Tag Archives: stick frame design

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!

Pole Building Construction: Why Not Stick Frame?

If you didn’t read my blog from yesterday- it’s well worth reading, and short, so I’ll wait while you go back and pick it up.

Got it?  That’s right, stick framed construction, while being more of the “norm” than pole building construction, is habitually wasteful of materials and manpower.  I’m not saying there are “places to use stick built construction”….but to continue my story from yesterday…

Same size pole building.  Rent a skid loader, have it delivered, and under two hours will auger all of the holes. Concrete? 2 to 3 yards. Total cost, around $600.

The stick frame version added at least five dollars per square foot to the building cost, before getting anything happening above grade! At 20 times or more the cost of the pole building foundation….it is no bargain. Not to mention the time difference. By the time the concrete foundation is ready to be built upon, the pole building has been completed and is being used.

Remember Dorothy’s house flying away in the Wizard of Oz? Modern stick frame construction relies upon ½” anchor bolts or light gauge steel straps to connect the house to the concrete foundation. How many disaster photos have you seen with homes picked up from their foundations? Make you feel confident? With pole buildings, the pressure preservative treated columns, which form the main supports, run continuous from about four feet in the ground and embedded in concrete, all the way to the roof system.

You may be surprised to discover the International Building Codes actually do limit conventional stud wall construction. Bearing wall floor-to-floor heights shall not exceed 10’. Average dead loads shall not exceed 15 pounds per square foot (psf) for roofs and exterior walls, floors and partitions. Floor live loads are limited to 40 psf. Ground snow loads shall not exceed 50 psf. Wind speeds are limited to 110 mph in Exposure B, or 100 mph in Exposures C and D. Roof trusses can only span to 40 feet between vertical supports. Cases where any of the above are exceeded, require structural analysis by a registered design professional (an architect or engineer).

Pole buildings can be designed with bearing wall heights of 20 and even 30 feet or more. Floor live loads of 125 psf are not unusual. Ground snow loads approaching or over 200 psf – no problem. Wind speeds of 150 mph, even in severe wind exposures and truss spans of 80 to 100 feet are also very much “doable” with pole barn design construction.

When it comes to cost, speed and flexibility of design, pole building construction beats stick frame construction hands down.

I didn’t come by this lightly.  My Daddy was a framing contractor –and my three uncles with him,  for stick built stud wall construction.  That’s right, stick built.  I was “born and raised” in stud wall construction.  But years of experience and plainly visible evidence changed my focus.  Having Scotch blood in me didn’t hurt either.  You just can’t argue with strong, safe design, and saving a few dollars along the way!