New Shop Options Steel Building or Pole Building?

Business owners discuss the costs and merits of engineered steel buildings and pole barns. September 4, 2005

I am currently developing a business plan for the custom cabinet shop I will open in the next couple of years. I have been debating between building a pole building or a steel building. I am leaning toward a steel building, but am unsure about costs. I am planning on a building around 40x 80 with 14 ceilings, but this is not a definite size. I also want a smaller portion off to one end for a showroom, office, and living area. I have heard that steel is cheaper until you start adding insulation, windows, and doors. I have checked around with manufacturers like General Steel by email, but they cant just give me an estimated price through email - they want to talk to me by phone and give me a sales pitch. All I want are some prices of steel buildings vs. pole buildings to help me on my business plan. I also am looking for views on steel or pole building construction.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
I went with steel about 7 years ago. I have a 60 x 120 with insulation, 6 windows, two doors, and a 24' wide roll-up door. I put a 2000 sq ft house in it. Total cost was less than going out and building a 2000 sq ft house. I called around, and Heritage was the one I went with. They sent me some forms to fill out on what I wanted, then we talked on the phone for 2 or 3 weeks to get it right. Everything was as promised. If you think you need a 40 x 80, build a 60 x 100. I was going with a 50 x 100 and I am glad I have a 60 x 120 with 12' walls.

Overall costs for a metal building will probably be more money. Most, if not all, metal buildings require a full foundation with piers at the column locations to bolt to. A pole building simply has the poles set in the ground with a slab on grade. You will have to insulate the pole building just as you would a steel building. The metal siding and roofing on a steel building is usually a thicker gauge of sheet metal, since it spans a wider distance. You very well may be able to build the pole yourself, but a steel building is trickier without experience. In the early 80's, I worked for a metal building erector for two years. It's not rocket science, but it also requires a whole different set of tools than you're used to. It may be that insurance is cheaper for the steel building, so check that out. A steel building, although generally not flammable like a pole building, will buckle, then collapse under the heat of a fire if exposed long enough or hot enough. There are several types of steel buildings. The heavier ones have fabricated I beam rafters with purlins that allow you a higher ceiling clearance with a lower eave height than the wood trusses will. Keep in mind that you will also have to heat any extra height or volume you build. The barjoist type steel buildings are more susceptible to buckling under the heat of a fire, since they are made with less material.

Pole barns are cheaper and are easier to add to on the inside and out. The insulation is the same stuff - rubber backed rolls in widths 4'-5'-6' in 2''-4'' thickness. The vinyl backing is a dust trap. Most pole barns are 29 gauge metal and steel frames start at 26 gauge and can get much thicker depending on span, as noted above. Without concrete, materials on a pole barn will run just over $5.00 a sq ft if you really shop around in the southeast US. Interior walls are much easier to finish with metal, which the dust can be wiped off of. With a pole barn, the poles will rot one day, and then you really don't have much left. I think if I were doing it again, I would build with regular 2x6 walls 12 ft high wrapped in plywood and just use the metal as my siding. The life of a steel frame (red iron) building is surely the longest of all.

Our cost (mid-Atlantic) for bare bones pole building runs about $7.30/ft2. Yes, you can build your own pole building, but I don't think you can beat the guys who do it everyday. I've run the numbers many times, and for me, it makes more sense to buy the basic building built by guys that do it every day, and do or sub out the extras (windows, insulation, slab, etc.) I've found that the pole shed companies are really cheap on the basic, no-frills building, but they seem to really make money on the extras. Don't have any experience with steel buildings.

Those boys that build the same few buildings over and over everyday can crank one out in two days. Here in TN, a man with two helpers can make 500-700 a day putting up barns. I did my own for 3.47 a sq ft in materials only 5 years ago. I couldn't get a kit with 12ft ceilings.

A very big drawback is the appraisal. Appraisers know you can have a 40 x 60 built for 20K, and gave me materials-only value on the 6" insulation, metal interior walls and ceiling, wiring, concrete, heat and AC.

A steel frame building will probably be a better return on your money, or at least give you more borrowing power at the bank, which you will need at some point in this business.

