Safe & Sound

Two options for sheltering your gear

Story and photos by Steve Maxwell

Sheltered storage space is always in short supply around rural homes and cottages. But as true as this is, it doesn’t mean your outdoor gear and power products need to sit outside and rust. There are options for taking charge of your storage requirements, and the approach that makes the most sense for you depends on what you want to store and how you want to store it. Here are two of the most practical strategies.

One of the fastest growing options for sheltered storage is fabric shelters. Also called temporary shelters or portable garages, this kind of structure uses hoop-shaped metal frames to support a tarp that keeps rain, sun and snow off equipment and building supplies. Four years ago I set up a shelter like this on my own country property and it’s performed flawlessly ever since.
I chose a 16X30-foot, angled-wall shelter made by a Canadian company called Cover-Tech. This shelter is well-made, with thick fabric and large-diameter galvanized pipes used to make the hoops. There’s never been the slightest bit of trouble, even on the harsh, windy, exposed island location I have it set up on.

Second, I invested time and money building a decent, well-drained base. This is more important than many people realize. I’ve also learned the tricks of managing a fabric shelter properly. It’s not always the same as with an ordinary wood-frame structure, and as you’ll see, the reasons come down to moisture and wind.

To create a raised, solid, well-drained base to get your fabric shelter up and running optimally, starts with some sharpened, 2×2 wooden stakes. Hammer these into the ground at all four corners of the area you want to make level on your pad, plus more stakes every 10 feet or so along the sides. Use a transit to mark the tops of these stakes for sawing off level, then use the sawn top ends as reference when you’re putting down fill and compacting it. I used limestone screenings, sloping this fill down when it got past the leveling stakes, extending six to 10 feet beyond the footprint of the shelter.

Each shelter company has their own assembly instructions, but few tell you what to expect when it comes to managing the shelter once it’s up.

Moisture is the big thing. Since these shelters are surprisingly air tight when installed properly and the door is closed, moisture can migrate up from the ground or come in on wet equipment. And when outdoor air temperatures cool down outside, it can cause airborne moisture to condense on the inside of the tarp and metal hoops enough to rain down on your stuff. This dynamic can even happen when it stays below freezing for long periods of time in winter. The sun can raise internal shelter temperatures above freezing during the day, triggering the condensation cycle even when you don’t think it can happen. Ventilation is the solution, but the question is how to get it.

The most effective approach involves leaving the shelter door open whenever wind and weather permit. Some shelters have screened ventilation openings up in the gable ends, though many require you to cut the tarp in front of the screen to open them up. Either way, check inside and see how the ’weather’ in your shelter looks, especially as fall cools to winter, and winter warms to spring. Visible moisture on the walls is a sign that you need more ventilation.

As with any shelter, you need to be aware of the door. When windy weather arrives, it’s important to close the door and secure it shut. Many shelters also rely on the door being closed to give the structure racking resistance during strong winds. My own shelter came with bungee cords for keeping the door closed under normal conditions, plus ratcheting strap clamps for cinching the door down extra tight in a wind storm.

Pole Barn Basics

Pole barns are the easiest and most economical way to add permanent, solid sheltered space for equipment storage, livestock shelter, a vehicle garage or workshop facilities. Some people even use pole barn frameworks for their year-round homes. A big part of the attraction is simplicity. Create a level base, install wooden poles vertically in holes in the ground, connect these poles across the top with beams and braces, then add roof trusses on top. That’s the recipe for any pole barn frame. There’s no need for a complicated foundation, and how your structure looks depends entirely on how you deal with outside and inside surfaces.

If you’ve never built anything big before, then a pole barn is a good place to begin. The plans show all the basics of how this kind of structure fits together. It’s not for building a specific size of barn, but provides an overview of the design details you can use to make any size of pole barn that makes sense for your property.

Beyond the obvious need to locate your pole barn on a flat, well-drained site, you might also consider adding fill to create a raised base area, as with a fabric shelter. This is especially important if you’ll be driving vehicles and equipment in and out of the barn. Wet weather can turn things into a big mess without a base of crushed rock
or compacted screenings on the floor.

When it comes to pole barns, installing the poles is one of the trickiest parts of the job. You’ll find 8-foot pole spacing is typical for most enclosed designs. You could extend this to 12-foot spacing on open sides where livestock and machine access is required, but don’t go wider. You need sufficient support for beams across the top.

Poles for any barn should be installed in 5-foot deep holes, sitting on top of concrete footings poured at the bottom of each hole. This provides reliable support for the roof, while also resisting frost movement and wind up-lift. Do deep holes and footings seem like overkill? Don’t fool yourself. The job of installing poles correctly is small compared to what’s at stake under a building as large as a pole barn. Chances aren’t worth taking. You’ll find that 18- to 24-inch diameter footings are needed. Poles on open sides of a building must also be anchored directly to the footing to prevent wind uplift.

Another small detail that’s very important is pole length. The top ends of all poles must stop at exactly the same level points in the air, and this has to happen after permanent installation. You can’t cut all your poles the same length beforehand and expect them to work out level when they are raised. The slightest difference in hole depth will throw things out of whack.

Since we live in Canada, you also need to anticipate the danger of frost jacking. Even if your poles extend below the frost line, they could be lifted by the action of frost gripping the outside surface of anchoring concrete at ground level. Side-step frost jacking by keeping the level of concrete around each pole below any bell-shaped flare-out that might exist near the top of the hole. Stop pouring concrete six to eight inches below ground level, where hole sides are still parallel and you’ll be fine.

It’s easier to buy things than it is to store and take care of them. A fabric shelter or pole barn might not seem as exciting as the four-wheeler, tractor or RV you store inside, but good shelter is as important as the stuff being protected.