Tag Archives: building contractor

Don’t Hire a Contractor Unless You Are Willing to Take a Risk

From The Dalles (Oregon) Chronicle December 26, 2017: “A theft report was filed Wednesday morning concerning a theft by deception when a woman reported she paid a contractor $30,000 to build a pole barn on her property by the end of October and no work has been completed.”
Most people assume when they hire a contractor to erect some or all of their new post frame (pole) building or pole barn, they are minimizing their risks.

Let’s define exactly what risk is:
Risk (according to the sum of all human knowledge Wikipedia) is the potential of gaining or losing something of value. Values (such as physical health, social status, emotional well-being, or financial wealth) can be gained or lost when taking risk resulting from a given action or inaction, foreseen or unforeseen (planned or not planned). Risk can also be defined as the intentional interaction with uncertainty.  Uncertainty is a potential, unpredictable, and uncontrollable outcome; risk is a consequence of action taken in spite of uncertainty.
Risk perception is the subjective judgment people make about the severity and probability of a risk, and may vary person to person. Any human endeavor carries some risk, but some are much riskier than others.

Now, gentle reader, please pay attention to, “risk perception is the subjective judgment”. Subjective judgments are made without clear analysis of objective facts.

Hiring a contractor is a game of chance, there is risk involved. Significant risk.

Numerous possible outcomes are the resultant of hiring a contractor. The ideal outcome is everything went perfect – the project was completed satisfactorily, the building successfully passed all Building Department inspections, it was built according to the engineer sealed plans, there were not cost over runs and it was built in a timely manner.

Back in the day (the 1990’s) I participated in a contract writing class for building contractors put on by the WBMA (Western Building Materials Association). The course was taught by an attorney. The attorney prefaced the discussions by saying if we (the contractors) had over 50% of our clients satisfied with our work, we are doing extremely well.

Let this sink in – 50% satisfaction as a benchmark for success as a building contractor?
So, what happens if the outcome is less than ideal?
The worst case is paying for a building and getting nothing.
Other less than fun outcomes include (in no particular order); Some or all of the building is completed and mechanics liens get filed on your property due to the contractor not paying his or her suppliers or the help. The building won’t pass inspection and/or was not built to the engineered specifications. The building has warranty issues the contractor will not or cannot fix. The building gets partially built and contractor absconds with more money than earned. The building collapses – killing you or a loved one.

Scared yet?
YOU SHOULD BE!

How to minimize risk:
Demand your building be constructed according to plans prepared by an RDP (Registered Design Professional – architect or engineer).

Invest in a complete building kit package per those plans, it avoids potential material liens and you can control the design.

Vet potential contractors fully, by following these steps: http://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/2013/07/contractor-6/.

Require a Performance Bond from the contractor you select: http://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/2012/07/contractor-bonding/.

How big a risk are you willing to take?

How to Avoid Being Bilked by an Unscrupulous Contractor

Other than being pennywise and pound foolish there is absolutely no reason for those who are hiring a contractor to get bilked should the person they hire be unscrupulous.

Here is a story from www.mlive.com by Cole Waterman which makes me cringe:
“SAGINAW, MI — A Linwood contractor and his wife are charged with a combined 40 felonies due to prosecutors alleging they swindled a six-figure sum out of clients in seven Michigan counties.

Charles W. Riggie, 35, and Kathryn M. Riggie, 32, face 20 charges each — one count each of conducting a criminal enterprise and conspiracy to commit that crime and nine counts each of false pretenses and building contractor trust fund violations. The most serious offense is conducting a criminal enterprise, punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
The Saginaw County Prosecutor’s Office issued the charges against the couple on Monday, Dec. 18.

Speaking to MLive, assistant prosecutors Daniel G. Van Norman and Mark J. Gaertner said the couple operated several businesses under the names Michigan Building Supply, Busy Beaver Builders, and Tay-Live Holding Company. At different times, the businesses were headquartered in Saginaw and Bay counties.

Charles Riggie, a licensed contractor, began his criminal endeavor in the fall of 2012 and continued it through August 2013, Van Norman said. He had been hired by nine homeowners in Bay, Emmet, Huron, Oakland, Monroe, Tuscola, and Presque Isle counties to perform construction projects, mainly erecting pole barns, the prosecutors said.
Riggie performed some degree of work for the first two clients, but did nothing for the latter seven, the prosecutors continued.

“He took the money and didn’t do a thing,” Van Norman said. “In one of them, a subcontractor came out and prepped the site but after that, nothing happened. At another job, he ordered materials and the materials were delivered to the site, but they sat there forever, to the point where some of them were weathered to the point of being unusable.”
Riggie filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy in late 2013, but still conducted some of his business after, prosecutors said.
In all, Riggie took more than $150,000 from the nine clients, prosecutors allege. The Riggies spent the money on various personal luxury items, they continued.”

Mike the Pole Barn Guru Comments:
I promised to share how to avoid becoming a part of the situation above – performance bonding. For as little as a few hundred dollars, a legitimate contractor can acquire a performance bond (read more here: http://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/2012/07/contractor-bonding/) which will ensure the contractor will complete the job according to the contract. If they fail to perform, the performance bond guarantees no money will be lost in bringing in another contractor to complete the work.

You pay for insurance for health, your life, your vehicles, etc., why leave the construction of your new post frame building to chance?

The Contractor Factor! When Plans Go Awry!

The Contractor Factor

I hear too many stories where well-intentioned folks hire a contractor to erect a pole barn (post frame building) and end up with less than they bargained for.

This is avoidable, with an ounce of prevention.

Reader DONNA in REMSEN writes:


“I had a pole barn put up in Sept this year, contract said contractor would fill area with gravel to raise the grade as it was being built on a slope. So instead the builder just dumped 4 loads of sand on top of the grass, pushed it around with a bobcat till fairly level, and built the pole barn on top. I live in an area that calls for pole to be 4 feet in virgin soil, the builder put some down 2 feet, in the sand and some 3 feet, in the sand. Now the whole thing has huge pits around the poles and the doors won’t shut any longer, it’s been a month!! Builder says it is normal. I am afraid of what else it will do with the posts not down too deep, any suggestions.”


Hopefully you have not paid the builder. It sounds like you have a plethora of potential challenges going on. This is the order in which I would address them:

First – contact the Building Inspector who signed off on the building inspections. He or she should be asked to prepare a list of corrections which must be completed in order to obtain an occupancy permit.

Second – have the Engineer of Record who sealed the original building plans do a field inspection of the building and prepare a list of deficiencies which need to be corrected.

Third – take the two lists from above and the contract between you and your contractor to an attorney who specializes in construction law. The attorney can then prepare the appropriate documents to be sent to the contractor giving the builder a set time frame (which may be spelled out in the contract documents) in which to correct the deficiencies.

There is a strong possibility the contractor will ignore your attorney, hopefully the contractor has sufficient assets for you to attach in the event you are the prevailing party in legal action. This is one of the reasons I strongly encourage anyone who is hiring a building contractor to require the posting of a performance bond as a guarantee the work to be performed is actually completed in accordance with the contract documents.

More about contractor bonding can be read here: http://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/2012/07/contractor-bonding/.

 

Why We Do Not Recommend Any Builders

Hansen Pole Buildings receives numerous requests every day from potential new post frame building owners, who are looking for a builder (in my terms technician) who can assemble their building kit. I am going to do both of us a favor and explain why we do not recommend any builders.

Hansen Pole Buildings is a supplier and a supplier only. We do not construct buildings anywhere for anyone – even ourselves. Our new post frame building addition of 30 feet x 96 feet is being contracted out to a technician, who happens to do erection work for several of our clients. When you order your new post frame building from us this is clearly reiterated in writing and approved by you:

 

“Purchaser is purchasing a materials only pole (post frame) building package, designed per Seller’s plans. This is not a precut building, nor is the structural design to be determined by Purchaser or Purchaser’s agents. Assembly, by Purchaser or Purchaser’s agents, including measuring, cutting and the use of tools, will be required. Some components may come all or partially assembled (e.g., entry doors are most often shipped as pre-hung), however most items (such as, but not limited to, sliding and overhead doors) require the assembly of sub-components. Steel roofing, siding and trims often require cutting and/or splicing. It is the discretion of Purchaser or Purchaser’s agents to utilize the materials provided so as to minimize splices, as well as the creation of waste or scrap. No overage of any materials is provided for in this Agreement.”

