Building a Pole Barn House

Pole house construction can be cheap and relatively easy, especially if you pay attention to opportunities for recycled building materials as you plan to build your own home.

| March/April 1974

The night before we were scheduled to set the utility poles - destined to be the skeleton of our future owner-built home - in the ground, I lay in bed with one of the most severe nervous stomachs I could recall (even after years of living in town). It was worse than the nights when the police prowled in our yard shining their flashlights . . . worse, even, than the time a gigantic officer showed up at the door with a warrant for my arrest (because I'd let our dog run free in a leash-law city).

Unlike my other bad moments, however, this one didn't come as a shock, but arose from several months of what suddenly seemed like false assumptions. There are lots of considerations to make when you're building your own home, but we seemed to have missed this one. We'd bought our 27 acres and decided to build a house on the land without much thought as to whether I was up to the job. That night, it occurred to me that I probably wasn't. Everything I knew about pole house construction was based on books and observation of other structures. I had no experience with it.

"I just don't think I can do it, Renee," I moaned, near tears. "There's too much I don't know. If the house ever does go up it'll probably fall down again."

"Nonsense," said my wife. "Be comforted and get some sleep now, because tomorrow morning at 7 o'clock you've got to meet Mr. Craven and the auger truck and go into the woods to set the poles."

Renee was right, of course. Mr. Craven and I did meet, we did install the pressure-treated utility poles more or less in the correct places . . . and the house we hung from them is still standing, more than a year since we moved to the woods. Our two girls love the country, the garden is an organic success and the dogs run free. Those days I spent in offices with bureaucrats are what seem unreal now . . . but everyone knows that story.

Planning to Build

Before we started on our home we visited Twin Oaks and Ragged Mountain Farm in Virginia (and even toured Thomas Jefferson's Monticello). We did some reading, too: a couple of books on Japanese temple buildings, Your Engineered House by Rex Roberts and Ken Kern's Owner-Built Home. More than anything else, it was Ken's work -plus a lot of help from some fine friends -that put our thinking into perspective.

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