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  • building a shop

    I'm getting to the point where I'm starting to seriously consider re-locating to a retirement type setting where I would build my shop and home. Maybe there's an existing home or whatever, but the shop is my main concern. I'm thinking about the different methods of construction.

    My basic plan, assuming land only, is to have a slab poured which would have the house built on one end of it, the shop on the other, and a large covered breezeway between where we could park our bikes and vehicles, have our outdoor fireplace, barbeque pit, etc. The order of construction would be slab and services first, obviously, then the shop. The house would come last as the shop would include some living areas for me, more or less becoming the equivalent of the on-site construction trailer. Of course it would be my (our) shop, and would have all the dedicated areas for woodworking, metalworking, indoor vehicle maintenance bay, etc. My living quarters might be second floor, or maybe ground floor, but I don't want a basement shop. I want windows so I can see out.

    At any rate, my question concerns the various methods of construction, and foremost in my mind at the moment is styrofoam block, concrete filled. My friend used to work at a place where they made these blocks. They made straights, corners, and foundation sized hollow blocks, and I think they made T's also. Has anyone here had any experience building like this?
    I seldom do anything within the scope of logical reason and calculated cost/benefit, etc- I'm following my passion-

  • #2
    Darryl, I suspect you are contemplating a bigger scale than we built (200 sm metrs total) but we did something along the same lines.

    The house, garages, shop are all on the one slab, the shop is behind the garages but access between house and shop is via the garages which gives a reasonable 'decontamination' zone.

    We built in a residential area and I specified no windows in the shop area, it is a single level building with natural lighting from sky lights. This works well and I recommend you consider it especially if space is a consideration. My machines are on a concrete bench near the middle of the shop with skylights overhead. All the wall space is available for hanging and storage and I am very happy with the way I have been able to utilise the space.

    There is an internal garage door between shop and garages and I can get a vehicle into the shop if I need to. I reinforced the lintel of this door so that I can use a chain block to lift or unload a vehicle if necessary.

    We built timber frame with brick veneer and long run steel roofing. I have seen the foam blocks used but I dont know anything about them except the buildings seem to go up fast.

    Last edited by The Artful Bodger; 04-15-2012, 05:19 PM.


    • #3
      Why not build a bigger shop (sq. feet) and put an apartment on the second floor, smaller footprint but more shop floor space, may be cheaper. Kill to birds with one shell.
      The shortest distance between two points is a circle of infinite diameter.

      Bluewater Model Engineering Society at


      • #4
        I built a house using ICF. Supposedly the wall had an R40 equivalency, but the walls always felt cool. The utility bills were low, so the walls did do a good job. Outside sounds were muffled quite well. An air to air heat exchanger to bring in outside air is almost a necessity because the walls are airtight. The eight inches of concrete gives some peace of mind during stormy weather such as the tornadoes yesterday and today. Edited to correct spelling.


        • #5
          Keep it on the ground floor

          I have built with these and they are a great product. I understood they are a bit more in cost but well worth it. Think hard about all living area on ground floor. As you age stairs get much harder to climb, and at some point almost impossible. I build homes and meet many older people that must now live in there living room as bedrooms are unreachable. We've installed residential elevators costing about 15 grand but worth every penny if you need it.


          • #6
            Yes, I am considering the ease (or disease) with which an older person can climb stairs. I know myself, I'll never get old . I climb out of the basement at present, but it is getting more difficult even in my early 60's.

            Yesterday, I watched my friend (one who will be here with me in the shop, and will be living in the house we build) climbing down the stairs in her present home. She's younger than me by 15 yrs, but that looked painful and I know it was. Chances are this will have to be a rancher overall, which means a bigger slab for the same sq ft, as well as less sq ft per taxation.

            I like the idea of having an upstairs, maybe in both the house and shop, but that also means substantially increased strength in the lower floor I'm sure. I have a lot of homework to do especially where I can't find common knowledge of how to build to suit. No one I've spoken to locally has any experience building with styro blocks. I certainly don't want to run afoul of building inspectors.

            I have considered elevator and escalator-type ideas. My dad had installed a chair system on his stairs, but he never uses it. He's 86 now, and I think he's just defying his age- he should be using the chair. At any rate I want to make sure I consider everything, even if it will not be done. If I end up with a larger footprint with everything on one level, that will be ok.