Good clear agreements make for good neighbors. We do not want anyone to have their feelings hurt due to a misunderstanding.

Upon request, once you have ordered your new post frame building kit package, we can assist you in finding the names and contact information of two or more possible builders who can construct within your predetermined budget – however it is totally your responsibility to vet them out. Here are the seven steps to not getting yourself burned by any contractor, follow these: http://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/2013/07/contractor-6/ and require a performance bond and you will greatly limit your risk of not getting the finished product you expected. Here is Performance Bond information: http://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/2012/07/contractor-bonding/.

In a past life, I was a post frame building contractor based in the Pacific Northwest. We were blessed with many totally awesome subcontract crews who did great workmanship, as well as were good at building quality relationships with our clients.

Even with these excellent crews, it seems like about once a year they would absolutely “hose” (technical term for FUBAR) a building. I’d ask them why and the answer was typically they had no idea, just that it went wrong.

I share this because you might very well contract with the builder who has the best reputation for quality and has a fair price. Same builder could have one of those weeks coincide with your building and result in a less than satisfactory experience. We (and I) would prefer not to become a mediator for problems we had no hand in causing, even more so since we had no financial interest in the agreement between you and your builder of choice.

Not my circus, not my monkeys.

Find Me a Contractor to Erect My Building!

Fewer and fewer of our clients seem to have the inclination to erect their own post frame building kits. Here is one and my response ended up being quite lengthy.

DEAR POLE BARN GURU: Do you have about 3 names of companies/contractors that can erect my 40x40x14 hanger kit, once I buy it from you guys. TIM in OSSIPEE

DEAR TIM: Here is how it works……

About Hansen BuildingsYou get the details of your building worked out with a Hansen Pole Buildings’ Designer and get a building order placed. If you need a builder, you can stipulate to Hansen Pole Buildings providing the names and contact information of three or more builders who can construct the building shell for 60% of the price of the materials or less within seven days, else your investment is refunded 100% and we part as friends (unless you then decide to do it yourself – which frankly gives you the best outcome). This agreement can be stipulated right on the face of the Invoice for the building, so no questions. Keep in mind, this is a service provided to you only – we refer these builders to you, we do not recommend them. It is totally up to you to thoroughly vet them out.

If you follow all of the steps listed here: http://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/2013/07/contractor-6/, you will be much more likely to get the builder of your dreams, than of your nightmares.

Why don’t we tell you who the builders are up front?

I shall share a short story, please humor me….

Probably ten years ago, our office got a phone call from a person who purported to be one of our clients. He was sure he had ordered a building from us. He was having problems with the builder who erected his building kit. The builder was not responding to the client’s calls to do the needed repairs under warranty.

Now this builder had constructed about 200 Hansen Pole Buildings. In fact, he had gotten the name of the tragically flawed new pole building owner from us! The client was looking for a builder – so we gave him the contact information for the builder.

The builder decided to cut Hansen Pole Buildings out of the deal.

He put together his own “plans” for the building, ran around and purchased materials and sold them and his labor to the client.

And then there were problems…..

Even the most reputable contractor can play shenanigans once in a while – this one got caught and the client got stuck holding a bag which was not the one he expected he was going to get. There are some items which are ONLY available with Hansen Pole Buildings – like the use of powder coated color matched diaphragm screws. As far as we can tell, we are the only people who offer these for every building with steel roofing and/or siding.

Why would this be important?

Because we want your new post frame building to outlast you and still look great. Most other screws will either not perform to provide the needed wind shear resistance, they will rust and decay – causing leaks, and the paint will chip off the heads, leaving row upon row of bare shiny galvanized soldiers

Sharing the Pole Barn Blame

Sharing the Blame

Welcome to 2017!

As you may recall, 2016 ended with me sharing an email from a builder who is constructing a new Hansen Pole Building and may possibly be a legend in his own mind.

Our company policy, when a challenge arrives, has always been to begin by looking to see what, if anything did we do wrong. In this particular case, we (and yours truly) share in some of the blame.

For you, gentle reader, I will paint a picture of the building in question, so you may get a better feel for the entire process.

The building is a 40 foot clearspan in width, 100 feet long with an eave height of 16 feet and five inches. It is designed under the 8th edition of the Massachusetts State Building Code, with a 90 mph (mile per hour) design wind speed and a 50 psf (pounds per square foot) design flat roof snow load.

It features 12 inch enclosed overhangs on all four sides, as well as three 14 foot wide by 14 foot tall overhead doors on one sidewall.

The most practical design solution actually (which is a rare case) turned out to be based upon the traditional “East coast” style of post frame construction, with a single truss spaced every four feet on top of “truss carriers” (beams) spanning sidewall columns generally every eight feet (other than at the overhead door locations).

This building happens to be narrow in width in relationship to length (1 to 2.5 ratio) and is fairly tall. As such, the wind load was great enough to exceed the shear resisting capacity of the steel roofing in the eight feet closest to each endwall.

In order to carry the load, the building was designed so the trusses in the affected areas would have a traditional ¼ inch butt cut (educate yourself on what a butt cut is here: http://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/2015/05/truss-butt-cuts/), while the balance of the trusses would have 11/16 inch butt cuts. This would allow for the top of all truss carriers to be placed at the same height, and 7/16” OSB (Oriented Strand Board – http://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/2013/10/osb-versus-plywood/) to be installed on top of the lower heel height trusses.

Pretty darn skippy sounding ……. Until we get to tomorrow!!

Yep – yet another cliff hanger!!

Builder Shaming

The Builder Knows More Than We do…. After Hansen 18k Plus Buildings

Very few things in life frighten me. Among them are heights (growing up in a family of framing contractors and having vertigo issues were not a good mix) and builders who tell me, “I can build anything”.

This last one usually sets off the alarm bells in my head which I interpret this to mean, “I won’t read your plans or follow your instructions, but when things go sideways – I will be blaming you for it”.

Now my lovely bride tells me I can be a bit harsh when it comes to writing about builders whose competency skills I may find to be ‘challenging’. I’ve written previously about the phenomena which a few of these folks are afflicted with (and I would encourage you, gentle reader to delve further into the subject by reading: http://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/2015/01/dunning-kruger-effect/).

For your reading pleasure I will share with you, in its unedited glory, a recently received email from a builder:

“Building one now and plans for trusses were wrong. I explained to the guy that I knew exactly what needed to be done to fix it. He didn’t seem to be interested in what I thought. Mind you I have 14 years of full time framing experience (new construction) condos and custom homes.  Done a bunch of remodeling also worked on bridges for 4 years, framing also, bridge end post forming, radius walls framed and poured etc etc. I’ve been in the field for 21 years. Anyway blah blah. Guy from Hansen wants to have the drawing done and wants me to look at it and go by it. Haha. I already no what needs to done!  I’m in the field building the thing, I no the material list!  Now the material comes for the new facia and the new WRONG drawing of the soffit support, and 2 by 8, which we didn’t need but since they shorted us on 2by 4 we used. The WRONG drip edge piece came but we are using that also. He’s now going to eat the 5 1/2″ facia metal because of the WRONG drip edge piece sent, he has to buy bigger facia pieces. I guess what I’m trying to say, is that, if you had listened to the licensed builder that has framed miles and miles of buildings in the first place. I could’ve easily put a material list together, showed you the cost, ordered it locally and probably saved you money on the material, and us the headache of dealing with wrong stuff. By the way The soffit nailer doesn’t change from the original height in the drawing. It still tucks in exactly 3 1/2″ with the 18 degreee bevel. The only measurement that changes with the 2 by 8 truss is the 16’5. The only thing it changes is the size of the facia.”

Construction ManualFeel free to ponder this over your New Year’s Holiday weekend. Next Tuesday, I will dive into….the rest of the story!

