Tag Archives: building engineer

The Argument Against Building Codes

The Argument Against Building Codes

The argument against building codes isn’t a haphazard attempt to loosen restrictions. Instead, it’s often made by experienced contractors and other industry veterans who are frustrated by certain trends and aware of hazards or risks the general public may not realize.

When construction teams “build to code,” what does this really mean? Unfortunately, it often means complying with the bare minimum of legal requirements.

Building-Plans2Ponder this one carefully – “the bare minimum”. Or, in other terms just enough to get by. Would you prefer to fly in jet aircraft designed by engineers who were 4.0 students in college, or ones who barely scored high enough to graduate? How about buying a new car, with a highest speed capability which is equal to the speed limit, and no greater?

No reputable builder or building supplier will defy codes intentionally, but if the only goal is to make sure a property isn’t illegal, they may not have incentive to go above and beyond with quality or safety.

You don’t have to see into the future to know what happens when only the bare minimum requirements are followed. Martin Holladay, who serves as a Green Building Advisor (GBA) Senior Editor, points to historic Vermont homes with rotten sills, undersized rafters and bulging foundations as examples of corner-cutting craftsmanship which only barely complied with the building codes of the time.

Of course, safety is still the primary purpose of building codes. However, because construction crew training isn’t required and building owners aren’t necessarily savvy about the best materials and building practices, construction teams can continue to neglect the quality of their work.

What can the average post frame (pole building) future building owner do about it?

Don’t buy to minimum standards.

Repeat – don’t buy to minimum standards.

Just.  This.  Simple.

Oftentimes the investment to upgrade climactic loads (wind and snow) to standards more rigorous than the minimums is negligible.

I see lots of proposals from pole barn suppliers and builders, which do not even specify the design loads of the buildings being proposed! And even more amazing – PEOPLE BUY THESE BUILDINGS!!

Don’t be a fool, for a fool and his money are soon parted. Know what the minimum loading requirements are (https://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/2013/01/building-department-checklist/).

Demand to have the design wind and snow loads specified on any quotation and most certainly upon any order.

Ask – how much more would it be to increase the design wind speed by 5, 10 or even 20 miles per hour. Ask – about the extra investment to increase snow load capacity.

And after all is said and done, don’t invest in a building which does not come with plans and calculations specific to your building, at your site and sealed by a registered design professional (RDP – engineer or architect).

For more reading on engineered buildings: https://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/2011/12/engineered-buildings/

Pole Barn House Part I

About a decade ago my bride took a phone call from a potential pole barn purchaser. The female caller identified herself and then said despairingly, “My husband wants me to live in a pole barn house…and I don’t want to live in a barn!”

Unfortunately the level of her panic told my wife this caller really had no clue as to what a pole building could “be”. My wife got off the phone, turned in her chair and stated to me “we need to build a barn.” Now I am more than happy to accommodate my lovely bride, but to have her suddenly declare she wanted to “build a barn” definitely got my attention.

Hansen Buildings Admin BuildingAs it turned out, she wanted to build a pole barn house. She wanted the traditional “barn style”, which is called a gambrel, and to finish it “just like a house”. To make a long story short – we did just that. The main part of the building is 48’ x 60’ with two 18’ enclosed sheds. I dropped one of them back a bit from the front end wall to create more of a residential “look” and make it more stylish.

Center of the downstairs houses vehicles, a huge hot tub, a vintage pickup and two huge boats. One of the side sheds is a deluxe office space, with custom cabinets and built in desks.

Upstairs has a large bedroom and master bath walled off, with a circular stairway up to a loft for my wife’s sewing room. The living room is huge, with vaulted ceilings and room for a pool table, desk/office space plus a dining area. Both the bedroom and living room have gas fireplaces.

My wife calls her pole barn house her “home fit for a queen”. I do believe she just may be right!

I’ve noticed post frame building (the caller’s “pole barn”) becoming more popular over the past several years. Having personal experience, I can relay from the trenches.

The resultant of my wife’s conversation was we decided to use post frame construction to construct a building which could be used residentially. We also felt post frame offered advantages which no other form of construction could.

Here are the Good, the Bad and the ugly of our over 8,000 square foot post frame building:


Even though I truly understand post frame construction, I appreciate Building Departments which actually perform structural plan reviews and field inspections. Where the building is located, for the price of an average Domino’s® Pizza order, one can obtain a Building Permit – with no inspections!

The HVAC system – it is also Good….until it needs to be serviced, as it is nearly impossible to find a contractor who is knowledgeable and will travel to 90 miles South of Fargo.

We ordered Traco triple glazed Low-E argon vinyl windows of various sizes, styles and dimensions, including a series of 10 which make an arch 24 feet wide and 12 feet tall. One of the selling points by wholesaler Guardian Building Products was the lifetime warranty. Only after the windows began failing (including one which literally fell out of the vinyl) did I find Traco had sold their vinyl line and my warranty was worthless.


We had to get a variance as an accessory building in this particular jurisdiction was limited to a 10 foot eave. My wife convinced them of just how impractical the limitation was, and they stamped her request as “approved”.

At times Building Contractors tend to “go their own way” – and ours was no different. We ended up with stairs so steep they never would meet Code, yet there would have been plenty of room for them to have been done right.

