Tag Archives: fully engineered building

You Can’t Build it Here Part II

You Can’t Build It Here Part II

If you missed part I, go back two days to find it.

Continuing on…

Post frame homes can save thousands of dollars in excavation, footing and foundation forming and concrete costs inherent to stick framing. This is due to use of isolated widely spaced wood columns either embedded or placed into brackets on concrete piers.  Post frame construction allows greater flexibility of design for wide door and window openings without requiring structural headers. It has fewer framing members touching both exterior and interior surfaces, reducing thermal transference issues. Deep wall cavities and use of raised heel trusses provide for an ability to super insulate. Material use is minimized by elimination of redundant members so often found in stud walls. Add to this – an average physically capable person, who can and will read instructions, can successfully erect their own beautiful home!

Today’s fully engineered post frame homes are not your grandfather’s pole barn. Although steel siding and roofing will prove to be more cost effective and durable than any other cladding materials – any exterior surfacing is possible. As an example, one of our clients is building on Lake Havasu, Arizona with a concrete tile roof and stucco for exterior wall finishes.

There are jurisdictions sadly attempting to prevent ‘pole barn houses’ in their neighborhoods. Scenarios usually go something like this – a potential homeowner inquires to their local building permit issuing authority and asks, “Can I build a pole barn home here”? Too often (in my opinion one time is too often) they are told flatly no. Most of these who do move forward, automatically default to an easy route and stick frame.

What is not being asked by these potential post frame home owners is, “Can you provide your written ordinance prohibiting fully engineered post-frame homes”?

Use of terms such as “pole barn” or “pole building” home, barndominium, shouse or shop/house oftentimes cause permitting waters to become clouded. Presenting as a “fully engineered post-frame home” dramatically decreases initial resistance.

My personal experience is well over 90% of these jurisdictions have no such written ordinance. And if it is not in writing, and duly approved by an elected governing body, then it does not exist. When pointed out no written prohibiting ordinance exists, this has always resulted in approval.

In those rare instances where an adopted written statute does appear, I have often appealed to legal counsel for the jurisdiction. I kindly explain, in trying to rule out a 100% Code conforming structural building system, they are attempting unlawfully to restrict free trade and this could result in a protracted (and expensive) legal battle they cannot win. Municipalities do not want to have to explain to their constituents how good money was thrown after bad. For me, in all but a single instance, this has resulted in approval to move forward.

Other courses of action would include taking this issue to the jurisdiction’s governing body (City/town counsel or county commissioners) and requesting their statue be overturned or amended. This can prove to be a lengthy process as the wheel of progress moves slowly.

Now my one single (and ongoing) challenge – Madison County, Illinois. In their Ordinance #: 2020-02 “Ordinance authorizing a text amendment to Chapter 93 of the Madison County Code of Ordinances”:


(F) “R-1”, “R-2”, “R-3”, and “R-4” Permitted uses.

     (5) Single-family dwelling, frame construction only.

Madison County’s Planning and Zoning Department’s position is “frame” means stick frame only. I have reached out to Madison County State’s Attorney’s Office and as there is no pending actual permit application, they feel there is no compelling reason to address this issue.

Planning and Zoning Departments can regulate things such as setbacks, building footprints, heights, siding and roofing materials, even colors! However it is unlawful to preclude any Code approved, engineered structural building system.

In my humble opinion, we will see entire subdivisions filled with post-frame homes, as affordable housing becomes less and less affordable.

Engineered Buildings Part III: Exempt Agricultural Buildings

The International Building Code (IBC) is the primary non-residential United States model building code. Although the code covers all buildings, and has been adopted to varying degrees in all 50 states, most agricultural buildings are not designed in accordance with its provisions. This is because most state and local governments which adopt the IBC exempt “buildings used exclusively for farming purposes” from all building code provisions.

Due to this special agricultural exemption many builders are quick to tell farmers they do not need to have their agricultural buildings engineered. While this is absolutely true, it is foolish.

A consumer deciding they do not need to have their building engineered if it is code exempt, a permit is not required, or their Building Department does not require engineered plans, is no different than deciding you don’t need to wear a seat belt just because no one forces you to wear one.

Many builders or building kit providers will tell clients a fully engineered building costs more. While this may be true for smaller buildings, it is generally not true for larger buildings. Purchasing a large non-engineered building for less than the price of a fully engineered building is likely buying a relatively dangerous building. This results from non-engineered buildings not being balanced in overall design terms.

Engineered structures generally contain components which are either not needed or are larger than needed, unnecessarily driving up building costs. At the same time, non-engineered structures are frequently missing critical components and/or have numerous under-designed components and this places building occupants in grave danger.

Keep in mind building codes establish minimum performance levels for buildings. These include built in safety factors, which insure properly designed buildings meet minimum performance standards. Any statement implying properly engineered buildings are over-designed is likely to just not be true.

I believe all buildings should be fully engineered. Non-engineered buildings needlessly endanger those who occupy them. A lack of building engineering is responsible for countless animal deaths every year, as well as millions of dollars in damage to building contents.

With respect to a consumer, I highly recommend asking for written confirmation their building is designed to meet IBC structural performance criteria. This written document should be structural plans and calculations “wet signed and sealed” by a qualified registered professional engineer (not a photo copy), and should be specific to the address where the building will be constructed.

Be extremely leery of builders who erect buildings designed and supplied by a local lumber yard. The “engineering” of many “lumber yard” building kits is often quite limited or even non-existent. It is also important to understand just because a purchase includes nice looking plan drawings does not mean the building has been properly engineered.

Every time a large storm brings down buildings, the construction industry takes a hit as code officials, insurance companies and consumers begin to question building system integrity. Insurance premiums go up on all structures, even those which are fully-engineered.

What should be of major concern is the sheer number and steady increase in large building failures. This occurring should not surprise anyone. Double structure size will double component numbers, and this alone approximately doubles structure failure probability.

From a consumer safety perspective, large building failures are more a concern than small building failures because there is generally a greater potential for loss of life in larger facilities. In response, some individuals have suggested code exemptions for low risk buildings be terminated, at least for larger structures. I am not for more government intervention but buildings are not failing due to a building code exemption.  They are failing because they are not properly engineered and/or constructed.

Invariably, when reports of another non-engineered building failure surface, someone will exclaim “they sure don’t build them like they used to.” My typical response is, “Be thankful, because past generation buildings do not come close to modern fully-engineered building performance levels.”

The sheer size of many of today’s buildings, distances they clearspan and loads they can withstand make them true engineering marvels. The low per square foot cost of pole buildings is a reflection of efficient material usage. This efficiency, when coupled with their durability makes the modern, fully engineering pole building probably the world’s most environmentally friendly or “greenest” structures.

My advice, whether your building is “ag exempt” or not, at a minimum, purchase a building which is fully engineered.  Insist your pole building is designed to codes using the loading values for the building site.  Don’t cheap out.  Be safe… not sorry.