[Evaluation] Pole Barns Vs. Metal Buildings

Posted by Jamie Kline on Jan 4, 2023 8:00:00 AM
Jamie Kline

Pole Barn Vs Metal Buildings 

While similar in appearance and uses, there are distinct differences between pole barns vs metal buildings. We evaluate both building types based on their: 

  1. Cost
  2. Longevity
  3. Ease of Design and Engineering
  4. Environmental impact


Pole barn

When it comes to pole barns vs metal buildings, appearances can be deceiving. 

Not only do they look the same from the outside, but they also fill many of the same roles -- be it more storage or providing a workspace. 

But when it comes down to it, pole barns and metal buildings are distinctly different structures. 

For the client looking to add a new building to their property, choosing between both building types may seem like an either-or decision. However, differences between metal buildings vs  pole barns make a client’s decision on which is the best choice much larger.

What is a Pole Barn?

The primary distinguishing characteristic of a pole barn is the part that’s not immediately apparent -- its foundation system. In place of poured concrete, pole barns are set on pressure-treated wooden posts that stand on concrete pedestals installed 40 inches or so into the ground. 

Post-frame building construction has been around for over a century, used to construct sturdy, reliable structures combining efficiency with adaptability. The structure became known as a "pole barn" during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, when farmers sought out the most cost-efficient materials to construct sheds and barns: recycled telephone poles.

The simplicity of design and construction, as well as cost and versatility, continue to make pole barns a popular choice for utility buildings even in the 21st Century.


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What is a Metal Building?

What sets metal buildings apart from pole barns are their foundations as well. In contrast to pole barns, pre-engineered metal buildings are set on a concrete foundation system. The foundation features deep footings for steel columns with a shallow foundation wall between them to receive the metal siding.

Manufacturing technology and the increased availability of metal building components made metal barns and utility buildings increasingly popular after World War II. Their use is often applied to construction instances that require a larger free span (no additional columns between exterior walls) than pole structures allow.

The versatility and durability of metal buildings are among the reasons they have been used for workshops, home offices, garages, storage buildings and a variety of other applications. 

Pole Barns Vs Metal Buildings: A Four-Point Comparison

Though similar in appearance and function, pole barns and metal buildings are each unique building types. As such, there are important considerations a client should be mindful of when deciding which building style is best suited to meet their needs, including: 

  1. Cost
  2. Longevity
  3. Ease of Design and Engineering
  4. Environmental impact

1. Cost

A major concern for clients adding a new structure to their property is the impact the project will have on their wallets. Pole barns generally cost less than metal buildings. How? Three reasons:

  1. They use fewer materials: Pole barn components are pre-fabricated in a factory to the exact specification of the building’s design. 
  2. They are less labor intensive to build: When a pole barn’s pre-engineered components arrive on-site work can begin immediately to build the structure. Usually, the building is completed within two weeks. 
  3. They don’t require an in-ground foundation: Putting in a foundation is a major undertaking requiring heavy equipment, materials, and workers -- all expenses that add up quickly. While pole barns can be built on a concrete slab, such a foundation is not a requirement as it is with metal buildings.

2. Longevity

When it comes to longevity of pole barns vs. metal buildings, the playing field is level. 

The common assumption is that the edge in longevity belongs to metal buildings, which are not susceptible to wood rot or termite damage. But steel frame buildings do have their own Achilles heels -- they’re vulnerable to rust and corrosion. 

Consequently, to maintain the structural integrity of a pole barn or metal building over the long term requires some level of upkeep and maintenance to prevent the deterioration of its components.

3. Ease of Design and Engineering

Designing and constructing a metal building is far more extensive than with a pole barn structure.  With pre-engineered metal buildings, there’s much more the engineer, such as:

  • Structural supports
  • Trusses 
  • Reinforcement of the concrete  

What’s more, most of this work happens as the building is being constructed -- for instance, welding trusses can’t happen in a shop. 

Because of structural considerations, customizing a metal building isn’t as easy as it is for a post frame structure. The same goes for if your client plans to add onto their metal building in the future.

4. Environmental Impact

A common assumption is that metal buildings are a greener building type than pole frame barns because they do not use wood as their primary structural material. In reality, the construction of a metal building requires a larger footprint and more site disturbance because of the amount of excavation necessary for its foundation. What’s more, metal buildings also use more materials – be it metal panels or support beams. 

With no foundation, a pole barn is built into the land, so to speak. And being a made-to-order building, all the components of a pole barn are made in a factory to exact specifications. In other words, pole barn construction involves almost no waste.

Pole Barns Vs. Metal Buildings: Making the Best Investment 

While all projects are subjective to the client and their needs, pole barns check all the boxes that are the most important considerations. Put simply, when it comes to pole barns vs metal buildings, the former is a cost-effective, long-lasting, customizable, and environmentally friendly investment for a new structure. 

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This article was originally published in September 2021 and was updated to reflect industry trends. 

Topics: Pole Barns

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