Rather you choose pole or steel, you will pour concrete. I have 210 yards in mine. That was 1/3 the cost to build. I built it all for under $11.00/sq ft. I put it up with one helper and a forklift. The best part is, when I got all my equipment in, I had 30 x 60 left over. So now I have a 30 x 60 gym.

At you don't have to talk to anyone - just make up a username and password, then you can quote your own buildings till you're tired of it.

I asked my realtor when I moved into my current shop how much it would cost to build something similar. He said figure about $35/sf including land and all costs. This was for a nice looking, typical pre-engineered steel building. If you're having an onsite showroom, I would go with a quality steel building. You're making your first impression on your potential customer before you even shake hands.

The most important thing to consider is the long term insurance cost for a wood, pole, building vs. a steel building. Talk to an insurance agent. I believe you will find that a steel building will save you a lot of money over its life.

Around here, good welders are a dime a dozen. So the most inexpensive way to get a good quality building is to hire one to frame it and dry it in. Here, most use 2" and 3" steel tubing, or just 3" round tubing. But, steel is very high right now.

Pole barns will rot, eventually, but there sure are a lot of them around here over 100 years old that are still being used. In N. Texas, a decent steel building shell will run from $9-$11 sq. ft. including concrete, which is almost half the cost. Add to that septic, heating, etc.

Another fairly cost-effective building is made by Miracle Truss. They have steel columns and clear span trusses with brackets welded along the outside edges 2 ft. on center. To these brackets you attach standard 2x framing lumber for the purlins. Typical steel siding is used on the outside, but inside you can use standard 2 ft. insulation rolls or batts, then attach drywall or whatever wall material you want to use directly to the framing lumber. You can also use standard windows and doors with this method. The wood creates a true thermal break between interior and exterior, eliminating sweating. Piers are needed for the columns, but you can pour a slab on grade for the interior. Pretty simple system and you can do it yourself.

I've got a steel building that I've added onto twice. The basic shell is fairly cheap and quick; it's everything else that adds up. Concrete, doors, plumbing, 3 phase, lighting, interior lining, heating, etc. Most of these cost the same in a pole or steel frame. My building has a ridged frame design (tapering columns). If I was to do it again, Id go with straight columns. They cost a little more but dont intrude into the space as much. If you ever need to sell, the steel frame will bring more. I wish I had done a tilt-up concrete building. Lots more resistant to damage. My building has 18' sidewalls. I wish I had gone to 22'. We now rack materials with a triple mast forklift and could get more into the space with a higher roof. There gets to be a lot of stuff hanging from the roof: dust tubes, air pipes, lots of electrical, lighting, sprinkler system, radiant heating, etc. It's nice to be able to handle long lumber without hitting all that stuff. I'd also make the building larger than current needs. When we moved in here in '87, I had smaller and fewer tools. I put the dust collection under the concrete, knowing someday it would be in the wrong place. Someday came a bit sooner than I had thought.

From the original questioner:
I checked out the Miracle Truss system and it looks good. So I sent for some information on their system and was very surprised to receive the information packet within a couple of days. I am seriously looking at Miracle Truss. I was leaning toward a steel building because of the clear truss spans, but would like the ease of wood to attach things and add windows and doors. I am happy to find a system that uses wood and steel.

If you're looking at Miracle Truss, check out E-bay. There's always some dealer running a special on the frames.

An observation about steel buildings in general: Why is it that there are always salesmen from several companies who have buildings to sell that have had deposits paid on them, but the customer didn't finish the transaction? When I was in the decision stage, I was talking with a couple steel building dealers, and the stories they were weaving about how this building was "left over," and therefore was such a great deal, yet I was able to change almost anything - just didn't add up. Playing with the salesman, I even asked him to change the roof pitch to 4/12 from 2/12. He said - It'll cost a couple hundred more, but "no problem." Doesn't make sense to me that an already made building could be changed that economically. Sheeting, yes; trusses - I don't understand!

I have been looking at designs for a new shop and found, which you may be interested in. You can build with wood and still have a clear truss span.