Westwood Main Shop


So I bought a house without a garage or shop because it was a good deal and within the budget. It had a large enough yard to add a shop and that was the intention at first but oil was going strong and we were paying of the house quick so I decided to go for paying it all off instead of saving for the shop. Well, life happens and situations change so I am back to staying in this house awhile and really need a shop to work in.

At the beginning of 2017 I told myself that it had been long enough and I was going to make it happen this year! I started planning things out and considering what I wanted. I had enough space for a structure 20ft wide and 65ft long on the side of the house but there were some limitations imposed by living in the city (I HATE the city and asinine regulations). In particular the zoning rules created two real design limits: one on size and one on height.

While in some ways understandable the size limit set forth by city of Bryan code is rather irksome. The primary structure (or total of primary and accessory structures) can cover up to 75% of the lot (in my case this would be 10,500sqft) but if detached the total square footage of accessory structures must be less than 1,000sqft. I already have a nice little shed which takes 118sqft so if I build a tasteful detached garage I am only allowed 880sqft. If I'm willing to attach it to the house though I can add 9,000sqft of monstrosity! Because that makes sense!

Here it is graphically. If I attach my shop to the house I can build something the size of the shaded area. If I build it detached I am only allowed the rectangle in the corner and the shed has to come out of that square footage.

Anyway, tying into the house would require some seriously major work and is something I am just not willing to do for the sake of dancing around regulations to gain a few hundred more square feet. Luckily there is a loop hole which allows some extra usable square footage for my purposes. Carports are explicitly exempted with no stated size limits so instead of building a shop with space for working on stuff and storing cars I can build a shop and include a carport to store the cars under.

Now the second major design constraint imposed by the city is the height of this shop. Like the size limit, if my new garage were going to be attached to the house then I could build pretty tall, 35feet tall actually. That isn't a peak height either, that is the average roof height. Graphical interpretation below:

For the sake of being absurd and demonstrating the stupidity of these codes lets play a game of what could I build? The minimum heated and cooled living square footage I am zoned for is 1,000sqft. To be simple say I design a 100ft x 100ft square building with a flat roof and walls 35ft tall. I can certainly fit 3 stories into 35ft so 1,000sqft of accommodation split into 3 floors is only 333sqft required per floor. So three floors about 12ft tall which have a footprint of 16.7ft x 20ft. The resulting garage space left over would have over 9x the area and almost 29x the enclosed volume of the living space!

And all the city could say about it is: "Your plan complies with city code, here is your permit." Whoever came up with this stuff should hope that I never become rich enough to build a technically compliant show house right next to them just for spite because I just might do it. The more rules you make the less people who actually do stuff are willing to play ball. I will eventually move out of town and if I ever start a business it will never reside inside city limits where they can collect tax revenue from my work in exchange for making life difficult.

Moving out of the city isn't going to happen for awhile though and I'm never going to be filthy rich so lets get back to reality and what I'm building now. As I mentioned earlier, the space I have to put a shop lends itself well to a structure that is about 20ft wide and roughly 60 to 70 feet long. To comply with accessory square footage I can enclose up to 40ft of the building and make an 800sqft of shop. The remaining area in the front can be a carport.

This is where I bump into the height limit. My house has a 10:12 pitch roof sitting on 8ft walls resulting in an average roof height of roughly 13ft. Now most garages have 8ft ceilings and a 7ft door opening but if you have large vehicles or want to use it as a workspace that is far from ideal. You can't swing a piece of plywood around without being real careful not to hit the ceiling, you can't bring anything remotely tall inside while sitting on a trailer and you can't drive many of the vehicles I may own in the future inside to work on them.

So I would really like to have 10ft ceilings and if possible a 9ft tall front door. Is that possible with the 10/12 pitch roof that matches the house? At 20ft wide the average roof height is width*pitch/4 = 20ft*(10/12)/4 = 4.17ft. Well, 10ft+4.17ft is more than the 13ft I'm allowed so nope, against city code. Ok, I guess if I want to keep the 10/12 pitch then 8ft walls are really required.

I haven't mentioned it but besides the 10ft ceiling I would really like a loft in at least part of the shop so I can store stuff. It would really be good for this to have at least a central aisle that is tall enough for me to walk in. Call it 2ft wide and 6.5ft tall. This might be possible right? A height of 6.5ft with a rise of 10/12 only takes 7.8ft of linear run so I could have a 4.4ft wide aisle in the middle! Not so fast, I am going to need to fit an actual floor structure in there and the joists have to span 20ft. This will take up about 1ft for the bare minimum solution and if I really want to store stuff up there it is going to be more like 1.5 so I don't have problems with it sagging over time. Well, 6.5ft + 1.5ft means I need 8ft of roof height which takes 9.6ft of length. Not ideal to have a 1ft wide walking aisle that I don't have to bend over for but I guess it could work.