The elevator. Yes, elevator. My wife told me she wasn’t going to hike up a 20 foot rise of stairs forever. The pneumatic elevator is a nifty idea, and it is fabulous when it runs. It does require some adjusting from time to time to keep it operating.


The building is on an ideal site on a lot of over two acres. The land to the North is owned by the State of Dakota for a game refuge and to the South, one can see six miles up Lake Traverse to Browns Valley, MN.

The building uses geothermal wells as part of the HVAC system. A series of 275 foot deep wells are incorporated in it. Once past the sticker shock of the system, it is very cost effective. We were told it would take 24 hours to get building up to temperature, however it is closer to four to six hours.

Dale and Tom from Timber Technologies provided glu-laminated Titan Timbers as long as 50 feet in four ply 2×8 for the overall height of 44 feet above grade. After they were placed and concreted in we had some 60 miles per hour winds. The tops of the columns reminded me of watching the Tameracks near our Spokane, WA area home which bend in the wind, but never break.

This building is gambrel (barn) style. The center portion has a 20 foot tall eave, and is 48 feet wide. The roof pitch break is eight feet from each side horizontally and 16 feet vertically. The upper portion of the roof has a 6/12 roof slope. The center portion has clear span wood parallel chord floor trusses which are 44 inches thick. From top of slab to ceiling in this 48 by 60 area is 16 feet. It was designed to be a one-half court basketball court. Above this are gambrel trusses with a 16 foot ceiling height – the inside slope of the gambrel is 12/12 which makes for some unique interior spaces.

Truss fabricator WB Components and the engineers at Alpine Engineered Products were exceptional to work with, they never said no and always were looking for a better design solution.

BIBS insulation is the bomb. I had used it in the walls of my garage shop in previous years. Besides affording a nice R-value, it fills all of the voids, making for a very quiet interior, even when the wind is howling outside.

One of the keys to success is not in how we do the job right the first time, but how we take care of the mistakes. Each side of the gambrel portion of the building has an 18 foot wide side shed, with I joist rafters. The rafters were ordered from The Home Depot® in Fargo, who had a great price. The challenge – only AFTER the said builder had installed them did he realize the sent a smaller size than what was ordered and needed to carry the load! The Home Depot® stepped up and provided enough additional I joists to cut the spacing in ½ – at no additional charge

But  – there’s more!  Come back tomorrow for a client’s experience in building a pole barn house.

Letter From a Building Official

A fair number of Building Officials are readers of my blog. This is not meant to offend any, but is an example of what pole building providers are faced with on a regular basis.  The following is a letter to one of our clients:

“Mr. Fxxxxxx,

This is the list items that need to be addressed;

  1. The footings supporting the “Girder Loads” (any footing with the truss bearing on the posts) will need to be 24” wide x 12” deep at a minimum of 30” below grade. Any footing supporting a “non-point load or concentrated load” will need to be a minimum of 18” in width.
  2. The posts cannot be “encased” in concrete footing.
  3.  The proposed Roof Trusses “Girder Trusses” will need to be certified by a Professional Engineer registered in the State of Maryland. I will need a copy of the sealed drawings for our file and a copy will need to be at the job site during the framing inspection as well.
  4. The use of “Ledger Locks” has not been approved by our jurisdiction for use in Pole Buildings. You will need to use 2 pcs. (min) ½” carriage bolts at each post to Girder/Beam connection.
  5. The concrete slab cannot be tied into the posts as specified on the building plans. The posts must be isolated from the concrete slab by use of a minimum ½” expansion joint.

You may want to forward this info to the Pole Barn Company so they can make any changes to your plans.”

To begin with, the Building Official is now putting himself in the position of being “Engineer of Record”, as he is spelling out how he wants the building to be constructed. Chances are the county attorney would not be pleased by his taking on this liability.

Jumping past opening up this can of worms….as far as we can find from our research there is no justification for a footing of 24 inch width, having to be 12 inches in depth. One engineer’s table we found online, does not specify a 12 inch thick concrete pad footing for a column – until the footing would be supporting 48 kips (a kip is 1,000 pounds of force) and be 6 feet in diameter!

The posts cannot be “encased” in concrete footing? I hate to point out 1805.7.3 of the International Building Code (IBC)….which directly contradicts this Building Official statement.

Number three on the list – a non-issue.

Plans Examiner seems to be “stepping out” a little on this one. “Ledger Locks” happen to have an ICC-ES approval number (#1078). With proven published values, as well as International Building Code approval….he’s not looking good on this one. Assuming both the truss and the column were Southern Pine, those ½” bolts are good for only about 350# of resistance each.

Now we will get to “the posts must be isolated from the concrete slab”. IBC 1805.7.2.2 has the formula for the embedment of a constrained column…”where constraint is provided at the ground surface, such as a rigid floor or pavement”. The National Frame Builders Association “Post-Frame Building Design Manual” in Section 8.2.2 specifies, “An example of a constrained post foundation would be when the post is installed immediately adjacent to a concrete slab floor in the building”.

The client ends up being faced with either complying with these ridiculous requirements or paying for an engineer to fight the battle. This, in my humble opinion, is a public servant, who is not serving the public.