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The Big Green Barn: One Man’s Personal Journey to Salvage a 1910 Barn (Part 3)

Posted Sep 22 2008 10:03am

The following is the third of a four-part installment of one man’s personal journey to salvage a 1910 barn in Southwest Michigan while keeping it as green as possible.
Catch up on past installments here.

The Big Green Barn By December, the foundation was poured and we were ready to move the timber frame from its location onto its new site. The original foundation of the barn was loose fieldstone so I needed to re-site the barn. I also wanted it turned 180 degrees to take full advantage of the sun’s path and prevailing winds. Rather than saying that it was impossible, or that it would be too much work, we took the challenge and found a way to lift the entire frame (by some estimates several tons) in one piece, turn it, and place it on a new foundation six feet away without incident. Granted, we were all holding our collective breath when the crane began to lift the frame off the ground, but everything they said would happen – happened.

Aside from the crane set-up, the original barn timber frame, from 1910, was moved in under 10 minutes. Sam, Peggy, Pat and the rest of their crew were a dream. They are preservationists at heart and focus on keeping and enhancing the overall integrity of the barn.

By Christmas the entire barn frame had locally hewn rough sawn siding attached. Next came a vapor barrier. Then, the exterior skin of SIPS (structural insulated panels) was put in place, after which the metal roof was installed. Windows and doors were installed and the barn was sealed just before Christmas - as I had hoped.

It had snowed about a foot the day before we moved the frame. Three days after we had sealed everything, all of the snow that was still inside had melted. The temperature inside the structure was 10-15 degrees warmer than outside, although I had yet to install a heating system. The barn had begun to provide it’s own insulation.

Another stroke of good fortune came when we began planning the heating system. The local plumber I hired also happened to be a heating contractor specializing in boilers and had installed many hydronic systems. In a hydronic heating system you are running water through tubing, which is laid out in a grid. The water moving through the tubes heats the mass surrounding it and then the heat radiates evenly upward. Once the mass is heated it takes less energy to sustain. On top of that there are less allergens in the air as there are with conventional gas forced air systems. In my case, and since I was putting everything on a concrete slab vs. over a basement, we first put dense sheets of foam (specifically made for this type of application) on top of the dirt. The foam acts as a barrier so the heat is not absorbed into the ground.

Next, a manifold was put in place which contained the tubing. The tubing runs from the manifold and creates different zones, allowing you, should you want, to control how much heat goes to certain areas of your home. It then comes back to the manifold and a high efficiency boiler. Once water is in the system, it continues to re-circulate.

To heat the second floor and the rooms over a crawl space, I went with a company called Warmboard. They manufactures structural sub floors for specifically for hydronic systems. I found out about Warmboard during my trip to The Green Build Expo, in Chicago last November. (By the way, the next Green Build Expo is in Boston this November 19th - 21. It is well worth the trip in if you are taking on your own green building project.)

The Warmboard system is really wild. They use thick pieces of plywood to route channels for the tubing about a foot apart. The entire board is then covered with aluminum. This acts as a conductor for the heat. You provide the company with your plans and they set up a custom system that they ship directly to your project (unfortunately, not everything I needed could be sourced from a 35 mile radius).

Because they are so heavy, they’re a little awkward to work with, however, I found them to be extremely well made. Once they’re installed, you run the tubing and then put the appropriate flooring on top of it. In my case I’m using bamboo.

Next, it was on to heating the water.

Check back next week for our final installment of our series for resources and your own inspiration.

Written by: John Braun

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