Part 1 Building a Pole barn – Planning 3


This is the beginning of my pole barn / post frame building journey. I am detailing all the steps I took to plan my shop and some tips that might help you when you go to build yours. This post will cover the research and initial planning / layout steps.

This is going to be different for me. I typically only post things after I have done them, not before. This is usually because the final product doesn’t always look like the plan I had in my head. However in this case with building an entire building, I can’t keep it all in my head so I am going to document the journey here to hopefully save you some time in the future.

Steps to building a pole barn

Why do you want a to build a shop?

This is a particularly important question and should be the origin of your journey.

Do you want a building to store an RV? Welding shop? Just a small wood shop? Automotive shop? Will it have a lift? Will there be any heavy equipment?

Let’s go into my setup as an example. If you have been reading my blog then you have an idea of what I do. I typically have one or two projects going on at a time. Typically, I work on automotive, off-road 4×4, and miscellaneous projects. I do a lot of metalworking and need to make sure there is power for the tools.

What would your new shop help you do?

It will give me a place where I can work on multiple projects at once and not have to clean and sweep every night when I am done (because it isn’t the main house garage). Most importantly I can be loud late into the night because nobody’s bedroom is above the garage. Also, I have always wanted a 2-post lift since I was… oh 16 years old or so.

Call me a princess if you want, but an additional requirement I had was to be able to back a truck with trailer attached into the garage and shut the door.

Establish requirements

Now that we have figured out what the shop is for (very important). It is time to write out the high level requirements and components. Here are mine:

  • Deep enough to back in truck with trailer and still close the door
  • Tall enough ceiling for a 2 post lift
  • Enough power to run welders / air compressor / air conditioning
  • Thick enough concrete to support a 2 post lift and heavy vehicles (my dad has a pair of deuce and a halfs that might need some maintenance someday)
  • Tall enough doors to fit a Class C RV or bumper pull (Think ‘Minnie Winnie’ sized ~11′ tall, cuz you never know what I am going to drag home)

Establish budget

Make sure you establish a budget before getting too excited. Consult with your bank account balance, significant other, and/or loan officer to see what you have to work with.

Just to give you a reference in cost for buildings, here are some examples:

Low end cost

Toward the bottom of the range a typical ‘fully loaded’ 30×40 with two garage doors, a man door, some windows, maybe a lean-to on the side, and 4″ concrete would be in the range of $25k or so. Keep in mind that is just the building. Dirt work, electrical, driveway, insulation, interior finish, etc. is all on you.

High end cost

On the other end of the spectrum there are a couple of shops in my area I learned through talking to some of the vendors are well into the 6 figures (and look like they cost that much too…). Think fully finished inside and out, stucco, shingled roofs (instead of metal), the expensive options.

I am going to end up somewhere in the middle of this range. I started with the ‘fully loaded’ 30×40 advertisement in the newspaper at $25k and quickly snowballed it from there. More on this later.

More research

The next step is more research and idea gathering. I suggest going over to Garage Journal forum and check out the thousands of awesome garages in the Garage Gallery here: https://www.garagejournal.com/forum/forumdisplay.php?f=7

WARNING: Garage Journal is a black hole and can cause a lot of ‘want’ so make sure you are being realistic with consideration of your budget.

Figure out what your city will allow

I live in a suburb of Kansas City. Because I am in the city, I already knew I needed permits. What I didn’t know was how big of a shop I could build. After doing some research I found the ‘Detached Building Guidelines’ on the city website and they weren’t very pretty. Here is a rough summary for my city:

  • For detached buildings on lots over an acre (ours is ~1.25) the allowance is 1,000 sq ft + a prorated portion of 100sq ft per acre up to 5 acres.
  • There can only be one detached building on a lot (I would have to tear down my mower shed…)

So, that is not cool, ~1,000 sq ft is not a lot and I don’t want to lose my mower shed. Sad face…

Turns out I just needed to get creative. I talked to some pole barn vendors about my dilemma and it figured out that I could go around this rule by tossing a breezeway between the shop and house which makes it a ‘home addition’ because it is attached to the house. Bingo!

Scaled layouts

Now that we know what the city will allow, it is time to get out the crayons and get to work!

I got out some graph paper, a pencil/pen, scissors, and a highlighter. If you don’t have graph paper, go ahead and get some on Amazon. It is worth a couple of bucks to make this exercise more accurate.

Why graph paper? Well, it turns out it is really handy. I made each square represent an inch (if your shop is longer than 50′, you want to get graph paper bigger than 8.5×11 because my paper was only 50 squares tall). First I traced out the shop on one piece of graph paper then traced out the objects to go in the garage on another and cut them out.

With the pieces cut out you can keep moving them around until you get a layout that works. If the layout doesn’t work, then you know you will either need to make some compromises or will need a bigger shop than you thought (this is what happened to me).

For extra visibility, I went around the outsides of the objects to be in the shop with highlighter to see the edges better.

Steps to building a pole barn
Layout 1: Here I laid out a 30×40 shop with two 10′ wide doors, three cars, and a work area.
Steps to building a pole barn
Layout 2: Here is a layout of a 30×40 with four cars in it. I put an extra 2′ on the end of the trailer as a buffer since my last one was a 16′ with 2′ dovetail on it.

This is the part where you start to get scope creep. I realized very quickly that a 30×40 shop isn’t as big as it sounds. The biggest issue was that while my current Ford Explorer and 16′ utility trailer could technically fit with the door closed, it would be just barely, and I could never get a bigger trailer or vehicle. Not cool.

Psst. This is why you want to use graph paper so everything is to scale.

Steps to building a pole barn
Here is a 30×48 layout showing a long bed crew cab pickup (worst case scenario) hooked up to my 16′ trailer with possible 2′ dovetail (or room for an 18′ trailer). Now this looks like it would work.

DO YOUR PLANNING! If I would have just ordered a 30×40, I would have been super disappointed the first time I tried to park a truck/trailer in there and it was 1ft too short.

Fancy layouts

If you are decently good with computers and have a lot of patience, there is an awesome *FREE* program called Sketchup. It is all online and you don’t have to install anything on your computer.

I don’t get anything for recommending this. It is just the best way I could find do ‘see’ what I was imagining without paying somebody to do it for me.
https://www.sketchup.com/plans-and-pricing#for-personal

Here is what about 3 hours of me playing around got me. This is only the first iteration; I have many more I will share once I started changing plans. There are a lot of free scale 3D objects you can download within the program, just be careful because if you add too many it takes f o r e v e r to save.

My first digital draft was a30x48x12 with two 10×10 doors, brick veneer, and concrete lap siding. Go wild at the beginning then you can prioritize once you start getting prices.
Aerial view. I hid the roof inside of the eaves so I could see inside. The line towards the back is at 40′, you can see that would clearly not be deep enough for my goals.
Here is another view, I threw a lean-to on there just for giggles as the wife and I were going through options and ideas.

I hope this was interesting. We are just getting started on this project. I am very quickly realizing that there is A LOT of work and planning that goes into this. Hopefully this helps you be prepared when you make a shop of your own. Stay tuned for Part 2 with more planning and some tips for who is responsible for what when it comes to contractors.

Now YOU, go outside (or to Sketchup) and make something!


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