A handy guide to pole-frame houses

Pole construction is a simple and versatile building technique. Here's what you need to know about pole houses, before deciding if it's the right housing option for you.

A handy guide to pole-frame houses

A quick introduction to pole houses

For centuries, people have built pole houses on steep mountainsides, in tidal-water zones and in areas vulnerable to floods and earthquakes.

  • The world's oldest surviving wooden structure, the Golden Hall near Nara in Japan, is a pole-frame building.

A sturdy pole house may be just what you need!

  • Pioneers used round wooden poles as supports in houses, sheds and barns. For example, in Australia, a unique house style evolved that became known as the pole-platform.
  • Houses were elevated on high stumps with wide verandahs on all sides and a roof that rose to a peak. This is just one of many possibilities offered by pole houses.
  • A pole structure's interlocking framework is the source of its strength.
  • The poles, anchored to the ground, are bolted to the floor beams at one level and the roof beams at another.
  • In some designs the exterior frame and walls act as bracing elements for the structure. Alternatively, floors set at different levels may perform this function.

An eco-friendly option

A modern pole-frame building can make a contribution towards preserving the house's environment, whether it be hillside or flat land.

  • For many buildings in a rural setting, heavy machinery is required to prepare a level site suitable for the foundations. This work can seriously disturb topsoil and the root systems of nearby trees, causing erosion and vegetation loss. With pole-frame building, there is usually little need for extensive clearing, or costly and destructive bulldozing and levelling. Fragile natural vegetation can be preserved so that it extends to the front door.
  • On beachfront land, pole-platform construction creates the least possible disturbance to sand-dune systems. A further advantage is that the house sitting on the poles can be designed to be transportable — if beach erosion threatens the stability of the structure, it may be moved to another location.

Pole houses are a simple choice

The pole-frame system is ideal for the owner-builder because it is a relatively simple and easy-to-understand building technique.

  • Keep in mind that on steeply sloping or wind-prone sites, the advice of an experienced architect or engineer is essential — the safety and practicality of a pole-frame house depend upon an expert's evaluation of the loads and stresses borne by the house.
  • In a pole-frame construction, poles are embedded in the ground and extend either to the roof's ridge or the eave line. The house is built within this framework. The poles serve not only as footings but also as floor and roof supports. Walls and partitions are non-load-bearing.

Keep these tips in mind and remember the many benefits a pole house has to offer — it might be the right choice for your next home!

The material on this website is provided for entertainment, informational and educational purposes only and should never act as a substitute to the advice of an applicable professional. Use of this website is subject to our terms of use and privacy policy.
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