            I've considered having no windows- that's basically how it is now in the basement. I do have some windows, but they are not very big, and are too high to look out of properly. I know they take up wall space and also allow others to look in, but I'd be willing to trade that for having a view of the outside at any moment. Something at least- some reminder of the outside world.

            I like the idea of a walk-through space to get from the shop to some living area. Somewhere to lose some of the shop floor crud at least. And I do plan to make as much use of solar as I can. The orientation of the slab will be carefully considered.
            I seldom do anything within the scope of logical reason and calculated cost/benefit, etc- I'm following my passion-


            • #7
              We bought our house on a lot with enough space for a free standing shop. It is on a slab and has no windows, and three skylights. The skylights were an "accident" as I found three in the clearance aisle at the local Lowes (big box DYI store) at one-third the original price. I'm certainly glad I got them.

              It's stick built, but I insulated and sealed it quite well so my heating & cooling bills for the shop are quite low. I do not have a covered walkway between the shop & the house, but I do have a driveway sidewalk combo for access.

              I've also heard good things about the Styrofoam blocks for building, but since we do not have the extreme cold in KY I could not justify the cost.

              BTW, 2X on one level. We have an upstairs that is mostly used for storage, but includes a guest bedroom. I'm only 57, but with 4 knee surgeries I'd rather just stay downstairs.


              • #8
                I am 65 and can easily skip up stairs 3 at a time but I dont think that will always be the case and we would hate to have to move when that time does come. Thats one of the reasons why we moved from a two level house to this new one which we deliberately built 'olde pharte' friendly as we know too many old friends etc who have upstairs facilities they cant use and one guy with a nice basement shop he never goes down to.


                • #9
                  Darryl, good posting question.
                  If you were younger, (i,m up there too in age,) it is always cheaper to build up two stories than out for the same space. (one hydro service, less plumbing, water and a toilet easy to install in a corner of the shop,easier to heat, a better view if you wish to incorporate a deck off the 2nd floor,etc.
                  Have no experience with those blocks but they seem to be getting quite popular in my neck of the woods.
                  Whatever you decide , i would highly recommend a metal roof, and R-40 ceilings, and a minimum of R-20 walls, which the code will probably call for anyway.
                  Skylights in a shop would be nice at times, but i still like you, want to be able to see out.


                  • #10
                    You may want to check with the building inspector beforehand, as that type construction can be a problem where there are seismic codes, depending of course where you will be building. I know the plan has to be "bought " here by the structural people.



                    • #11
                      There are lots of bases to cover, for sure. One that concerns me is water usage. If there's a creek nearby, I'd want to generate some energy from it. The department of fisheries and oceans has to be satisfied, even if their requirements are ludicrous. I've seen firsthand some real BS go down when it comes to them, so I'll have to be very careful.

                      I would like to be rural, so I will also have to make sure that I can legally and safely place a septic system on the property I choose. I'm aware that sometimes people buy, then find they can't put a septic system in- contravenes bylaws, etc. I'm sure there can also be problems with existing systems where there are grandfather clauses. Much homework to do.

                      Here's an idea I might as well pass by you all- I'm thinking that the slab should include a concrete-lined tunnel going down the center. All the services could be in that tunnel and would distribute throughout the structures from there. This would be a walk-space, not a crawl space, and it would lend itself handily to dealing with alternative energy systems. The tunnel could include a large tank of water for heat storage, and could be fed from sunlight or a wood-burning fire pit located on the slab between the shop and the house. Call that a combination barbeque/fire pit or whatever. At any rate, the tunnel might be 8 or 10 ft wide, and it could be useful for storage, could have your beer making setup in it, cool storage for canned goods, etc. Not a full basement, but a service convenience. At one point between the buildings it could be a pit from where you can work on the underside of your vehicles- oil changes, etc. Where the shop is over it, you could have storage for materials.

                      Depending on the lay of the land, it might be possible to have a level drive -in at one end. It might make for a very easy way to move in the heavy machinery, as you could just roll it to the location, then hoist it vertically and it would be in the shop. On the same hand, if the shop floor level at one end was three feet above ground level, you could open a large door at that end and bring something straight in off a truck.

                      I realize that access to this tunnel from ground floor would mean some stairs, but it's not like you'd have to walk them very much. The shop and living quarters would be on one level still, same as the fire pit (which would probably include a heat treatment oven).

