Tag Archives: utility poles

Electrical Poles, Adding an Awning, and Sliding Door “Overlap”

This week Mike the Pole Barn Guru answers reader questions about the practical use of “electrical poles” for the addition of a lean-to to a garage, adding a door awning to a pole barn kit, and how much overlap a sliding door will have around the perimeter.

DEAR POLE BARN GURU: If I add a lean to on to my garage 18 x24,/ 24 foot side. Electrical poles 6 feet out of ground 8ft away. Add 2x 6 trusses and purlin on top of that. How do I attach the 2×6 to the round pole? SUE in HINCKLEY

DEAR SUE: We would never recommend or suggest utility poles be used for post-frame construction, for a plethora of reasons. Here is some extended reading:

Reasons to Buy Used Utility Poles for Pole Barns


DEAR POLE BARN GURU: I’m having a 36′ x 36′ pole barn built from your kit. It has an entry door. Do you sell a door awning that will fit securely to the wall siding? I don’t want the awning to leak up against the wall. Thanks. ROGER

DEAR ROGER: Bad news is – whomever is erecting your building may have told you it would be one of our buildings, however it is not. We have had contractors do this in past years, only for there to be problems later, clients called us only to find out it was not what they believed they had invested in. Sadly, you will not have our industry leading limited Lifetime Structural Warranty. For our buildings we do offer a wide variety of weather tight entry door covers, both self-supporting and pole supported. These can have single sloped, gabled or hipped roofs to meet our client’s needs. We are unable to provide any of these choices for buildings other than ours.


DEAR POLE BARN GURU: Hello, I have a question. If you have time to answer. If the rough opening of a sliding door is 20′ x 14′. How much overlap should the doors have when closed? As in on the top and outer sides? I have tried looking at your site, and every other site on the internet. I am seeing maybe 3/4″ on top and the outer sides. Of course the center of the doors meet in the middle. Would the 2 doors be something like 10′ 1″ x 14’1″ Or bigger? Thank You, JOE

DEAR JOE: Typically for a 20′ wide x 14′ tall split sliding door, with top mounted track, from grade (bottom of pressure treated splash plank) to bottom of 2×6 track board (mounts on face of door header) will be 14′ 4-1/2″. 20′ width is measured from center of post to center of post on each side. Working from these dimensions, each door leaf will be 10′ wide x 14′ tall. Space between track board and top of sliding door will be roughly 1/2″ (this will be covered by sliding door track cover trim). Bottom of door will be roughly 1/2″ above top of a nominal 4″ concrete slab (3-1/2″ actual). Each extreme outside edge will overlap wall by ½ width of column on each side.

Alaska Pole Barn with Actual Poles

Alaska Pole Barn With Actual Poles

Reader DOUGLAS in FAIRBANKS writes:

Hello, I’m planning to build a 40×36 pole barn using 12 surplus power poles (3 rows of 4 poles) that are in good condition. They will be placed 6′ deep by a digger truck as a normal utility pole would be. The ground is well drained and fractured rock is only 3-4 feet down. I’m curious what attachments are available for connecting poles to rafters? Thanks much, Frozen in Fairbanks”

Mike the Pole Barn Guru says:

In my humble opinion, power poles (even brand new) are going to prove nothing but problematic to work with. 

Trying to save a few bucks on your pole barn and don’t care about longevity or ease of use, then used utility poles may be an answer. Most people, who are going to invest an average of $50,000 into a new building, prefer to have a structurally reliable design solution however.

As discussed in my previous articles, most utility poles are replaced due to decay issues. Oil based preservative treatments (like penta or creosote) are affected by time and gravity. As treatment chemicals wear thin at ground line, decay begins to occur and utility companies replace the poles. In an attempt to reuse poles, portions at the former ground line (decay zone) should be cut off and properly disposed of in a landfill. This leaves the pole remainder being portion with little or no treatment chemical remaining.

If one of these poles happens to rot in a new pole barn, the cost to replace it will be more than what was initially “saved”, even if poles were free.

Building a pole building which requires a structural plan review? (In my humble opinion, all plans should be so reviewed.) Building officials are probably not going to “buy in” to use of used utility poles. Why? There is no way to determine if what remains will meet with minimum code requirements for preservative treatment.

Fully enclosed building? Many will find the odors of oil based chemicals to be an issue, not to mention having chemicals continuing to leech from posts. Even CCA (Chromated Copper Arsenate) treated poles can no longer be used in residential applications due to EPA (Environment Protection Agency) regulations.

Ease of use – used utility poles are round and tapered. In order to place them in a building so dimensional lumber can be properly affixed, pole sides where lumber or trusses will be attached to, are best cut to a flat surface. Once you have flat surfaces, you can utilize connectors just like are done in buildings with square (or rectangular) sawn columns.

Besides complexity, cutting to flat also adds issues of hazardous chemicals being placed into air, both as fumes and in sawdust. Dealing with taper, means poles will not be set plumb, in relation to actual pole center, but will instead be leaning outward, so the outside face is vertical. This may be less of an issue, unless an interior finish of some sort is to be added at a later date.

Many utility companies have used poles laying around – they are not easily disposed of, as they should be taken to a landfill and buried as hazardous waste. This makes utilities all too happy to either give them away, or to sell them at what seems to be a bargain.

How Long Will Utility Poles Last?

If I had a dime for every time, over the last three plus decades, I have had a potential client even bring up using old telephone (utility) poles for constructing a new pole barn, I would be retired and sitting on the beach in Ecuador now!

Pole buildings are designed with the thought of being economical and efficient permanent structures. Given the cost of an average finished pole building, including site work, access improvements, materials, construction, concrete work and utilities being in the neighborhood of $50,000 – it appears those who are investing in them, see them as being permanent improvements as well.

Utility companies have a huge financial investment in their infrastructure, which includes utility poles. The cost of a pole is far more than the piece of treated timber itself – it includes transportation (from the treatment plant, to the utility company yard, to the installation location), equipment and time to install the pole, as well as regular upkeep and maintenance. With all of these costs, and the pressure to not lose money, utility poles are not normally going to be replaced any earlier in their life cycle than has to be done.

A survey of 150 utility companies found the average service life of utility poles to range from 25 to 37 years. The most common reason for replacement being, “strength degradation from ground line decay”. Other reasons for replacement included pole top decay, decay at connections, splitting of pole tops and excessive weathering.

The majority of utility poles are pressure treated with oil based pentachlorophenol (PCP). PCP does not bond with the cells of the wood – and is subject to the forces of gravity. Witness a brand new utility pole; it has a general appearance of being evenly treated for its entire length. Over time, the chemicals are pulled upon by gravity, slowly migrating towards the butt end of the pole (as well as potentially leaching into the ground). When the chemicals become thin enough at the ground line – the pole becomes subject to often rapid decay.

Considering the use of used utility poles for pole barn construction? Think twice, if they outlived their useful life as a power pole in 25 to 35 years, what would lead one to believe they would be effective as supports for a permanent (and often costly) pole building?

While I am at it, see my blog of yesterday….where I discuss the dangers of using PCP treated posts…for anything!