So I started down the path of making a stick framed shop, not exactly what I wanted since I couldn't have walls taller than 8ft but if I wanted to match the 10:12 pitch of the house I knew that going with wood was probably the cheapest and easiest solution. I started designing a standard structure according to IRC 2009 (current code with some amendments for the city of Bryan). Even though Solidworks isn't a good program for this I started making models of hte framing etc.

Then I started getting into some of the difficulties of conventional stick framed construction for the structure that I wanted to build. Things like having 40ft of wall without bracing against wind loads, having a practically empty wall that doesn't provide any bracing on the end with the large door, wanting to span 20 ft from the edge of the building out to the carport columns. These are all doable things but are really outside the scope of the simple construction guidelines in the residential codes and started bumping me into a lot of full blown calculations and some technically difficult situations that dictated limitations I didn't really like. So I dropped the idea of stick built construction and decided to bump up to a steel frame.

Building a steel structure is much more flexible in terms of design so I knew I could get exactly what I wanted if I went that route. It is a much more intensive design process though. Pretty much as long as you stick to the allowed spans and design features with the lumber stated in the residential code you can just draw up the plans and build. A custom steel building like I wanted though requires calculation of wind loads from all directions as well as snow/rain and then actually designing the foundation, structure, welds etc. I'm not a civil or structural engineer so I couldn't do this work for someone else but a residential building for yourself is exempt from the requirement for PE stamped drawings and I can do the calculations. It just takes time and looking up all of the relevant information in the various codes (IBC 2009, ASCE 7-05, AISC 13th ed). Did I say a lot of time when your not familiar with all of it? It does take time but I kept grinding through on it and designed most of the major elements of the structure and started modeling it in Solidworks.

Now during all of this design work I was also looking at the cost of the building and trying to figure out where I could optimize my design to save money on materials as well as figure out a budget that I could plan around. Unsurprisingly the foundation is an expensive part but there isn't much to do about that, you only get one crack at it and there isn't much you can do there. I could put off some of the parts of the building until later, things like interior insulation and finishing, a loft, my complete electrical wiring, my air line system, an automated door etc.

You can only go so far though and my estimate in the $45-$55k range was definitely squarely in the "I need to talk to the bank" category and not something I could just fund as I went.

Since that was the case I thought I would probably need a pretty good design worked up with drawings and everything before I really got started. I would need them anyway to submit to the city for building. This had all been taking a long time to do though and after I spent some time offshore I started thinking seriously about how long the process was taking and how long it would take me to actually build the thing myself.

I was really getting tired of not having a shop after so many years and decided it just isn't going to happen fast enough if I go through with doing it myself. What do I want to do? Should I work on a shop for the next few years or should I just pay to have it built and start using it?

I started asking around at different places to see who built the kind of thing I wanted in town. I didn't ask any residential stick built contractors as I already knew from my preliminary design that what I really wanted wasn't practical in wood. My first series of people to ask was actually those who do pole barns since that is the least expensive form of construction and I don't intend to stay at this place the rest of my life. None of them did any work inside the city though because of the difficulty of permits and such.

The next place to turn was then the plethora of metal building providers since they do steel. The answer from all of them though was that they didn't do steep roofs (10:12) like I wanted. They said if I wanted one then I would need a contractor that did welded on site construction instead of bolted up pre-fab construction. Those are not that common though and none of the ones around here that will do small residential construction are willing to work inside the city limits, again too much of a pain with drawings, permits and inspections.

At this point I started reconsidering the have someone else build it path. I really wanted to build something that matched the pitch of the house and had the features I wanted. Based on the conversations I had now had with people though I had realized that doing my own welded steel construction inside the city was likely to be hassle and that coupled with the long timeline meant it probably wasn't a realistic option.

So, I'm kind of sitting back at zero again. I started talking some more with local turnkey metal building contractors and found one that would do a 6:12 pitch (most stopped at 4:12). I went back and forth with them working out what the different features I wanted would cost and what they were willing to do. I compromised on my 10:12 roof and hardie panel siding but selected some better looking panel types and bumped the walls up to 10ft instead of 8ft (12.5ft average roof height with the 6:12 pitch roof). With a decent number in hand I went to the bank and got a cash out refinance to pull some equity back out of the house (we had paid alot extra in before deciding to stay and build a shop).

Cash in hand I signed a contract for a 20ftx40ft building with a 20ftx24ft carport and a two car driveway. I'll get windows, doors and insulation but no electrical work or a garage door.

On the garage door it just didn't make sense to pay for it. It was going to cost $4k but would be the wrong color and wouldn't have a feature that I really wanted. Namely, a louvre vent system in the bottom section that I could open or close so that the shop would self ventilate like my little shed. There wouldn't have been any easy way to modify it either since the sections in the door I would have gone with are foam filled steel skins. I estimate materials to build what I want will be roughly $2k and with a building to protect me I could finish it in less than a week (if I take off).