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Barn Blog

January 4, 2016

Deflection and Vibration in a Pole Barn Floor

People who use pole barns as residences often choose to install wood floors. A wood floor can vibrate in response to foot traffic. Some people find these vibrations annoying at certain frequencies. With simple adjustments, these vibrations can be minimized to make a pole barn residence more comfortable.

Building codes in Canada limit floor vibration, but U.S. building codes do not. Most American builders design only for deflection. They generally hold deflection due to live load to a maximum of L/360 (where L is the floor joist span), or sometimes L/480. However, the live-load deflection analysis used to satisfy building codes does not take into account other factors that can influence a floor’s response to foot traffic, such as the presence of a ceiling, floor sheathing, supporting beams or girders, and partition walls.

Floor vibration is very subjective. A floor may seem fine to one person but may annoy another. A study at Virginia Tech found that people’s perception of floor vibration depends on the frequency. People are especially sensitive to vibrations of 8 to 10 Hertz (cycles per second). They are bothered less by vibrations at higher frequencies. Other problems that are unrelated to floor vibration, such as squeaks or sound transmission between rooms, can make it seem like the floor has poor vibration performance.

Small changes in floor usage or joist spans can contribute to vibration. Installing an island in a kitchen and slightly changing a joist span at a bay window are common causes.

The floor’s response can be improved by increasing joist depths or sheathing thickness.

Increasing both at the same time almost always reduces vibrations to a comfortable level.

Joists need to be much stiffer than required by code to reduce vibration. In order to install a wood floor in a pole barn with a minimal amount of vibration, you should use wood with a deflection that is less than the L/360 required by code. Increasing stiffness to L/480 or L/720 can make a significant difference and may not add much to the price of the pole barn.

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