                      I'm not sure how you would handle the floors- would you lay joists across the cement slab and the gap and then have one step up to get into the house or the shop- or maybe just for the house? In the shop you just have your joist-based floor section spanning the tunnel gap, set down the right amount of course to make it level with the rest of the floor. One part would be loose so you could raise it for access to a truck deck.

                      Just putting out some ideas. I know that everything you add is going to cost money, but the greatest savings is probably going to be had by incorporating it into the original design.
                      I seldom do anything within the scope of logical reason and calculated cost/benefit, etc- I'm following my passion-


                      • #12
                        I considered using concrete-filled foam blocks for our home in northern NY, near the Canadian border. I decided against it for the following reasons: 1) I inspected a nearby home built using foam blocks as forms. None of the walls were plumb or straight. The weight of the wet concrete caused the foam blocks to shift. So you really have to provide some kind of solid support on both sides. That amounts to building concrete forms, which eliminates one of the supposed advantages of the system. 2) Insects like to burrow in the exposed foam. 3) it's hard to fasten things to foam.

                        I investigated the reverse system, where a foam core is suspended in the center of conventional concrete forms with wire, and the concrete is poured all around the foam core. Couldn't find anyone who would work with me on this, so I can't say how well it works.

                        I ended up using SIPs. Construction was easy. The company pre-cut all the openings for doors and windows. With no studs in the walls, there are no cold spots (it gets really cold up here). Ten years later, the house is still tight and solid.


                        • #13
                          Darryl, have you thought of heating the concrete floor?

                          My son did this with his house last year, it works amazingly good, seems to be very efficient,, and the nicest thing is , there are no chilly corners anywere in the house. Very very even heat.
                          His is hot water - propane.


                          • #14
                            Structural insulated panels- I have not considered that lately, but I will now.

                            Heating the concrete floor- yes that's something else to consider. It would be pretty easy using the service tunnel method. All the connections would be accessible, and it would not be difficult to heat the sections of floor which span the tunnel, if that would even be required. I wonder- in this case would you keep the slab separated from the foundation walls? I suppose you would have to insulate the slab from the ground-

                            I've been wondering in the last few minutes about having a slab floor in the house. Normally you would have some kind of covering, like laminate or carpet. I wonder how effectively in-slab heating would work in this case- in the shop it would be great because you'd just have the slab floor with nothing on it except maybe paint or just a sealer.

                            Comes to mind that you might be trading cold feet for tired feet if you heated the slab- anybody know about this?
                            I seldom do anything within the scope of logical reason and calculated cost/benefit, etc- I'm following my passion-


                            • #15
                              Just a few thoughts.

                              My plot has just enough incline that the front door is even with the grade and the back basement entry is also just even with the grade. This helps some with the stair problem since even a wheelchair bound person would have access to any part of the house, though obviously requires a trek outside to get there. If an elevator is $15K, then that would still be cheaper than 2000 additional square footage, so I'd add a lift of some kind and have a second floor I think. An option to weigh out anyway.

                              My garage and shop are separate structures and I've tried to take advantage of the slope there as well. On the side of my garage driveway, there is about a 2-foot wall drop to the second driveway which leads to the shop. This allows me to unload a pickup truck (small or "standard" size, not a 2-ton or lift kit thing of course) without needing a hoist or ramps. I have to pull up to it in a perpendicular direction of course, but the yard extends out that direction and flattens out a bit there so it's not a problem. I do have a section of loading dock "bridge" plate I use occasionally to smooth out the transition sometimes, but most of the time, loading and unloading a pickup truck or trailer is pretty easy. I can then swing things around and roll down to the shop's driveway to get things in & out of there. I use a pallet jack for heavy stuff and it keeps everything low of course so things tend to stay safe.

                              I do have a fairly high ceiling in the garage (about 10') and a pretty beefy beam runs across the center of it. I have used this with a simple chain hoist to load and unload a truck or trailer. I chock up on either side of the vehicle with some adjustable posts to add more rigidity so I don't load the whole length of the beam when I'm hoisting from it. The posts go in & out easily and store out of the way in a corner for long periods of time when I don't need them.

                              I like your tunnel idea. Since I have a full unfinished basement under the house, that allows for easy access to all plumbing, electrical and duct work so you might consider that even if you wouldn't use the basement all that much. But even the tunnel would provide storm protection. Around here that's a must since tornadoes are always a possibility. I guess if you were on the coast an underground storm shelter might be more of a problem than a life-saver.
                              Last edited by tyrone shewlaces; 04-15-2012, 11:19 PM.