Be safe, don’t party and drive, and I will catch you in 2017!

Just Say No!

You Want It When?

A week from Tuesday is going to find a life milestone has been passed – it will be after Labor Day. Or as we know it in the pole barn industry, the Panic Point.

When I was a post frame (pole) building contractor in the 1990’s based in Northeast Washington state, we could tell how far south the first snows were falling by all of the phone calls we would get. Generally these would start sometime in October and carry forward into November.

They would go something like this:

Remember the pole building I talked to you about in April? Well we are ready for it now do you think you could start next week?

We seriously did not mean to be rude, however we got so many of these calls we just could not help but laugh!

Why?

Because by October and November our building crews would be booked solid until April and May!

For whatever reason, we humans tend to be procrastinators – we wait until the last minute (and frequently after the last minute) to move forward and get things done.

A popular reason for needing a new pole building is to avoid the pain of last winter’s weather, be it deep snow, freezing cold, high winds or miserable rains.

10-18-12-Monitor-in-Winter-150x150Winter weather can prove to be ugly.

Considering a new pole building for construction this Fall? Make a few calls around, eventually you will find someone who can come right out and built it now. Pretty darn exciting, as you didn’t think you were going to be able to beat the weather.

Just….Say….No!!!

This time of year there is only one reason a good quality pole builder or building kit package supplier can “get right on it” and the reason is they offer one or more of the following – poor quality, poor service and/or high prices. Usually it is a combination of the three.

How to avoid the pain you endured last winter?

Pickup your phone and call (866)200-9657 and ask to speak with a Hansen Pole Buildings’ Designer who can assist you with crafting a design solution which meets your needs, your budget and (in most cases) can get materials delivered on your site in time to beat this winter’s monsoons and blizzards.

Every day you wait, puts more and more people ahead of you in line – effectively costing you two or three days (or more) which could have been used to get you out of the weather!

Just Another Reason to Love Builders

Please keep in mind, I was a post frame (pole) building contractor in a past life. With as many as 35 crews erecting buildings in six states – if something could possibly go awry, one of my crews would find a way to achieve it!

Seriously.

Some of them were creative in methods which I could not even have imagined (you would have had to have been there).

In some ways, they reminded me of my beloved Seattle Mariners, always seemingly finding a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

oregon-builders-150x150In today’s episode of “How the Stomach Churns” we find Builder Bob (the name has been changed to protect those who probably don’t read my articles anyhow) industriously working away in the wilds of Colorado – where he determines the sidewall steel above a sliding door is four inches too short!

Could this happen?

Well anything COULD happen, but in all likelihood the Hansen Pole Buildings’ Instant Pricing™ system is pretty darn accurate when it comes to steel takeoffs – so probably not.

I always work from the theory somehow we have screwed up, so I go through the scenario longhand, to the joy of all involved:

Eave height = 16′ above grade (all of my long term and loyal readers fully understand how to measure eave height: http://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/2015/02/eave-height-2/; builders, not so much as it does involve having to read, at the very least, the plans).

Drop across 1.5″ wide eave girt and J Channel (3/4″) at a 5/12 roof slope = 0.9375″

So top of wall steel is at 15’11.0625″

Top of sliding door track board is at 10’10” above grade

15’11.0625″ – 10’10” = 5’1.0625″

Steel above sliding door is 5’0″ long

This leaves just over 1″ of sliding door track cover back flange exposed – which is perfect

If it is 4″ too short, I am going to guess one or more of the following has occurred:

Eave height is too high (maybe measured from top of slab, instead of grade)

Sliding door header and track board are not properly located (at 11’0″ and 10’10” above grade to tops, respectively)

In the event the eave height is too high, there are solutions. However, all of them are going to involve some sort of investment in more materials by the builder. If the challenge is door number two, the solution takes only time and a good cat’s paw to remove the nails holding the sliding door header and track board – properly position the two and reinstall.

Voilà! A door that fits and steel sent by Hansen Buildings is indeed the right length.

When Everything Doesn’t Go Perfect Part I

When Everything Doesn’t Go Perfect (and the sky falls)

not perfectThe key to any successful construction project is not necessarily how everything went perfect, but instead it is how the things which did not go perfect were resolved. When one considers the average post frame building kit package materials have been touched by in excess of FOUR THOUSAND pairs of hands, it is truly amazing anything ever gets built!

Here is a true recent true story:

DEAR POLE BARN GURU:  I read many posts in your blog prior to purchasing a kit. I have contemplated hiring the erection of my building to a local contractor. When I requested information on suggested contractors, I found there is only one in my state. He is approximately 400 miles from my location. Here is my question: Where in the heck do you get your range of costs for constructing a building? You blog suggests up to $5 / square foot. I have multiple quotes and they are in excess of $16 per square foot. I have had nothing but problems with this purchase. Materials were not delivered per the plan. Every delivery I was told that I had to accept the materials in less than 24 hours from notification. I never knew ahead of time if I needed to have a forklift to offload the materials, so I had to make arrangements each time to be sure that the offloading could occur. The lumber substitutions from 4×6 to 6×6 complicates the build because the dimensions don’t agree with the plans. I will have to purchase additional 2 x 8 material because the full dimension 6×6 posts need to be straddled by two 2x12s and have a web between them. The plans call for a 2×6, but I don’t dare have a ½” to ¾” gap in the setup. There is no one I can talk to within Hansen. The material scheduler merely sends out the same form letter each time. The salesman has forgotten who I am. These issues are not mentioned in your blog.

DEAR CLIENT: Thank you for your investment in a new Hansen Pole Building. I will endeavor to answer your questions as thoroughly and completely as possible. To begin with, our business is the success it is because we both value input from our clients and we take it to heart. We endeavor to have only satisfied clients, and for the most part have been very successful with it.

I appreciate your having read many of my blog articles. I strive to be both entertaining and informative.

Where in the heck do I get my range of costs for constructing a building? In a not too distant past life, I was a post frame building contractor, with as many as 35 crews constructing buildings in six states. The general rule of thumb is the cost of labor should run no more than 50-60% of the price paid for the materials package. This was developed from my years as a general contractor, where we took our materials cost and doubled it, with us getting 25% for being great and wonderful contractors and the construction crew getting the other 25%. The cost of materials for your building was roughly $18,444 – from experience a knowledgeable crew of installers should spend no more than 154 person hours to complete this building. 50% of your purchase price of $18,444 would be $9,222 divided by 154 person hours pays each installer roughly $60 per hour – not bad wages. (for more reading on this subject: http://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/2014/03/contractor-costs/)

At $16 per square foot, my guess is your quotes are coming from general contractors (http://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/2014/11/builders/)  who are going to have subcontract labor do the assembly. 1600 square feet at $16 would be over $25,000 and I sincerely doubt any installer would be worth over $160 per hour. At those wages, I would consider strapping on my nail apron, getting out my screw gun and going back to physically doing construction.

So how do you go about finding an actual technician who can construct your building? If you do need a contractor, I recommend placing an ad on Craigslist under “labor gigs” such as:

Contractor needed to assemble pole building kit package on my clear level site in X County. 40’x40’x9′ fully enclosed “monitor style” barn with prefabricated 4/12 roof slope roof trusses in the 16′ width raised center. (1) 12’x14′ and (2) 8’x7′ sectional steel overhead doors and (1) prehung steel entry door. I will provide all materials except for nail gun nails. Willing to pay around $9000-9500 depending upon experience and references.

I’ve used this approach personally to find the actual “nail pounders” in all parts of the country, with great success.

Come back tomorrow folks, to hear…”the rest of the story”.

A Worthy Builder

A Worthy Installer

I deal directly with very few clients as a Building Designer – just enough to be able to make sure things are flowing through our system as I expect they will.

I’ve truly been enjoying my recent interactions with a client who took the time to really share with me what his needs were and allowed me to custom design for him buildings (two) as if they were going to be for me. The larger of these buildings (30’ x 60’) is going to be an addition to his home. His original idea was to have a concrete floor in the building. We discussed the long term comfort of a wood floor over a crawl space, rather than “living” on concrete – the elevated wood floor won!

