From Horse Barn to Wellness Center, Part 3: Seeking Fire Department Approval



Following the journey to remodel a horse barn into a commercial wellness center on a Midwestern property zoned for agriculture. This multi-part series recounts the considerations, pitfalls and ultimate successes of a green-building project with an ambitious scope to bring a defunct farm building new life as a natural health destination.

“I don’t want you to just draw a picture of my sketch, I want you to understand what you will be building and why,” the structural engineer said on the phone. He knew that I was going to be the leader of the team that was building and repurposing the barn. I decided that I could learn a lot about how and why a structural engineer thinks the way he does if I remained level-headed and did everything he said to do with the drawings.

Memories of college popped into my head during the design phase as the structural engineer marked up my drawings with red ink multiple times and sent them back to me. We went over each of the 26 details many times in order for me to get the drawings perfect and for me to understand each detail without a single doubt. The engineer would sign off on each detail only after he was confident that I had grasped the “what’s and why’s” of each. After any individual detail was signed off on as “OK” by the engineer, I would then add that approved detail to the finished set of building plans.

Adapting Design Sketches to Accommodate Building Additions

The original architect had drawn additions on the side and front of the existing barn, and the structural engineer now spent considerable time trying to create a way to make those possible to include in the remodel. For the addition on the side of the barn, we would have to remove a portion of the existing barn roof trusses so that the addition’s roof framing could tie into the upper barn roof. This would create a longer, shed-style roof coming off of the upper pitch of the existing barn roof.

The first sketch that the structural engineer emailed to me didn’t make much sense. The drawing was legible but removing the bottom of the existing barn trusses had me very concerned. We discussed how his sketched design would hold everything up.

The engineer asked me what process I would follow during working on that area of the barn. I told him that we would take everything in steps, one thing at a time, and work our way up to that roof so that we had a floor to work off of on the addition side of the existing barn. This meant that after the concrete slab was poured for the addition, we would build the main floor walls, then set the floor joists and subfloor.

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