Barndominium Vs. Pole Barn: The Differences Explained

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Housing costs in the United States increase by almost 20% annually, so people are always looking for alternatives when it comes to building their homes. Barndominium and pole barns are two building options that may seem ancient but remain relevant today. Both housing options have some similarities and slight differences, causing numerous comparisons on the better choice.

A pole barn is a building structure with wooden frames containing wide spaces, while a barndominium is a pole barn that contains more living partitions. There are a lot of similarities between both, but the main difference is the interior of the barndominium is habitable by people.

Are you confused about which is the best option between a barndominium and a pole barn? The remainder of this article will take you through an in-depth comparison, highlighting their history, features, pros, and cons to help you make an informed decision.

Barndominium: History and Overview

Think of a barndominium like a building that is a barn with a condominium infused within it. The first recorded appearance of this building type came in 1989 through Karl Nilsen.

The goal was to create a building that accommodated humans and horses without affecting each other. And although they did not meet the goal, the idea and name remained, which is what we know as a barndominium today.

Initially, barndominiums were built using wooden frames exactly like pole barns. But now, steel is the frame used to make most barndominiums, giving them more stability.

The building process of a barndominium takes up to six months if all materials are ready. It all depends on the job’s complexity and professional input.

Usually, the steel poles will anchor into the reinforcement of the concrete foundation before casting. This will provide a stronger frame that will comfortably carry the roof load.

The spacing of the barndominium steel posts depends on the space available and the building plan. Most times, it ranges between twelve feet and twenty feet (3.7 and 6 meters).

With a barndominium, you can access the standard amenities you’d find in a typical home, including light, plumbing, and heating systems.

Also known as barndos, barndominiums serve multiple functions, useful in locations with large spaces and fewer people.

For instance, Wyoming has the smallest population (around 600,000) in the United States, despite being amongst the top ten largest cities. This gives room for a lot of horse-keeping and barndominium buildings.

Pole Barns: History and Overview

The creation of pole barns was to solve a problem that plagued most farmers and the whole world in 1930. The name of this plague was the Great Depression, which lasted ten years between 1929 and 1939.

The world was in economic turmoil during this period, and every sector had to look for cheaper ways to live. The farming sector used pole barns for building; a method still used today. Surprisingly, up to 800 companies are still involved in the construction of pole barns.

Pole barns utilize wood as their primary production material to support the building and carry the roof. The wood doesn’t require a foundation but gets immersed in the ground for firmness and support. Depending on the design specifications, contractors may bury the wood into the ground up to four feet.

Wood is generally weaker than steel, and since there is no foundation, you need tighter spacing for a pole barn. In most cases, a space of ten feet (3 meters) is safe – again, design specifications matter too.

Pole barns used to be only wide spaces from inception. However, with the growth of wood in the construction industry, you can now have a pole barn with partitions.

Many still shy away from living in pole barns because of the instability threats and the unfirm foundation.

Barndominium vs. Pole Barns: Uses

Pole Barns and barndominium have multiple things you can use them for, but it all depends on your preference.

Most people assume pole barns are great for only farming purposes. However, some of the uses of pole barns include;

  • Workshop. A pole barn has ample space necessary to keep heavy-duty materials. Since these materials do not require any support, the pole barns will suffice.
  • Garage. Pole barns usually have between eight and sixteen ceiling heights. Hence, you can park ten inch (25.4 cm) high vehicles without hassles. Moreso, they have required space for the width of the car.
  • Storing tools. Having the right tools and keeping them properly is vital as a professional in any field. Building a pole barn gives you enough space regardless of your tool sizes or number.
  • Animal shelter. Horses, sheep, goats, and poultry are some of the animals you can keep in your pole barn. Burying the wood frames in the ground provides enough firmness to hold the animals in that enclosed space.

Like pole barns, barndominiums have multiple uses; some of which are:

  • Providing shelter. A barndominium has enough strength and stability to provide cover for your family, regardless of how large you are. The barndominium has a concrete slab as its foundation, which can stand as a good base.
  • Full business factory. A manufacturing factory requires large spaces to accommodate factory workers, office spaces, and large machinery. A well-constructed barndominium will provide all of these, and you can even design based on specifications.
  • Double functions. Sometimes, you only have one space, but you want to do many things – a barndominium is the answer. For instance, building a barndominium can help you simultaneously sort out a shelter and a workshop. You will only need to tweak the design specifications.

Barndominium vs. Pole Barns: Cost of Building

Building costs are one of the main reasons behind the popularity of barndominiums amongst homeowners. These buildings are usually cheaper than traditional homes, but they are much more expensive than pole barns.

Building a barndominium will cost between $30,000 and $95,000, including labor and material costs, while a pole barn will cost between $18,000 to $60,000.