He was also going to have a flat level ceiling, until he found out how affordable a vaulted ceiling was! As I have a vaulted ceiling in the top floor of my own pole building at home, I told him he will never regret the decision.

Pole Barn ContractorsOne thing my client did need is a builder, he is a busy business professional and just does not have the time to do his own work. I did some quick research and came up with about a dozen builders in his area, who are willing to provide construction services for 50% of the cost of materials or less.

So we are down to ordering time…..today’s email from the client:

“Mike – everything looks good!  My big concern now is being sure I have a worthy Installer/ builder.  If I am going to be completely honest… I do not have a lot of faith in builders in this area.  We do have several Amish and Mennonite families in the area that install / construct these buildings… and have a great reputation, but the other guys are quite scary.  I would feel much more comfortable knowing I have a builder set up before paying for these building in full.  If you remember… I had originally quoted these buildings with you and searched for a builder myself… I had no luck finding someone I felt comfortable with.

Thoughts? “

To which I responded:

Having been a builder myself for a decade (I ran 35 crews in 6 states), and being the son and grandson of builders, I can give this advice:

Any builder you talk to is going to give only good references, face it, it is a reality. If you go to see their work, they are only going to show you good projects. It proves nothing.

I’ve dealt with the Amish before – in general they do not follow plans or instructions and when things go wrong it is everyone else’s fault. (A little Amish story here: http://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/blog/2014/11/barn-raising/)

Regardless of who you hire – keep control of the situation, never pay out more than the work which has been successfully completed, and pay in increments:

No more than 10% when holes are dug and pass inspection (I actually prefer this after posts are set);
No more than a total of 1/3rd when everything is framed up;
Up to 90% when final inspection is passed and any “punch list” has been completed;
Balance of 10% 30 days after completion – provided any workmanship issues are completed.

Do not do anything without a written agreement which fully spells out the responsibilities of both parties. You can ADD some of your own stipulations, such as….

Any alcohol or drugs onsite and agreement is immediately terminated without further payment.
Failure of builder to be on jobsite working for at least xx (I usually use 20) hours in any calendar week Sun-Sat results in immediate termination without further payment.

Things I object to – crews throwing out their trash on my site, bringing their pets, borrowing my tools.

Even the scariest of builders can perform well, when you keep control of the situation. You can also require a performance bond, although you might have to agree to pay a bit more for a builder as they are not free: http://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/blog/2012/07/contractor-bonding/

 

Dunning Kruger Effect

Most of us have never heard of the Dunning Kruger effect. Although you may not recognize the title, there is a better than fair chance you know one or more people who are affected by it.

Wikipedia defines the Dunning Kruger effect as “a cognitive bias wherein unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than is accurate.” In other words, the more ignorant some people are on a particular subject, the more likely they are to think they know more than the best-trained experts.

Dunning-KrugerThe phenomenon was first tested in a series of experiments published in 1999 by David Dunning and Justin Kruger of the Department of Psychology, Cornell University. The study was inspired by the case of McArthur Wheeler, a man who robbed two banks after covering his face with lemon juice in the mistaken belief, as lemon juice is usable as invisible ink, it would prevent his face from being recorded on surveillance cameras. They noted earlier studies suggested ignorance of standards of performance lies behind a great deal of incorrect self assessments of competence. This pattern was seen in studies of skills as diverse as reading comprehension, operating a motor vehicle, and playing chess or tennis.

Dunning and Kruger proposed, for a given skill, incompetent people will:

fail to recognize their own lack of skill;

fail to recognize genuine skill in others;

fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy;

recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill, if they are exposed to training for the skill.

Dunning has since drawn an analogy (“the anosognosia of everyday life”) with a condition in which a person who suffers a physical disability because of brain injury seems unaware of or denies the existence of the disability, even for dramatic impairments such as blindness or paralysis.

“If you’re incompetent, you can’t know you’re incompetent. […] the skills you need to produce a right answer are exactly the skills you need to recognize what a right answer is.” —David Dunning

When it comes to pole (post frame) buildings and barns, there are numerous instances of this effect. I find them on many information sharing boards, where the information being shared is often so bad it borders on ludicrous.

The Dunning Kruger effect is also pervasive among pole building contractors, as well as building suppliers. I didn’t say “all”…but yes, too often pole building contractors are my most frequent subjects of “what went wrong” during construction.

Moral of the story – take what you read on the internet, or are told by others with a block of salt. While we at Hansen Pole Buildings (and me in particular) don’t know everything, we do know a lot of stuff and are always stretching ourselves to learn more. After over 15,000 buildings I still consider myself a “work in progress” and a good day is when I learn something new

My Pole Barn is Hosed!

Readers –
The following is from the Dear Pole Barn Guru questions I get weekly, and the issues are so important when it comes to dealing with a contractor, I wanted to take time out to hi-light a few of them.

garden hoseDEAR POLE BARN GURU: I have some serious issues with a pole barn I recently had built! I hired a general contractor to build it for me knowing it would be a little more expensive but that way if there was any issues it was his responsibility to deal with subcontractors.  Well it’s been a nightmare ever since the sub he hired to construct it didn’t set the man door at the right height so when the concrete crew poured the floor they went off the bottom of the man door instead of the garage doors which is the proper way to do it. Well when they went to do the apron they discovered the siding was three inches below where the concrete had to be so they had to cut the wainscot three inches.  I decided to start taking measurements! This is a 30×40 building and none of the posts are on center. They are anywhere from 16 inches off to 2 inches off center on an 8 foot span. The roof joists are supposed to be 4 foot span but they are all over the place too!  Anyway he’s trying to tell this is ok it’s still structurally sound and I shouldn’t worry about it! Anyway you get the picture. He wants his money and I am refusing to give final payment till I get another contractor to look at it and give me a cost estimate to fix the problems his sub screwed up on. What’s your thoughts on the way I’m handling it? CONFOUNDED IN CABLE

 

DEAR CONFOUNDED: Most people who hire contractors to construct their new pole buildings are living in a delusional world where unicorns bound happily through fields of flowers and the sun always shines. They have the idea the contractor is going to handle everything to their satisfaction, it will be a pain free situation and their new building will be perfect.

I now give you permission to return to reality.

Statistically, only about 50% of all new building owners are pleased with the performance of their contractor… ½ … not very good odds.

On to the question posed – what my thoughts are on the way the situation is being handled.

I am not an attorney, so my answers are not to be construed as legal advice, consider them as being words of wisdom based upon decades of judicious experience. Hopefully issues can be resolved before money has to be poured into the sinkhole which is our legal system.

If you have not done so before, carefully read through the written agreement signed between you and your contractor. In most cases, this agreement and ONLY this agreement is going to be the basis for any legal standing you would have in court. Make sure to read all of the fine print, as well as the terms and conditions on the back.

Poorly written or vague contracts protect only the contractor – not you. Pretty much anything not specifically spelled out in writing, isn’t going to happen.

If you are not feeling bad yet – it is probably only going to get worse.

You may have some recourse on structural issues. Call the inspector who has been doing the inspections on the building, and have he or she meet with you to compare the engineer sealed plans for the building, against the building as it has been built. The inspector’s duty is to “red tag” the building and provide a list of structural defects which need to be corrected by the contractor prior to the building being occupied.

In the event your building did not require a building permit, or you are in a jurisdiction which does not provide structural inspections, you may very well be at the mercy of what the builder claims is “good”. If this is the case, you could try contacting the engineer who designed the building, providing he or she with a list of structural deficiencies – the engineer may put some pressure on the builder to correct them, or may provide a sealed letter which says the building is structurally sound as constructed.

Outside of the above two paragraphs, if the building conforms to what is outlined on the agreement and the roof doesn’t leak – your best bet is to swallow the bitter pill and pay up. Consider it a sad lesson learned the hard way.

Builders – Paying for Convenience

Builders – Paying for Convenience

Most of us are fairly willing to pay a few extra dollars for convenience. We know it costs us an extra dollar a gallon for milk at the C-Store, but it was right there, we didn’t have to drive two minutes out of our way, find a parking spot, and trudge through a big store. It was worth it!

