WHEN ROGER AND Glen Volkening split up their farming operations fours years ago, Roger was left without a farm shop. All equipment was stored and maintained in his brother's shop a mile and a half away.

“All I had was a little machine shed built back in the '50s where I kept my welder and tools,” says Volkening, who farms 1,300 acres with his wife Cathy in Marengo, IL. “I used an LP gas heater to keep it warm, but it wasn't very efficient. And we couldn't drive anything inside except for a small tractor.”

So after 35 years of farming, Volkening decided it was time to build his own shop. He contracted Morton Buildings to put up a 60- × 120- × 18-ft. combination building that is big enough to accommodate his large machinery.

“I can drive into the shop with an eight-row corn head on my 9510 John Deere combine, grease it at night and have it ready for the next day,” he says. “And if I have to work on anything, all my tools are right there. So it is really nice.”

Volkening is not the only farmer putting up a new farm shop. Morton, Lester, and Wick — the Big Three manufacturers of farm buildings — all report a rise in building requests. “We've seen a significant increase in demand through the latter part of 2004 and into early 2005,” says Larry Lembrich, senior vice president of Lester Buildings.

Drivers of demand

Various factors are driving the building boom. One is a rebounding farm economy coupled with low interest rates. “We've had a great crop in 2004,” says Al Viney, director of marketing for Morton Buildings. “And with bushels in the bin and a good crop, farmers often take a look at how they can upgrade facilities and invest in their business.”

A second factor is farm consolidation. Today's average farm is much larger than before, where three or four farmsteads are now incorporated into one, according to Lembrich. “Farmers want to centrally locate one larger shop,” he says.

Finally, as the farm population ages, older customers are requiring more comfortable conditions in which to work on their equipment. “Typically they have been operating with sliding doors and dirt floors for years and have just had enough,” says Dean Douglas, estimator with Wick Buildings. “They want to have a nice shop that is big enough to get their truck or big eight-row picker in and be able to work on it out of the elements.”

Not your father's shed

The shops built today are different from the old dirt-floor sheds they are replacing. They tend to be larger, taller, heated and insulated. And many are equipped with an office, a second-story deck for parts storage, a restroom and even a shower.

“Typically we are seeing buildings built much larger than before,” says Lester Buildings' Lembrich. Farm shops years ago were 1,200 to 3,000 sq. ft. Today they range from 5,000 to 20,000 sq. ft. “And they are wider and taller to accommodate larger equipment,” he says.

Following is a review of current farm shop design trends:

Wider shops

Typical shop widths are 60 to 75 ft. on up to 100 ft., compared with 45 to 55 ft. a decade ago.

Higher ceilings

Traditional buildings were 12 to 14 ft. high. Now most heights are 16, 18 and 20 ft. Higher ceilings allow customers to work on the top of combines and other equipment.

Lofts

In many cases, the taller shops incorporate a loft over the office or workshop area for storage of parts and filters.

Extra rooms

Modern shops also incorporate an office, restroom with a shower, and a lunchroom. Some even include spray booths for painting metal parts and equipment.

Bigger doors

Door widths are increasing from 20 to 24 ft., up to 30 to 36 ft., to accommodate large combines and headers. An overhead clearance of at least 16.5 ft. is typically required. An overhead door requires an additional 1- to 4-ft. clearance when it is in its rolled-up position.

New door designs

Doors have progressed from traditional sliding doors to overhead doors and on to bi-fold doors used in airplane hangers. According to Morton Buildings' Viney, the next trend beyond the bi-fold is the Hydroswing door, which pivots at the top and swings up and out and is powered by hydraulics. Its manufacturer claims the door uses only 5 in. of door space when open.

In-floor heat

Wick Buildings' Douglas says the type of shop heating currently preferred in the Midwest is in-floor radiant heat where hot water is pumped through vinyl tubing that is honeycombed back and forth through the floor.

Thicker floors

Floors are being poured with 8 in. of concrete instead of 6 in. to make them stronger for bigger, heavier equipment.

Better insulation

Today's shop is better insulated to reduce utility costs of keeping it warm in the winter.

Steel liners

Steel liners in bright colors are being installed on the inside walls to reflect light and enhance looks. Some panels are made of acoustical steel to cut noise.

Shadow panels

Manufacturers also are seeing requests for 4 × 8 sheets of OSB board or plywood placed on the bottom third of shop walls to allow for hanging tools.

Energy efficient lights

Finally, Morton is seeing a move toward metal halide lights that come on slowly when turned on. They provide good light and are very energy efficient, Viney says. A second choice is florescent lights.

