Planning Makes Perfect

September 29, 2012 10:54 AM
Planning Makes Perfect

Winning shop is plumbed for three sources of heat

It usually doesn’t pay to think negative—but one exception is when you’re planning a new shop. When he was designing his new facility, Ron Brooks of Waupaca, Wis., asked other shop owners what they didn’t like about theirs.

"The two things mentioned most often were doors being too small and walls not high enough," Brooks says. "Also, a lot of shop owners didn’t like drains in the middle of the floor, and floors sloping to the drain. They wished they had flat floors to lay out equipment. Many also regretted putting in oil change pits; they felt they were dangerous and dark."

Brooks knew what he did want: a big door (for airplanes—he’s a pilot); room to work on two jobs at once; nothing on the walls (it gets in the way of equipment); an office/conference room; easy cleanup; and an efficient, environmentally friendly heat source.

pD19 Planning Makes Perfect 2
The office includes room for a conference table and a wall-mounted flat-screen monitor for employee meetings.

The 80'×105' wood-frame building, with 20' eaves, erected by Forest Construction of Luxemburg, Wis., achieved those objectives. It also won the shops category of Farm Journal’s "I Built the Best" contest.

For a heat source, Brooks went an extra step: He plumbed his in-floor radiant heating system to run on LP gas, biomass fuel or solar energy, whichever is most economical down the road. "We try to be as green as possible," he says. "I like to plan ahead. It was cheaper to set up for alternative fuel sources now than to retrofit the building in the future."

Brooks’ building sits on top of a poured concrete foundation, 10" thick, reinforced with ½"
rebar on 6" centers. Under the concrete are 2" of high-density foam insulation, a radiant heat barrier, a radon gas barrier and a vapor barrier.

I Built the BestEasy cleaning. For easy cleanup, Brooks went with a polished floor surface, although it was more expensive than some other options. "During the polishing process, the top ¼" of concrete gets so hot it becomes superhard," he says. "It becomes impervious to oil and water. There is no finish to fade, chip, crack or peel."

In retrospect, Brooks adds: "I wish I’d put some color in the concrete. The only thing that bothers this floor is that salt from vehicles will stain it."

Contractors poured a pyramid-shaped footing, containing 15 cu. yd. of concrete, for a future jib-boom crane. There’s also a footing for an overhead car hoist, in case Brooks wants one. "We took photos so we’ll know where we can drill," he notes.

For his large door, Brooks chose a 20'×40' Schweiss one-piece hydraulic model. With an actual opening of 19'6", it leaves just enough clearance for his fluorescent lights.

When the door is open, Brooks notes, it’s like a 20' awning, creating a shady place to work on equipment parked on the 50'×80' concrete apron.

The corner of the building had to be reinforced to accommodate the door’s weight. "If I was doing it again, I would reinforce the door’s frame with metal, or else build a metal framework around it," Brooks says.

There’s also a 10'×12' overhead garage-type door for cars, pickups, ATVs and lawn mowers. "I purposely made it too small for a tractor," Brooks says. There are three walk-in doors.

Drains are located just inside each large door. "The rest of the floor is level, and we squeegee water to the drain," Brooks says.

Floor heat. The in-floor heating system is divided into three zones, including one for the bathroom/office area. A Lochinvar stainless-steel boiler heats the propylene glycol that flows through 2½ miles of PEX (crosslinked polyethylene) tubing buried in the concrete. The German-made boiler, Brooks says, "is superefficient. It never runs at more than 40% of capacity."

No circulation fan is required. "With radiant in-floor heat, it is important not to circulate the air," Brooks says. "The warm air will stratify near the floor. It can be 60°F on the floor and only 20°F or 30°F at the ceiling. We actually are only heating the zone where we work."

Brooks burned 1,200 gal. of LP gas to heat the shop during the winter of 2010 (which had more typical temperatures than the mild winter of 2011).

Heat is made easier by 10" of fiberglass batt insulation in the walls and 3' of loose-fill fiberglass insulation in the ceiling. "You need plenty of insulation in central Wisconsin," Brooks says.

The building benefits from passive solar heating, using windows in the south wall. Four are standard ground-level windows. Another eight are clerestory windows under the eaves on the south wall. Pronounced "clear story," the concept has been used as far back as Roman times to let light or heat into a room.

