Small Project Practitioners

1.  Pole Barn Construction for Commercial Buildings

Posted 08-27-2013 09:03
With a frost depth of 42" in middle Iowa, I'm surprised to see so many commercial buildings being erected in my area without frost protection along the perimeter wall. These are heated commercial buildings and the 2009 IECC code applies to all. I speculate that if you build a building without perimeter foundation/slab insulation, the heat loss at the slab will help prevent frost heave along the perimeter of the building. but then you have an energy hog. Pole barns are cost effective, but how can they prevent frost heave of the slab without wasting energy in buildings w/ HVAC? Any thoughts?

Matthew Keller AIA
DesignBuild Solutions
Pleasant Hill IA

2.  RE:Pole Barn Construction for Commercial Buildings

Posted 08-28-2013 18:27
I also share the frustration with using pole barn construction for commercial buildings. I thought pole barns were a Northwest regional method for inexpensive construction but I guess not. Every time I drive by a commercial structure using treated poles for consturction I am shocked and irritated. I have experience in remodeling pole buildings that are rotten at the ground line within 15 years. Of all place to economize not at the foundation. And as you indicated the frost protection and the heat loss at the perimeters of the buildings is an issue. In our office we always push hard with factual experienced information to steer clients away from this type of construction.
If they are insistent in their desire to stay with pole barn construction we remove ourselves from the project.
Thomas Bristol AIA
Purple Flat Top Ltd.
Chewelah WA

3.  RE:Pole Barn Construction for Commercial Buildings

Posted 08-29-2013 17:40
The "Post Frame Advantage" group is actively promoting this construction approach for commercial buildings.

"Perimeter insulation" as a search phrase brings back no results.  I'd suggest treating the edge of the slab-on-grade like any other slab on grade -- R-10, or whatever your local code requires, as far down as the slab edge turns, at least.

Joel Niemi AIA
Snohomish WA


4.  RE:Pole Barn Construction for Commercial Buildings

Posted 08-30-2013 22:32
This sounds like a good place for following the principles of "frost protected shallow foundation". Lots of info out there- here's one place to start: I was looking at doing something like this for a client who wanted to turn a pole barn into a residence- many passive houses are being built using similar foundations.

Jean Terwilliger AIA
Jean Terwilliger, AIA, Architect
Cornwall VT

5.  RE:Pole Barn Construction for Commercial Buildings

Posted 09-02-2013 19:11
I'm sorry if I'm chiming in too late, but Wright designed these shallow cold weather foundations in places like Wisconsin with Taliesin (North). I have a book that he wrote toward the end of his life called "The Natural House" where he describes how it works and clearly these buildings are still standing. Reading Wright's writing can be painful, but this book has a lot on interesting info in it. Unfortunately, it's been out of print since the 60s.

Wright said he got the idea from the old Welsh masons. Instead of digging 3 1/2 to 4 feet to get below the frost line, he would only dig about 16" deep and pitch the bottom of the trench to drain. He would then use broken stone (not gravel) the size of your fist, which he claimed would not get clogged with soil. Because the trench allows water to drain under the foundation it doesn't need to be dug below the frost line, thus saving thousands of dollars in digging and concrete.

Like much of his inventive foresight, the book talks a lot about designing houses for the masses (Usonian period) as he saw the surge of the mass produced cookie cutter homes of the 1950s as a threat to our profession and boy was he Wright. It also discussed sustainability issues, hence the title, "The Natural House". In part he was disgusted by all these unnatural materials that were being developed at that time. Of course back then, he didn't call it green design or sustainable design. It was just plain old Good Design. The "Glass Box Boys" of Europe were fascinated with all these new, unnatural, modern materials and he was mocked for being the has been.

Eric Rawlings AIA
Rawlings Design, Inc.
Decatur GA

6.  RE:Pole Barn Construction for Commercial Buildings

Posted 08-29-2013 19:20

Although many pole barns may be done poorly, it is not intrinsic to the construction type. Shallow frost protected footing insulation details can easily be accommodated at the perimeter, and properly spec'ed, prepared and installed poles should last 30+ years. and should be able to be sequentially repaired/replaced like any other barn structure. SFPF detailing can also be easily, and relatively inexpensively retrofitted and meet both current and upcoming energy code requirements. Most of old Boston sits on wood piles, many are hundreds of years old, a difference in detailing rather than basic philosophy.
Christopher Blood AIA
Team Leader
Le Arcop Group
Montreal QC

7.  RE:Pole Barn Construction for Commercial Buildings

Posted 08-28-2013 19:06

I don't know of an exception for having frost footings on a building for human habitation...  How it happens I bet has to do with lack of a building inspector and promises of metal building supplier.    If the building is built as a machine shed and converted, then it has undergone a change in use.   Up here to protect a landing where we couldn't put frost footings the engineer placed 3 or 4 inches of rigid insulation, pitched for drainage, a distance of 4 feet beyond the perimeter of the slab being protected.   Aren't a lot of pole barns built with pier footings?  

And then I'm surprised that the frost depth in Iowa, 200 to 300 miles to the south is the same as in Minnesota.     

Peter Carlsen AIA
Carlsen & Frank Architects
Saint Paul MN