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Pole Barn vs. Steel Building: What’s the Difference?

If you work in agriculture, you may be familiar with pole barns and steel buildings. Both pole barns and steel buildings are typically outdoor structures used to store equipment, machinery, and other agricultural materials. Whereas pole barns have been used since the early 1900’s, steel buildings are becoming more and more popular due to their durability. But what exactly is the difference between a pole barn vs. steel building? Learn more about the difference between the two buildings.

What is a pole barn?

You have probably seen a pole barn before. Pole barns are structures (typically used for agriculture) built with wooden poles that support the barn. They have been used across the country since the Great Depression because they quickly constructed, cost-efficient outdoor storage spaces.

What is a steel building?

A steel building is simply a metal building fabricated with high-grade steel for internal support. They are popular choices for outdoor storage structures designed to store heavy materials, but can be used for a wide variety of needs. Steel buildings are now an alternative option to pole barns because of their strength, durability, and similar appearance and storage capabilities. 

What’s the difference?

We have broken down the key differences between a pole barn vs. a steel building. Consider differences between construction process, durability, cost, quality, insurance, maintenance, and sustainability.

Construction/Structure

The way pole barns and steel buildings are constructed and erected is a bit different. Pole barns are built with wooden poles set up to 96” apart, which makes up their framing. This framing is anchored a few feet into the soil and acts as the main support structure for the building. The floor of the barn is usually soil rather than concrete.

Steel buildings are erected with rigid, high-grade steel (rather than wood) framing. Steel columns are attached to rafter beams which creates the frame for the building. This framing is anchored into the concrete foundation every 20-25 feet (compared to a pole barn’s 96-inch space between beams). Note that the floor of a steel building is usually concrete, compared to a pole barn’s dirt floor.

Weather Resistance/Durability 

Steel is known to be one of the most weather-resistant materials in the world. Although wood has been used for buildings for a long time, it is no longer known as an ideal building material for agricultural buildings.

First of all, because pole barns are built with wood, they are susceptible to weather damage like rotting, mold, and natural deterioration. You won’t deal with these issues when you have a high-grade metal building.

Pole barns also risk damage from termites, lightning, moisture, fire, and birds perching on the outside. On the other hand, steel buildings prevent damage from these things across the board. The only weather-related risks you will run with steel is rust and water leaks. However, if your building is well constructed and maintained you should not have to worry. 

Cost

Pole barns and steel buildings are comparable in price. However, most of the time steel buildings will save you more money. Compare prices by size below:

Steel BuildingPole Barn
30×50$20,000 – $25,000$25,000 – $30,000
40×60$35,000 – $40,000$35,000 – $42,000
50×100$45,000 – $50,000$65,000 –  $75,000

As you can see here, steel buildings seem to be the winner by a small margin. However, you also have to factor in maintenance and repair costs over time, as well as other factors. Steel buildings can provide you with tons of other cost saving opportunities, like:

  • No maintenance costs 
  • Reduced insurance costs
  • Lower energy costs
  • Boost property value when selling

To learn more about steel building costs, read our cost guide.

Quality/Value

Pole barns were used often in the 1930s because they were cost-efficient and easy to build. However, the quality of wood does not compare to steel in terms of durability. In addition, it’s no longer cost-efficient to use a wooden pole barn because of the amount of maintenance and repairs that it will need over time. You will end up having your steel building in better shape for a longer period of time compared to a pole barn.

According to Rhino Buildings, a pole barn will last you 15-20 years when paying for frequent maintenance, and a steel building will last decades longer than that.

Insurance

When you need to insure your building, pole barns are considered riskier structures because they are more susceptible to natural and weather-related damage (such as a fire). You can save as much as 30% or more on insurance with a steel building.

Maintenance 

Pole barns require frequent maintenance and repairs because they often decay and wear down over time. This means that you will keep investing in and paying for your building over 15-20 years that you own it. On the other hand, steel buildings require little to no maintenance. Once you pay for your building, there’s almost no repairs or maintenance that will go into it.

Sustainability

Steel is one of the most sustainable building materials because it can be recycled so many times! Therefore, if you no longer have a need for your metal buildings its parts can be reused rather than thrown away. On the other hand, wood is considered a non-sustainable building part because it can be easily damaged. Even if wood is treated with chemicals to withstand conditions, it cannot be recycled because these chemicals are considered dangerous for the environment.

Pole Barn vs. Steel Building: Which is Right for You?

When it comes down to it and you need to make a decision about a pole barn vs. a steel building for your needs, consider the following.

Choose a pole barn if:

  • You want the historic look of a pole barn, or you don’t want to deal with rust.
  • A dirt vs. a concrete floor is more appealing or suitable to you.

Choose a steel building if:

  • Durability, weather-resistance, and a long lifespan matters to you.
  • Cost saving opportunities on things like insurance, energy, and maintenance is enticing.
  • You don’t want to worry about long-term maintenance and repairs.
  • Termites, moisture damage, and lightning are concerning risks for you.
  • You want to choose a “greener,” more environmentally-friendly building.

Next Steps

Curious to learn more about steel buildings? Read about 5 common misconceptions of steel buildings here.

If you are ready to compare prices for steel buildings, 360Connect can help! Our free comparison tool lets you compare quotes from up to 5 steel building suppliers in your area. Get started!

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