There is a right way and a wrong way to build a billboard. The cost of not building a billboard the right way can be crushing, ranging from $10,000 to move the sign to total loss of your investment if property damage leads to expensive litigation.
Find proper placement
The first step in building a billboard is to gather information and decide the billboard placement. You need to know everything that will determine sign placement, including :
• the front and side setback regulations (both city and state)
• the exact dimensions of the structure (from the blueprints),
• the distance that the light fixtures stick out from the catwalks.
With all this information in hand, decide exactly where the center of the billboard column should be before the driller arrives to drill the foundation. One of the best methods is to mark where the corners of the sign will be with wooden stakes. This will help you to visualize all of the setbacks and their relation to the real sign.
Once you have determined exactly where the center of the column should go, give yourself some leeway and increase the front and side setback by an extra foot or two. I learned this from experience, since you never really know 100 percent where the property lines are. If there is ever a dispute on the property boundary, you will have to hire a surveyor to find the exact property line, and it may be a foot or so different than where you assumed it is. Even if the property owner tells you with great authority exactly where their property begins, don’t count on it: I once had a land owner show me where the easements and underground pipes on his property were, and then I dug down and hit an 18” water main. Nobody will ever notice a 2’ additional setback. It’s a simple case of risk vs. reward.
Clear any obstructions
Remove any possible obstructions that you can before building the sign. If you have permission from the neighboring landowner to trim a tree, then trim it before the sign goes in. It is best to do your trimming and removing before the sign calls attention to what you are doing. The neighbors may change their mind once it is finished.
Prepare for construction
Prior to the arrival of the heavy equipment and steel, it is important to obtain complete permission and cooperation from the landowner (and tenant) for the dislocation that will occur at the property on the day of construction. You should be 100 percent sure that you have all of the necessary permits and that none have expired. Remember that in some cities, you must commence construction within so many days of the permit issuance, or it terminates. You cannot take the risk of building a sign that has no legal permit. You should also scout out access to the site for the big trucks. Hopefully, your sign erector will have walked the site with you.
Constructing the billboard
It’s construction day! The sign erector and the foundation driller have arrived and you are prepared. Here are some tips to make sure that construction is successful.
Many problems can arise during construction, and you need to be available to help solve them. The first potential risk is the possibility of hitting water or rock when drilling the foundation. The driller should have a solution ready for such events, but you will have to give on-the-spot approval for any additional costs.
Other reasons to stay on-site the entire time are to help resolve any problems with the property owner or neighbors (noise issues, etc.), and to make sure that the exact location you marked for the center of the pole is used. I have been at job sites where the driller pulled out the stake and then forgot exactly where it was.
Measure the depth of the hole
The driller may get lazy and not drill quite as deep as the plans recommend. This compromises the safety of the sign and throws off your height limit. . Even a 6” difference can be a huge problem. Watch him measure the depth, and make sure that he does not cheat.
Choose the “V”
Once the pole is placed, it is time to choose the “V”—the angles of the sign faces in relation to the traffic. You never want to leave this decision to the installer: They never as good as job as you can do yourself. The correct way to choose the “V” angles is from the adjacent road or highway, ideally from the middle.
Monitor the concrete pour
This is the final step that requires your presence: Just being there makes the concrete pourer more careful. Your focus is to make sure that they do not overfill the hole or leave a mess on the property. The concrete should stop about 2” from ground level, so that you can put dirt and grass back over the hole.
Once the concrete has been poured, you do not have to stay on-site, but make sure that the permit is clearly affixed to the billboard pole before you leave, so that the city inspector knows you have one and that you are following it. Also, take some sort of thank-you gift to the landowner or tenant to show your appreciation for letting you tear up their property for a few days. It makes a great first impression.
You should make a lot of money with your first billboard so it is important to not waste money on fixing problems with the setback, height, angle and visibility that you could have easily prevented through informed thinking and attention to detail. Follow these directions and your billboard construction should go smoothly and successfully.
Frank Rolfe started his billboard empire from his coffee table, as a fresh graduate from Stanford University. It began as a resume builder for graduate school applications, and ended with a sale to a public company 14 years later.
Using unique strategies he developed from desperate competition with much larger adversaries, Rolfe eventually owned more billboard units than any private individual in Dallas/Ft. Worth. Rolfe’s has authored the book "Big Bucks from Big Signs" available at www.outdoorbillboard.com