Pole Building

There are many advantages to pole building, including speed, ease and lower cost of construction.
There are many advantages to pole building, including speed, ease and lower cost of construction.

Pole building under construction.
Pole building under construction.

Here are a few facts gleaned from Low Cost Pole Building Construction, by Ralph Wolfe and Practical Pole Building Construction, by Leigh Seddon.
– Adaptable to steep terrain, rocky soils, marshes, beaches, earthquake and hurricane zones. For instance, you can save a lot of money by building on low cost hillsides.
– Meets building codes and FHA requirements.
– Poles serve as foundation, structural frame and wind bracing.
– Building with poles saves labor, time and materials. For instance, you can typically save thousands of dollars in comparison to building a concrete foundation.
– Total cost is often 15%-25% lower than standard construction or about half the cost of a contractor-built house.
– Roof can be built before the walls.
– Round or square poles can be used, although round poles of the same size are 18% stronger.
– Poles are more fire resistant than stick frame houses.

Can’t afford the book? Take a look at this free ebook on Pole Building Construction

Low Cost Pole Building Construction
Practical Pole Building Construction

Image source: Sherman Pole Buildings
Image source: Cascade Building Concepts

11 thoughts on “Pole Building”

  1. You might check out Mike Oehler’s “The $50 and Up Underground House Book” (might be out of print) for inexpensive, non-chemical alternatives for protecting against rot in embedded poles. If I recall correctly, he found that most rot and infestation occurred just above and below grade (6-10 inches or so) and simply charring the surface of the wood with a torch in this area would actually offer a great deal of protection against them. An excellent book with much good info and ideas for anyone interested in alternative, sustainable, low-cost building.

  2. When we move to Texas, we plan to build a couple pole buildings. One will be used to shelter our motorhome while we build the main building. Once the house is completed enough to live in, we’ll convert the shelter into a barn.

    However, our main house isn’t going to be a standard rectangular building. It will be laid out as a ring of hexagons with one massive roof. Then, we plan to build earthbag walls. Although earthbags have proven themselves for use in structural walls, building a pole structure first will give us shelter sooner. Also, as an interim step, we can use plywood sheeting on the exterior to enclose the space and then work on one wall at a time.

    I did a pretty decent writeup on my blog about it. We’re calling it the HexHouse. Since the earthbag walls will be only 8′ long each before they do a 120-degree bend, I won’t need to buttress it. This will make for very clean lines in the finished product.

  3. A simple solution to the chemical treatment of poles would be concrete piers. In fact I would guess that most building codes in the US would require them for a human residence.The pole would set on top of the pier, not in the ground. Most pole building in the US is used for stables, barns and agricultural buildings. Copper Chromium Arsenate is toxic, but there are alternatives. Lifetime Wood Treatment is one.
    Untreated lumber unless naturally rot resistant like redwood cedar or cypress will usually only last 7 years versus 40 plus for pressure treated. Always be sure to slope concrete away from pole if setting in the ground.

  4. The free e-book is, apparently, an incomplete scan of an earlier edition of the first book you linked to on Amazon above (Low Cost Pole Building Construction). I am, unfortunately, very wary of things that are uploaded to ScribD, since a great many of them have been scanned and uploaded without the copyright holder’s awareness or permission.

    Regardless, pole building is certainly an interesting alternative, and one that we’ve considered quite a lot (and are still considering). As for the treatments used on the poles, they’ve gotten safer in recent years, but they are still pretty scary stuff. If we end up using treated poles, out intention is to embed them within a hybrid wall structure (wrapped in strawbale or perhaps with hyper-wattle on either side) to isolate them from the occupants. Where we are, there’s little alternative for pole framing, as naturally rot resistant poles such as cedar are uncommonly available and absurdly expensive, and might not meet the building code anyway if they are embedded (and if they’re not embedded, why bother with pole framing?). On the other hand, used utility poles are sometimes available for the cost of hauling them away, and I’d rather see them put into a structure than into a landfill.


  5. Hi Owen

    I started reading the free e-book that you refer to above and one of the first things that it sets out is the treatment of timber that is intended for use in construction.

    Their suggested treatments left me aghast! Many of the suggestions contain arsenic in one form or another; a chemical that (according to a report I have read) NEVER stops leeching into the surrounding environment including soils and people. This would mean, if you had a dirt floor, that the floor would be continually having arsenic leeched into it.

    From the report I read, children who play on Arsenic-treated playgrounds have levels of arsenic in their systems many factors higher than what is considered safe by any standard in the world. I wouldn’t want this in my house.

    The other treatments suggested (for the most part) contain petrochemicals.

    Since a lot of us got on the owner-builder wagon because of our knowledges and understandings of environmental concerns and wanting to limit the reliance on and exposure to these types of chemicals, I can’t suggest strongly enough that people find an alternative to using ANY of the treatments suggested.

    They never used them in the old times, and there are buildings still standing in the UK and Europe that have stood the test of time when it comes to untreated timbers.

    Living in Australia, termites are an issue for a lot of timbers, but there are some that are resistant such as white cedar. I would be looking for local knowledge on what timbers in your area stand that time test with termites and weather. Find the oldest buildings still standing in your area and look at what timbers were used in their construction… then find them in the field.

    Sorry this is a bit of a rant, but this is a crucial issue and one that I’m a bit passionate about.

    • Yeah, you’re right. I wouldn’t use dangerous chemicals. Still, this free ebook has lots of gems. You have to shift through all the options and find alternatives that are safe and practical.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.