The State of The Hot Shed

Where we left things at last update, the steel building company was sending out a welder to cut out the gussets and move them. This happened, and the assembly of the building resumed.

But only briefly. According to Ken’s crew, the guy showed up, his oxy/acetylene tank went empty, and he drove into town looking for a recharge, then came back and ground the gusset out with an angle grinder. Next, he welded it back in another place, painted it nicely to match the rest of the beams, and left.

The perceptive cynics among you (which is: all of you) probably noted my wording “welded it back in another place” not “welded it back in the right place”; that was deliberate. The company had sent him with another CAD-generated drawing that had the bolt positions and new gusset position, so he used that rather than, you know, measuring the actual beam that was actually sitting there 3 actual feet away. Then, he left. When Ken’s team hoisted the beam up on the crane, there was a gusset in a different, new, wrong place. According to Ken, it was actually wronger than the old place. They cut the gusset out with an angle grinder and assembled the beam in and bolted it down, then stick-welded the gusset somewhere where it fit. This building does not lack strength and if it falls on me because of a mis-positioned gusset, I really won’t care very long.

There’s also a nice header-beam across the side near the driveway (left hand edge of the building) that matches the beam at the field-side of the building. The field side of the building is the side that’s supposed to be open, where I am going to build a dojo-porch-oid thing and sliding windows. Ken said “that looks suspicious” and pulled up the plans and said, “yup” – sure enough, the building company had managed to read the email and diagram in which I said one side of the building was to be open, and made both sides open. I began to hypothesize that over-use of CAD may decay one’s faculties over time. Of course, I should have read every page of the diagrams and been able to understand them (I tried but they are not exactly marvels of clarity) – if I had, I would have noticed that the engineer’s diagrams bear no great resemblance to the pictures that I sent the engineer in the first place. I assume that’s a generic problem with engineers.*

Engineering diagrams are pretty interesting. In a sense, they’re familiar: they’re a program for building a building. The main diagram has regions that are called out as details (e.g.: the anchor posts) and you can see how the anchor post bolts are to be arranged by reading the detailed specification for the bolts on the anchor posts. That’s on its own page. The main page does not have a little note like “see page 4” but if you read through everything you find a page that says “anchor post bolts, arrangement A), B), C)” and then you look at the main page and you see a little C near the anchor. So, my brain goes, “aha! That’s a function call where you call anchor_post(C) except this engineering diagram language does not have a linker so it has no tight binding between function name and its code.” Then I cursed engineers for a little while, because programmers figured out (at least, until languages like php came along) that strict typing and linking is a good idea. Software engineers may want to re-think calling themselves “engineers.”

Then, my day was ruined with a semi-coherent phone message that said something like “Hey I am the meter reader from the water company and I noticed that you’ve got 12,000 gallons more this month than last month. If you need more information you can call me [deleted].” Ohhhhhhhhhh noooooooooooooo. This is not the first time this has happened; the last time it was during the horrible arctic freeze a few years ago and it was one of the side-lines off the main water feed; the one feeding the stand-pipe in the barn. Naturally, I immediately thought “what if Ken’s guys managed to use the post-hole digger to get down and snap that PVC pipe!?” I texted Ken and he said there was no sign of any water and he didn’t know. So I made a bunch of phone calls including to the excavator who ran the line. 20 hours later, I still have no idea what to do – everyone appears to be busy at job sites. Meanwhile I know that somewhere I am paying to return pennsylvania spring ground-water back to the ground-water. There are times when having a house set back a half mile from the road is a big disadvantage. Another of those times is when you’re delivering a piece of machinery that weighs tons.

The situation is weird: I don’t have an idea what to do, so I’ve got to wait I suppose. Meanwhile, it’s just killing me to know that thousands of gallons of water are going somewhere. In the grand scheme of things it’s not like it’s gasoline – it won’t hurt anything and at most it’ll be a couple hundred dollars. What’s going to be expensive is the backhoe and finding the crack and digging it out. I bet it’ll be a mud-pit!

Meanwhile, I have the fabricators in Clearfield collecting me an assemblage of tube steels and rebar, and doing some welding (the stuff that needs to be nice) and I’m going to complete the reinforcement for the hammer pad next week, then Ken’s crew will dig the holes, pour the concrete, and we’re one step further down the path to something nice. It’ll actually be pretty close to done at that point except for figuring out how to close the extra open end of the building. Plans for that are to put some wood beams across the steel, so I can mount shelves onto them and we can screw some sheet metal down and be done with it. There are a few features of the reinforcement/floor that I’m particularly pleased with, but I’ll wait with bated breath to see if they get screwed up, first.

[Update: After some additional freakage I went and re-played the message the guy from the water company left me and was horrified to discover that he was not talking about my house he was talking about my shop – 10 miles from here on the other side of the mountain. Now, that’s a puzzler because my shop has only a single feed-line into the building that’s hooked to a single run of pex tube that goes to the toilet upstairs and the darkroom. I was just over there yesterday and if either of those was leaking, I’d know. 12,000 gallons of water would be – really obvious. So, this is one of those “good news, WTF news” situations – at least it’s not my home water-line that’s broken, but now I have no idea what’s going on at all. I’m already theorizing that maybe the toilet tank valve was damaged by freezing in the winter and it’s just been running water down the back of the toilet or something. It’s got to be the toilet because there’s nothing else on the line. When I set the plumbing up, I put ball valves everywhere so I can isolate everything, which I will immediately do. Then I will come home and have some wine and sort it out next week.]

