The Northern Spy — A Tale of Two Sheds

The Northern Spy

It was the best of sheds…
until it became the worst of sheds. Oh, wait. Introductory sentences structured that way are yesterday’s news. Well, what the Dickens…

The Spy has a small shed
used to store his garden technology–tools, fertilizers, a very few chemicals, pots, fencing, poles, rototiller, etc. All of it is low tech. Built some five and twenty years ago out of scrap lumber, the underpinnings have proven susceptible to rot, so he decided to replace it. The original was under ten square metres, so hadn’t required a building permit. He knew a larger one (three times as big) would have to go through city hall, but so what? There hadn’t been any issues when he built the house on that property twenty-seven years ago, or for the one before that a few kilometres away and forty-seven years back. (Spy and wife move a lot.)
So, when he was offered what seemed a pretty good deal on a metal building (semicircular shape, put up by bolting panels together in arches, pulling upright, and bolting to previous section…repeat until done), he bit, paid his 25% deposit, and waited for plans to arrive that could be submitted to the city for a building permit.
Now, the initial pitch to buy this steel building represented it as complete, but subsequent discussions with the salesman revealed it was not, but that any front wall had to be added by the customer. The Spy was assured that this was a routine matter, knew that building a non-load bearing front wall was a trivial exercise (done lots) and believed it would not impact the permit. This proved not so, as the city (in rejecting the permit–more on which below) requires him to retain a structural engineer to approve said wall. There was of course no way to know that or determine it, but the company selling it should both known and disclosed (extra cost don’tya know). But hmmm. A structural engineer to approve a non-structural wall. Guess it makes sense in someone’s mind.

Other Assurances were part of his decision
each of which ultimately fell apart, to wit:
1. that the building could easily be erected on a concrete or asphalt pad, or even on bare ground if a floor wasn’t needed  This proved false, as when the actual plans arrived it was clear that the building required a steel reinforced foundation, estimates for pouring same turning out to be up to $20 000, though the Spy ascertained he could do it himself for $3-5K. (How hard is cement?) No mention was made by the salesman at any time that a geotechnical engineer would be needed to approve the site and a structural engineer to supervise and inspect every step of the construction–conditions likewise later specified by the city. (What do their inspectors do?) These were not required when he built his house and he had no way to know that, but the seller should have known and disclosed.
2. that he would receive a complete set of plans showing how this building was to be erected and that provided sufficient engineering detail for the city. This proved non-factual as well. Instead he was sent a single page diagram attached to an e-mail–such a poor quality scan of the original that the legends could not even be read. After bringing this to the seller’s attention he was eventually e-mailed a better quality document that at least was legible and he was assured that an original would be sent in the mail. When it was not, another contact was necessary noting that one could not get a building permit with what they had sent. Eventually this pried out of them a larger copy of the same document in the post and bearing an engineer’s stamp, so the Spy could finally file a building permit application. (Note that this was not possible prior to this point.) Upon calling the seller again about the more detailed plan of construction that would permit ordering supplies, he was assured in very positive terms that it would be mailed. To this day it never has been.
3. that there would be no problem obtaining a building permit as such buildings had been sold by them in this area several times in the recent past without any issues, that in particular the engineer certifying the plan was registered in B.C. and knew our building codes. This also was non factual, as the plan was certified to the 2012 code, not the 2018 code (The Spy could not have known this new code existed, but the vendor should have), triggering a rejection by the city (after two months waiting) and specific demands for four more sets of engineering–one by the seller and three by the Spy (fix the approval stamp, get that wall certified, arrange for a site inspections by a geotechnical engineer and several throughout by a structural engineer)–thus adding many thousands to an already inflated cost, and rendering the project financially unfeasible.
Whether other such buildings manufactured by the seller have actually ever been erected in Abbotsford the Spy knows not, but it makes no sense for anyone to attempt erecting this one here. All those engineers tripping over one another could not even fit in a small shed. The bottom line is that the descriptions and assurances that induced him to purchase were wrong, and that the poorly handled engineering caused the city to reject the building the seller described (different than what he was told in critical respects) in the minimal plans they sent.
There is no point in attempting to rescue this project by them re-doing the plans and the Spy convening a convention of engineers. (Perhaps a large operation building something twenty times the size could justify all that extra cost and grief., but not the little Joe or Josephine wanting a largish garden shed.) Nor does the offered remedy of a merchandise credit make any sense. After all, the vendor only sells steel buildings, and there is no point in any individual landowner in this area going down that route. Moreover, even with the additional engineering, what city hall might possibly approve (or deny) going forward is anyone’s guess at this point–one never escapes the wrath of a city building department.
So, the Spy has abandoned the project. After all, he can build three small sheds of equal total area out of wood with no requirement for a permit. Now the kicker. He has asked for his deposit to be refunded–the right thing for the vendor to do, is it not? After all, the Spy acted in good faith, and ought not be held responsible for a collection of blunders by the vendor that triggered a rejection of the permit application with onerous conditions for re-evaluation that would nearly double the cost–engineers don’t work for free, y’know.
But will the vendor do the right thing and receive a (somewhat wilted) bouquet from the Spy in next month’s column, or several brickbats when they instead stiff him for the now useless deposit, knowing it isn’t worth it to sue for under two thousand? Stay tuned till next month for the exciting conclusion, when the Spy will also name the recipient of his low tech award.

