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Barn Blog

January 12, 2016

Can a Pole Barn Survive an Earthquake?

Some parts of the country are prone to earthquakes, but they also sometimes occur unexpectedly in areas where they are rare. Any building needs to be constructed in a way that will help to minimize damage if an earthquake strikes. A pole barn can fare surprisingly well in the face of an earthquake. Although it might suffer some damage, it could stand up to the shaking better than other buildings on the same property.

Buildings are designed to resist vertical loads to support the walls, roof, and contents of the building and enable them to remain standing. An earthquake produces lateral, or sideways, motion that creates a different type of stress on the building. One way to help a building withstand lateral forces is to tie the walls, floor, roof, and foundation into a rigid box that can stay together if an earthquake occurs.

The type of structure that is least able to withstand damage from an earthquake is a non-reinforced brick or concrete block design. This usually consists of bricks stacked on top of each other that are held together by mortar with a roof on top. The weight of the roof is carried through the walls and down to the foundation. If an earthquake happens, the lateral force can cause the walls to tip over or crumble and the roof to collapse.

The way an earthquake affects a building depends on its mass. A heavier building will probably sustain more damage than a lighter one. A single-story pole barn is very lightweight in comparison to the amount of space enclosed. For example, a 60’ x 120’ x 16’ horse riding arena weighs less than seven pounds per square foot.

In most cases, wind loads influence the structural design of pole barns. An exception would be made if the design wind loads are very low, snow loads are very high, and the area is prone to earthquakes.

A building with an elevated floor is at much greater risk of sustaining damage from an earthquake. This is because of the weight of the building and the fact that the design needs to account for the weight of the load carried by the floor.

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