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How to Choose a Material for Utility Poles

Utility poles provide electrical power throughout the world. They're an important element of our electrical system but they're also a big part of the North American experience.

Anyone who has taken a journey across North America has spent time watching the roadside poles go by. Many pole materials go into the building of this backbone of our electricity and power. Choosing the right option for your project and utility company is an important first step of the journey.

Each option for material offers its own advantages and disadvantages. The easiest way to decide on a particular choice is to arm yourself with the knowledge needed to tackle it. None of these options are inherently better or worse than the others–it simply comes down to what you need.

With that in mind, this article will inform on the three main choices for utility poles, which are wood, steel, and concrete utility poles. We’ll give a brief overview of each option along with use-cases that typically benefit from them.

Wood Utility Poles

Wooden poles are among the most common choices for utility poles. Wooden utility poles utilize many different forms of wood. Southern Pine, Western Red Cedar, and Douglas Fir are among the most common options. After cutting the trees down, companies will go about “seasoning” them.

This seasoning process involves drying out the trees. After this, wooden poles are preserved treated with Chromated Copper Arsenate (CCA.) This chemical is a wood preservative for its ability to reduce wood rot and termite damage. While this treatment is effective, it’s not a guarantee that these issues won’t still take place.

Perhaps more troubling than that, CCA is not a safe chemical to expose to the environment. As the name implies, the use of this endangers the risk of Arsenic poisoning as well as other potential issues. Even if treated well with these hazardous chemicals, these poles will eventually rot and fall into disrepair.

There are many positives to wooden poles, however. For starters, they’re much cheaper. Wooden poles are by far the most cost-effective choice for utility poles for this reason. All poles will require replacement or maintenance at some point. With wooden poles, these fixes will be more frequent but far less expensive.

When to use Wood Utility Poles

Wooden utility poles are great for dry areas where they will undergo little degradation. They are also a common choice for roadside areas. This is partly because they pose less of a risk in the event of an auto accident.

Wooden poles are easily created so they are also a better option in instances that require many poles at once. Though they may not last as long, on the whole, they’re easier to get and that offers other advantages.

As mentioned, their greatest advantage is in their cost-effectiveness. Any need where costs are a factor may benefit from wooden options for their utility poles. Not only is the material less expensive, but they are also cheaper to ship.

Wood represents a readily available, low-cost option for anyone needing a utility pole. Wood is also a natural insulator.

Steel Poles

Steel poles make for a strong, fire-resistant option. They are longer-lasting and resistant to termites, fire, and rot. There is still some debate on whether steel or wooden poles are better for the environment.

On paper, the emissions created by steel poles are harsher for the environment. Though they have a longer service life, the resources needed for them are environmentally costly. That said, some studies show steel to be a better option for extended periods of 40 years.

The study found steel to use less oil, affect less wildlife, and disturb less of their environment than wooden poles. The greater durability of steel sets it up as an attractive alternative to wood. With easy installation and superior strength, it’s no wonder many go with this option.

Another benefit to the steel pole option is that they don’t require treatment with harsh chemicals. The chemicals used to treat wooden poles are not necessary for these.

When to Use Steel Poles

Steel poles carry several advantages but that doesn’t mean that they are the right choice for every scenario. Steel poles are often galvanized to prevent rust but their ability to do so still presents problems in salt-water scenarios. Steel poles are not a great option for placement near the ocean or in areas with a frequent practice of salting for snow.

Steel poles are roughly 30% lighter than their wooden counterparts. This makes them easier to transport long distances or to deal with in larger quantities. Hard to reach areas can benefit from the easier ability to get the pole in place. After, it's also easier to replace it when the time comes.

Concrete Poles

Concrete and steel concrete poles represent the most long-term solution there is. More durable than the other options, concrete poles are sturdy and will likely have the longest lifespan. Concrete carries many of the same advantages as steel poles along with a few of its own.

Like steel utility poles, concrete will be termite and fire-resistant. Likewise, there is no concern about rot. The biggest reason people choose concrete is the desire for the strongest possible choice. While this is understandable, there are a lot of considerations with concrete utility poles.

For starters, they are very expensive. Concrete poles are bound to cost much more than steel or utility options. Not only in their production (which, itself, is quite pricey,) but also in their transportation. Concrete utility poles are exorbitant heavy. As such, they require special consideration in travel.

In addition to this, they are very harmful to the environment. Easily the worst option environmentally, concrete utility poles need massive amounts of energy.

When to Use Concrete Poles

That isn’t to say that there aren't times when this option is appropriate! Concrete poles are great for areas prone to heavy weather. Seaside towns where water corrodes metal and wood alike can also benefit from a concrete option. They may be the most expensive option but that isn’t to say that there isn’t a time that the price is worth it!

Conclusion

Choosing the material of your utility pole can be difficult. All three of the above options have pros and cons. The decision often comes down to the specific needs that you have for your project. Are you looking for something affordable and easily available? Are you willing to wait or pay extra for something that will last longer? Where are you placing these and how long would you like for them to last?

These questions and more can steer your decision one way or the other. No option is perfect for everyone. Whatever material you choose for your utility poles, the next step will be receiving them. That’s where the team at Blackwood Resources comes in!

We’re experts in hauling utility poles of all varieties. Our certified women-owned trucking company provides asset-based hauling including self-unloading. Call us today at (812)219-5821 or email us at jamie@blackwoodresources.com to get the process started.



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