Tag Archives: firewalls

Building Department Checklist Part I


I Can Build, I Can Build!

Whoa there Nellie…..before getting all carried away, there are 14 essential questions to have on your Building Department Checklist, in order to ensure structural portions of your new building process goes off without a hitch.  I will cover the first seven today, finishing up tomorrow, so you have a chance to take notes, start your own home file folder of “what to do before I build”.  Careful preparation will be key to having a successful building outcome (whether post frame or some other structural building system).

Provide answers to these questions to your potential building providers!

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE: Building Departments’ required snow and wind loads are absolute minimums in an attempt to prevent loss of life during extreme events. They are not established to prevent your building from being destroyed. Consider asking your providers for added investment required to increase wind and/or snow loads beyond these minimums.

#1 What are required setbacks from streets, property lines, existing structures, septic systems, etc.?

Seemingly every jurisdiction has its own set of rules when it comes to setbacks. Want to build closer to a property line or existing structure than distance given? Ask about firewalls. If your building includes a firewall, you can often build closer to a property line. Creating an unusable space between your new building and a property line isn’t very practical. Being able to minimize this space could easily offset a small firewall investment. As far as my experience, you cannot dump weather (rain or snow) off a roof onto any neighbor’s lot, or into an alleyway – so keep those factors in mind.

#2 What Building Code will be applicable to this building?

Code is Code, right? Except when it has a “residential” and also has a “building” version and they do not entirely agree with each other.

Also, every three years Building Codes get a rewrite. One might not think there should be many changes. Surprise! With new research even things seemingly as simple as how snow loads are applied to roofs…changes. Obviously important to know what Code version (e.g. 2012, 2015, 2018, 2021) will be used.


#3 If building will be in snow country, what is GROUND snow load (abbreviated as Pg)?

Make sure you are clear in asking this question specific to “ground”. When you get to #4, you will see why.  Too many times we’ve had clients who asked their building official what their “snow load” will be, and B.O. (Building Official) replied using whichever value they are used to quoting.  Lost in communication was being specific about “ground” or “roof” snow load.

As well, what snow exposure factor (Ce) applies where a building will be located? Put simply, will the roof be fully exposed to wind from all directions, partially exposed to wind, or sheltered by being located tight in among conifer trees qualifying as obstructions? Right now will be a good time to stand at your proposed building site and take pictures in all four directions, and then getting your B.O. to give their determination of snow exposure factor, based upon these photos.

#4 What is Flat Roof Snow Load (Pf)?

Since 2000, Building Codes are written with flat roof snow load being calculated from ground snow load. Design snow load has become quite a science, taking into account a myriad of variables to arrive with a specific roof load for any given set of circumstances.

Unfortunately, some Building Departments have yet to come to grips with this, so they mandate use of a specified flat roof snow load, ignoring laws of physics.

Make certain to clearly understand information provided by your Building Department in regards to snow loads. Failure to do so could result in an expensive lesson.

#5 What is “Ultimate Design” or Vult wind speed in miles per hour?

Lowest possible Vult wind speed (100 miles per hour) only applies in three possible states – California, Oregon and Washington for Risk Category I structures. Everywhere else has a minimum of 105 mph.  Highest United States requirement of 200 mph for Risk Category III and IV buildings comes along portions of Florida’s coastline (although there are scattered areas nationally defined as “Special Wind Regions).  Don’t assume a friend of yours who lives in your same city has your same wind speed.  City of Tacoma, WA has six different wind speeds within city limits!

Vult and nominal design wind speed (Vasd) are different and an errant choice could result in significant under design (or failure). Make certain to always get Vult values.

#6 What is wind exposure (B, C or D)?

Please Take a few minutes to understand their differences:


A Building Department can add hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars to your project cost, by trying to mandate an excessive wind exposure.  Once again, a good place for photographs in all four directions from your building site being shared with your Building Department.  Some jurisdictions “assume” worst case scenarios.  Meaning, your property could very well have all four sides protected and easily “fit” category B wind exposure requirements.  However, your jurisdiction may have their own requirement for every site in their jurisdiction to be wind exposure C, no matter what.  It’s their call.

#7 Are “wind rated” overhead doors required?

Usually this requirements enforcement occurs in hurricane regions. My personal opinion – if buying an overhead door, invest a few extra dollars to get one rated for design wind speeds where your building will be constructed. Truly a “better safe, than sorry” type situation.

I’ve covered seven most important questions for your Building Department Checklist, and they really weren’t so difficult, were they?  Come back tomorrow to find out the last seven!

Pole Barn House Part II

BarndominiumIf you didn’t read yesterday’s blog – it may be helpful to go back and read about my personal pole building house, inspired by my bride of 14 years.

And then, moving on to sharing from another pole barn house challenge:


We have a client in Colorado who has been trying to get a permit to build his combination garage and pole barn house since last fall. His building is similar to ours (a gambrel) with a smaller footprint of 2880 square feet. Upstairs will be a 1440 square foot living quarters. The downstairs is to be used strictly for the owner’s vehicles.

