We are in the stage of getting detailed engineering plans from our pole barn. And hopefully not inadvertently getting some kind of Picasso interpretation of what we wanted! We are going to hire a contractor to build it, because it’s large and complex, we don’t want to horse around giant poles to get them precisely planted, and we don’t want to take forever to build it.

The Builder Dating Game

We did the homework thing: interviewed multiple contractors, asked around for references, gave them a detailed list of requirements and my amateur 3D drawings of what we wanted the barn to look like. We checked their BBB and Angie’sList records, license and bonding status with the sate, and viewed examples of their prior work. They all came to our site, discussed the project with us, and gave us a bid to build it.

It was interesting to see the results, which ran the gamut. One guy sent a couple of sentences in an email with a “ballpark” price, another had a single-page form with a precise quote but no other info. Yet another had a two-page Word document with more details of how they’d build it, and a fourth provided fairly sophisticated engineering drawings of the exterior, along with a very thorough checklist of options.

The Money-Saving Kit Idea

We also looked at a “kit” barn made by a local company, which was advertised on a very pretty website with dozens of gorgeous photos and examples of their products. But interestingly, their prices for a do-it-yourself kit were significantly higher than hiring someone to build it from scratch! I couldn’t quite figure that,  so I posed the question to them directly. But all they could say was “hrmm, well, we have quality barns.” It amazes me that people buy these kits since they are so expensive. The only thing I can imagine is that it’s the first thing they happen to see, it’s pretty, they just assume that because it’s a kit that it’s cheaper, and they go for it without doing further research. So, scratch the kit idea.

A Marriage and Dowry is Arranged

After some haggling between our favorite contractor contenders, we chose one. Incidentally, during The Worst Recession Since The Great Depression, it’s quite a buyer’s market out there, with everyone scrambling for your business. So, though the timing is random that we happen to be ready to build a barn now and feel we can afford it, we are saving quite a bit compared to if we’d built it a couple of years ago, or a couple of years from now, I’m sure.

The next step is to get drawings into the pipeline of the county building permit process, anticipating that it could take a long time. This process is known for being slow and fraught with regulatory complication, and it’s compounded now in that the county is generally understaffed, due to layoffs to respond to the economy. So, we are prepared to wait, and wait.

Can You Hear Me Now?

Meanwhile, getting accurate drawings in itself poses a bit of a challenge, as we’ve discovered. So, we meet with the builder to finalize what to build, they do their best to take notes on our brain dump, they take my rudimentary drawings, and then they go tell the engineer (who is not local to us) what to draw. Meanwhile, they make an appointment request from the county, to try to keep things going in parallel, and hoping the planets all align.

The planets don’t quite align though, and the engineer is crunched for time, overnight-mails the drawings to the builder, who gets them in the morning of the county appointment and races to turn them in. Afterwards, he drops by copies to our house. As one would expect, especially because this is a complex building, there are both errors in the drawings and some misunderstandings about what we wanted. We talk back and forth with the builder a bit, I do more drawings to clarify, then we send him off to go talk to the engineer.

Then I realize, this is stupid, it’s like the telephone game and we’re making the builder do all this virtual running around between two parties. So, I call the engineer directly, a lot of light bulbs go on between us, and we get to the bottom of what needs to be done and everything seems much clearer.

It’s Really a Threesome

It made me think, did we do things backwards? Should we have hired an engineer to draw our drawings, then had builders bid on them, and chose one after that? Maybe. But the trouble is, we needed to know if we could afford the building we wanted, so we kind of needed to talk to builders first to see what their bids would be. So, the conundrum is somewhat unavoidable- all three parties have to work together to converge on a plan.

The engineer and I talked about this, as he was a bit surprised to hear from “the homeowner” –apparently he doesn’t too often. I cited that I feel it’s our ultimate responsibility to ensure that all parties are clear on the design requirements, we are the project managers, so to speak. Besides, their drawings contain stern policy warnings that the homeowner and builder are jointly responsible for notifying the engineer of all discrepancies and changes, and I took that seriously.  I asked, was I overstepping my bounds by calling you up? Am I being too anal? He said, no! This is great, more homeowners should be like this. You will prevent a lot of headaches later by making darn sure the drawings clearly reflect what you want.

Have Plane, Will Travel To Inspect

The engineer also had complimentary things to say about the builder we chose, so that was reassuring. Additionally, apparently our building has complex enough loading calculations that he’s made a permit stipulation that the building progress cannot proceed after framing until he comes to personally inspect the structural implementation, as the “engineer of record.” He said that doesn’t happen very often! Apparently, he has a plane, so he will fly here when it’s time! Wow!

This is hugely reassuring to us. Because when I looked at those drawings, there were lots of acronyms and notations that I didn’t understand. All I know is this isn’t trivial and it’s not a standard pole building out of a library book. I had been wondering: what if we’re not spotting something that was missed in the specs? What if the builder misunderstands something? What if the county inspector doesn’t catch it? None of us are civil engineers with expertise in pole buildings. So, I love it that a CE will actually be here to make sure it all ends up correct and that we won’t end up with a Picasso barn! Hooray for engineers!  😀 Well, maybe I’m partial.