The Tuff Shed Work-Around

19 thoughts on “The Tuff Shed Work-Around”

  1. “I discovered that soil engineers have the highest liability insurance rates of all the related professions. Everyone all up and down the chain needs someone else to point to in a highly litigious environment and the soil guy is the last one with his fingerprints on the documents.”

    There are many complexities behind this, especially in California. One is that most of the ‘easy’ building sites have been used up, either for buildings, agriculture, or roads. So there is a constant conflict over difficult areas that have problems with water, fire, or proximity to earthquake faults.
    There was a case in, IIRC, Anaheim Hills where an occasional stream bed was investigated as a homebuilding site. This began in the 1970s when the surrounding area was covered with houses. Various developers submitted plans to the city to build on the hillside. The answer, for some decades, from the city inspectors was, “That’s a rain run-off area and unsuitable for construction.” After 25 or so years and changes in city administration, a developer got approval to build houses. About ten years later, during one of SoCal’s wet winters, the houses began sliding down the hill and were destroyed. There was a great deal of finger pointing about liability. The city maintained that they only inspect construction and that it’s up to the builder(s) to do it properly. The developer was long gone. The former home owners claimed the city should have either not allowed construction there or informed the buyers of the potential for rain related trouble. IIRC there were some insurance payouts.
    So the Soil Engineer, sometimes referred to as a “Geologist”, has to have very good hindsight and foresight. As well as insurance for “errors and omissions”.
    In the California construction Dilbert follies, a friend wanted to build a workshop, the HOA insisted it be called a “barn”, behind his house. He researched options and found a kit that filled the need. The kit came with plans, which specified a concrete slab, and some required wood to complete the structure, this being a metal building. However, being California, it was required that the plans be signed by an engineer, licensed in California. Earthquakes, you know. There was no difference in the plans, materials, or assembly of the building. Just that signature and stamp, which raised the cost of the kit/plans by about 20%.

    My neighbor has built two structures on his property. A shed and a garage. Neither got “permits” and there was no hassle from the local inspectors. To avoid such ‘help’ and the increased expense it entails I would suggest the following;
    Build during times of construction/sales ‘booms’. Inspectors are then busy and less likely to be looking into backyards.
    Build quickly and paint the finished structure for similar reasons.

    Obviously if one lives in an area that requires govmnt inspection at the time of sale, this could be a problem.
    I made the opposite mistakes being less knowledgeable at the time that I built a shed. I was working a lot of overtime then, in 2009 and so took a few months to get much done. The local inspectors had little to do in the “recession” so were out looking for “customers”. With their help I took two feet off the length of the framing (has to be 120 sq ft or less, 140 is NFG), visited about six departments at the county govmnt headquarters, and paid about the same in ‘fees’ to said departments as the cost of materials. They had to be sure there was not too many sq ft of buildings on the property, 2/3s acre. And that the shed would not interfere with the septic system. Which it turned out they had no idea of the system’s location. The accepted a hand drawn plan from the PO when there was a remodel in progress in 1998, another “boom” construction time. That drawing was incorrect by about 50 ft. and even the inaccurate drawing was incompatible with the regulations about location of septic systems. Also it was required to fill out forms as to what would happen to any unused materials and pay another fee.
    It’s really a egregiously paranoid system where it is assumed that everyone is trying to, covertly, do something “illegal”.

    Finally about the slab crack. It could be due to typical ground expansion and contraction when the California clay is wet or dry. Since most of California goes through a 6-7 month drought every year, the clay dries out, shrinks and anything built on it will be stressed. In recent times the 10 year low rainfall has probably made this worse. Another possibility is that there could have been a tree nearby and the roots got under the slab and distorted it.
    This happened to the same neighbor’s, mentioned above, smaller rental house before he bought the place. Since he is experienced in concrete work and has the equipment, he got his BobCat with breaker hammer into the effected garage and broke up the cracked area. He dug a hole at the slab corner and jacked the low part even with the rest. Then filled in the void with new concrete and rebar. All done without the help of inspectors or ‘permits’. He also replaced the driveways of both houses and built a new walkway and stairs to the front door of the main house.
    About 100 years ago many people in the USA built their own houses. Often with the help of friends and neighbors. Many of those are still in use. No inspectors needed.
    I can certainly understand the need for “inspections”. I know several people that do construction and they have many tales of corner cutting similar to the other report here of missing rebar. However most of the system is distorted and corrupt. There are reports of extortion and bribes. In nearby L. A. county/city the Building and Safety department gets in the news for that regularly.

