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Rotaryracer Reader
5/16/20 6:16 a.m.

So, Mrs. Rotaryracer and I moved from the 'burbs this past summer.  She fell in love with the house, I fell in love with the 5 acres and reasonable zoning requirements for outbuildings.  smiley  I've been dreaming about putting up a shop for years, but now that I finally have the space and means to do so, I realize I need to translate "man, if I just had a big, beautiful shop" to actual sizing, plans, BoM, etc.  We are going to be in this house for a minimum of 10 years and most likely a lot longer, so I'm going in thinking this is my only chance to do it once and do it right.  

We drove around and looked at pole barns, and even talked to a few owners.  I learned that overall building height is a bigger concern for my wife than square footage.  I'm probably looking at somewhere between 1,200 and 2,000 sq/ft....ideally I'd like 14' ceilings/doors, but...see height concern.  

I live in Upstate NY, and while global warming has helped (sorry Greta), winters still are damn cold.  I'll want to insulate well and at least take the chill off during the winter (40-50 degrees?)

To start, I was hoping to tap the hivemind (and those in the construction trades) on what I need to be thinking about/planning for with regards to foundation, plumbing, structure, etc.  As an example of some of the questions that rattle through my head....I like the idea of a heated slab, but how do you dodge the water lines when drilling for a lift?  Do I want to run separate service to the barn ($50/month minimum charge from RG&E) or upgrade my house panel to 400A and tap off that?  Can I (or do I want to) do 12' walls/doors with coffer trusses for lift clearance, or just go to 14' off the bat?  Do I want 6" of concrete everywhere, or can I do a quarter of the sq/ft deeper where the lift will go?  I'm sure I could write pages of questions, but this is already getting lengthy.  I've read Keith's post here on his shop, checked out Nonack's thread, read all of Mazdeuces's Grosh thread, and spent waaay to much time on Garage Journal....what else should Iook at?

I can provide more detail on what's going to be in the barn if that will help steer the discussion (assume normal GRM activities - racing, fixing junk, etc), but figured I'd talk construction first.  As you'd expect, my budget is more GRM than DuPont Registry, but if this is the only kick at the can I'm going to get, I want to do it right.  

TL;DR - If you were designing your dream workshop, how would you build it?  If you've already built, what do you like and what would you do differently?


SVreX (Forum Supporter)
SVreX (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
5/16/20 6:51 a.m.

Ok, I can offer a few opinions...

  - Height- You need to talk your wife lovingly out of this issue. Coffered ceilings, low doors, etc are aggravations and expense for an outbuilding when you don't need to. Your are on 5 acres in a rural area. Build a normal shop like anyone else, not something weird. 

- Heated slab- You avoid pipes by having a decent plan and building to it, then having an accurate set of as-built drawings.  Too many people make it up as they go. However, I would think long and hard before circulating water under a slab in upstate NY. 

- Electric service- Pay now, or pay later.  A couple thousand dollars to upgrade now, or $50 per month. 

- Wall height- 12' walls should be high enough for a lift. Don't go higher that you need- you will have to pay to heat it.

- Floor thickness- You don't need 6" thickness.  Most manufacturers approve 4" thickness for lift locations.

- Pole building- There are several construction types that make decent shops- pole buildings, metal buildings, etc.  Don't build something weird.  Build a building that is in keeping with other outbuildings in the areas. It will be cheaper to build (because the skills and resources are available locally), and it will retain resale value (because buyers won't look at it and say "Why did he build a weird building?").  A 1200 SF building is not huge.  It might look weird if the walls are too tall, and pole buildings look weird short.  Also, pole buildings are harder to insulate well.

Congrats!  Good luck!

Ranger50 UltimaDork
5/16/20 7:00 a.m.

The price difference between 8' and 12' walls in steel is almost enough to put up a block wall 4' high. You then could fill those blocks for additional comfort plus get the height for a lift and may make the spousal unit happier because it's not just a "unsightly" steel building.

Radiant heat. Don't heat the air, heat the cold steel lying around. Everything else will be warm.

mtn (Forum Supporter)
mtn (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
5/16/20 7:18 a.m.

Plumb a bathroom into it, even if you don’t put one in, it will be easy to do it now. I also recommend making it big enough to build a studio apartment into it, but that really depends on your use case. 

Pull through garage doors are awesome, although they’ll present another gigantic hole in the wall insulation problem. 

