14 Things to Look for When Choosing a Pole Barn Builder
May 11, 2016
A quality pole barn doesn’t build itself. Besides the right design and materials, quality construction is the key to a long, minimal-maintenance life. Use this checklist of 14 criteria when selecting a pole barn builder.
We get a lot of questions on our blog, and some of them require a more detailed response. This post was prompted by the question:
“You mentioned that a good crew will understand the engineering behind a building’s design. Does a good crew usually have a structural engineer on the team? We are trying to look for a company to build the agricultural building for our business. We don’t want to hire just any company. How can you know if a company understands the engineering behind a building?”
It’s a great question, and it actually lends itself to a series of bigger questions. What is the criteria for selecting a great construction crew? We put together this checklist to not only answer the question above, but to help you find the right professionals for your project.
The 14-Point Checklist for Choosing Pole Barn Builders
For many of these items, we turned to the National Frame Building Association (NFBA) and their criteria, and we also interviewed Mark Werbeckes, Constructions Services Manager for Wick Buildings.
After you’ve read through the list below, listen to this audio interview with Mark on how to find a quality construction crew.
Ok, let’s dig in!
1. Trained and certified foreman
Look for a quality foreman. A crew doesn’t necessarily need an engineer, but the foreman should have sufficient training to be able to build and troubleshoot according to the plans as designed under the guidance of a licensed professional engineer (PE).
How do you know a team can read a PE’s plans and is well-trained? In the case of a pole barn, look for a builder that has received a certification by the National Frame Building Association.
To be NFBA accredited, a post-frame builder must renew their accreditation every two years, with one or more employees of the company earning 12 continuing education units (CEUs) within that time. Ask about your builder’s ongoing training.
2. Engineer on staff
A construction company doesn’t need a licensed professional engineer on staff to build according to plans. However, if they do, that’s another feather in their cap and an indication of the quality of their planning process.
There’s no substitute for experience. Your crew should have least 3 to 5 years of relevant experience.
What do we mean by relevant experience? Take the example above: Have they built ag buildings before? Have they worked on similar pole barn structures? You really don’t want a team cutting its teeth on your project.
4. Cohesive crew
Experience is one thing. But project experience as a crew is critical. How long has the crew worked together? The longer a crew works together, the more efficient they will be. For example, the moment they arrive at the site, they know who is getting materials ready and who is pulling tools off the truck. Shared experience builds this type of efficiency.
5. 3-4 member crew
The size of a construction crew will vary. (Take a look at this monstrous pole barn project as an example.) However, the most efficient crew for a pole barn of any size consists of three to four members.
A two-member crew is capable of building smaller-sized buildings (i.e. under 30-foot wide), but for safety sake, Wick Buildings tries to have at least three crew members working during certain aspects of the building process for tasks like setting trusses, or installing purlins or roof steel.
6. Excellent communication
You’ll find the key attribute behind a cohesive, experienced crew is their ability to communicate effectively. Know that if the foreman is communicating effectively with you as the customer, he or she will likely be doing the same with the rest of the crew.
The NFBA really emphasizes safety, and rightly so. Legislation late last year allowed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to raise proposed fines by about 80% (here’s why). As a result, crews should be paying closer attention to safety.
This video is a bit dated, but it shows what a crew supervisor must monitor in terms for safety.
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The NFBA has a special program that recognizes excellence in safety. It requires participants to perform a safety audit of their own operation. Participants have agreed that it’s a painful, but extremely beneficial task.
8. The right materials
While this ties into design, a quality construction crew doesn’t cut corners on materials. If you receive a few bids and you see drastic price swings, inquire about materials. Make sure the bidding company isn’t cutting corners to lower their overall price.
9. Good offline and online reviews
As Mark Werbeckes noted in the audio interview, you absolutely want to ask for references from past customers. But don’t restrict your search to just previous customers.
While reviews of post-frame builders may not be as common as residential construction crews, it doesn’t hurt to peruse the Internet in search of online reviews. Remember to take these reviews with a grain of salt.
Just because a builder only has 3 reviews, and one of them is terrible, doesn’t mean the builder is horrible. They just may not be putting in the effort to ask good customers to write a review (people with a complaint tend to be the ones writing reviews).
10. Straightforward marketing and advertising
If you found a builder via marketing, avoid anyone with ads or offers that seem too good to be true. Look for a builder that showcases their reputation, client testimonials and work experience. The more specifics they provide on past projects, the more you can trust them.
11. Code of Conduct
Does the builder have a Code of Conduct? The NFBA does. It’s a nice framework (pardon the pun) for how they’ll approach the overall job. All NFBA members must adhere to this Code of Conduct.
Has the construction team won industry awards? Have they been recognized by your local Chamber of Commerce as a positive force in the business community? Awards combined with accreditation is a sure sign of quality.
13. No Better Business Bureau violations
The Better Business Bureau does provide listings of accredited commercial builders, and they may also include complaints from consumers. It’s worth a look.
14. Interview and observe
At some point, you’re going to be interviewing prospects. Besides using the criteria here, evaluate your own personal reaction to the builder. Do you feel comfortable with them, and do they seem like the kind of people you can work with on a complicated project?
There will always be challenges on a project, so it’s important that you get a sense that you can have a cohesive relationship.
If you have time, ask if you can visit a builder’s current worksite and observe the team in action. Are they following OSHA safety standards? Is the crew working efficiently and productively? Your gut instinct and powers of observation should help you with the final decision.
Choosing a pole barn builder is no easy task, but like the construction project itself, planning extensively before you make your decision will ultimately yield the most productive results. Use this checklist to help you get started the right foot.