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 thought for sure that I was going to leave the township hall with the building permit that day. After meeting with the building inspector or nearly two hours in the pursuit of receiving a permit to begin the remodel of a horse barn to transform it into a wellness center, I was taken aback But although I left empty-handed, I knew that we were getting close to getting the building permit — I just needed to jump through a few hoops.
The owners were not happy with the fact that I wasn’t granted a building permit, and after a discussion about the matter, we all agreed that we would jump through the last few hoops and focus our attention on getting the building permit. I called my wife, who was waiting to hear how things went.
“How did it go with the building inspector?” she asked.
“We didn’t get the building permit because the building inspector needs the building plans to be updated with what he and I talked about. I will have to stay up after we eat supper and the kids go to bed so that I can try to update these prints as quickly as possible.” My wife is not only a great listener, but she is also very understanding about my work load over the years. Owning a small business means that we don’t have normal nine-to-five hours.
Barn Building Plan Drawings Get an Update
After my wife and the kids went to bed, I went up to my drawing room and sat down on the chair. My face felt really warm from the sun that had I worked under that summer day. As I looked over my notes from the building inspector, I started to think about how I could update the drawings in the most efficient way possible.
I pulled out the original prints and went over each area of the drawings that the inspector wanted changed to update them. I started to think about how quickly I could get back into see the building inspector. By this time, it was 11 o’clock at night, so I decided to go to bed and call the building inspector first thing in the morning.
“I updated the building plans and I would like to meet you today to get the building permit,” I said. The building inspector did not sound as enthused about the idea of meeting as I did and said, “I am in a different township today. Call the township and schedule an appointment for us on Tuesday and I will take a look at what you have.” I had to wait nearly another week to get in to meet the building inspector. When that Tuesday came, I was back at the township hall and ready for my appointment with him.
After another thorough review of the building plans, the building inspector was ready to fill out the building permit. Unfortunately for me, he had to fill out his paperwork and the township would mail a copy of the building permit to me. I asked the building inspector if it was ok if we got started with the demolition portion of the project and he said that we could get started. Finally, we could begin this project!
As I mentioned to the structural engineer, I intended on taking this project in many steps. The first step was to go inside of the existing horse barn and remove the stall where the horse lived. Next, we took out the existing set of stairs that went up to the second floor hay loft. We took the stairs out so that we could have the concrete floor removed because the floor was not even. The new set of stairs would be located in the front addition of the wellness center.
There was a roof covering the east side of the barn. This area had no walls and was supported by posts that went down to footings sitting underground below the frost line. The plans called for a second floor above that roofed area, so we had to remove the roof and support posts.
The only way to safely remove that roof was to take it down in sections, that way we could be sure that we would not destroy the integrity of the existing barn wall that needed to stay in place. I climbed up on the roof with the cordless sawzall and Bob, who works with me, drove and placed the forks of our skytrack, also known as The Pink Panther, under the section of the roof that I was cutting off.
Section by section, I cut the roof off of the barn and Bob took the individual sections, with The Pink Panther, over and stacked them up out of the way. It felt like such a victory for our team to finally be working on this project!
We had our excavator come and remove the concrete from inside the barn, the east section where we removed the roof, and the concrete approach at the front of the barn. Then he dug our footing and foundation trenches.
Considering Solar Power for the Barn Remodel
I met with the owners to discuss the flow of the project. During that meeting, the owners mentioned wanting a solar array to help offset the electrical usage on the property. While we were discussing the possibility of a solar array, we discovered that we needed a better idea of how we were going to power the barn. After that meeting, I contacted the electrical provider for the area and set up a meeting with one of their project managers.
“You want to do what with the barn?” the project manager from the utility company asked me. I was getting really good at responding to that question because so many people had asked me that. I told him what our intentions were and that the township would not allow us to have poles to get the power down to the barn.
The project manager immediately started talking about how expensive it was going to be to get power down to the barn. He mentioned that a separate electrical meter on the same property meant that no matter what the second meter was used on, their commercial rate for electricity would apply to that second meter. The commercial rate was at least double the cost as residential he said. As the project manager walked the path for the buried electrical line with his measuring wheel, I stood up by the power pole and started to think about what the solar installer had mentioned during our conversation about the solar array.
The solar installer had mentioned about upgrading the electrical service at the house, which was on the property and about 300 feet in distance from the barn. He said that we might consider upgrading the house to a 400-amp service and then splitting the 400 amps so that the house would be powered with 200 amps and the wellness center would have 200 amps of electricity running to it.
As I stood by the power pole and watched the project manager from the utility company walking with his measuring wheel way off in the distance, I turned and looked past the house and down toward the barn. The distance was quite a bit shorter going from the house to the barn instead of trenching all the way across the hay field.
The project manager walked back up to where I was standing and he was breathing heavy after his long walk up the hill. “That is a really long ways, this is going to be really expensive” the project manager said. I let him catch his breath before I asked him about upgrading the service to the house to a 400-amp service and then feeding the barn with 200 amps from the house just like the solar installer had mentioned.
The project manager’s tone completely changed. “That’s a great idea” he said. “If your team did the trenching and burying the wire, then the only cost would be a new transformer on the pole and burying a wire from the pole to the house.
“Is that expensive?” I asked with a sarcastic tone in my voice.
“Not as expensive and running underground all the way across this field,” he said. He measured the new path, took notes and then, as he got into his truck, told me that he would be in touch with the price and more information.
Follow the full series as the saga of the horse barn to wellness center transformation unfolds.
Adam D. Bearup is a designer, green builder and farmer, who learned about biodynamic and regenerative farming for a project he built in Northern Michigan, The Earth Shelter Project Michigan. Adam has degrees in marketing and management and a Masters of Science in Green Building. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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