From Horse Barn to Wellness Center, Part 10: Drop Ceilings and Concrete Flooring

Reader Contribution by Adam D. Bearup and Hybrid Homes
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Photos by Adam D. Bearup

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.

One of the big challenges that we faced when turning a horse barn into a wellness center was limiting the amount of sound that transferred from the upstairs to the main floor. (See the previous installment for more on sound-proofing in construction.) Anyone who has been in a repurposed building, especially an old building made into office spaces or apartments, will know that the biggest sound that they hear is people walking around on the floor above them. As I worked on the main floor of the project, I would stop and listen to whoever was working upstairs and try to focus my attention to where the person was and what it sounded like when they would walk around.

To my amazement, the footsteps and creaking would get louder with each piece of insulation that we put into the walls. I wasn’t sure how that could be possible, but I guessed that the more that we deadened the sound in each room’s walls, the more the sound from above was amplified.

The sound from above may not have been technically amplified, but it was definitely clearer and more noticeable. This is one of the reasons why we were looking for a ceiling that could help us to lower that sound of walking around upstairs. Several of the treatments at this wellness center would require the rooms to be as quiet as possible and footprints and creaking from above would be an annoyance that could not be tolerated.

We always look to multiple options when we are looking for a solution to a problem and try to determine which solution provides the best value for the dollar. I didn’t want anyone spending a bunch of time trying to figure out a best fit option when all I was really interested in was performance versus square foot cost.

Putting Up Interior Walls and Duct Work

Almost on cue, my phone rang and it was the manufacturer representative for the drop ceiling company. She helped me to understand exactly what I needed to know and would send me a box of samples that would fit into the “good, better, best” categories. Each would be an environmentally friendly option.

We continued to remodel the barn and work on the 26 details that I had drawn into the plan with the help of the structural engineer. Each interior wall that we built made the project feel more and more like a wellness center.

After we got the interior walls built and everything “roughed-in”, I called the heating and cooling company to begin working on the radiant heat for the second floor and also to run the duct work for the cooling system. The air exchange in the building would be handled by a heat recovery ventilator (HRV), which would be connected to the duct work for the cooling system to avoid needing to run a second set of duct work.

Reviewing Drop Ceiling Samples

A few days after I had talked to the drop ceiling representative, a medium-sized box showed up at our farm. I opened the box to find several white pieces of drop ceiling that were wrapped individually in a clear plastic, each with a description on the back. The samples all looked the same to me — I decided to call the lady who had sent the samples to me to see if she could explain what she sent.

She started by telling me that every one of the samples, from good to best, met the requirements that we had asked for. Each was environmentally friendly, inhabitant friendly, looked nice, and were readily available. I mentioned that I had asked for information and square footage cost to try to save people time, because I really had no idea what sound-deadening drop ceilings cost. In my mind, I was thinking that we may be at a very expensive price per square foot. She wanted to explain what the information meant on each one of the samples before she talked about price.

I learned all about the different ratings for the drop ceiling panel. Each is rated for how they absorb sound in the room, and most importantly to us, the panels were rated for how much sound they would reflect from the top side of the panel. As I gained a better understanding of the ratings for each sample, I noticed that the top side sound reflection rating for each sample in the range from good to best was exactly the same. The sound absorption rating for the room side of the panel increased with each trim level and so did the options for how the drop ceiling would look when it was finished.

The drop ceiling representative finished her presentation by telling me that she could not give me pricing — pricing needed to come from our lumber company representative. Although thankful to have learned so much about drop ceiling panels, I was disappointed that I didn’t get any pricing.

After reviewing all of the samples and comparing all of the ratings, I could not get my mind off of the “good”- rated panel. I assumed that the price was less than the other trim levels and I thought that we would get good sound deadening from the top side because that rating was the same for all of the trim levels. It made no sense to me to select the “best” panel that they had because all we interested in was the top side sound deadening rating.

I talked to our lumber company representative, Mark, and he told me the pricing for each trim level. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the panel that I was interested came in within our budget numbers. I presented my findings to the owners and they agreed that the “good”- rated panel was the best value for this project. They selected the style that they liked and I called Mark back to place the order. It felt good to finally have this part of the project figured out.

Pouring Concrete and Exposed Aggregate Flooring

When we poured the concrete slabs for this project, we did not pour the concrete where the main entrance would be. We decided at the time to wait until later in the project to pour the front entrance concrete, because it was going to be a very special exposed aggregate finish concrete, and we didn’t want anything to happen to the surface during construction. I was hoping to pour that area as one of the last things that we did before the wellness center’s grand opening.

The owners asked us to sprinkle special stones in so that they would be part of the finished floor’s surface. Bob and I would be pouring the exposed aggregate front entry area, because we felt that we had one shot at getting it right and we didn’t trust anyone else to do it. If the floor did not turn out, we would have to tear the floor out. That would be difficult because of the radiant heat tubing that was in the slab.

We decided to pour the exposed aggregate slab at this point in the project, because it made more sense that to wait until the end. We spent a little extra time researching the best way to pour an exposed aggregate floor and have it turn out. We learned that there is a special mix of concrete that we needed to order and a release agent that we needed to spray on the surface after the fresh concrete was poured, bull floated and then went over once with our mag floats.

We did not need to use finish trowels because the top of the concrete would be hosed off the next day. We ordered the concrete and poured it in the front entry area. We followed what we had learned and sprayed the release agent on the slab after we went over it with our mag floats and let the release agent set on the fresh concrete over night. I could hardly sleep that night wondering if the exposed aggregate floor was going to turn out. The next morning came and we hosed the surface off with a rented power washer, the floor looked amazing! It felt really good to cross another part of the project off of the list.

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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