The most unusual home I've ever worked on

BARNS ARE UNIQUE buildings. Each one has a character all its own. There was a time in our recent history when barn building was a community event. People from all over the county came, volunteering labor and meals to help perform the task at hand. Oftentimes, a barn would be built in a matter of days. The owners of the barn would begin by collecting, curing and shaping the major wooden structural

BARNS ARE UNIQUE buildings. Each one has a character all its own. There was a time in our recent history when barn building was a community event. People from all over the county came, volunteering labor and meals to help perform the task at hand. Oftentimes, a barn would be built in a matter of days. The owners of the barn would begin by collecting, curing and shaping the major wooden structural components for the barn, harvested from wood off their own land. Those were the days, my friend.

These days, barns are built from concrete, iron and sheet steel, occasionally wood and, generally, your neighbor isn't likely to be helping you. In some cases, he may be your biggest adversary in the construction of the barn. Times, they are a changing.

This story is about a barn built near Wapakoneta, Ohio, possibly constructed by a family of Amish carpenters. The barn was completed in 1876, based on the date carved into the handrail for the stairs leading to the lower level. It was constructed using state-of-the-art construction, which at that time was mortise-and-tenon, post-and-beam construction using wooden pegs as fasteners and connectors. It had hand-carved joinery for the critical knee braces. It is a craftwork long lost in the annals of building construction.

The barn is made in seven sections. Most barns back then had only four or five sections. The main structural components were hand hewn using adz and sickles. The longest single solid component was crafted from a tree that was estimated to be at least 150-ft. tall. It was one of the middle purlins of the barn, and it measured 60- ft. long. There aren't many trees that tall in America any more.

This barn was salvaged in 2004 by the Rogers family, which oddly enough makes a living out of buying, documenting, deconstructing, moving and reconstructing these grand old hardwood barns for a living. This particular barn was purchased by a longtime family of veterinarians on the plains of eastern Colorado.

It was transported to the new home site using three over-the-road 18-wheelers, packed to the roof, with the intention of reconstructing it, adding on to it and turning it in to a unique and interesting home for the veterinary couple who now own it.

It became obvious early on to the owners of this barn that if it were left as originally built, it would be expensive to keep warm in the winter, cool in the summer and generally comfortable. This required the use of some state-of-the-art construction methodology to ensure that the new home was kept warm and comfortable at a reasonable cost of operation.

The exterior walls were filled with structurally insulated panels, about 6-in. thick. The roof was constructed using the same materials, except that the SIP panels are 12-in. thick. Special attention was paid to the tightness of the panels to make sure that the new home wasn't, as the saying goes, as drafty as a barn.

The structural members of the barn are a combination of white oak, beech, hickory, elm, ash and one unique beam made of walnut. Documentation, disassembly, power washing, bundling and loading took about four weeks for two workmen to complete. The original "assemblage" of the barn may have taken years, with the actual assembly and construction taking place in just a few days, typically a long weekend.

At the original time of construction, the columns, beams and other structural members would have been laid out on the ground. Once assembled, all the able-bodied men would get together and, using an array of gin poles and pike poles, they would literally lift and push the assem-bled frame to its upright position. One person would ride the top of the wall up to make temporary connections to hold the frame in place to await final placement of purlins and other framing members. Thank goodness for cranes and forklifts today.

Tune in next month as we continue our journey back in time in our quest to provide efficient comfort to this grand old example of 19th century building construction. Until then, Happy Haystack Hydronicing!

Mark Eatherton is a Denver-based hydronics contractor. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 303/778-7772.

TAGS: Hydronics