Innovation in agricultural equipment is common. Changes in farm structures, however, are few and far between. After all, a building doesn’t have moving parts.
But there have been a few improvements in recent years, largely in foundation design for post-frame structures, commonly referred to as pole barns. New buildings are made to last longer and require fewer repairs.
Morton Buildings, one of the nation’s largest pole barn manufacturers, has introduced an improved foundation system the company believes will strengthen and extend the life of its structures. A couple years ago it introduced a concrete support column. The posts, anchored 4 feet into the ground, provide a base for wood posts that reach the roof truss. Now Morton has added a concrete baseboard to replace lumber.
“That is a biggie,” said company spokesman Dan Nyberg. “We have a repair division at Morton and we do a significant number of rotted-post repairs. If you’re going to put up a building in today’s world and spend maybe $250,000, you don’t want to be thinking that in 20 years you’ll need to have someone come back and fix rotten posts.”
The company’s newest offering is its DuraPlank concrete splashboard, an innovation years in the making. It consists of a concrete plank that connects to the support posts. The combination of the concrete posts and DuraPlank board-like elements means no wood touches the ground.
That eliminates the possibility of rotting, something that occurs even with treated lumber. It also appeals to customers who don’t like wood treated with chromated copper arsenate, a common wood preservative.
“The treated wood and rotting is a double whammy,” he said. “Some people are going to be concerned about the posts rotting out. Others say they don’t like that poison the wood is treated with touching their ground.”
He noted there has been a move to ban CCA, something that could dramatically affect the rural and farm construction industry.
“You cannot buy CCA at Lowe’s or Home Depot. It’s not available to the general public,” Nyberg said. “That came close to putting Morton out of the post-frame business.”
He pointed out that the company’s DuraPlank system offers easier installation. A bonus is that the concrete planks are true, unlike some lumber that can warp.
Concrete posts are not exclusive to Morton. Indiana-based Perma-Column manufactures similar foundation pieces used in pole barn construction. The idea of keeping wood above the ground has been embraced by consumers concerned about longevity and chemical contamination.
“The main emphasis is to build a permanent foundation,” said company president Mark Stover. “One of best types of materials out there is concrete. Treated wood has a shelf life. We felt a permanent foundation system has to be made up of precast concrete posts.”
The company, founded in 2003, offers concrete support posts anchored 4 feet below the ground. They protrude about a foot above the surface, providing a base for traditional wooden studs, which are attached by steel brackets.
Perma-Column’s posts are superior in strength not only to wood, but even to municipal construction, Stover said. Whereas the concrete used for sidewalks ranges from 3,000 to 3,500 PSI and airport runways are about 8,500 PSI, the pole barn posts produced by the company are rated at 10,000 pounds per square inch.
“The reason is that from a frost or freeze standpoint it’s not going to heave and crack like sidewalks do,” Stover said.
Consumer demand helped drive the quest to come up with a more durable foundation.
“In many cases, customers won’t even consider a pole barn because as they’re driving down the road, they see pole barns falling down because of rotting,” Nyberg said. “Most customers can’t get past the fact that you’re putting wood into the ground.”
While the concrete posts and bottom plank are sturdier and longer-lasting, the added cost is relatively minor. Nyberg said the DuraPlank system is much more economical than a complete concrete foundation, which could add up to $30,000. In contrast, the DuraPlank concrete posts and planks cost only about $2,000 to $2,500.
Morton’s concrete posts are pre-made with connecting holes for the metal brackets, eliminating the need for concrete drills. The planks are also reinforced with rebar consisting of special composite rather than metal.
“It’s a challenge to do it the other way,” Nyberg said. “When you’re drilling into 10,000-PSI concrete and the bit hits rebar, your concrete tends to spall off, with big chunks dropping off. And people don’t like that. This goes directly into the column. We do not drill into concrete.”
Concrete foundation systems may well be the wave of the future.
“This will be 100% standard,” Stover said. “The whole industry is moving away from wood in the ground.”
“My sense is as we move forward in the next few years, this will easily pass the halfway point,” he said. “I would not be a bit surprised that we make it standard down the road.”