Back to Basics: 4 DIY Outbuildings For Your Off-Grid Home

A common problem that faces the typical homesteader or landowner is the availability of clean, dry storage space or a safe place to protect livestock at night. It is normal to see two, three or more outbuildings on a person’s property, but even so, chances are that those buildings are already full to the rafters.

Property owners often are faced with the reality that they need another building. In such a case, there are many options available, but each one has advantages and disadvantages that need to be weighed before picking a structure. There are typically three primary limiting factors that play heavily upon making this kind of decision: function, money and space.

The function for which a building is to be used plays a major role in the decision process. Someone wanting to build a pen that houses small livestock will have much different requirements than the person wanting a sizeable shop to house and/or repair vehicles. This factor plays a major role in the size and budgeting role, as the cost and skills needed for a dirt floor or a concrete slab vary greatly. Functionality of a building also plays into the type of structural integrity and material requirements which also affect cost.

An unlimited budget certainly allows the flexibility of choosing any option and style available, but chances are most people don’t have this luxury. Similarly, the desire for a very large building can often be hampered by the space available to build. Because of these two factors, property owners must be able to determine the proper size and style building to erect the right structure that will meet their needs and work within their limited budget. Working within a budget does not necessarily limit someone to the cheapest possible solution available, but it may mean not hiring a contractor and constructing it alone or with the help of others.

Many people may not initially consider space as an issue, but it truly should be an instrumental decision factor in the choice of buildings. Builders as well as people who have put up their own structures suggest building a structure bigger than what you think you need. This isn’t necessarily a sales tactic, as many times a building ends up being smaller than what was imagined or actually needed. Not to mention that once a building is standing, it often fills up rather rapidly.

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So, what are the choices available to someone working within these three factors? The answer generally boils down to four types:

  • DIY shed
  • Pole barn
  • Stick frame
  • Steel frame

Each of these have advantages and disadvantages that must be considered before making an informed choice that won’t be regretted at a later date.

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The DIY shed and the pole barn are similar structures that are typically the most affordable of all the choices. A simple shed or pole barn can be constructed using a landowner’s own raw materials, but pole barns can also be constructed of high-grade materials. Anyone who travels through the countryside is likely to see some very ancient buildings constructed in the same manner as today’s sheds and pole barns, and for the most part they are often still in a stable, usable condition. The basic premise of the shed or pole barn is to sink corner and support posts deep into the ground and then attach the framing and outer shell to these supports. Due to their more simplistic design, these buildings consume far less building material than the remaining types. They are also (in most cases) easier to construct and maintain. One of the greatest cost advantages of the pole barn or shed is the fact that it is not necessary to form and pour a concrete foundation. Concrete or other solid slabs can be added at a later time, but a dirt floor is absolutely acceptable for pole barns and sheds.

The stick-frame building is constructed in much the same manner as a typical home. A concrete foundation is built up and the remaining lumber framing is attached to the concrete. These types of building are not typical for most barn or storage purposes, as the increased cost of materials as well as the complexity of construction can burst most budgets. These structures are, however, less impervious to weather conditions than the simpler pole barn or DIY shed. The financial budget is perhaps the greatest limiting factor in choosing a stick-frame outbuilding. If time is a consideration, this, too, can limit the size and complexity of a stick-frame building due to the complexity and skill required to build a sound structure.

Steel-frame buildings could perhaps be considered the best mix between the pole barn and the stick frame building. Similar to the stick frame, this building does require a concrete foundation. However, some styles of metal buildings only require that concrete runners be poured around the perimeter of the building, leaving a dirt floor in the center and thus reducing the cost of concrete. In either case, structural steel members are anchored to the concrete foundation and the remaining frame is attached to the supports. These buildings typically come pre-engineered, and the materials are cut to size before arriving at the building site. In some cases welding members together is required, but most often this is not the case and the pieces simply bolt together. The fact that the materials are made from steel does mean that larger structures may require several people and even heavy equipment to lift pieces into place. If the landowner does not possess the necessary equipment for such a task, the cost of renting equipment is essential to consider. The greatest advantage of steel or metal buildings is that if properly constructed and maintained, they have a much greater survivability against major storms and are less pervious to decay than wooden structures.

We must add one more limiting factor that does need to be addressed long before researching which type of building best suits your needs. It is absolutely essential that you check with your local government authority to determine if there are restrictions on the types and sizes of building allowed. If you live outside an area that does impose such limits, then you are free to make the decision solely based on your best determination. If not, permits and building codes can add time and cost to your project plan, and building without such approvals is not only risky, but it can be very costly in the form of fines and court costs.

Putting a new structure on your property can be a fun and rewarding experience as long as you take your due diligence to make a legal and sound decision that meets all of your requirements.

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Written by: Patrick G. Whalen