Welcome to my new garden office! Overall I’m very pleased to have such a sweet place to work, but the process was not what I expected when I ordered ‘prefab’. It’s been a long ‘5 day’ build getting the office completed and has been fraught with incorrect shipments, missing parts and not always quality workmanship. I did learn a lot and offer my newfound knowledge to anyone contemplating this process for themselves.
research your manufacturer
The photographs are great, but they won’t show you the details or explain the process. Interview people who have purchased from this manufacturer and look at several of their installations (if they are available locally…if this is a big project then travel to see installations). Talk with at least 3 previous customers and ask questions both about the quality of the finished product and about how the process went. Did everything arrive as expected and on time? Did installation take longer than expected and if so, why? What will be delivered from the manufacturer and what will be purchased locally? What parts of the building are built in the factory and what is built on site? How well did the installation team communicate with the customer? Was scheduling spelled out and adhered to? How were problems handled?
A large out-building or a residence will of course require a permit. If you are looking at a smaller out building, don’t be sold by the prefab company on a ‘permit free’ sized building. Talk to your local building department and tell them what you are planning….in detail. Find out whether a permit will be required, what type of permit(s) will be required, and what the submission requirements are in your jurisdiction. DO NOT rely on information you find on your building department’s website. Permitting could affect timing as well as the design of your building. If you are not versed in pulling building permits this may also require the help of a local designer or architect. This extra time and expense must be considered as part of your building cost. My 120′ outbuilding with electricity required a full submission (meaning I had to draw a full set of plans and drop them off at the building department for full review) and required several weeks and incurred significant permitting fees.
Understand the design of your building before you purchase. Ask for the manufacturer’s standard construction details and review them, or have someone you know who is versed in construction review them. If the manufacturer can’t provide construction details for walls, roof, millwork, etc. and specification sheets for doors, windows, lighting, hardware and other accessories, don’t make your down payment until they can provide these standard details and specifications. At this point in the process the manufacturer won’t be able to provide details specific to your project, but they can and should be able to provide you with whatever is standard. If you want something customized, discuss in detail the customization and find out how it will be handled. Is this something that will be done in the factory? Will it be customized in the field? Who will be responsible to oversee the customization and how is it communicated?
Most of the prefab manufacturers tout their ‘green’ products. Find out what they mean by green and how much they really know about building sustainably. Much of this process is hidden from the consumer so you must rely on the manufacturer’s disclosures. Although the manufacturer I went with bragged (mostly appropriately) about their ‘green’ product, I realized early on that their knowledge of sustainable construction was limited. I wanted my building sited to use to best advantage passive solar principles, something that confounded the manufacturer until the building was constructed and they saw the wisdom of the siting. In order to accomplish this I had to flip the design of the building and relocate the door to what they considered the back of the building. Don’t presume that the manufacturer knows a great deal about sustainability beyond the products that they integrate. If this is important to you, ask questions to determine how much the manufacturer knows. You may want the help of a local designer or architect who has specific knowledge in sustainable practices to be involved.
If you are responsible to prepare the site, understand what options exist and the costs involved. Is a slab required? What size? Will your building be set on sleds? Hire a general contractor if necessary to get the work done. If a building permit is required, site preparation will be part of the building permit and details will be required of the manufacturer. This information will be required early in the process. Schedule the work to be done in time for delivery (I know….I probably don’t need to say this).
5/8/14 update: Don’t you hate it when you wake in the middle of the night remembering something really important but too tired to do anything about it? Yup, last night. Power! Your outbuilding will likely require power, possibly a data line, maybe plumbing. It is critical that you understand what the building itself requires to function and also what you need to perform whatever tasks you plan for the interior (and exterior possibly). This information will go into your drawing set (if permitting is required), and at the very least will need to be communicated to your general contractor as part of site preparation.
Once your order is placed, ask for a schedule to include expected delivery and length of installation. Keep in touch with your factory or sales contact to verify that the project is progressing as expected through the factory and find out what is expected of you at the site. Get the installer’s name and contact information. Ask to be contacted by the installer and schedule a pre-meeting (by phone is fine) so that you understand the process.
Expect to spend more time than you expect to spend on the site during construction. There will be questions as with any construction project, but if all of the prior steps were followed they should be minimized. You will need to have an area cleared for storage of the un-built building. Plan for that ahead of time. The installers will need power to run their tools. Pets and children will need to be managed and kept safely away. Hopefully all the parts and pieces will be delivered correctly and on time. If not, your installer should be able to correct the problems. Just in case, make sure you have the name of the person that you can contact to follow up. If you are responsible to provide any finishes or accessories (I provided my own light fixtures and flooring), have it on site when the building arrives. Review the work that’s been done every evening and if you see something that doesn’t look right, say something immediately. Work should not continue until you are satisfied. Be very stubborn on this point! And hopefully, if they promise you a 5 day build, you will have a 5 day build (I’m past one month and still waiting for a few items to be finished). But better is should take longer and be done right than meet schedule and be poorly built.