Drains would be nice to have as well, although epa regs might be an issue. 

SVreX (Forum Supporter)
SVreX (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
5/16/20 7:24 a.m.

I wouldn't do floor drains. The EPA probably isn't an issue, but putting floor drains in also means building the floor out of level, and that's a bigger problem to cope with ongoing. 

I loved my pull-through garage doors, but I was in the deep South.  My issue was heat, not cold.  The 2 open doors made terrific flow-through ventilation. 

Patrick (Forum Supporter)
Patrick (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
5/16/20 7:25 a.m.

How many cars do you plan to put in it?

i just built the best i could within the constraints of my lot and zoning.  I'm at 2,000 square feet and half of it has 12' ceiling.  It's big but not huge.  I could have gone huge if I didn't want a garden anymore, but that's a necessity for me.  I wouldn't go 14' tall side walls unless you need to build a loft you can stand on.  

buzzboy Dork
5/16/20 7:55 a.m.

I like playing with garage layouts on https://floorplancreator.net/plan/demo 

It's the easiest of the free floor plan software for playing with garage size and car placement.

Hasbro (Forum Supporter)
Hasbro (Forum Supporter) SuperDork
5/16/20 8:17 a.m.
SVreX (Forum Supporter) said:

I loved my pull-through garage doors, but I was in the deep South.  My issue was heat, not cold.  The 2 open doors made terrific flow-through ventilation. 

I built a garage with pull-through doors and loved it also. They opened like pedestrian doors, each with a left and right door, old timey style with insulated windows.  About 3" thick with 1" polyisocyanurate panels sandwiched in the middle. Very well sealed and kept the heat and cold out. 

mazdeuce - Seth
mazdeuce - Seth Mod Squad
5/16/20 9:28 a.m.

In my perfect world I'd have pull through doors and a slab out the back to deep clean things on. I'd put an outdoor lift there too so I could pressure wash the bottom of things. I also like working outside in the nice months. 

You NEED a bathroom. The ability to stop, pee, and go back to work without having to figure out how to clean up enough to go into the house is a game changer. I'd figure out a way to plumb in a point of use hot water heater because hot water cuts grease on billion times better than cold. 

I have tons of ideas, but those are the biggest ones. 

oldopelguy (Forum Supporter)
oldopelguy (Forum Supporter) UberDork
5/16/20 10:47 a.m.

On my 24x60 garage pole building the materials cost difference to go from 9' side walls to 11' was $600 on a $10k materials bill. Labor cost was the same.  Height is the cheapest way to add volume, but you are only going to be able to use it if you have a lift or use something like pallet racking to get stuff off the floor.

You probably want to plan to break it up into at least 3 spaces, probably 4. You are obviously going to want to have the big work space, but less obviously you are going to want a separate space for storage. Few things are more frustrating and demoralizing than tripping over that part you need for the next project while you are working on the current one.   

Similarly, if you want a comfy chair or a computer available, and you do, you don't want them in the same space as your welder and grinder. If you are into woodworking as well you might want to set aside a space for that unless you are way better at cleaning up sawdust than anyone who has ever cut wood.

Plus the bathroom. 

If you are going to do in floor radiant heat, build a dedicated utility room for the furnace where all the plumbing comes out of the floor.  If you dont those fittings are just going to always be in the way. It'll be a good spot for your air compressor too, so you won't have to listen to it run. 

Pallet racking comes in 8' widths plus the uprights or 12' plus the uprights.  The tin for sheeting comes in 3' widths. Tin on the inside walls of your workspace is easy to keep clean and bright.  Keep those dimensions in mind when you're deciding what dimensions you want to choose. 

Patrick (Forum Supporter)
Patrick (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
5/16/20 10:55 a.m.

In reply to oldopelguy (Forum Supporter) :

X1111000000 on the separate spaces.  I have, because i was adding onto my existing shop, a 26x32 that can be closed off from the work area.  With shelves down most of both sides i can put 5 cars and parts for everything i'm not working on in there and keep them from collecting dirt from working.  Make the place you plan to keep your ready to drive cars so you can pull right out and go, i've found if it's a pain to get them out they never get driven.  

oldopelguy (Forum Supporter)
oldopelguy (Forum Supporter) UberDork
5/16/20 1:16 p.m.

