How long does it take telephone poles to decompose?

Since telephone poles are basically dead trees, how long does it take before they decompose, as all dead trees naturally do?

I don’t have any numbers, but they take longer to decompose b/c they are soaked in creosote. Or something comparable to creosote.

Thanks to some Carroll County Maint. Co. worker for that tidbit I thought I’d never have to share with anyone.

Yes, they are impregnated with creosote, coal tar or similar under heat and pressure; the tar permeates pretty much the entire thickness (and certainly the bits to which water and rot could gain access). They will last a long time; tens or possibly hundreds of years, depending on the conditions - they tend to weather rather than rot.

Some fly-by-night company buys old poles that have are no longer needed for whatever reason (hit by car, have to be re-located, whatever) So these poles have been around for sometime. And sells them as bulkhead piles (those wooden pilings that you see holding up piers and retaining walls).

We actually got 2 of their poles installed to hold our float - upon close inspection we could see holes clear through them (from bolts?) We stopped payment on the check and had them pull the poles out.

Our neighbor wan’t so lucky. They are the one who initially called. Then got these poles installed as batter piles (piles angled towards the bulkhead retaining wall) and have them used at support for a pier and to hold their float.

First let me add that almost no reputable company will install batter piles anymore as they breakup the bulkhead as they move out. The perfered method is called deadmen which is a pile driven vertically right next to the bulkhead. A steal rod is driven horizontally throught the pile and into the ground about 20 ft in from the water where it is securecd to a thick piece of wood (or another pile).

OK back to the neighbors. Lucky for them that their batter piles rotted totally away in about 5 years so the bulkhead did not break up. The poles were narrow enough and soft enough to stick a screwdriver totally through them at that time. Now they are totally disconnected from their base. The bulkhead is reinforced w/ deadmen. The pier piles had to be replaced at about 8 yrs, 1 float pile had to be replaced 2 years after it was installed due to it getting up and floating off by itself - this was an issue of not beign driven deep enough. All other float piles were replaced about yr 10-11 due to rot.

So I would say that telephone poles will have to be replaced about 5-10yrs after they are dug up placed back into service in salt water.

Oh yea. Piles that are made as piles for salt water used to be creosoled and lasted decades - my parents have some load breaing ones that go back to WW2 (the big one). The deadmen in the ground have been replaced and new steal rods driven but the piles are still good (though you can see some material colapse but it is a matter of inches and only some of them have it).

Likewise the facing is creosoled and was installed in (actually before) WW2 and though it has some holes has held up very well and is still holding and expected to hoild for many years.

Newer piles, bulkhead facings (and some telco poles I see) are cca treated (pressure treated) and don’t hold up nearly as well as creosole. Some who have replaced their creosoled bulkhead with CCA treated early on have been forced to re-replace it because of failure. The new (installed early 80’s) CCA have gotton over time worse then the WW2 installed creosoled piles. Most have been replaced with plastic bulkheads w/ CCA piles.

I know this is getting off the subject but might bear some relivance.

In rural KY, there are actually teams of guys who go around on a full time basis and re-treat the poles. Trim the weeds around the bottom, peel back some dirt and re-paint with creosote. That having been said, we have a flower garden with some ex-telephone poles used for edging that have been in place for 15+ years and in contact with the ground the whole time. they are showing some rot on the bottom, but it doesn’t go very deep. I’d say that with proper treatment, and barring drunks in pickup trucks, the life expectancy is pretty much unlimited.

I once heard a figure of 15 to 20 years, but I no longer remember where or when. Here in Florida, a lot of wooden poles have been replaced by poles made of cement.

The telephone pole behind my house was replaced last summer. It stands between the alley and the back fence, so there isn’t much room to work. Apparently the workers just pulled it up straight out of the ground, after detaching the lines, and put another one in place. It only took them maybe a couple of hours.

The pole that was there probably wasn’t much older than the house, so it was about 25 years old. The old one looked fine to me, as do all of the other ones in the neighborhood. I don’t know why they replaced it.

My SIL works for a company that treats telephone poles. Comes home every night reeking of creosote. He says a properly treated pole will last 30 to 40 years. The creosote prevents the log from rotting but there is nothing to keep the poles from drying out. Once a pole begins to dry our it slowly disinigrates. We had all new poles put in my neighborhood about 5 years ago after one snapped off at ground level after a heavy snow. Most of the poles showed signs of dryrot. The poles were put in the ground in 1967 so they lasted only about 30 years.

I wonder if the piles lasted so long because they were in the water. (the old ones not the old telephone poles reused as piles)