In The Shop: Make Your Old Shop New

In The Shop: Make Your Old Shop New

There are numerous ways for farmers to improve their older farm shops, including:

Lighting: Older shops illuminated by incandescent bulbs or old-style fluorescent bulbs will benefit from replacing the dated light fixtures. Many rural electricians familiar with the needs of farmers favor T5 fluorescent fixtures for shops.

Heating: Unheated shops—or shops with antiquated heating systems—become more economical and comfortable with a modern heating system.

There are many options. The ubiquitous LP-fueled forced-air heater hanging from the ceiling in a corner of the shop is still a valid consideration. New models are more efficient than those from even a decade ago.

Gas-fired radiant heaters are more efficient and popular than they once were. There are two types: high-intensity and low-intensity.

High-intensity radiant heaters are generally portable units designed to heat small areas. They use an open flame over a ceramic grid to create radiant heat that is directed toward a relatively small area by a reflector around the ceramic grid.

Low-intensity radiant heaters have an enclosed flame, usually in a long tube suspended below the ceiling. The flame heats the tube, and a polished reflector directs the heat toward the floor.

Radiant heaters warm surfaces while forced-air heaters warm the air first. Forced air heaters can make a cold building feel warm more quickly, but it takes time for the warmth to “soak” into the floor, walls and equipment in the building. 

Heat loss due to opening and closing overhead doors is less in radiant-heated spaces because the floor and equipment in the building retain heat better than forced-air heating systems.

Floor-heating systems that use tubes filled with heated water embedded in the floor are an option for farmers upgrading from a dirt floor to a concrete floor. Floor heat is expensive to install but offers economical operating costs and the comfort of a warm floor acts as a heat sink to maintain a consistent temperature.

Waste-oil furnaces, wood stoves and grain burners come in many variations. Waste oil furnaces are fueled with used engine crankcase oil, used hydraulic oil and other petroleum products common on farms. 

Wood stoves and grain burners allow farmers to heat their shop with fuels available on the farm. Wood stoves require frequent tending and maintenance, but the only cost is the sweat equity in cutting wood. 

The popularity of grain-burning stoves rises and falls with the cost of grain. Those units can be set up to automatically auger grain into the burner to maintain a thermostatic-controlled temperature. 

Waste oil furnaces, wood stoves and grain burners are generally forced-air units, though it is possible to connect them to boilers to use with floor-heating systems. 

Cooling: Few farmers can justify air conditioning their shop, but the benefits of adding a couple portable industrial-grade cooling fans are worth their cost of $50 to $300. The cooling blast from a 24", 36" or 48" diameter fan makes summertime repairs tolerable.

Welders: Many shiny new farm shops have 40-year-old arc welders handed down from Grandpa’s original dirt-floor machine shed. Modern welders are remarkably better than those dusty old behemoths. Arc strikes are easier to maintain thanks to computerized circuitry, and the quality of welds is often improved.

Extras: I’ve noticed farm shops that get the most use have an armchair or two, a TV, a refrigerator, maybe a microwave as well as other creature comforts. Guys in the city have to build a man cave in their basement, but farmers have their shops as their refuge.  

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