The bottom line
is a giant caveat emptor, especially when dealing with vendors who make promises (sic!), vendors in another jurisdiction, vendors who make claims one cannot verify before paying money, and city hall. The Spy understands that the building department doesn’t want buildings erected that might not stay upright, but four sets of engineering for a shed to store a garden tractor and a few supplies?
Ah, well, software development will someday be professionalized and placed under public supervision, its practitioners compelled to be licensed and carry malpractice insurance, the code required to be certified by inspectors before being shipped or deployed. Will we be better off? Or will nothing ever get done? Too much of a good thing can sometimes be deadly. Mind, too much of a bad thing usually is.
Oh, and speaking of low tech, if the Spy could only find a left-hand threaded replacement nut (part number 325.173–the old one rusted) that connects the gas valve to the outflow port on the gas tank of the AL 330B Acme engine on his 45-year old BCS rototiller…

--The Northern Spy

Opinions expressed here are entirely the author’s own, and no endorsement is implied by any community or organization to which he may be attached. Rick Sutcliffe, (a. k. a. The Northern Spy) is professor of Computing Science and Mathematics, Associate Dean of Science and Chair of the University Senate at Canada’s Trinity Western University. He has been involved as a member of or consultant with the boards of several organizations, and participated in developing industry standards at the national and international level. He is a co-author of the Modula-2 programming language R10 dialect. He is a long time technology author and has written two textbooks and ten alternate history SF novels, one named best ePublished SF novel for 2003. His columns have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers (paper and online), and he’s a regular speaker at churches, schools, academic meetings, and conferences. He and his wife Joyce have lived in the Aldergrove/Bradner area of B.C. since 1972.

URLs for Rick Sutcliffe’s Arjay Enterprises:
The Northern Spy Home Page: http: //www. TheNorthernSpy. com
opundo : http: //opundo. com
Sheaves Christian Resources : http: //sheaves. org
WebNameHost : http: //www. WebNameHost. net
WebNameSource : http: //www. WebNameSource. net
nameman : http: //nameman. net
General URLs for Rick Sutcliffe’s Books:
Author Site: http: //www. arjay. ca
Publisher’s Site: http: //www. writers-exchange. com/Richard-Sutcliffe. html
The Fourth Civilization–Ethics, Society, and Technology (4th 2003 ed. ): http: //www. arjay. bc. ca/EthTech/Text/index. html

Please follow and like us:
error

About the Author

Rick Sutcliffe

Opinions expressed here are entirely the author's own, and no endorsement is implied by any community or organization to which he may be attached. Rick Sutcliffe, (a. k. a. The Northern Spy) is professor of Computing Science and Mathematics at Canada's Trinity Western University. He has been involved as a member or consultant with the boards of several community and organizations, and participated in developing industry standards at the national and international level. He is a co-author of the Modula-2 programming language R10 dialect. He is a long time technology author and has written two textbooks and nine alternate history SF novels, one named best ePublished SF novel for 2003. His columns have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers (paper and online), and he's a regular speaker at churches, schools, academic meetings, and conferences. He and his wife Joyce have lived in the Aldergrove/Bradner area of BC since 1972.