Low-Cost Green Home  
pole house with Celotex insulation
Photos courtesy of Build An Ultra-Inexpensive, Energy-Efficient House

Pole Houses

Pole buildings are quite common as barns and garages, but the pole-building system is used less often for houses, in part because it doesn't naturally accommodate a basement. The basic idea of pole building is simple; instead of a conventional foundation, your structure is supported and anchored by 4x6 or 6x6 rot-proof posts planted in the ground atop concrete footings set below the frost line. You'll pour footings typically 16" in diameter and 6" thick, place the posts, and then fill in the rest of each hole with more concrete. Posts are typically 8' or 10' apart, depending on local codes. On each side of the top of the posts are 2x10 top plates that will support the roof, and if you'll be building a floor on joists (instead of using a slab, for example), you'll also need a 2x10 bottom plate. The walls are supported by girders nailed horizontally to the posts.

Rigid board insulation works well for a pole house and is easy to install, and it can be a green option if it's made from recycled materials. Another option might be to cover the interior side of the sheathing with spray-foam insulation, which now comes in some greener forms (such as soy-based). The greenest option of all may be to build the pole house around an old mobile home (or two mobiles bolted together), thus reusing a whole structure that would otherwise probably end up as waste. You would still want to add insulation, as older mobile homes have notoriously poor insulation.

Advantages of Pole Houses:
  • A pole house foundation is more resistant to wind damage than a conventional foundation.
  • Pole houses use less wood than conventional houses.
  • Pole building often requires no excavation and thus very little disturbance of the land. An owner/builder can complete the foundation in a single day, digging the post holes with a rented, hand-held auger and pouring the concrete by hand.
  • A pole house without a slab floor uses very little concrete.
  • A small pole house is one of the easiest types of houses for one or two moderately skilled workers to build.
  • Given the savings on excavation, foundation costs, labor, and materials, a pole house is one of the least expensive of all building options.

For much more information, see Build An Ultra-Inexpensive, Energy-Efficient House .

pole house finished