Losing his job may have been one of the best things to happen to Aaron Halberg. Shortly before he was laid off from his engineering consulting job, Halberg was offered a side project consulting on post-frame construction projects.
“Wisconsin was switching to the international codes,” Halberg explains, “and it brought a lot of turmoil.”
It also brought an opportunity — Halberg saw a need for engineers who could interpret the IBC regulations for builders. When he became unemployed in 2002, he also needed a job, so he started his own company, Halberg Engineering LLC. Based in Hayward, Wis., the company specializes in structural engineering services for post-frame construction in commercial and residential applications.
“Looking back, I don’t know why I was so worried,” Halberg says with a chuckle, “but at the time, I was scared out of my pants to start my own company.”
Halberg is one of the many talented, hard-working young members of the rural building community. In conjunction with Rural Builder’s 40th anniversary celebration in 2006, the magazine is featuring industry members who are younger than 40 years old, identifying the leaders of tomorrow who are already pulling their weight today.
Post-frame in his blood
Working with post-frame construction may have been Halberg’s destiny. At the very least, it was in his bloodlines. His father worked in the industry for more than 30 years. In February 2005, Halberg decided to bring that expertise into the company by hiring his father as a project manager.
“My dad said he always figured he’d be working for me someday,” says Halberg. “Professionally, he has experience that is helpful. And it’s nice spending the time with him.”
The focus of Halberg Engineering LLC is the post-frame building industry. While Halberg’s main clients have post-frame construction experience, Halberg Engineering provides structural analysis, including snow and wind loads, coordinates the process for plans, and gets the plans approved.
A life-long Badger
Born in 1974, Halberg grew up in New Auburn, Wis. His hometown was determined, he explains, as the result of the energy crisis in the 1970s.
“My dad worked for a construction company in New Auburn,” he says. “My parents moved there to be closer to his job because of the gas prices and shortages. They still live there.”
Halberg attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, graduating in 1996 with a degree in mechanical engineering. Today, he, his wife, and their three children live in Hayward.
His first job after graduation was in manufacturing, which taught him how to work with small projects. In 1999, he accepted a position with an engineering consulting firm, where he learned the art of developing proposals and negotiating contracts — all skills that have served him well in his own business venture.
The bulk of Halberg’s knowledge, however, has come by doing his job. From the beginning, he relied heavily on the Wisconsin Frame Builders Association. His timing didn’t hurt, either. He entered the business at the same time Wisconsin changed its codes. Halberg picked up work when other engineers opted out.
Halberg also became involved with the technical and research committee of the National Frame Builders Association. As an active member of this committee and the WFBA, along with his advantage as a “new guy without issues hanging over him,” Halberg was a leading proponent for two important changes within post-frame construction regulations.
The first change involved the standard for analyzing the unbalanced snow load on roofs. When IBC became the new standard, Halberg’s committee realized that it did not account for typical upper Midwest winters. After learning and applying the IBC provisions for unbalanced snow loads, WFBA engineers soon noticed that vertical snow load reactions at walls and columns were coming out 25 to 85 percent higher than they were for the same building designed under Wisconsin’s former code.
His committee pushed for the use of the Canadian standard, which passed and is now in use. Under the new code, Wisconsin builders do not have to do an unbalanced snow load analysis for roofs with a pitch less than 15 degrees. When slopes are greater than 15 degrees, the analysis always assumes that the unbalanced snow is zero on one side. Halberg is now working with Minnesota to pass similar code.
The second change involves soil-bearing requirements. Halberg helped spearhead a reconfiguration of the footings that permitted for an increase in allowable soil pressures from the original IBC tables. This change lets the state use a standard put in place by American Society of Agricultural Engineers.
“I’ve been blessed with good client relationships,” Halberg says. “It’s been beneficial to both them and me.”
Halberg was 28 years old when he began his company. Typically, his initial meeting with a new client is over the phone, which is followed up with an in-person meeting.
“They’re surprised at how young I am,” he laughs. “I think some people want someone older.” He estimates that most of the decision makers he works with are in their 40s or 50s. However, his age is not an issue when he gets down to business. He does his job, and he does it well. “The clients appreciate that I care about the process,” he says. “They know they have my attention.”
One of his favorite aspects of his business is the accommodating spirit among the builders and the building community. “There is a cooperative effort that’s still in play,” Halberg says. “We’re not big cities. We’re small Midwest towns with small companies. This is what I grew up with. These are people I can relate to.”
The one frustration he encounters is the enduring stereotype that post-frame construction companies only build pole barns for agricultural uses, but, he adds, he and others promote the many other uses for post-frame buildings.
Halberg is excited about the future for his company and for the industry.
“We have unlimited opportunities to grow,” he says. “We continue to demonstrate that rural buildings can be safe and structurally sound.”