How about paying out a LOT of dollars for convenience?

pole barn contractorBelow is an actual email from a potential client. These were the kind of folks who put huge smiles (all of the way to the bank) on my face when I was a pole building contractor!

“My Husband wants to go with the WHOLE PACKAGE which means he is looking at Companies that have THEIR OWN BUILDERS – We REALLY liked your price but just DO NOT feel comfortable with you supplying us with a list of Builders and we have to set it all up – He just wants to keep it simple and all together so ….   I would like to thank you for your time and quote.”

Why would this have made me so happy?

Because 25% of what they were going to pay me for the convenience was going straight into my pocket!

With an average constructed pole building ranging from $30 to 40,000 – I will take the 25% every time someone hands it over to me!

Maybe some folks just cannot wrap their heads around what happens when they contract with a company who has “their own builders”.

First, the materials are the materials. There is no magic “free lumber tree” out there, nor is there a pot of roll formed steel siding at the end of the rainbow. For the most part, the cost of the materials is going to be a direct reflection upon their quality and what is included in the design.

The majority of builders are going to do everything within their power to increase their profit margins, it is for this reason you do not find builders who are willing to work on a “cost plus” a flat percentage.

Second, the installers are the installers. Whether hiring them direct and paying them yourself, or paying a general contractor to pay them, they are the very same people. When you hire them direct, you have the advantage of being able to properly vet them yourself. You know beforehand who is going to be driving the nails.

When hiring a general contractor, you have no advance idea if you will get a crew on the hundredth or their first building!

Read this again and ponder it: “When hiring a general contractor, you have no advance idea if you will get a crew on the hundredth or their first building!”

The rookie crew “hoses” (technical construction term meaning it was really, really bad) your building and the general contractor is going to scramble to save his own profits first. Chances are small your building is going to turn out the way it truly should have.

Third, general contractors do not work for free. They need to be paid for their time and efforts, even if the time and efforts mean they drive around in a nice new four wheel drive pickup all day.

Before taking this multi-thousand dollar convenience leap – think long and hard about it. The money you save could go a long way towards your new pole building!

Fire Your Building Contractor

One of our clients has been speaking with Hansen Pole Buildings’ Designer Rick about a new post frame building.

Building Designer Rick CarrRick related to me this from the client:

“Talked to a client Saturday that is going to walk away from the $1,900.00 he put down to get plans from this guy, for a lot of reasons.”

I just cringe every time I hear of someone getting nothing for something in our industry. It makes it so much more difficult for the majority of those who do really care about the clients.

I asked Rick, “For what reasons?”

“Oh, I heard them. Takes a week to get on phone, asked to borrow client’s f-350 to move equipment to site, requested that an additional 4 feet be cleared behind the pad to allow for scaffolding for a 10 foot building, after the work has already been done.  Wants more money to have his friend come and do it.  I think there were more, but that’s enough.

Client is in stage four cancer and wants to be sure the building goes in before the snow to be used this winter, has no confidence in this guy at this point.”

I’ve related over and over how to find a reliable contractor, in the event one is not doing their own work. You can find several of these articles at:

http://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/blog/category/building-contractor/

Red Flag #1 – can’t get prompt responses to calls, texts, faxes, emails – whatever the communication method of choice is…..if it takes over 24 hours, more than once, there is a problem.

I’ve spoken with far too many folks who are just shopping for a new building – and can’t get a response for a week or more!! Communication is the key to any good relationship, and crucial to successful construction.

Red Flag #2 – contractor wants to borrow anything from the customer! I was a registered contractor for years, and in several states. As a builder, never ask to borrow anything from a client. Not only is it unprofessional, but it is a near guarantee of whatever is being borrowed – will be returned broken.

Red Flag #3 – wants more money for a “friend” to do extra work! If extra work actually is needed, it should be up to the client’s discretion of who to pick, and what to pay them.

Please – if considering purchasing an entire building (materials and labor) from a contractor, start with a visit to their website. If the website looks cheap or unprofessional, it is a pretty good indicator of the work which will be done on your new building.

If they are not a member of the Better Business Bureau (just because the BBB logo is on their website, does not mean they are a member – click on the logo to confirm it links to the BBB) and the National Frame Building Association (www.NFBA.org), my humble opinion is to run (do not walk) away from them as quickly as possible.

As the sage Benjamin Franklin once said, “The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.”

Japanese Framing Part II

Continued from yesterday’s blog…..

The Typical House

Besides introducing the Japanese to glulam lumber, we worked to promote 2×4 construction. For centuries homes have been built in Japan with 90mm x 90mm (approximately 3-1/2 inches) square posts and beams. The small-dimension materials are not very strong, so the posts are usually only about 6 feet apart. The same material is used for diagonal bracing.

Setting a beamOnce the roof (usually tile) is on, the structure is reinforced with 2×3 studs toenailed vertically between the posts and the bracing, and flush with the exterior. That leaves the areas between the posts crowded with studs, making it more complicated to get in there with insulation, plumbing and wiring. The 2x3s are covered on the interior with a thin plywood or grass-cloth skin, leaving the posts and bracing exposed. Sound travels through walls as if they weren’t there.

We tried to convince the carpenters that a heavy plywood could handle the shear movement, thus eliminating all that diagonal bracing. But traditions die hard in Japan and although our suggestions were greeted with bows and smiles, nothing changed.

Trenches for concrete footings are dug by the smallest crawler-backhoe I’ve ever seen. No description fits them better than “cute”. But their work is precise since forms are rarely used, although a batterboard usually set for grade. Once the footings are in, form panels are set 6 to 8 inches above grade, and the foundation is poured 1 inch lower than its final height.

That last inch is composed of a rich, hand-mixed topping cement. Instead of using a screed, a series of 1x8s are shot in level with a transit and nailed to the green foundation walls to serve as a guide for the 1-inch final pour. After this has hardened, holes are drilled and anchor bolts set.

All this struck me as an incredible waste of time, In fact we had meetings about it for two days. But in the end, I was told that although our way is probably better, they intended to use their own methods. I bit my tongue.

Tools

While some of the finest power tools available are made in Japan, a lot of the work is still done by hand. Since most of the country uses only 100 volts, we didn’t bother to take our own power tools. But we were up the creek once we got there and realize standard tools, like routers, weren’t available at the site.

If we asked for a power tool it usually appeared. But at times, when they didn’t understand our need for it, our hosts would tell us the tool wasn’t available. We would counter with, “You make it over here and you tell us you can’t get it. Let me see the catalog.” After pointing out what we wanted, the unavailable tool would materialize. Once we demonstrated how we used that tool, they were quick to adopt and even improve upon our methods.

To the Japanese, a 16-oz. hammer is considered big. They were shocked by our 22-oz. scored-head framers. A few tried them but quickly went back to their smaller ones.

Getting an adequate air supply for our nail guns was another problem. They had either small compressors that forced us to wait every few shots for the pressure to catch up, or huge ones normally used to run jackhammers. We ended up using the guns to start the nails while a man followed behind finishing the job by hand. Next trip, my 1-1/2 hp Emglo goes with me.

A Tradition of Craftsmanship

There are two classes of carpenters in Japan: those who learn traditional building techniques through apprenticeships and those who are trained largely as they work. For the latter, production is the key. Used to working with manufactured housing, their skills are more like those of assembly line workers.

Apprentice carpenters, on the other hand, go through a rigid apprenticeship lasting about nine years. During their training, apprentices learn to fit materials together so skillfully that it looks as if the wood grew that way. To watch them work is to learn a whole new respect for craftsmanship.

During my trip to Fukuoka, the carpenters used about 400 4x4s for girders. These were crossed with 2×6 floor joists about 16 inches on-center. All of these were fit together with a joining method similar to dovetailing. It was hard to believe the number of cuts involved – each with its own peculiar angle.

