Stretching the limits of post-frame construction

By Jessica Franchuk

In today’s world, almost everything seems to adhere to the “bigger is better” mentality—houses, cars, stores, and more are expanding to ever-larger sizes. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average area of a new home in 1973 was 1,660 square feet, which then grew to an average of 2,637 square feet in 2015. That’s a jump of 62%, and home sizes have surely increased even more over the past five years. 

Post-frame construction is no exception, though the height, width, and length of these structures can only grow so much. But with proper engineering and consideration of potentially limiting factors such as primary use, customer-requested features, building codes, location and site setup, and structural aspects, the options are expanding.

We discussed this booming trend of “mega builds” with contractors and manufacturers, and their observations fit neatly into four categories: large animal confinements, general agriculture, commercial, and event venues.

A milking parlor, holding area, and two free stall barns were erected by Welch Buildings LLC in Falmouth, Michigan. Photo courtesy of Dale Brinks, Cadillac, Michigan.

Large Animal Confinements

As farms strive to meet current demands, many are choosing to put up big dairy structures or other large animal confinements. Grant Leavitt of Marcus Lumber, said, “From what we see and notice, the ag business is certainly being driven by larger farms [and] larger confinement structures. We’re seeing lower frequency on agricultural projects but [what we see are]much larger in size and scale. Many farmers dealing in livestock have shifted to a confinement setup.”

Wick Buildings’ Marketing Director, Bret Buelo, agreed that their builders are seeing a number of large projects across both the agricultural industry (mostly dairy confinement and crop storage), as well as the commercial sector. He added, “Generally, we have seen an uptick in the ag segment over last year.”

These large animal confinement structures are also creating a market for accessory products, such as Dr!pStop. Many of these builds are not heated, so this product is a natural fit. Tony DelGhingaro, Vice President of FILC USA, makers of Dr!pStop, said, “We have seen and do typically see a good number of large buildings (usually dairy barns) use Dr!pStop, especially since many do not have HVAC.”

Quality Structures Inc. landed this job for a massive machinery storage building. Photo courtesy of Quality Structures Inc.

Steel trusses set on wood framing allow for bigger clear-span buildings. Photo courtesy of Morton Buildings.

General Agriculture

While there was some uncertainty brewing in the agricultural industry (and all industries, really) at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, this has since recovered. Mark Stover, President of Perma-Column LLC, commented, “COVID-19 has not slowed us down…there was a brief pause due the early uncertainty of what was happening, the impact, and subsequent shutdowns. Once the industry was deemed ‘essential,’ business started to quickly get back up to speed and then some. The ag market may not be building more buildings, but they are building bigger. Our business is growing based on post-frame builders using our ICC-ES-Certified Perma-Column and Sturdi-Wall products more than ever before. [This is] good news for the industry.”

Constructing these monstrous structures can be a challenge, and one building package manufacturer has come up with a creative solution. Danielle Scott, Marketing Specialist with Morton Buildings, said, “Morton Buildings uses a hybrid technology of steel trusses set on wood framing to achieve clear-span buildings up to 150′. These buildings feature pre-engineered steel trusses, which allow for a wider building, while wood framing provides superior insulating properties and building strength. Our warranty for these buildings, specifically for snow and wind loads, is an indicator of our confidence in these types of structures. Hybrid buildings are popular for machine storage, riding arenas, and light commercial facilities.”

While not typically on one’s mind when thinking of the agricultural segment of the market, legal marijuana grow houses are on the rise and require a lot of space, something post-frame can provide. MWI Components’ Customer Service Manager, Alicia Cahill, shared, “With the legalization of marijuana state-to-state, we are seeing booms of polycarbonate and light gauge component sales to supply and construct commercial grow house buildings and facilities.”

She continued, “We are also seeing an increase in Arcadian door and slide frame kit sales for use in lieu of overhead doors; we believe this may be due to the current lead times on overhead doors and the associated freight costs for material requisition. The Arcadian-style doors with crossbucks or windows also provide an aesthetic for larger scale operations that lessens the utilitarian factory look and provides more of a family-farm feel. This creates an easier regional acceptance, just based on how the new structure’s visual may fit into its immediate surroundings. COVID-19 stimulus dollars have also seemed to fuel a rise in large-scale buildings, increasing the per-project quantity requests for all buildings accessories.”

Two 80′ x 150′ x 14′ wings flank a central 80′ x 148′ x 14′ area in this Lafayette, Indiana, Harley-Davidson service center and retail dealership. Photo courtesy of FBi Buildings.

Riding the line between agricultural and commercial, this beast of a building is home to a Stoller International dealership in Herscher, Illinois. Photo courtesy of FBi Buildings.


Aside from the agricultural and animal confinement markets, builders are also seeing a rise in large structures for a variety of commercial uses. Kurt Bahler, VP of Marketing for FBi Buildings Inc., shared the sizes of two recent builds they constructed: one, a Stoller International dealership (above), is a monstrous 180′ x 175′ with an additional 12′ x 125′ area for a total of 33,000 square feet. The other, a Harley-Davidson shop in Indiana (top), is a combined 35,840 square feet!

Tom Schwarz, Project Manager and Sales with MPB Builder, Inc., also shared that they just finished the building construction phase of a 95′ x 126′ clear-building for racked boat storage, showing that the commercial market is an open field of potential uses and possibilities.

This new West Virginia event venue includes a main event barn, covered pavilion, and spacious veranda. Photo courtesy of A.B. Martin Roofing Supply.

Post-frame lends itself well to open spaces, such as those needed for event venues (shown here is the Red Acre Barn in Prole, Iowa). Photo courtesy of Greiner Buildings.

Rock Ridge Orchard of Edgar, Wisconsin, boasts a grand building that can be reserved for weddings and other events. Photo courtesy of Hixwood Metal.

Event Venues

While technically these projects could fit into the “commercial” realm, there has been such an increase in their frequency that they deserve their own mention. Greiner Buildings’ Business Development Director, Will Hipwell, said, “One area where Greiner Buildings is seeing a lot of activity and traction with regards to ‘big buildings’ is wedding and event centers. I think we’ve built five or six this year, including ones currently in progress in Waverly, Iowa, and Boone, Iowa. Generally these event centers are somewhere between 5,000 and 7,000 square feet, and some also have additional buildings on-site (i.e. separate bride and groom suites).

“The special challenges these buildings present are mostly around local building codes—specifically related to fire suppression and septic requirements. Sometimes it can just be a challenge figuring out if the building is going to be on city or county water. If city water, then the sprinkler system can be easier and less expensive to install. If county water…you just might have to install a separate pressurized water tank on-site to supply the fire suppression system.

Hipwell also mentioned an aspect that is often overlooked when planning the initial project costs of these big builds: “Another area that impacts cost is the size of land required…customers/investors tend to forget that you need the appropriate amount of land (approximately 1 or 1½ acres) for parking, depending on final occupancy of the building. And you probably want to light that parking lot…something else that can get overlooked in the overall cost.” FBN