Several factors affect the cost of pole barns and barndominium, including;

  • Size. The larger space you need for your pole barn or barndominium, the more expensive it becomes. This will affect land costs, material costs, and labor costs.
  • Design. Pole barns and barndominiums can have complex designs, depending on the building’s function. The design complexity will have an increasing or decreasing effect on the total cost of the structure.
  • Location. You need enough space to construct a barndominium or pole bar. Getting such ample space is a struggle in urban regions and will usually cost high.
  • Roof. You have the liberty to choose whatever roof type you have on pole barns or barndominiums. The more expensive roof designs will add to your overall costs.
  • Labor. You will need people to help you build your barndominium or pole barns – especially the barndos. The more labor(skilled and unskilled) you have, the faster your project, but the higher the running costs.
  • Interior costs. Interior costs are peculiar to the barndominium because they require more finishing touches than the pole barns.

Overall, pole barns are cheaper than barndominiums to build.

Barndominium vs. Pole Barns: Wind Safety

Some locations, like Puerto Rico in the United States, have high exposure to hurricanes. In 1992, a terrible hurricane swamped Florida, leaving thousands homeless. Therefore, safety is vital when building any structure – mainly when it acts as a shelter for animals, humans, or machinery.

The primary manufacturing materials of pole barns and barndominium are wood and steel. As a result, they offer safety based on the abilities of either wood or metal.

Experts found, in research, that a wood pole that is 100% strong requires a wind speed of 122 mph (196 kph) to take it down. The lowest speed of a hurricane is 74 mph (119 kph), while a tornado can go over 300 mph (483 kph).

That means, in an unfortunate event of a hurricane or tornado, the wood poles may suffer setbacks, regardless of their strength.

Steel poles can withstand wind speeds up to 170 mph (274 kph), so they are safer than most wood structures. Still, we can agree that barndominiums provide more safety against the wind than pole barns.

Barndominium vs. Pole Barns: Longevity

Again, how long your barndominium or pole barn will last depends on the steel and wood used to construct them, respectively.

Wood can remain in its prime position and health for fifteen years before deterioration. You can still preserve the wood for more decades, increasing its lifespan.

However, wood is an open invitation for insects, pests, and rodents to prey on, causing it to lose its strength quicker.

Steel poles can last up to 100 years and still stand firm. However, one factor to worry about with steel is rust – a coating that covers steel when it mixes with oxygen.

Steel can start to rust within a few hours of exposure to oxygen, according to Dan Brewer, a Chemical process supplier. However, protective coatings can help prevent corrosion on steel poles. Generally, barndominium last longer than pole barns because of the durability of steel.

And there’s also the issue of maintaining value. I’ve written another guide where I discuss whether barndominiums hold their value as they age. Don’t miss it.

Barndominium vs. Pole Barns: Fire Resistance

A fire outbreak is not an event you want to experience, but you must plan for it. Barndominium and pole barns have different reactions to fire because of the steel and wood construction difference.

Wood starts burning around 572°F (300°C) but needs about 1,742°F (950°C) to burn. If a fire outbreak occurs, the wood pole in a pole barn will most likely burn.

On the other hand, steel requires up to 1,472°F (800°C) to start burning and will not melt until over 2500°F (1,371°C).

Barndominium will do better at resisting combustion than a pole barn, although there is some fire insulation you can use for wood poles.

It is vital to note that if the fire temperature gets to the melting point of either steel or wood, your barndominium and pole barn may burn to charcoal.

Barndominium vs. Pole Barns: Building Time and Complications

As I have explained earlier, building a pole barn requires you to firmly fix your wood poles into the ground, while the barndominium needs a concrete slab foundation.

These videos will give you a visual insight:


Pole barn:

A pole barn is a lot easier to build than a barndominium. You can build the structure with the right tools and experience, although getting a little help is always better.

Barndominiums, on the other hand, will require a lot of people to help with different tasks. Some of these tasks include setting up:

  • Concrete foundation
  • Steel anchoring
  • Roofing system
  • Electric and plumbing systems

If you’re looking for something easy and cheap to construct, pole barns are the ideal choice.

Barndominium vs. Pole Barns: Insurance

Initially, I assumed that barndominium insurance would cost a lot more than pole barns for apparent reasons. First, it has a higher value and is a more complicated structure than the pole barn, so why not? However, that is not how insurance works!

Most home insurance is against fire, and since barndominium have more resistance against fire, the insurance is lower. There are six classes of fire-resistant buildings, and the more susceptible to fire a building is, the higher its insurance.

If you’re trying to save costs on insurance, building a pole barn is not the best option. I believe you already know the importance of pole barns, so don’t try to avoid insuring either your barndominium or pole barn should you choose to build one.

That said, barndominium can still be difficult to insure for multiple reasons. I discuss these reasons in my guide on insuring your barndominium.

Final Thoughts

The main difference between a barndominium and a pole barn is the construction material – steel and wood, respectively. That slight difference changes both buildings’ building process, functionality, and durability.

It is essential to first analyze what you want in line with your current space and finances before choosing to build a barndominium or a pole barn.

A barndominium costs more but can perform the tasks of the pole barn and still give you a home. A pole barn is easier and cheaper to build but will only serve as extra space for animals, tools, or a workshop.