The windows are placed according to the 1-2-3 principle used by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright in some of his buildings: they are located 1' under a 2' eave and are 3' deep.

"At our latitude, this arrangement gives us our first direct sunlight on Sept. 12, and we lose
our solar heating on April 15," Brooks explains.

"The passive solar heating can produce up to 25% of the heat for the shop," he says.

Energy options. As an alternative to LP gas, Brooks could burn corn cobs or install an active solar heat collection system to power his shop. Lines are in place to carry solar heated water from the shop to his dairy barn.

Lines running around the exterior of the footings and through the concrete aprons outside the building can be used for cooling if the solar collectors get too warm in the summer, producing more hot water than the dairy can use. Those lines also can be used to melt ice off the aprons during the winter.

Water comes from two wells. Brooks drilled a new well for the shop and tied it to an existing well with a mixing manifold. "The manifold lets us draw from either well or from both at once," he says. "That extra capacity lets us fill sprayers quickly. The shop provided a perfect location for the mixing manifold because it requires a heated area."

Lighting. The shop bay is illuminated by four banks of fluorescent lights. Each bank contains six light fixtures, with six 4' bulbs per fixture—a total of 144 bulbs. "They’re T8 high-efficiency bulbs, with a quick refresh time and no flickering or hum," Brooks says.

The effect of the bulbs is enhanced by white steel paneling. "Between the windows and the lights, this is a great place to work," Brooks says.

Compressed air lines buried in the concrete floor supply three 100' hose reels, capable of reaching any point in the shop. Oil and lubricants are stored in an air rack, with dispensing reels.

Electrical outlets are located every 6' around the shop bay. "We wanted to avoid electrical cord reels," Brooks says.

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All storage components in the shop are in rolling cabinets. Contents are labeled for easy identification.

All storage compartments, including cabinets, parts bins and racks, are on casters. "Every piece of equipment has its own cabinet or shelf," Brooks says.

The 3'×10' and 4'×15' workbenches are portable, too. "The only things in this shop that aren’t mobile are the welding table and lubrication system," Brooks says.

A smoke-eater filtration system serves the welding area. "We designed a wash bay, but we decided we didn’t need one because we don’t wash that much equipment in the wintertime," Brooks says. "If we wash a car or pickup, we just squeegee it into the drain. I wouldn’t pressure wash a combine inside the shop because it’s too messy."

A paint bay wasn’t needed because Brooks uses his former shop building for that.

Office/conference room. A 24'×30' area includes an office/conference room and a bathroom with a shower and lockers. For monthly employee meetings, Brooks shoots aerial videos of weeds, storm damage and other issues and projects them on a wall-mounted flat-screen monitor.

Visitors enter the office through a 6'×24' porch on the north side of the building. "It’s a shady place where we can put a grill for a cookout with employees or just relax," Brooks says.

Always thinking energy efficiency, Brooks ran lines for LP gas and propylene glycol to an area where he may put a fireplace. "With a heating jacket on the fireplace, we could heat propylene glycol for the shop floor. I like to combine esthetics and functionality."

The building houses a full-size, marked basketball court, which the local high school used while its gym was being renovated. It’s wired for satellite radio and Ethernet.

In that roomy, comfortable facility, Brooks adds, "there’s no job we won’t tackle, if we have the time."


pD18 Planning Makes Perfect Shop SnapshotShop Snapshot

Ron Brooks, Waupaca, Wis.

  • Building: 80'×105' wood-frame building; 10" walls
  • Eave height: 20'
  • Contractor: Forest Construction of Luxemburg, Wis.
  • Insulation: 10" of fiberglass batt in the walls; 3' of loose-fill fiberglass insulation in the ceiling
  • Doors: 20'×40' Schweiss one-piece hydraulic door; 10'×12' overhead door (for cars and pickups); three walk-in doors
  • Heat: In-floor radiant; three zones controlled by thermostats
  • Workbenches: 3'×10' and 4'×15', both on rollers
  • Lights: Four banks of T8 fluorescent bulbs; thirty-six 4' bulbs per bank
  • Office/utility area: 24'×30'; includes office/confer-ence room, a utility room and a bathroom with shower and lockers
  • Storage: All portable cabinets; nothing on walls
  • Unusual features: Clerestory windows for light and solar heat; Plumbed for LP gas, biomass fuel or solar energy; 6'×24' porch at office entrance
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