In reply to Patrick (Forum Supporter) :

Good point there, a work space is not a garage. If you want to park your completed projects in the clean part of the shop that's fine as long as you plan for it.  But if you're pride and joy is trapped by something that doesn't move it's not moving either. I winterized my motorcycle in 2013 and it hasn't been worth the work to dig it out until this year. 

Different spaces are great from an operational standpoint as well.  If you have a small clean office off the work area it's easy and relatively cheap to keep it heated and air conditioned.  A 50 degree workspace in the winter or 90 degree in the summer is infinitely more bearable if you can retreat into the office for breaks once in a while. 

That's also a good thing about a drive through design: cross ventilation.  A cheap bigass fan in one door blowing across and out the other side of the shop is almost as good as ac, plus it gets smoke and the like our fast.

Curtis73 (Forum Supporter)
Curtis73 (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
5/16/20 3:44 p.m.

times 10 on radiant heat.  It will always be a drafty barn.  Don't heat the air because it just throws money out the cracks.  Heat surfaces.  My shop at work has an overhead gas radiant heater (Vangaurd is the brand).  It will melt plastic 12' below it on the floor if you crank it up.

Always go way bigger than you think you need.  If you were on a 1/4 acre, I'd say just put what you're allowed.  You're on 5 acres.  My dad's property has a 40 x 40 AND a 36 x 42 (or 48... I forget) and until we get all of our toys in there, you can't even walk around them.  Sardines.  Just go big.  It's way cheaper go with a 50% larger building than it is to build another structure later.

earlybroncoguy1 New Reader
5/16/20 5:37 p.m.

My area (Central Texas) has a slightly different climate than yours, so take my recommendations with that in mind:

* Go bigger than you think you need. Stuff will fill it up faster than you belive possible.

* I went with 16' high for a couple of reasons -  I had a toyhauler travel trailer that was 12' tall I wanted to park inside, and the added height let me build a loft/balcony/upper deck for parts storage and plenty of room for a lift.

* Figure out where the lift columns will be and have the contractor go a little thicker in the slab in those areas.

* Insulation, insulation, insulation.

* Place a large diameter, empty, capped PVC pipe elbow at the edge of the form where the slab will be poured so you can run coax, Cat 5/6, phone, and whatever else whenever you want in the future and not have to worry about cutting holes in the walls.

I wish I had run water to my shop at the start, but we don't have to deal with freezing down here. Heat is a another story. 

Don49 (Forum Supporter)
Don49 (Forum Supporter) Dork
5/16/20 8:44 p.m.

Plus 1 on the taller height with a loft for storage. I've had that in 2 shops and it made a huge difference in keeping things organized and out of the way.

SVreX (Forum Supporter)
SVreX (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
5/17/20 6:39 a.m.

Your answer on the height question may be scissor trusses.

My last shop was a wood frame building with 9' high walls and a steep pitched roof with scissor trusses.  It gave me 16' height in the middle, and I had a lift and a storage loft.  The exterior looked like a house.  The garage door was in center of the gable end (so I had the height).

I also had high dormers with windows that let light in.  It was a beautiful building, but it did cost me more to build.

That could meet both your needs and your wife's

mazdeuce - Seth
mazdeuce - Seth Mod Squad
5/17/20 6:44 a.m.

For those who know radiant/in floor heat, how much extra does it cost to have zoned heat? When talking about separate spaces above it reminded me that I've always thought it would be useful to have a "winter project" area that could be kept a reasonable temperature while the rest of the building was 20-30 degrees colder than that. 

SVreX (Forum Supporter)
SVreX (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
5/17/20 7:05 a.m.

In reply to mazdeuce - Seth :

Generally, zoned heat doesn't work well with radiant.  It's only 1 slab.  If you leave part of it cool, it reduces the efficiency of the part you are trying to heat.

Having said that, almost all radiant systems are piped in zones, and there is no reason you can't have zone valves.

Radiant has a big problem in a shop- lag time.  It's really nice to walk on a warm slab, but it takes several hours to get up to temperature.  That's just not the way I use my shop.  I walk out to it, do a project, and leave. There is rarely time for the slab to heat up.

Radiant works best to MAINTAIN a given temperature. I suspect most people who have radiant slabs in the North leave the heat on pretty much continuously.

mazdeuce - Seth
mazdeuce - Seth Mod Squad
5/17/20 7:08 a.m.