  2. Hola, algunos aspectos de su casa me recuerdas algunos casos de estudio que aparecen en suburbia.com (Australia)

  3. Have you tried getting ugly with the constituent service staff of the local council member? They may have an interest in straightening your path.

  4. It doesn’t make me at all happy to know others have had the same experiences I’ve had. Thanks for the tip and remember, we get what we vote for.

  5. I’m in SoCal and I have a crack that runs throughout my foundation – into the garage AND the house. All my neighbors have the same thing. The contractor that built the houses in the 1960s would pour the foundation around the rebar, get it inspected, then rip the rebar out and take it to the next house. He went to jail and we have cracks. Still, the houses have lasted for 60 years so I suppose they will continue to last for a while longer. At least I hope so!

  6. Three degrees for a crack. Gosh.

    We had a duplex rental in Cedar City UT that had subsidence problems. It’s a known issue there. Millennia of dirt flowing down mountains onto the flat valley means some areas have strata of soil that can shift. One unit in the duplex developed serious cracks in walls, ceilings. Some cracks in floors. Windows and doors got hard to close.

    The remediation solution wasn’t cheap. However, it worked and we eventually sold the duplex at a profit.

    Sixteen piers were drilled into bedrock 40 feet down and attached to the house. An air pump gadget the size of a small suitcase had air tubes connecting to the piers that had devices whereby that part of the duplex could be raised or lowered. A GPS in the house monitored everything. When everything was level, they locked all the piers in place. It was pretty astonishing, and it worked.

    The remediation company worked with an engineering firm. To my knowledge no permits were needed. Or if they were, it was cheap and not an issue.

    The remediation company does jobs all over Utah, sometimes apartments and office buildings.

  7. Sounds familiar. I was told that an outbuilding in which people would spend time rather than storage for stuff had to have among other things two ways out, a window that could not also be an entrance or exit and heat and air conditioning. I’m not even required to have air conditioning in my main house. You can get the air conditioning waived but just the idea of it seems too much. On the other hand our rural area has a problem with toxic trash, motor oil, transmission fluid and electronic waste and there is no real system for disposal. People dump it on the side of the road but even if they wanted to do the right thing there is virtually no one who will take the stuff or they do but for fee and only on Thursdays between 10 and 12:30 or something. Society regulates what is important, and probably profit producing, for a fairly small minority of people.

  8. Just sad all the way around. $400/sf?!!!! That’s insane, even in Sonoma County…….I would have thought perhaps half that, at most. And the triple layer cake of professional engineers. Good Lord.

    You know, reading some of your past stuff I see you were at some sort of symposium at Chapman University in Orange, which happens to be where I am writing this. (they’re are very generous to the local community, as they make the library and other public spaces available). You probably didn’t get a chance to walk around campus and the surrounding neighborhood but……there is an area of @ one-square mile of “Old Towne Orange”, including @ 1300 homes that was made a National Historic District in 1997. Traditional grid street layout from the late 1800s, most homes date 1900-1925 or so. In some ways quite unremarkable, if you’ve spend any time in the Midwest. Quite a novelty in SoCal.

    It’s an enjoyable walking area, if you have interest in 100 year old architecture (and giant, similarly-aged trees) . Some of the smaller little one-story bungalows are perhaps 600 sq. ft. as built. I pause, and look at some, and I think: “I’ve got some decent, better-than-average but by no means exceptional carpentry skills. Hell, I could probably build that myself, with a little help here and there where a bit more specialized skill is required. But other than that it looks simple enough to me!”

