Plenty of Space to Work

August 23, 2013 10:57 PM
Plenty of Space to Work

The Paxton family’s simple shop turned out just right

Doing plenty of research before building their new shop paid off in comfort and efficiency for brothers Joe and Steve Paxton and their sons of Grove City, Pa. "It’s not a fancy shop, but it’s very functional," Joe says.

The Paxtons visited other shops and studied those in magazines. "We picked out the things we liked best and put them into this one," Joe adds.

Some of the Paxtons’ favorite features include enough room to work on multiple machines, overnight parking space to keep machines from freezing, floor heat and overhead doors.

The 64'x72' building was designed and constructed by Joe’s son-in-law, Mark Saeler, who operates a construction company. "The shop is a standard pole building," Saeler explains. "The structural posts are pressure-treated 6x6s, spaced 8' apart, resting on a 10" concrete footing. We put 2x6 framing between the posts so we could install insulation and interior and exterior finishes."


Two generations of Paxtons—Scott, Joe, Silas and Steve (not pictured)—use their new shop to maintain equipment on their Pennsylvania dairy farm.

Seeing the layout on Saeler’s computer screen, with three big machines placed as if they all were being worked on, helped persuade the Paxtons to go ahead with the new facility. The decision became almost a no-brainer when they reflected on the building they had been using as a shop. "It was very small," says Scott, Joe’s son. "I called it a toolbox and parts room, rather than a shop. No machine with dual wheels would fit inside. With no storage space, stuff kept creeping onto the floor."

Floor heat. Another decision that turned out to be fairly easy was the in-floor radiant heating system. "Every­body we talked to said that’s the way to heat a shop or garage," Scott says. With in-floor heat, Joe and Scott say the building stays warm all the way from the floor to the ceiling. "You can park a truck in here in the winter, and it will be dry in two hours," Joe adds.

Steve Kalasky with Thermo Supply in West Middlesex, Pa., designed the heating system. A boiler heats a propylene glycol/water solution that flows through ¾" PEX (crosslinked polyethelene) tubing embedded in the concrete floor. The 150,000-btu HTP boiler, fueled by natural gas, is rated 98% efficient and is modulated to match its firing rate to the needs of the structure.

The system runs off of a single manifold—just one heating zone controlled by one thermostat. The lines run underneath the office/utility area, as well as the work bay. In the office, supplemental heat is available from electric baseboard heaters.

paxton shop floor

During construction, a network of copper tubing was installed to carry the solution of propylene glycol and water to heat the concrete floor.

The heating system and efficient insu­lation work together to keep the building cold or warm, as needed. "To minimize heat loss, after the building was constructed, we excavated enough space between the posts to install 2" of rigid foam insulation board around the perimeter of the building," Saeler says. "Under the concrete floor, the main insulation is a semi-rigid type of foam insulation board with a built-in vapor barrier, called The Barrier XT." Installing that product involved only one step compared to the traditional method of laying down sheets of foam insulation board, taping the seams and then overlaying a polyethelene vapor barrier, he adds.

"The wall insulation system is a hybrid system called ‘flash-batt,’" Saeler explains. "It utilizes a 1" layer of closed-cell polyurethane foam (BASF Comfort Foam) insulation, sprayed on the inside of the outside wall. Between the wall studs, we placed standard 6" fiberglass batt insulation."

Combining the two types of insulation creates an assembly that is virtually air-tight with an R-value around 25. The ceilings are insulated with 12" of standard blown-in fiberglass material, providing an R-value of 38.

paxton shop loft

A stairway leads to the overhead storage area. The 16'x24' utility area includes a 12'x12' office and brightly lit tool room.

"With no drafts, any heat we make stays inside the building," Steve says.

"The building requires very little heat," Scott says. During its first year in 2011-2012, the owners found the temperature stayed at 50°F to 55°F until early winter. Only then did they turn on the heat. "In the summer, it stayed nice and cool," Scott adds. "People who came to deliver parts thought we had air conditioning."

The Paxtons installed circulating fans in the ceiling. "They’re not part of the heating system," Scott says. "We just thought circulating air would be a good idea."