The top Japanese carpenter and his apprentice spent most of a day using a pencil and a square to mark the cuts. The next day he simply picked up a saw and, without even bothering to set the blade angle, cut the notches as fast as his assistant could turn the beams. Though he never changed the setting, his mastery of the saw bordered on the artistic. Most of my crew gathered around to watch for a while. Before returning to work, we honored his skill with a spontaneous round of applause.

Topping Out

Our framing work at each site ended with a traditional “muneage” or topping-out ceremony, to thank the gods for letting us raise the structure. The building was draped in American and Japanese flags and a band played while many toasts were drunk with Japanese rice wine. True to their ways, our hosts planned every second of the ceremony, from the number of drum beats to accompany the lifting of the last beam to the time it took for us to attach the beam in place with gold-plated brackets and bolts. Then a cannon was fired, nearly blowing us off the building.

In both Osaka and Fukuoka, the ceremony also symbolized the cooperation required to get the structure framed. In spite of different languages, tools, and traditions, we were successful at completing our work. We also learned a lot from one another and had a lot of fun.”

Posted in memory of my Uncle Neil– truly a skilled framing contractor – and craftsman.

Dear Guru: Should I Use Road Base Gravel?

New!  The Pole Barn Guru’s mailbox is overflowing with questions.  Due to high demand, he is answering questions on Saturdays as well as Mondays.

Welcome to Ask the Pole Barn Guru – where you can ask questions about building topics, with answers posted on Mondays.  With many questions to answer, please be patient to watch for yours to come up on a future Monday or Saturday segment.  If you want a quick answer, please be sure to answer with a “reply-able” email address.

Email all questions to: PoleBarnGuru@HansenPoleBuildings.com

DEAR POLE BARN GURU:Hello, I see you are head quartered in Browns Valley MN, but do not have any Certified Builders in your home state. Why is this?

Thanks. READY TO BUILD IN MN

DEAR READY: As Browns Valley is a border town, we are actually physically located in South Dakota – which is neither actually here nor there. Strangely enough, we provide more pole building kit packages the further we get away from our office – areas like Washington, Oregon, Colorado, New York and Pennsylvania have always been among the states where we seemingly deliver the most buildings.

The why? Most future building owners in Minnesota (and South Dakota) seem to be more than capable of constructing their own buildings and prefer to do the work themselves. Whether you hire a builder or do the work yourself varies greatly from region to region. Hansen Buildings designs custom kits for the average homeowner to construct their own building. Our expertise is in getting you exactly the building you want and need, and not a “standard” or “canned” kit. We are not contractors in any state. If you are not so inclined, and need a builder, your Hansen Building Designer can assist you in finding one.

DEAR POLE BARN GURU:I am now considering using road base gravel for the flooring, packing it tight with a plate compacter. I am told that our property taxes depend on flooring and if cement it is considered a “permanent” structure and taxed by its square footage, finished or not. If dirt or gravel it is simply an agricultural building and not taxed the same way.

Are there any recommendations for using road base gravel flooring like this ?? MEANDERING IN MONTANA

DEAR MEANDERING: I’d never make my choice of floor based upon whether or not I had to pay taxes on it or not. It should be based upon what is going to provide the most satisfactory surface – which is usually going to be a concrete slab on grade poured over a compacted base and a quality vapor barrier.

In the event the choice ends up being road base gravel, I’d recommend having the top of the gravel even with the bottom of the pressure treated splash plank – because odds are good the concrete slab is eventually going to be desired.

Dear Pole Barn Guru: Wood or Steel Trusses?

Welcome to Ask the Pole Barn Guru – where you can ask questions about building topics, with answers posted on Mondays.  With many questions to answer, please be patient to watch for yours to come up on a future Monday segment.  If you want a quick answer, please be sure to answer with a “reply-able” email address.

Email all questions to: PoleBarnGuru@HansenPoleBuildings.com

DEAR POLE BARN GURU: Should I go with wood, or 12 or 14 gauge steel trusses? DELIBERATING DEE

DEAR DELIBERATING: I came from the prefabricated wood roof truss industry, having spent nearly two decades either having built them myself, been a designer, managing or owning roof truss manufacturing plants.

 In my experience I learned prefabricated wood trusses are amazing products. Not only can they be utilized for a myriad of different application, they also are a highly engineered product. Every component of a wood roof truss is put through a rigorous computer analysis, which verifies all members are capable (when properly installed and braced) to be able to withstand not only the snow loads to which they will be subjected, but also wind loads. The entire process is remarkably complex, involving the most up-to-date research available. Because of this, wood roof trusses just do not experience failures, within the parameters of the design loads.

 Besides all of this, pre-fabricated roof truss manufacturers are required, by the Building Codes, to be inspected quarterly by an independent firm for quality control. These inspections are done without any advance notice – the inspector just shows up unannounced. The truss company must supply the engineer sealed drawings for every truss the inspector wants to review. No engineering and the trusses must be destroyed. The inspectors are so thorough, they even take a micrometer to the steel roof truss plates, to confirm they are the correct thickness! The size and grade of every piece of wood in the truss is verified to meet or exceed what is specified on the drawings, and all of the joints between the wood members are checked to make sure they are tight. Even the placement of the steel plates must match what is shown on the drawings.

 The inspector also looks to make sure completed trusses are adequately stored to prevent deterioration of the wood members and to prevent damage to the truss plates.

 In other words, the inspections are rigorous.

 When I owned my first business, in Oregon, we hired a very nice gentleman to be a pole building sales person for us. Originally from Arkansas, Stan’s father built light gauge steel truss frames for “pole” buildings (in their case, the entire structural framework was made of steel, so they actually were not pole buildings – but rather light gauge steel frame buildings).

 Stan discussed with me his interest in building the same type of frames and distributing them in the Pacific Northwest. While I didn’t see this as a fit for our particular niche (we were pole buildings only), I did give Stan my blessings to head out on his own and start his own business.

 Apparently things were a little different where Stan was from – the steel truss frames there were made of steel angle iron for the top and bottom chords, and rebar was welded in between for the internal webbing. Engineering was never a requirement, Stan’s daddy just built them using seat-of-the pants – with the assumption if they worked in the past, then they would work in the future.

 The Pacific Northwest was not quite the same as Arkansas, as Stan quickly found out. In order to acquire building permits (required on most uildings in the West), Building Departments required engineer sealed drawings for the steel truss frames. Having to engineer the trusses resulted in upgrades to the designs – no more rebar for truss webs, they had to use angle iron there as well. Plus, it required certified welders having to do the fabrication. These requirements added exponentially to the cost of the frames, and made them have to play by rules similar to the prefabricated wood roof truss industry.

Stan long ago sold his interest in the company he founded, but it continues to fill a place in the market. The buildings are generally 15-20% more than post frame construction.

 As to the choice of trusses, most people are very comfortable working with wood as wood tends to be very forgiving. Attaching wood roof purlins to a steel framework is not as easy or straightforward as wood to wood.

 Part of the answer to your question is – what is it going to cost? In order to get a direct comparison, make sure the proposed light gauge steel trusses being quoted come with wet sealed (not photo copied) structural drawings. The drawings should also include the requirements for bracing. Steel trusses normally take diagonal steel struts from the bottom chord of the truss, up to the roof purlins, to prevent buckling of the trusses in the weak direction. The bracing, as well as any connectors should be included in the price. Detailed instructions should be provided so the trusses are adequately attached to the columns, and for installation of the bracing.

DEAR POLE BARN GURU: Do you have someone to install your buildings? TEXAS JEFF

DEAR TEXAS: Hansen Pole Buildings is a supplier of pole building kit packages only.

 You do not need to hire a contractor to build your pole building. Our buildings are designed for the do-it-yourself person. Most of our clients do their own construction. We believe our drawings and industry-leading Construction Guide are clear enough to make the task relatively simple, even for the first-time builder. Keep in mind this is a material kit, not a completely pre-fabricated structure. Assembly, including measuring and cutting, will be required. You will be required to have (or borrow or rent) various hand tools. If you are not comfortable with putting up your own building, a contractor should be available at a reasonable price. We have found the average person who can read and understand English can, and will, build a better building for him or herself than most contractors. Why? Because it’s YOUR building and you will take the time and care to do it “right”.                                                                                  

We are clearly not contractors in any sense of the word. We do not construct, build or repair buildings (or portions of buildings) anywhere for anyone. Should you need a builder, we DO have a list of builders for nearly anywhere in the country. Please call our office to receive a builder referral.

