Friday, July 25, 2008

The Green Shop - Planning (Part One)

When we decided to sell our old 1910 Craftsman house, the deal was that Sylvia got a pool and I got to have a "real" shop. Even though I had grown up with a pool and spent more time doing pool care than actually swimming, my workshop was a small two car garage with 7 foot ceilings and I was game for whatever I had to do to get into a space where I could move wood around instead of tools.
As far as building went, I had helped my best friend over the years whenever he needed an extra body on a construction job. So, I knew my way around a construction site, but I was not experienced or fast enough to ever lead a crew.

When it came time to design a shop, I had an engineer draw up plans for me and just got the project started. Now that I'm in the energy consulting field and learning from the very best, I would have done things much differently.

Whether the shop you want is attached to a house or stands alone, there are some very critical decisions that need to be worked out at the design phase. What type of structure do you want to build? Do you want to work on a concrete slab or wood floor? Do you have an option to position the structure for solar gain? What, if any, plumbing would you like in the shop? Do you plan on heating and air conditioning the environment? These questions along with many other questions dealing with code, electrical requirements and load (weight) requirements need to be answered before the plans to the shop are even started.

So let's start with one of the questions. Concrete slab or wood floor? If you can orient the structure for good winter solar gain, a concrete slab will be a big heating benefit. For me, I wanted to have a crawl space, so I could avoid electrical cords and dust collection pipes being a tripping hazard or just in the way of moving lumber or sheet goods around the shop. Plus, I don't care much for standing for long periods on hard surfaces. It is at this stage in the design you'll need to decide where you want plumbing and what type of HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning) you'd like to use.

On my next building post, I'll discuss the envelope, scheduled plumbing, and HVAC options. Also, as I stated before, I'm not writing a book and therefore am not going to get into all the details. If you have a specific inquiry, please comment or email me.


Kari Hultman said...

Good advice, Vic. I worked in a basement shop with 6" ceilings for 10 years (good thing I'm kinda short!) and spent an entire year working out the details for my above-ground shop before starting to build. I did make two mistakes, one plumbing and one electrical, but overall, am very pleased.

Looking forward to your next post on the subject!

Unknown said...

Good topic Vic!!! ......OH, your dovetails look just like everybody's first's.

Vic Hubbard said...

I'm hopeful that as this thread progresses, people do chime in on what has worked (or not worked) in their shops. I'd be interested in knowing what plumbing and electrical "mistakes" you made.


Thanks on both accounts. I'm very passionate when it comes to building energy efficiently. On many aspects of the process, you only have now to get it right.

Kari Hultman said...

I had my contractor put a sink in the shop, but I should have had him continue a pipe to the backyard to make watering plants easier. We have a spigot on the side of the house, but not in the backyard.

I was careful to tell him where to put the 220 outlet for my table saw (in the middle of the room) but should have had him add a 120 outlet beside it so my extension cord wouldn't be in the walking path.

Vic Hubbard said...

So Kari,

Did you build you shop on a crawl space or slab?

If you put it on a crawl space, it wouldn't be that difficult to run the 120 you're wanting. If I remember correctly, you have a wood floor, right?

Kari Hultman said...

There is a very small crawl space and I'm not sure how you could run wire under it. I think you'd have to pull up some floor boards to do it. Or, could you put a 120 right next to the 220 and link them?

Unknown said...


If you have an accessible crawl, you can pull 12 gauge wire down from the electrical panel over to where you want a 120 (I'm assuming 20amp outlet). It should be quite easy.
At my old house, we actually hired a boy scout troop to help dig a "crawl space". The dirt was almost touching the joists. I bought 2 1/2 gallon buckets and led a line of kids to make channels across the joist. This was all to be able to put duct work in for HVAC.

Unknown said...

Install wood. You'll hate concrete. I have a slab floor, but I put wood over top and painted it white for more light reflection. You want a little bit of roughness to the floor. My 3/4" tongue and groove osb subflooring has the perfect grip for handplaning and demanding tasks like jointing and ripping where your feet need a good grip.

I would never put my DC pipes under the floor. Overhead is the place for those. They do need maintenance, and if something goes awry, you could be pumping a bunch of dust into your crawl space. You'll see it right away if it's above. Even a small leak will make things really uncomfortable under there with all the dust when you go to change something electrical (which I would put underneath)You'll also undoubtedly change your ducting paths as you acquire new machinery.

Vic Hubbard said...


The shop is already built. I do have wood floors. They have their downside, too. I hear you on the DC possible problem. I'll let you know what I come up with to address that.
I'm planning on the Oneida system with metal ductwork. I also plan to "condition" my crawl space, so a leak would be really bad down there. Thanks for giving me something to think about and thanks for stopping by.