In reply to SVreX (Forum Supporter) :

So one could use radiant to keep the whole building at 45-50 and then some sort of forced air to heat a closed off work bay when necessary? Maybe? This really is something that bounces around in my head quite a lot. Don't mean to hijack the thread. 

SVreX (Forum Supporter)
SVreX (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
5/17/20 7:40 a.m.

In reply to mazdeuce - Seth :

Yep. That's the best use.

But most people don't want to pay for 2 heating systems, and radiant isn't cheap.

Antihero (Forum Supporter)
Antihero (Forum Supporter) UltraDork
5/17/20 9:34 a.m.

Radiant heat floors are almost always done in zones to help with efficiency. The shorter distance the hot water has to travel the better it works.


The concrete acts as thermal mass and there's a lot of mass. A standard 4 inch floor means every 8x10 section is roughly 4000 pounds. It takes awhile to heat up and awhile to cool down.

STM317 UltraDork
5/17/20 9:57 a.m.

Sorry for the incoming novel.

We went through this a couple of years ago. The first step should be understanding what you want and how that aligns with what you're allowed to build. We live on 3 acres in a rural area. Still, we would've needed variances to build anything larger than half the sqft of our house. We would've needed a variance for anything over 14ft tall, and we would've needed a variance to have any part of the building closer to the main road than our house. Variances aren't a huge deal, but they do add some minimal cost, some time, and they give others a chance to object to your plans. Find out what your local government says you can/can't do and what can be done but will take more steps.

We ended up cutting a couple of feet off the porch (to meet the rule about sqft under roof), going with shorter walls/scissor trusses/low pitched roof (to give me over 12ft interior height without a monster tall building),and moving the building back a couple of feet (we just eyeballed the initial location and had to bump it back slightly) to avoid any need for variances.

Any outbuilding is going to be a balance between pure functionality, aesthetics and cost. We have a decent home in a pretty visible location. It was important to us that the shop not overpower the house in height or square footage, and we wanted it to look decent rather than like a warehouse or cheap agricultural building that might reduce the appeal of the house down the line. This required sacrificing some functionality, as well as adding some cost, but I think we ended up in a decent place.

The porch, windows, and fancier overhead doors all added some cost in the name of aesthetics. That meant less budget for other things. The shorter walls kept it from towering over the house (or needing a variance), but it means my overhead doors are only 8ft tall, so no monster trucks, big equipment or tall trailers/RVs. The multiple overhead doors give me some ability to pull through, but it's not ideal. Still, it's better than nothing and the layout of my lot and the location of the building really wouldn't have allowed anything else. Everything is a compromise.

The biggest thing that I'd change if doing it again would be extending the concrete apron from the current 2ft to about 10ft out of all of the overhead doors. As it is, tires track lots of gravel and things into the shop. I'll get more concrete poured at some point, but it would've been relatively cheap and easy to do during the initial pour.


General things to consider:

If you're on 5 acres, you probably have a well and septic rather than city utilities. That can make it difficult/impossible to do plumbing in a shop, or you have to add the shop's own well and septic which adds a ton of cost.

If you're in NY, having doors on the eave walls (like mine) will make it possible for all the snow on the roof to melt/fall off and pile up right in front of your overhead doors. This can be mitigated somewhat with gutters and proper snow guards on the roof but it should be considered. Gable end doors would prevent this, but may/may not be the right aesthetic or layout for you.

It's cheaper to build "up" than "out". Height is cheap to add, floor space is not. You'll have to weigh the benefits/drawbacks of each. 12ft height should accommodate most lifts. 12ft with scissor trusses would definitely leave plenty of room to spare. 10ft walls with scissor trusses like pictured above might be an option too, but it depends what your priorities are.

Keeping dimensions in increments of 4ft or 8ft can make things cheaper since many building materials come in those dimensions. That means less time to construct and less wasted material. I wanted a 30'x50' building. It was cheaper to build a 32'x48', and I ended up with 36 more sqft inside.

If you want the building to last, spend the extra money for decent overhangs, gutters, and proper grading/drainage including downspouts. There are even concrete forms that will prevent your posts from being below grade where they might rot.

In-floor heat gets rave reviews, but to do it right, you need to insulate under the entire slab, and also around the exposed perimeter or all of your heat leeches out where you don't want it. By the same token, the slab inside your building should be isolated from any exterior apron, porch, driveway, etc. This adds cost of course, and you have to find a contractor or concrete crew that's used to working with insulation, etc.