    When you think about it, that’s probably how a number of them WERE built. By general handymen and tradesmen with a bit of skill and practice. Just average Joes, using some sketches on pieces of paper and some general experienced-based rules.

    And now? Three P.E.s to right a cracked garage floor. I think we have over-complicated (and over-priced) the hell out of everything.

    Dial up your Google Street View and do the next best thing to visiting. I guarantee you’ll want to linger a bit next time you actually visit “IRL”, as the kids say. LOL

    PS…… I was walking down one of the streets that link the Chapman campus with Chapman Avenue, which is the E-W “main drag” in town. I’m thinking…….why does this neighborhood look so much appealing than my 1998-era suburban cul-de-sac in Irvine? Even a rank amateur like myself didn’t take long to figure it out. LOL There are very few alleys, but…….builders of 100 years ago had the good sense of putting the garages (and likely barns before that) IN THE BACK, rather than right up front nuzzling the street. So instead of nothing but cars in driveways and garage door after garage door, perhaps punctuated by a palm tree, one instead sees a pleasant mix of expansive, Craftsman-style porch, front lawn, and trees as one walks along from block to block.

    How did they get it so right 100 years ago and seemingly make it demonstrably worse today? And keep making the same mistakes? And no one notices…….well few, at any rate?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Towne,_Orange_Historic_District

    1. “How did they get it so right 100 years ago?”
      Cars are now the dominant life-form in the U.S. Therefore, AUTOMOBILE space has taken priority over HUMAN space.

  9. “a tiny crack in the back corner of the garage foundation”
    ” yet we need three different experts with advanced degrees?”
    That is really ridiculous.
    Personally I would patch it and monitor for more movement.
    Or research exactly what a full repair would require,
    then instruct a contractor fully so they don’t feel liable,
    as long as they follow your instructions properly.
    That pine tree in the front yard looks quite big and close to the house.
    (though hard to tell from the photo)
    Maybe it could cause foundation issues if it gets much bigger.

  10. Why worry about a slab crack in construction that is >60 yrs old? It has probably stopped moving for the last 40 yrs. If it bothers you pour another slab on top and bond it to the one below. Put in steel reinforcing and you will never see the crack again. Generally these cracks occurred because the loads are concentrated at the perimeter of the slab and there is no reinforcing. Correct me if i’m wrong but i suspect that your slab cracked near the middle along the same orientation as the long wall of the garage and may have lifted i.e. the crack edges are higher than the slab edge.
    My first house had an enormous crack along the long foundation wall in the basement and another one in the foundation wall supporting the main floor in the carport. After some years, long before i bought it, the foundation stopped moving. I never attempted to fix the issue created in the main floor over the carport when i framed the carport in because i did not want to affect the tar & gravel roof which had stretched over time as a result of the settling.
    If the crack is a tripping hazard and you would like to keep a concrete surface, just patch it and consider floor leveler instead of another slab.

    James

  11. We live in a ‘Manufactured Home Community’ (aka; mobile home park) of some vintage that originally supplied a small (6’x8′) metal shed on each homesite for extra storage. The one that was on our plot leaked like a sieve due to roof damage from a fallen tree limb some while back. So we had it removed and, after seeking permission from park management, replaced it with an 8’x12′ Tuffshed – the only requirement was to submit a drawing indicating where we intended to put it. The only downside is that it has to remain should we ever decide to move.

  12. “The work-arounds are the fix.”

    Agreed. Avoid the hoops instead of jumping through them. Keeps costs low by doing what you can by yourself. And you can do more than you think you can.

    In my small city, my unregulated and unpermitted shed is allowed to be up to 144 s.f. (footprint, not interior) and 15 feet high. That’s a lot of space! I’d better get started before they change the rules.

  13. So is it a litigation issue or a regulatory issue? I know you are about the workarounds, and I can appreciate that, but I would be interested in fixing the overall problem. It seems like this infects lots of areas of life now.

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