prefabricated metal connector plated wood trusses are also subjected to random quarterly inspections from a third party provider – and one does not want to ever fail an inspection. Most steel trusses used for post frame construction are not engineered, not fabricated by certified welders and face none of these quality control standards wood trusses are required to have. For these reasons, most of them get used in jurisdictions with either no permits required, or no structural plan checks or field inspections.

Even with today’s record high lumber prices, prefabricated metal connector plated wood trusses still compare favorably in investment to steel trusses. Wood trusses are not conductors of heat and cold, as are steel trusses, meaning they do not need to be thermally isolated from climate controlled areas as steel trusses should be. Wood trusses are very user friendly in attachment of other wood framing members.

3) More often than not a 12 foot on center column spacing is most economical in use of materials and labor. Our Instant Pricing system allows for rapid checking of various column spacings in order to determine a most efficient spacing for any given set of loading conditions. Wider truss spacing means fewer column holes to dig and less worry about trying to place openings (doors and windows) to avoid column locations.

4) In solid sawn columns 4×6 (3-1/2″ x 5-1/2″), 6×6 (5-1/2″ x 5-1/2″) and 6×8 (5-1/2″ x 7-1/2″). In glulaminated columns 3 ply 2×6 (4-1/8″ x 5-3/8″). 4 ply 2×6 (5-1/2″ x 5-3/8″) and 3 ply 2×8 (4-1/8″ x 7-1/8″) are most common.

5) With 12′ on center columns and 6×6 columns space between columns would be 11′ 6-1/2″ as an example.

6) We use bookshelf style inset girts (https://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/2011/09/commercial-girts-what-are-they/) for most applications as they require no additional framing in order to be drywall ready. They happen to lend themselves to a better finished drywall surface than studwalls (https://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/2019/09/11-reasons-post-frame-commercial-girted-walls-are-best-for-drywall/).

7) Lateral stability of any framed structure (stick or post) comes from shear strength of siding – whether wood sheathing such as OSB or plywood, T1-11 or steel.

8) Stick frame has been around longer and Building Codes (especially IRC – International Residential Code) have embraced stick frame by providing a ‘cook book’ for it. Post frame construction just happens to be more economical in terms of foundation costs, use less wood, have fewer thermal transfer points, can easily be built DIY and can be customized far more economically than stick frame.

More than anything, lack of familiarity (by buying public, lenders, building officials and contractors) with post frame as a viable alternative to stick frame. Our team at Hansen Pole Buildings is doing our best to provide educational resources to all interested parties to make a change.

Stick Framing?

Stick Framing?

A continuing debate, in picking a structural system for a new barndominium, is what is going to be best? Due to years of conditioning, many assume a traditional wood framed, stick built barndominium, assembled on site is what will be right.  Granted, stick built houses, with traditional wood framing, are by far America’s most popular type of home. Over 82% of our country’s new homes are stick built.  But there are other types of construction available to achieve a quality built home. Some of those alternatives can give you a stronger, more energy efficient house and be quicker to build than a traditional stick built house.  

Now keep in mind, I grew up with my father and his five brothers all being framing contractors – stick builders. Our dad’s profession kept lights on and food on our table. My first regular paying job as a teenager was working as a stick framer.

Interior Wall FramingTraditional stick framing is what most of us envision when we think about building a new home. Dimensional lumber is readily available at lumber yards and ‘big boxes’ (think Home Depot®) in nearly every town and village across America. With traditional stick framing, this lumber is brought to a building site upon where a house structure is framed.  Stick framing, as a term, comes from framers assembling a house shell “stick by stick.” With stick framing, typically 2×4 or 2×6 pieces of lumber are placed 16 or 24 inches apart to construct a framework for walls, floors, ceilings and roof rafters.

Stick building began as balloon framing a method of wood construction – also known as “Chicago construction” – used primarily in areas rich in softwood forests. It uses long continuous framing members (studs) running from sill plate to top plate, with intermediate floor structures let into and nailed to them. Once popular when long lumber was plentiful, balloon framing has been largely replaced by platform framing.

America’s first building using balloon framing was possibly a warehouse constructed in 1832 in ChicagoIllinois, by George Washington Snow, credited as ‘inventor of the balloon frame method’. In 1833, Augustine Taylor constructed St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Chicago using this new balloon framing method.

In the 1830s, Hoosier Solon Robinson published articles about a revolutionary new framing system, called “balloon framing” by later builders. Robinson’s system called for standard 2×4 lumber, nailed together to form a sturdy, light skeleton. Builders were reluctant to adopt this new technology. However, within 50 years, some form of 2×4 framing was standard. 

 As Taylor was constructing his first such building, St. Mary’s Church, in 1833, skilled carpenters looked on at these comparatively thin framing members, all held together with nails. And they declared this method of construction to be no more substantial than a balloon. It would surely blow over with a stiff wind! Though a baseless criticism, this name stuck. 

Although lumber was plentiful in 19th-century America, skilled labor was not. Cheap machine-made nails became available, along with water-powered sawmills making balloon framing highly attractive, because it did not require highly skilled carpenters, as did dovetail joints, mortises and tenons required by post and beam construction. Now any farmer could build his own buildings without a time-consuming learning curve.

It has been said balloon framing populated western United States and western provinces of Canada. Without it, western boomtowns certainly could not have blossomed overnight. It is also likely, by radically reducing construction costs, balloon framing improved shelter options of poorer North Americans. For example, many 19th-century New England working neighborhoods consist of balloon-constructed three-story apartment buildings referred to as triple deckers. Our son Brent lived in one of these triple deckers when he studied for his Master’s degree at Springfield College in Massachusetts.

Balloon framing did require very long studs and as tall trees became exhausted, platform framing became prevalent. The main difference between platform and balloon framing is at floor lines. Balloon wall studs extend from the first story sills continuous to the top plate or end rafter of the second or third story. A platform-framed wall is independent for each floor

Once framed, OSB or plywood sheathing is applied to exteriors.  Then plumbing, wiring, and duct work are placed in and around walls and floors. Next, insulation is added between framing members and/or to exterior walls.  After a building inspection, inside walls are typically covered with drywall and exteriors are covered with a choice of cladding—stucco, siding, stone or brick.

Tune in Tomorrow for our exciting conclusion.

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!