Most circumstances result from a sequence of events that are out of our control. My circumstance was my needing a storage shed, but I'm not sure when the sequence of events began that led to this state of affairs. One could make the argument that it was my birth. Others might say it was my parents or their parents, etc. A philosopher would argue that all circumstances had their beginnings at the big bang, or from creation, depending on your personal preference. (Philosophers are good at convoluting circumstances.) To keep this short, I'll start the series of events leading to my needing a shed with the mountain pine beetle.
The mountain pine beetle is known by experts as dendroctonus ponderosae, but I don't personally know anyone who knows this. It is native to the forests of western North America, and periodic outbreaks can result in losses of millions of trees. In the mid to late 1990's, give or take a few years, people in Colorado mountains began to realize that a serious pine beetle outbreak was beginning – probably because they were seeing more and more dead trees.
Various reasons for this "infestation" were proposed. The trees most likely to be attacked are ones not growing vigorously, due either to old age, crowding, poor growing conditions, drought, fire or mechanical damage, root disease or other causes. Some blamed the US Forest Service for being too protective and not allowing the forests to periodically burn or be logged. Others blamed the drought for stressing the trees. People are much better at placing blame than they are at doing something.
In the pine forests of the Rocky Mountains, a century of fire suppression had created abnormally thick and uniformly mature forests, and a decade of drought weakened the trees' natural defenses and allowed dendroctonus ponderosae to thrive and multiply. By 2006 the mountain pine beetles had destroyed an estimated 7.4 million trees on 1.5 million acres of national forest – and the devastation continues to spread.
Spraying the healthy trees was supposed to protect them. At least that's what the people selling the spray and sprayers here in Colorado were promoting. I purchased a sprayer and started spraying my pine trees as soon as I heard about the problem. I did so faithfully and judiciously for five years, but my small 3 acres of pines all died anyway, so I wasted a lot of time and money spraying. Three acres of pines doesn't sound like much, but I had about 150 mature, dead pine trees and almost as many dead aspens from the drought.
The next step in this sequence was to start cutting dead trees. I've been doing that for several years, but what do you do with dead trees when you don't need the firewood? I've been giving away firewood to anyone who still might need it. I just gave away my 108th pickup truck full of wood. Then there is the slash - the branches, needles, and pinecones that remain. They cannot be burned because of the strict fire bans – except in the winter when I'm not here. Thus I had piles of slash stacked all around my property, with still about 100 dead pines to cut. I purchased an expensive wood chipper and started chipping up the slash and giving it away as mulch.
When you spend $4,300 on a wood chipper, you need to store it somewhere out of the elements during the winter, which for me is about nine months. I don't have a garage, so I needed a shed. No problem, I thought. I went on-line and searched for storage sheds. There are all kinds of shapes, sizes, models, and options. My local building supply had some on display, and I took a look. They didn't have what I wanted. They told me their shed guy was at lunch, but he could order what I need when he returned. They took my name and phone number and said the guy would call me. He didn't.
Expanding my search I found Tuff Shed in Denver had a 10' x 16' model that was just what I needed, although it cost more than what my chipper cost. In retrospect it was probably stupid to pay more for a container than what goes inside of it, but rationality often gets lost in the chain of events leading towards a desired goal – which is also why weddings have become so expensive.
I drove to Denver (2 hours each way) and began the paperwork to buy Tuff Shed's 10' x 16' model. "We can't deliver it until you have a building permit," said Don, the salesman. "Give us about two weeks notice once you get your permit."
Back in the mountains I drove over to the county building department and spoke with someone about getting a permit for the shed. "Is it over 120 square feet?" the official inquired.
"Yes," I said. "It's 160 square feet."
"You don't need a permit if it's 120 square feet or less," she informed me. "You need to submit four copies of the architectural drawings, three copies of your site plan, fill out the two-page application form, make an appointment for a pre-inspection of the site, and give us a check for $50 for the application and pre-inspection fee."
"But it's a prefab shed that the company delivers and sets
up on my property," I protested.
I called Don the salesman and told him the county building inspector bureaucrats wanted architectural drawings of the shed. He asked me what county and location, and then told me that the county where I lived requires a special truss for higher snow loads as well as anchors that allow the shed to withstand 90 mph winds. He said it would require modified drawings and he would contact the factory. It would also cost me $350 more for the special trusses to be manufactured.
"If the wind had ever been 90 mph, I wouldn't have all these dead trees to cut, and I wouldn't need the shed," I replied. Don laughed.
Three weeks later I still had not received the architectural drawings, so I called Don. "I mailed those to you some time ago," he replied. I told him I had not received them, so he mailed me another copy. They arrived three days later and there were six pages. There is no place near where I live that has a copier that can handle the larger drawings, so I had to drive an hour to Office Depot.
Finally I had all the materials and forms filled out, and I went back to the county office, where I was told that the pre-inspection had to be completed before submitting the paperwork. I arranged for the pre-inspection at a different building and went back home.
When the inspector finally arrived at my property, he asked, "How far will the shed be from the property line?" I pointed to the copy of the site plan he had in his hand, which showed the shed would be 110 feet from the line. "Good," he said. Then he signed off on the pre-inspection form, and drove away. This cost me $50! I promptly returned to the county office and submitted all the paperwork.
"What is your general contractor's county license number?" she asked.