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*I begin to wonder if it’d be interesting to see who is better at building a building:

  1. computer programmers (me!)
  2. physicists
  3. engineers
  4. doctors
  5. philosophers
  6. marketing directors
  7. winos

Judging by the atheoskeptical community, I will try to get a wino, if there’s a next time. Or I’ll just re-train as a wino.


  1. quantumdad says

    As an experimental physicist, I wouldn’t recommend you one for building a house. It will look good enough to publish (put a picture in Instagram?), but it will fall apart immediately after that. On the plus side, most materials will be recycled for the next one.

  2. DonDueed says

    Dang, Marcus. Your hot shed looks like it was designed to withstand a nuclear attack.

    You have left one significant category off your list: architects. A couple years back I decided to add a detached garage, but the spot it needed to go was tricky — on a hillside, with ledge and other large obstacles. The only sensible way to build it was to set the car-bearing floor over a deep foundation. The floor is made of precast concrete “planks” made to size. So it’s a garage with a basement underneath (which serves as my shed).

    Needless to say, all this complexity meant that there was no way to do an off-the-shelf building. I hired an architect, who subcontracted an engineer to make sure the foundation was done right.

    I have an awesome garage.

  3. kestrel says

    I would be truly aggravated by having them come out and weld the piece to the wrong place… and by having them decide the building should be open on two ends. These people are not very professional and are clearly clueless. I know this can be done better; I’ve seen it in person. Are you sure it’s an engineer designing this, and not some guy saying, “How hard could it be? Here, hold my beer and I’ll draw that up!”, because it sure does sound like the latter.

    12,000 gallons of water would be kinda noticeable, I’d think… You are getting your shed built just in time, sounds like your shop is going to sink into a morass!

  4. Sunday Afternoon says

    12,000 gallons at a rate of 1 gallon/minute gives 8 and a third days. I think Marcus is on the right track to suspect the toilet cistern.

  5. says

    Sunday Afternoon@#4:
    12,000 gallons at a rate of 1 gallon/minute gives 8 and a third days. I

    My sincere thanks for that calculation. Guess when I turned the water back on for the toilet? It was because I had a burrito situation last week when I was at the shop and I turned the building’s water supply back on. It had been off during the winter and the freaky arctic vortex freezes.

  6. says

    So it’s a garage with a basement underneath (which serves as my shed).

    That’s super cool!! I thought about having some underground stuff added but all I could come up with was a John Wick-style underground weapons vault or something like that, and when you start asking about building something like that, people look at you funny and the state police come by whenever someone goes missing.

  7. says

    I would be truly aggravated by having them come out and weld the piece to the wrong place… and by having them decide the building should be open on two ends. These people are not very professional and are clearly clueless.

    Agreed. I’m furious, but it’s one of those “what can I do?” situations.
    I would suspect it was Joe in the garage saying “how hard can it be?” except I know this outfit is huge and does good business – they’re just only capable of doing rectangles and apparently they don’t listen to their customers at all.

    My thinking is that they don’t have a lot of repeat customers and in their business it probably doesn’t matter.

  8. bryanfeir says

    Marcus Ranum@#7:
    Another possibility is ‘this is a piddling job that won’t make us much money, let’s half-ass it out quickly so we can get back to the good jobs’. Which is, of course, an attitude I’m sure we’ve both seen in programming often enough as well.

    This happened here in Toronto a few years ago; some of the people working on a berm for the streetcar line on St. Clair half-assed the concrete with too much sand because they wanted to get back to work on condominium foundations, which pay better.

  9. voyager says

    I wouldn’t let a Dr. build a building. Most of them can’t even write a legible note.

    I hope you get your water problem sorted out quickly. Sounds like that burrito might be responsible for another “situation.” Good luck.

  10. says

    Friend bought a brand-new townhouse. Freshly built. Six months later, he woke up one morning and found it was raining really, really hard. Sheets of water going down the bedroom windows, which were in the back of the house, top floor.
    He went to the kitchen to get coffee. Kitchen was in the front of the house, middle floor, and sun was shining through the windows. Blue skies. Huh.
    He realized he was hearing water going through some pipe somewhere. Went to look at the water meter in the utility closet on the bottom floor, and it was spinning like a top.
    Turned out that in the bedroom, there was a pipe that crossed through the joists above the cathedral ceiling, made a 90-degree bend, ran two feet down the drywall then turned straight down to a sprinkler head. That 90-degree elbow joint hadn’t been glued (or was insufficiently glued) on one end. It took those six months for the joint to work itself open.
    The water was running down the slope of the ceiling above the drywall, missing the hole for the sprinkler head (it wasn’t dripping inside the bedroom), and shooting out the eaves. And also running down the inside of the back walls of the house, ruining the drywall, insulation and floors.
    Since the place was so new, the builder paid to basically replace the back half of the townhouse. But for some reason, never made clear to my friend, the builder refused to pony up for the extra 8,000+ gallons of water on the next bill.

  11. Curt Sampson says

    I dunno; this sounds totally brilliant compared to some software projects I’ve worked on.

    The beam didn’t fit because of a misplaced gusset twice, and someone still went back and fixed it? In software we would have just left out the beam. If that seemed like it would have caused something bad (like no place to put the roof) we would have just consed up a couple of beams elsewhere, maybe on the other side, and then shifted the roof over a bit and, well, you’ve still got the same amount of roof, right? Who cares exactly what it’s above and what’s below it? Roof is roof.

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