Chip-resistant easy-to-clean floor. Resting on a bed of gravel is the concrete floor, which is reinforced with wire mesh and embedded with propylene fibers to resist chipping, then sealed to make clean-up easier. The concrete is 8" thick under the work bay and 6" thick under the 16'x24' utility/storage area.

The utility/storage area includes a 12'x12' shop office. (The farm office is located in another building.) The office also serves as a breakroom for employees. There was no need for a bathroom because one is available nearby in the milking parlor.

Machinery enters through two overhead garage doors—20'x16' and 18'x?14'. "We didn’t know we could get a 20'x16' garage door, but they are available," Scott says. "Overhead doors are far cheaper than other kinds, and we’ve been happy with them. Keeping remote door openers in our skid loaders, combine and forage chopper makes it easy to get in and out."

"Putting another garage door in the rear would have allowed straight-through entrance and exit, and a nice breeze with an east-west wind," Scott says. "But the landscape didn’t allow it."

The work bay is illuminated by 14 Lithonia IBZ light fixtures, each containing six 4' F32T8HL fluorescent bulbs. In the overhead storage area are two fixtures, each with two 8' bulbs. The tool room in the utility area contains one fixture with two 4' bulbs.

In the daytime, light enters the building through nine windows in the shop bay and two in the office. There also are two windows in each overhead door and one window in the single walk-in door.

The interior walls, as well as the outside walls, are covered with 29-gauge, white-painted steel sheeting. In the work bay, the steel sheeting reflects light and is easier to clean than other surfaces. A few areas where work benches might be placed are lined with ¾" plywood for hanging tools.

There are small 12"-thick concrete aprons outside the overhead doors. "We would have liked a bigger apron for washing vehicles, but the slope of the land didn’t allow it," Scott explains.

Power close at hand. There are five electrical outlets with four receptacles each in the north wall, three in the east wall and five in the south wall. There are two outlets in the utility room wall, one in the storage area and one in the overhead storage area.

The Paxtons anticipated placing compressed-air outlets all around the shop, but they might not be needed. A hose from the compressor can reach the center of the shop and the welding area, where most work takes place. Running a hose from the shop’s new compressor to the old air tank located in another building increased air storage capacity.

An exhaust fan in the ceiling ventilates the welding area. For now, the shop’s welding table doubles as a workbench. "We’re waiting a while to install workbenches so we can decide where we want to put permanent fixtures," Scott says. "So far, we haven’t missed workbenches; the welding table has been all we need."

As they did their research, the Paxtons thought not only about what they needed, but about features they could do without. One thing they plan to purchase in the future is a mobile hoist. "But we don’t need tie-downs in the floor," Scott says. "For straightening projects, a big I-beam and a backhoe work fine. We saw no need for an oil-change pit because our trucks are very accessible. Instead of installing a bulk oil system, we bought cheap carts for barrels and just push them where needed."

As dairy producers, the Paxtons must maintain an array of equipment, from trucks and tractors to a forage chopper and combine. They do almost all of their own repairs, except for warranty work and the infinitely variable transmissions on their newer tractors. Their shop also lets them park milk trucks, manure trucks and feeding equipment indoors so the machines are warm and ready to go on cold winter mornings. "There isn’t one thing I don’t like or would change in the shop," Joe concludes.

Shop Snapshot

Steve, Joe, Scott and Silas Paxton, Grove City, Pa.


Building: Wood frame, 64'x72'
Eave Height: 18'
Building Contractor: Saeler Construction, Grove City, Pa.
In-floor radiant heat design: Thermo Supply, West Middlesex, Pa.
Insulation: "Flash-batt" system in walls (sprayed-on polyurethane foam plus fiberglass batt between the studs); 12" of blown-in insulation in ceiling
Heat: In-floor heating system controlled by one manifold
Doors: 20'x16' and 18'x14' overhead garage doors; one walk-in door
Storage: Overhead storage above office/utility area
Lighting: 14 fixtures, each containing six 4' fluorescent bulbs in work bay; additional lighting in overhead storage area and tool room
Office/utility area: 16'x24' including a 12'x12' office and neighboring tool room

You can e-mail Darrell Smith at

For more photos of the Paxton family’s shop, as well as more information on the products mentioned in the story, visit

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