Separate facilities

An emerging trend is to make the farm shop and machinery storage into two separate buildings instead of one single “combination” building. “Buildings started out as machine storage sheds,” Viney explains. “Then farmers started to wall off part of the storage shed and develop it into a shop. What we are seeing now is that facilities are becoming separate. Folks are looking at a separate shop and separate machine storage shed.”

Typical dimensions of stand-alone shops depend on the size of the farm. “The smallest stand-alone shops are around 2,500 sq. ft., while the average is around 4,000 sq. ft.,” Lembrich says.

“We have some shops that are 6,000 to 10,000 sq. feet,” he adds. “And that is just the shop area.” He says typical sizes for the machine shed or the additional storage facility are 80 × 200 ft. or 60 × 150 ft. “They are pretty big and used just for storage,” he says.

Exterior

Builders report that, as farm buildings become larger, customers are looking for ways to match the buildings to their farmsteads. Farmers are opting to dress up shops with porches, overhangs, mansards, cupolas and different pitched roofs.

Also popular are detailed features that visually break up the building and add style. Such features include wainscoting, little roofs called “eyebrows” over the top of access doors and windows, and deep fascias and overhangs, according to Viney.

Different colors are also used to accent shops. Earth tones are popular on the exterior as well as primary colors such as red or green to match the color of the equipment stored inside.

Accent colors can be applied to eyebrows and door frames to highlight openings.

“They are paying a lot more attention to a shop that is a major investment for them,” Lembrich says. “And they are treating it more like a home than just a farm storage building as they did years in the past.”

Plan early

Because of the size and complexity of today's farm buildings, more planning is being put into the layout of the buildings than in the past. Attention is being paid to such components as floor drains and slopes, waste handling, lighting, types of heating, telephone systems, computer links and fire extinguisher locations.

Electrical work, plumbing and HVAC also are being planned at the time of building selection. “Years ago those were usually built-ons and afterthoughts,” Lembrich says. “And then a lot of times your building wasn't designed or insulated the right way to accommodate a lot of systems.”

As a result, if you would like to build a new shop on your farm, you should make your plans during the winter and early spring when farming is slower, Lembrich advises. You can use that time to sketch out the dimensions and features of your shop. And using manufacturer Web sites, you can build templates of your combines, wagons, trucks and other equipment that will be stored inside your shed.

During preplanning you can also think about how equipment will be moved in and out and how you want your lighting and heating to be installed.

Another advantage of early planning is that post-frame buildings are typically cheaper to buy and put up in the winter and early spring than any other time in the year. “Buy early,” Lembrich says. “You'll save money.”

Finally, Viney says because of the size and complexity of the buildings, it is important to work with a knowledgeable builder that can custom tailor the exterior look and make the inside as effective and efficient as possible.

“Today's farmers don't have much time,” Viney says. “They have big equipment they want to work on, and they want to have a shop that really works for them. So it is important that customers work with builders they trust to get that done.”

WHERE TO GO FOR HELP

Lester Buildings
1111 2nd Ave. S.Lester Prairie, MN 55354
800/826-4439
www.lesterbuildings.com

Morton Buildings
Box 399
Morton, IL 61550
800/447-7436, ext. 186
www.mortonbuildings.com

Wick Buildings
405 Walter Rd.
Mazomanie, WI 53560
800/356-9682
www.wickbuildings.com

National Frame Builders Association
4840 Bob Billings Pkwy.
Lawrence, KS 66049-3862
800/557-6957
www.nfba.org

ECONOMICAL RENOVATIONS

FIVE UPDATES THAT ARE CHEAPER THAN BUILDING NEW

If you lack the funds to put up a brand-new farm shop, consider updating your old one. According to Dean Douglas, estimator for Wick Buildings, renovating can be more economical than putting up a new structure. “They may have a machine shed that it is not useable because it was built for smaller equipment, but if they renovate it and put in a bi-fold hanger door, suddenly they can use it for their very large equipment,” Douglas says.

He says many of the existing farm sheds were built 20 or 30 years ago when equipment was built much smaller. There are ways you can turn that old building into a useable four-season shop. Here are some popular retrofits to consider:

New floor

Many old farm shops were built with dirt floors. A concrete floor can be poured that is cleaner, more efficient and easier to work on than dirt.

Larger doors

Older sliding doors can be replaced with bi-fold hanger doors or Hydroswing doors that are power operated and big enough for very large machinery.

Insulation

Adding at least 6 in. of fiberglass in the walls and 12 in. in the attic can help keep the shop warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

Liners

Buildings also can be lined with steel to enhance insulation. The bright liners reflect light to brighten up the shop and keep sound down if made of acoustical steel.

Heat

Douglas says the preferred method of heating shops in the Midwest is in-floor radiant heat. Other less expensive but slightly less effective options are overhead radiant heat and a forced air furnace.