"I have no idea. Don't you have that information?" I replied. "It's Tuff Shed, and you told me they were licensed in this county."
"You need to call them and get their county license number," she said.
Don had given me his cell phone number because he said that it was the easiest way to get in touch with him. I called him, but he didn't answer. Next I called the sales office/display center in Denver. The guy who answered said I'd have to call the factory, and he gave me their number. The factory guy said, "We sent a man up there today to renew the license. I don't know what the new number is."
"Give me the old number," I said, and he did. I gave that to the lady and she seemed satisfied.
"We'll call you when your building permit is approved. It should be in about two weeks."
"How much will the permit cost me?" I asked.
"I think it's $40 per square foot," she replied.
"That's more than the shed costs!" I exclaimed. She said nothing and went to answer a phone. A guy waiting next to me who was also applying for a building permit shook his head as if to say that the woman was full of shit. I hoped he was right or I wasn't going to get a shed.
Later that day I got in touch with Don and told him what little good news I had – that the permit paperwork had been submitted and it would be about two weeks. He then scheduled me for an August 1st delivery, which was in two weeks, and said he was going on vacation. But first he took my credit card information. I thought it was odd that he got my credit card number just before leaving for Montana.
Less than a week went by when I got a call that my building permit was approved and I should stop by to pick it up. It was going to cost me $143 for the permit. Had I not have been told $40 per square foot, I would have been annoyed at the amount, but now I was glad.
When I picked up the permit and paid my money, I was given a packet of material that included an inspection record. There were five more inspections to be done, and I was told to call for inspections after each phase was completed. These inspections were, zoning set backs, tie-downs, frame, roof covering, and building final. When I explained to the official that the shed was being delivered and set up in less than a day, she had to go consult with her boss. The boss came out and said to call when the shed was completed.
Along with the permit I was given a coupon for grass seed. The coupon verified that $70 of my permit fee went for grass seed. I protested, "I don't need grass seed. Why did I have to pay $70 for grass seed?"
The official explained that, according to county regulations, anytime there is digging, the surface must be re-seeded. "But there will be no digging," I replied. "It’s a prefabricated shed that is being set on the ground."
"You will have to discuss that with Planning and Zoning in the other building," the official told me. So I drove over to the main building where they gave me my five pound bag of grass seed and told me that the workmen would "disturb" the ground in setting up my shed and thus I had to reseed the area.
"There is no grass where I live," I protested. "It's all sage, juniper and dead pine trees! Why don't you at least give me sage and juniper seed or a few new pine trees for my $70 so that I can restore the 'disturbed' ground to its natural state?" My argument had no effect. Regulations are what they are, and they will be enforced regardless of how irrelevant or ridiculous they may be. So I left the county building with my five pounds of very expensive grass seed, muttering to myself about bureaucracy and government employees who are 'just doing their jobs.'
Since there is no level spot anywhere on my property, it was necessary for me to build a foundation on which to put the shed. I went to Home Depot (a 75 minute drive) and began filling a huge construction cart with concrete foundation blocks, 4x4s, 2x6s, framing brackets, and miscellaneous hardware. It took two construction carts, and the cost of my shed increased by a few hundred dollars.
It took me three full days of pounding, cutting, leveling, and framing to complete the foundation. At the current labor rate, I figured that two guys who knew what they were doing could have done it in 12 hours for about $500. The cost of my shed was now about $5000.
At 7 AM on the morning of August 1st I was sound asleep when a noise outside awoke me and my dog. The crew from Tuff Shed had just pulled into my driveway. It's over a two-hour drive from Denver. Why do people get up at 4 AM to do a half-day's work?
They were efficient, and the shed was done by noon. I signed off on the work with the notation that there were no ground anchors to meet the 90 mph wind requirement. The workmen said they didn't have any anchors on their truck. "But the County requires them and it says here that I paid $150 for them." Not their problem!
I called Don, but got no answer. I left a message telling him about the fact that there were no anchors installed and that the final inspection, scheduled for the next day, required them. Then I drove to the nearest building supply and got four anchors and associated hardware. I should have also purchased some dynamite, because getting the anchors into the rocky ground was not possible with any of the tools I had at my disposal. I found out later that the Tuff Shed folks should have brought a power auger and other equipment to get the anchors in the ground.
Late afternoon on August 2, I got a call from the county building inspector apologizing for not showing up for the inspection, and rescheduling for the next day. That gave me an extra day to, I think the expression is, 'pound rocks.' I finally got the four anchors in the ground and fastened to the shed, although if the shed were not holding them up, they would probably fall over. They were definitely for show, and I could only hope that the inspector was not interested in thoroughness. Perhaps a few cold beers in a cooler by the shed might be sufficient distraction.
The following morning I happened to look out my window and saw an inspector looking at my shed. Before I could get out there, she had departed, but left some paperwork indicating that the final inspection was "Ok." Whew!
I called Don and left another message saying that I had purchased and installed anchors, and I would like a refund of $150. Then I emailed Don with the same request. A week later I still had no response from Don or Tuff Shed. I expected that getting back the $150 I spent for anchors I didn't receive was going to be a long battle. It wasn't, but I did stop and see Don in Denver a week later to remind him. I'm also sure that part of their labor charge was for installation of the anchors, which I ended up doing myself. I should probably have gotten back about $300 dollars if I include my labor, but I guess that was wishful thinking.
Does anyone want to buy a $70 bag of grass seed?