 Keep in mind, a referral is not an endorsement on Hansen Pole Buildings part of the particular builder’s skills or lack thereof, As none of them work directly for us, we can’t guarantee the quality of their work, We DO have a “one strike and you’re out” rule for our referral list. Simply, if we receive even one verifiable and legitimate negative complaint about any particular builder, we will no longer give out their name to our clients. While this is not a fail-safe method, it does afford some degree of protection, it is always a good idea to speak with other customers the builder has done work for in the past, to get an idea of the builder’s professionalism.

 

 

7 Ways to Avoid a Shady Contractor

Consumers can protect themselves from unscrupulous, often unlicensed pole building contractors. By following the following suggestions, it minimizes the possibility of becoming a victim to this all too common problem.

Carefully watch how your money is being spent

Deal only with a licensed contractor.

Many states, as well as smaller jurisdictions require contractors for construction services to be registered or licensed. The license number should be displayed on all business cards, proposals and any other contractor materials.

Verify the license.

Do not just assume the registration is valid. I once hired a contractor who provided a copy of his license to me. Only later (when there was a problem) did I find out it had expired and had been altered. Call the issuing agency to confirm it is valid.

Require Insurance.

Require both a certificate of insurance showing liability insurance coverage AND proof of workers compensation insurance for all workers. Some contractors are registered with an industrial insurance account, however they report their workers as having zero hours, and pay no premiums. The workers are NOT covered.

If someone is hurt, and uninsured, the building owner can very well be held liable.

Know Who You are Dealing With.

Doing business with a Contractor who has a good reputation for doing the job right, in an ethical manner, at a reasonable cost is the ideal situation. Ask for references and then verify them.

Understand What You are Getting.

Before agreeing to any work (as well as making any payment), require a written proposal describing in plain language what work will be done. A statement regarding compliance with applicable Building Codes should be included. If the contractor is doing building permit acquisition, it should be stated in writing and a copy of the permit should be provided prior to work starting.

A total price should be as inclusive as possible. Any unforeseeable work or unit prices clearly addressed (like what happens if holes are difficult to dig). If the contract is not understandable, have it clarified in writing. Maintain all paperwork, plans and permits when the job is done, for future reference.

Familiarize Yourself With the Terms.

Contractor’s proposals and Contracts should contain specific terms and conditions. As with any contract, such terms spell out the obligations of both parties, and should be read carefully. Be wary of forms which are extremely short or are vaguely worded. A well written contract should address all possibilities and may very well take more than one page. Payment terms may vary, however most will require payment in full upon completion of all work. Do not pay for all work until the Contractor has finished the job.

Don’t Let Price or Warranty be Your Only Guide.

Many building owners subscribe to the idea of obtaining three bids and if they all appear to be roughly the same, take the low bidder. This is simply not always a good practice, especially if there is a large disparity between prices. Be extremely cautious of prices which are substantially lower than others. It can mean a mistake has been made, or something is being left out. The Contractor may be planning on shortcuts in quality which can make the building owner the ultimate loser.

Be wary of unusually long warranties as an enticement. It is reasonable to expect a year or two of warranty for labor.

Keep in mind a good contract is written to provide clear communication between two parties.  It also protects both parties, and should never be “one sided”.  From my years as a general contractor, a well thought out and spelled out contract (in writing) made for the smoothest projects. When clients followed all of the above suggestions, I knew they cared enough to do “their best” and I was on the same playing field….the one where both of us “played fair”.

Do You Speak Contractor?

Most contractors didn’t become contractors because they love to communicate. If they did they would be like Bob Villa and have their own TV show.

Contractor TalkingSometimes what they say seems completely obvious to them, but makes no sense to you. Of course most of what I say seems completely obvious to me, but makes no sense to my darling bride either.

A contractor might speak euphemistically to dance around difficult topics. These tips should help translate some of the euphemisms and somewhat curt statements you might hear, so the most is gotten out of the client-contractor relationship.

You Hear Nothing. If a contractor doesn’t call back, he’s just not into you. Don’t chase a contractor who’s too busy to return calls, unless you’ve given him money (in this instance, you and your money could be in trouble).

Let’s do it my way instead. No, no, no, no, no. The pole building plans and instructions should be followed explicitly. Just because a contractor has “experience” and has built lots of pole buildings (none of which have fallen down yet), does not give license to go off on a random path.

I’ll get started late next week. Manana. If a contractor sets a start date, he should be able to keep it. But many times several jobs are juggled at once and often unexpected circumstances arise. At best expect them only to come close to their start and completion estimates.

The price is… 
Unless the scope of work is changed, a contractor won’t expect to negotiate a lump sum price quote. Think the price is too high, get another quote for comparison. While prices vary because of differences in approaching the project or overhead costs, a contractor won’t stay in business unless he prices competitively.

I’ll do my best. There is a good chance a contract will fall short of your expectations. I once took a class on how to write construction contracts. The attorney who taught the class said any builder with a 50% customer satisfaction rate, was doing well!

Generally building owners ask for too much. Have realistic expectations.  Should they do a good or even great job?  Of course. But if your project is a week behind because it rained every day for 10 days and your building site was a mud hole, it may not have gotten done by the time you had hoped.

There are three elements to any project: The level of quality, the price and the time it takes to complete the project. Pick two of these which are most important, as all three do not happen in concurrence. Need everything perfect by a certain date?  Be prepared to pay more.

The design needed some tweaking. Often, this means the builder didn’t follow the plans as they should have. This does not bode well, as in most cases any warrantees are void.

I don’t think this is a good fit. If a contractor declines to quote a project it could be for a lot of reasons. Maybe he has concerns about the budget. You and your contractor will be talking a lot, so maybe he just didn’t think you clicked. It could also be he’s too busy, and he won’t be able to devote enough time to your project to do it right.

We are going to need to do some value engineering. Caviar dreams on a cheese and cracker budget? Be careful when the “value engineering” term gets thrown out.  Value engineering is when the team thinks creatively about how to rework the project to lower costs. All to often this results in a substandard finished product.

Let’s walk through and make a punch list. This was my pet peeve as a builder, when clients were unable or willing to provide a one-time complete list.

A contractor wants and deserves to know everything which needs to be done to have a client satisfied with the work. Every trip to the job costs the contractor, so make an effort to come up with a complete punch list —a list of to-do items which need to be completed for the project to be considered complete — instead of sending it bit by bit over time.

As I said, I was a contractor for a good number of years, with 17 crews in 6 states, so I’ve seen both sides of the coin.  Make sure you are on the side that gets what you want, for what you expected to pay for it.  Or at least close enough both you and the builder are celebrating the completion of your building – together.

Homeowners Association Horror

Halloween has passed, but the horrors still lurk everywhere.  This is one of those Paul Harvey type tales which has “….and the rest of the story…”.

One of our clients is going to be constructing a new Hansen Pole Buildings kit. His hurdle – his local HOA (Homeowners Association).

Even though it added significantly to his costs (not to mention the having to maintain it), he didn’t grouse about having to use wood siding, as opposed to steel. IMHO (in my humble opinion) over the long haul, no one would object to a tasteful color of steel siding. Having to have had my own wood sided pole buildings repainted recently, I can attest to wood siding being an error I would never make if I had to do it all over again.

Our client’s idea was to use resawn plain T1-11 for siding. To add to the curb appeal, he proposed using 1×4 battens vertically every 16 inches to give the look of board and batten siding…without the cost (budget does play a part somewhere in most projects).

To his surprise, the Homeowners Association turned him down! Even though he had rolled over to go with wood siding, they want him to use actual cedar boards to create the board and batten look. Pretty well creates an instant doubling of the costs for his siding, not to mention a tremendous amount of extra time in the labor to construct.

Not to be daunted, our client pressed on.