Pole framed construction gets you a weather tight building in a cost effective manner. That can give you time to finish the inside on your own as time/money allow (I'm still working on mine 3 years later). But, by the time you frame it out, insulate, add a bunch of electrical, wall sheeting of your choice, etc the cost benefit over traditional stick built pretty much disappears. So, if budget is tight now and you're willing/able to finish it to your desired specs over time, then a pole building has advantages. If you want it all done in one swoop, and can afford it all at once, then a stick-built with traditional footers might be the better option.

pirate HalfDork
5/17/20 11:05 a.m.

I would consider building tall enough to be able to have a loft at one end. I'm thinking mainly for storage to keep the main floor clear of clutter. Another advantage is the area below the loft can be enclosed for a smaller shop with work benches, drill presses, band saws or other power tools plus maybe a bath room or small office with desk and computer. This enclosed area could have double French doors or sliding door opening to the main shop area. This enclosed area is much easier to heat or cool quickly as necessary without heating or cooling the whole shop. 

SVreX (Forum Supporter)
SVreX (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
5/17/20 1:29 p.m.
Antihero (Forum Supporter) said:

Radiant heat floors are almost always done in zones to help with efficiency. The shorter distance the hot water has to travel the better it works.


That's kinda accurate, but not exactly.

The piping is laid out in circuits (not exactly zones) to achieve even distribution efficiency, but not performance efficiency. 

If a radiant system was laid out in one big loop, the space would heat unevenly. The fluid would be warm at the beginning of the loop, and cold at the end of the loop. The floor would warm unevenly- the portion near the beginning would be much warmer than the portion near the end.  It would be uncomfortable, but it wouldn't technically use more energy to heat the space to the same average temperature throughout.  It would take the same number of BTUs (therefore equal performance efficiency).

The circuits in a radiant system aren't exactly zones.  They aren't designed to heat different areas to different temperatures (and could theoretically cause damage to the slab by heating it unevenly).  But yes, you could put zone valves on them and try to use the circuits as zones.

Seth's question was about using the system in a zoned manner for performance efficiency (ie: so you don't have to heat the rooms you are not using).  Radiant isn't generally designed to do that. 

oldopelguy (Forum Supporter)
oldopelguy (Forum Supporter) UberDork
5/17/20 1:56 p.m.

My radiant system uses a thermostat to start the pump and the temperature of the water going through the heat section cycles the burner on and off.  My upcoming shop addition is going to get an old school cast iron radiator in the office with its own pump and thermostat that will be plumbed back to the furnace in parallel with the existing system.  If the office gets cold, the pump starts, and the flowing water will cycle the furnace. 

Some radiant systems do the same thing with a hot loop and a cold loop, with the radiators or floors in between. The water pump always runs in the hot loop, and if nothing is using the hot water it returns to the furnace still hot. If the thermostat in a room or zone calls for heat it opens a valve and hot loop water flows into the radiator, gets cooled as the room takes its heat, and the cooler water is sent through the cold loop back to the furnace.  The furnace cycles to maintain return temperatures high.

When I lived in Saratoga Springs, NY there was a guy just outside of town that had an outdoor wood boiler running a dual loop system.  His boiler burned up 8' logs up to 24" in diameter, and electronics controlled flues and draft fans as required to maintain return temps on the hot loop. Each room in the house had its own thermostat and radiator, and it all just worked. The best feature, though, was the radiant heat loops in his asphalt driveway. For the cost of burning up a log he could flip a switch and melt the snow on his driveway. If I ever pour a new apron on my shop, which has a north facing apron, I am totally adding tubing to it for the couple times a year I just want to get rid of the ice build up.

Any radiant heat professional should be able to set up your furnace to work with zones, but you'll need to be clear about what you want up front.  It's also less effective and there are more issues trying to maintain a significant temperature difference between two parts of the same slab, but a 50 degree shop and a 60 degree office would probably be doable.  For significant differences, like if you want to leave the shop off most of the winter and just heat the office you probably want to consider two different slabs with insulation between them. 

Honestly, I leave my shop @50 degrees all winter.  It would be cold if I was sitting around watching TV, but I am hardly ever in the work space sitting around. Taking it up from 50 to 65 or so takes 2-3 hours in my 30x40 shop if I really want to, but I usually just put on a sweatshirt and get to work. 

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