May 2015 - Surprise!
Written by Kim F. Miller
Saturday, 02 May 2015 04:24
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Temecula barn builders advise others to expect the unexpected.

by Kim F. Miller

Talking to those who’ve been through the barn building process is an essential part of advance research and planning. Even though no two projects are ever identical, shared hindsight from almost any project can help create realistic expectations and prevent costly mistakes and regrets.

Hunter/jumper trainer Dacia Peters-Imperato and her husband Mario Imperato finished construction on their 11-stall stable and arena at their two-and-a-half acre Temecula property last year. Dacia had dreamed of building her Stepping Stone Farms for some time and had a clear vision of what she wanted. Working with veteran barn builder Tammy Pillette throughout the construction process, she is thrilled with the end result. She’s also happy to share some of the surprises that arose and advice for those following in her footsteps.

Staying on budget was a big priority. The couple factored in a 20% margin for unanticipated expenses and, despite extensive advance research, there were a few.

The first surprise was a hydrology report, required by the City of Temecula’s building department but not mentioned in any of the literature Dacia received during early inquiries regarding building requirements and specifications for the project they had in mind. “We were careful in advance to make sure we could afford everything,” she explains. The Imperatos had built their arena and a pad for their 3,600 square foot barn, and were ready to dig for footers when they learned that a hydrology report was required. This engineering report detailing the property’s water flow wasn’t mentioned in the pamphlet received from the city. “We didn’t know that we would be responsible for creating water flow that meets the city’s approval,” she said.

They solved that issue with grading alterations and proceeded to submit the barn’s blueprints to the City’s engineering department, where things came to a screeching halt. The size of their barn made it subject to certain fire prevention standards they hadn’t expected. “It’s a modular barn, not wood, and we don’t store hay in it,” says Dacia. “But we thought, OK, how much could fire sprinklers cost? $5,000?”

Wrong! The estimate was closer to $80,000 because the process involved hiring a Fire Department-approved contractor, shutting down the public road in front of their property and hooking the sprinkler system to the main water line. There was no stretching the budget that far, so they went back to the drawing board. Although the barn components had already been manufactured, they cut one inch off the tack room walls, bringing the dimensions to under the 3,600 square foot threshold that had triggered the sprinkler requirement.

None of these experiences have dampened Dacia’s enthusiasm for the City of Temecula. “All these things the City requires makes it a better place and I am grateful they have them,” she explains. Her experiences illustrate how “huge the learning curve is,” she notes. “There are a lot of things you might not realize going into the project. You think it’s my property I can do what I want, but that’s not quite the case.”

Quotes & Quality

Mario’s general handiness and familiarity with construction processes and the cost of components was a huge help to staying on budget, Dacia says. In each phase of building – concrete work, electrical, etc. – they requested multiple quotes and explanations of each item’s cost. In one case an electrical contractor priced a breaker box at $1,200, but Mario knew they could be purchased at Home Depot for $200. “We asked the guy, ‘Does this box glow in the dark and have little disco dancers on it?’,” Dacia laughs.

Dacia suspects that unethical sources equate horse ownership with unlimited budgets and pad quotes accordingly. They asked for line-by-line explanations and wrote off any bidders who got indignant or gave vague answers. They followed up on references and, whenever possible, went out to see examples of a prospective contractor’s work. They insisted on transparency. When a bid involved labor charges, they asked whether that was measured hourly or per job. “The people who are planning to rip you off won’t answer those questions or they get indignant,” Dacia says.

She found a correlation between the quality of the person and the quality of their work and she relied on the notion that good people know other good people in the barn building and construction business.

Things might have been easier had the Imperatos’ property had horses on it before. “Our backyard used to be a motorcross track,” she says. “That’s why we bought it because we had a vision of what we wanted, rather than having to modify what somebody else had.” She advises fellow barn dreamers to honestly evaluate whether it will be economically better to continue renting horse keeping property versus building their own. Although she is very happy with the outcome, if Dacia could start over, “I would have built our arena, then rented a temporary barn on the property. I would have used the money I’d save to make sure I could do everything I wanted to do rather than shrink my dream to match our budget.”