He wanted to know the reasoning of the HOA. To his surprise, but not necessarily shock, there was a culprit to the siding game. Early on, he had contacted a building contractor to give him a price on a constructed building. Our client decided the builder’s proposal was not within his means, so opted to do the work himself. The builder happens to live in the same neighborhood and put the bug into the Homeowners Association to make life miserable for our client.

My recommendation to the client – push the HOA to exclude the builder from the discussions, as the builder has a conflict of interest.

Building Plans: Why it Pays to Read Directions

One of our clients recently sent us the following by Email….

“The main issue we have is that the sidewall pieces and wainscot only add up to 8’7″, leaving almost 7″ of uncovered space between the top of the metal siding and the fascia all the way around.  We thought maybe it was a mistaken size that had been shipped, but now realize that the plans include the concrete pad in the 10 ft. high walls, rather than starting at the top of it, so the walls wouldn’t really end up being 10ft high, but closer to 9’4″.  But now everything has been framed based on calculations from the top of the pad. The endwall pieces will have the same problem.  What do we do now?  You can contact the builder (Joe xxxxxx) at xxx-xxx-xxxx with any specific questions.

My readers may recall back in March (Blog #199???) I addressed the subject of eave height. I wrote, “Eave height is: the measure from the bottom of the pressure treated splash plank, to the intersection of the underside of the roofing at the outside edge of the sidewall columns.”

When clients receive quotes, or place orders with Hansen Pole Buildings, they all state explicitly eave height is not interior clear height. This gives clients a pretty fair idea of what to expect.

To clarify matters, every building package comes with two sets of multiple page, two foot by three foot building plans. On at least three pages of the plans, in seven different places is stated, “Eave height = bottom of skirt board to intersection of roof steel and outside edge of sidewall columns”.

Assuming the building plans were somehow ignored, the correct measure of eave height is also stated repeatedly in the Construction Guide provided with the purchase of every post frame building kit.  There are diagrams and pictures with clear marking of dimensions, along with written encouragement for anyone not understanding eave height, to “call us”.

In this particular case, our client hired a builder to construct her new building. The builder’s error – he placed the roof trusses six inches higher on the columns than specified on the building plans and in the instructions.

Historically, clients who construct their own buildings rarely make this error – they read the provided documents. Considering hiring a builder? If so, find one who will read and pay attention to the plans and instructions.  Most of all, hire one who is not afraid to ask questions and clarify things if he’s not familiar with constructing a building kit from your chosen vendor.  Just like any other do-it-yourself kits, they are not all “the same.”

Do You Need a General Contractor?

The goal of post frame (pole building) construction is to be able to get the most building, for the dollars invested.

When a general contractor is hired to provide a constructed building, normally about 25% of the cost is going to the general contractor, who never lifts a tool or picks up a board at your building site.  This is not the same as a regular building contractor, who heads up a team of builders, but who also drives nails along with his crew.  A “general contractor” could be someone who drives nails, but usually doesn’t.  They often sit in an office and act as coordinator. Sometimes they visit the building site, and often do not. They may have a salesman who actually visits the jobsite.

If you are not a “hands on” person or one who is willing to invest a few hours of your own time to save thousands of dollars, then maybe hiring a general contractor is your answer.

When people start thinking of “General contractors” visions of dollar signs, disappointment and reality TV shows start floating through their minds.

In most cases, you don’t need or can’t afford a general contractor to be involved in your new pole building. If you have a very complex project, which involves numerous different trades it could be worthwhile to hire one.

Remember those hours the general contractor will save you on the jobsite? Plan on spending twice the amount of time to find a good general contractor. Do your due diligence and hire someone with excellent references and the professionalism to do what he was hired to do.

What exactly is due diligence?

Before even picking up the phone to call a contractor (both general contractors and those who drive nails) – check online to verify they are registered to do business in your state and to verify their contractor’s registration is current. Check their rating with the Better Business Bureau, as well as on Angie’s List. Google them, by looking for, “Phreds Construction complaints” (obviously Phred is a made up name, but you get the picture). If they have complaints, read through them, as sadly people are quick to complain about minor, or even imagined incidents.

Once you have narrowed your potential contractor choices down to no less than three, have them meet with you in person, at your building site to discuss your new pole building. Unless you are absolutely 100% certain as to the dimensions and features of the building you want, you are best to tell the contractor your needs (what problems is the building going to solve) and ask for recommendations as to the best design solution.

Each contractor is going to have different recommendations, so be prepared, after round one, to go back to each one of them, with your final design.

By now, you should have started to form relationships with these general contractors. Time to start asking for documentation from your “leading” candidate. You want a copy of their contractor’s registration, a certificate of liability insurance with you named as additional insured, all warranties in writing, three written references, and the names and phone numbers of their accountant, banker, and at least three major suppliers. It is up to YOU to call all of these people and verify they are financially stable, they do not bounce checks, they pay their bills on time, etc. If the “little voice” inside of your head starts to whisper bad things to you – move on to the next candidate.

The general contractor is supposed to be your lifeline to everything you need done. He supposedly knows the right people to hire, the best places to get supplies, and he is the one who will coordinate all the tiny jobs which need to be done so you aren’t on the phone constantly trying to coordinate what should be happening.

If I sound completely negative on this subject, remember, I was a General Contractor at one time.  I ran 35 crews in 6 states and I had really good crews….and I had those who had no business pounding nails.  What I am saying here is to be careful – and check out everything you can on a General Contractor, before you hire him.  I appreciated every client who did due diligence and  checked me out from top to bottom before they hired me.  I knew they would treat me with the same professionalism as I treated them.

If you begin without unrealistic expectations and do your homework, you can have a satisfactory experience when hiring a general contractor. Just remember, it isn’t free.

Bid Jobs: How Do Contractors Blow Budgets and Still Get Paid?

How do Contractors Blow Budgets and Still Get Paid?

Bid jobs are a miracle all in themselves. Usually they begin from an interested party at an organization realizing, “Hey, we need a new building”.

Bid Jobs

Eventually they will get enough of their cohorts involved to reach a critical mass. One of them will then go forth and (after doing some level of research), obtains some price quotes.

At times, some things tend to be overlooked in the early stages of the process. The most overlooked – between the beginning and the time the project goes out for bid, an architect or engineer will probably be hired. This will generally astronomically increase the complexity of the project. Next most overlooked – if this is a publicly funded building, labor to construct it will probably be governed by the Davis-Bacon Act. This act, dictates prevailing wages and benefits must be paid to laborers who work to assemble the building. This, in itself, can significantly raise the price of the completed project. In many cases, unusual insurance and/or bonding stipulations are required (usually at an architect’s insistence), further bumping up costs.

Assuming all of the previous bid job pitfalls have been survived, the project goes out to bid.

Now reality sets in – as generally the project bids will overrun the initial budget. Often by two or three times budget. Why? Reflect back to the overlooked items above.

The budget either gets bumped up (usually the case, as by now, all are convinced the building has to be built), or the scope of the project is reduced.

And it goes out for bid again…..

I’ve been a general contractor, so I will explain how the results turn out in reality, rather than how they should turn out.

In most cases, the lowest bidder will lose money on the project, exactly as the project is specified in the bid documents.

The answer to this dilemma?  Make darn sure you know exactly what you want in the beginning, and don’t make any changes.

Carefully watch how your money is being spent

After being awarded the bid, the low bidder first does the “OMG – I got the bid”, as they know the lowest bidder has to work like crazy in order to turn a profit.

And how do they turn lemons into lemonade? First, the bid documents are scoured to minimize the cost on every possible item. No stone is left unturned, and if it means a sacrifice in the quality of the finished project, so be it.

The number one way to salvage….Change Orders.

The contractor has been awarded the bid to provide the materials and construct the building. Any changes will be expensive…what is the alternative? Have someone else come in to do some very small portion of the work, or provide an individual item or items? It isn’t happening.

You and your organization have no real practical choice, you have “bought the proverbial farm”.

Change Orders are the low bidders’ salvation; they count on them to guarantee a profitable outcome on any bid jobs.

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