Should be easy, right?

I (as well as most of the post frame industry) have had little direct involvement with residential post frame. Here the Building Official is giving me a free lesson:

“….. forwarded me your email to help explain to you what is going on with the barn with dwelling above as noted below in your email.  The size/area of the overall structure kicks the entire structure into the 2012 IBC for review. As you know the R-3 fire area kicks the entire building into the sprinkler system requirements as noted in section 903.2.8 of the 2012 IBC. The character size/area and use of the barn/garage area within the structure lends itself to the S-2 classification except that it is private use and not commercial use. Thus locally we have determined to leave such areas classified as group U occupancies while having them meet the requirements of the S-2 occupancy. This being said, you need to look at foot note b of Table 508.4 in the 2012 IBC which states; The required separation from areas used only for private or pleasure vehicles shall be reduced by 1-hour but to not less than 1-hour.  

 Due to the possible mix of garage and barn type uses with these structures, the fuel loads in the unfortunate event of a fire can be extremely significant within the mixed barn/garage environment. Consider vehicles of varying types with fuel in their tanks, storage cans of fuel, paints, solvents of varying types, hay, straw, wood shavings or chips, etc.,. We would be well within the scope of the intent of the code to jump to an even higher hazard occupancy classification which would lead to not only a different type of sprinkler system but also maintaining a 2 to 3-hour separation between the occupancies within the structure. Locally we have decided to take the approach noted above in the first paragraph and allow the owners of such structures two options.

Option 1 is to divide up the occupancy areas within the structure with a 2-hour Fire Wall (as described in section 706) such that in the eyes of the code, we have two separate structures. The dwelling area may then be constructed under the IRC instead of the IBC. If the barn or garage area with the dwelling area removed is still over 3,000 square feet it would still fall under the IBC for review and meet the requirements needed for that review. If the garage/barn area left over from subtracting out the dwelling area is less than 3,000 square feet, it too may be constructed under the 2012 IRC as an accessory structure. Again, once the true 2-hour Fire Wall exists the code will allow us to look at each one as a separate structure. The key here is it must be a true Fire Wall type separation and not a Fire Barrier. Considering horizontal fire wall assemblies, there is some justification to make them 3-hour instead of 2-hour so that they serve their intended purpose in the best of ways. We have not gone to the 3-hour on horizontal fire wall assemblies at this point.

 Option 2 is to fully sprinkle the structure and provide the “not less than 1-hour” fire separation between the occupancies concerned (see leading paragraph notes). The local Fire Department having jurisdiction would need to review the structure being sprinkled to decide which type of sprinkler system is needed for proper structure protection.“

Due to the versatility of post frame buildings, we will see some very complex structures, with an entirely new challenges to be faced. A pole barn house is extremely efficient, functional, not to mention affordable at a lesser cost than stick built. It is a brave new world we are entering!




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.

Exterior Drywall

Hansen Pole Buildings is currently designing a building for a golf course in Washington. While basically a two story storage building, it also includes a meeting room area which can be utilized for gatherings (I believe throwing darts was mentioned).

Anyhow – I digress….the real reason behind this article is a discussion of the solution to a fire protection issue along one sidewall of the new building.

Most modern homes have gypsum wallboard, usually ½ inch thick on the walls. Visit any big box building material supply (honestly – most of us are compelled to visit one every time we drive by) and easily viewed are unit upon unit of white drywall. White drywall is the most cost-effective and most commonly used form of interior wall covering. It is manufactured in a variety of thicknesses, everything from quarter-inch to a full-inch thick, and code will dictate the thickness depending upon use and span.

Fire-resistant gypsum board, also known as Type X, is required in certain locations — such as the one sidewall of this building, which is adjacent to another nearby structure. Attaching a new post frame garage to a home – good chance is a layer of Type X will be required between the two differing occupancies. It also may be required in other locations by local ordinance. Each state and each permit issuing jurisdiction within each state may have different building codes which mandate not only where Type X wallboard must be used, but also what minimum thickness of drywall must be used. There may even be stipulations regarding the type of fasteners — nails and glue, for instance — which must be used to secure the board.

For our particular case, the Building Official is looking for a single layer of 5/8 inch thick Type X drywall to be installed between the wall steel and the sidewall girts.

In the building we are designing with the wallboard on the outside of the wall framing, we recommended the use of moisture-resistant material. Drywall which is color-coded green is moisture-resistant. In residential applications, green drywall is used in areas of high humidity such as kitchens and in certain areas of bathrooms. Some municipalities do not allow the use of green drywall around showers and may restrict its use in laundry rooms.

For specifics as to what thickness and type of drywall should be used for a specific application, as well as how it should be attached, always consult with your local Building Department.

And, don’t forget; always properly dispose of any drywall waste material.  Contact your local waste management