Building a New Shop: Plan Well and Enjoy Your Success

Dan Miller
By  Dan Miller , Progressive Farmer Senior Editor
It is as important to consider space available around your new shop as it is to build a shop that will fit today's needs and your needs 10 years into the future. (DTN/The Progressive Farmer photo by Morton Buildings)

We generally write about new equipment and equipment management in this space, but I thought this week I'd devote a few lines to shop design. Taking us on our word tour around placement and design is Dan Nyberg, sales training manager for Morton Buildings Inc., Morton, Illinois.

To start, Nyberg suggests we break out the most basic of tools -- the tape measure.

The first step in shop design -- a step that is sometimes overlooked -- is to make sure the planned shop fits the space set aside for it. That includes space inside the new building and around it. Use your tape measure to rough out a plan on the ground.

Think of two inside space calculations:

-- Equipment. Create space not only to park equipment, but space to work on it. For example, if you bring a planter inside for calibration, can you unfold it? Or, imagine the planter in pieces, and now a tractor needs maintenance. "Will there be room to do that work, too?" Nyberg asked.

Allow extra space for future additions to your equipment line. There are two rules about equipment: One, it is not getting any smaller; and, two, you'll likely own more of it.

-- Work Areas. Add space for dedicated work and maintenance areas: welding, lubricants, workbenches, parts storage, compressor, conference room and offices with space to expand. A thought on kitchens, too: Consider enough kitchen space to accommodate the needs of large family events.

Now, drive T-posts into the corners of a footprint meeting your space needs. Drive around the area in a truck, and if you have one handy, in a combine. Park equipment inside the footprint. Measure distances to storage sheds and grain facilities. Is there enough space to move equipment and vehicles along traffic lanes inside and outside the building?

The easiest place to put a building -- because of existing utilities, for example -- may be exactly the wrong place to put your new building, Nyberg warned. Running new water and power are one-time costs. But, the building is forever.

Download a Google Earth image of your farm. Spend time looking at potential building locations. Does the design make sense given public road and yard traffic patterns and the building's location in relation to fieldwork and to the existence of utilities?

Consider roads and drives servicing the shop to ensure unobstructed traffic patterns. Mark spaces for potential doors, and drive through them to ensure good traffic flow. Good traffic flow is directly related to good service and maintenance flow.

There is a key to planning that's sometimes overlooked, Nyberg said. Visit your neighbor's recently built shop. "Just being able to see how big 'XX' foot by 'YY' foot is for yourself can be extremely helpful," he explained.

"Enjoyment and efficiency are very closely tied to the planning done before construction begins," Nyberg said. "Plan well and enjoy the process."

As your earliest plans begin to take shape on blueprints, don't shy away from size -- or at least the need for expansion one day. Build the biggest shell you can afford, Nyberg said. Sure, he works for Morton, and Morton loves to sell big buildings. But experience tells him it is far too easy to erect a too-small building.

If cost is an issue, Nyberg offered a couple of suggestions to accommodate future space needs:

-- Finish a portion of the new building, but not all of it. The rest can be completed over time.

-- Position the building so it can be expanded at either end. An end-to-end addition to the building is cost-effective. But if that layout doesn't fit the location, install a doorway header into a sidewall where new space will join the existing shop.

Nyberg also offered other design considerations:

-- Door and ceiling height. Consider ceiling clearance. Tillage equipment with wings folded may be higher than the top of a combine. Bin extenders add a foot or 18 inches to the height of a combine. Ceiling lights reduce clearances.

-- Staging area. Create space around the outside of the shop for vehicular traffic, to complete repairs, resupply and refueling tasks. Include outside space for vehicle parking. Rule of thumb: Plan for the staging area to be at a minimum equal to the width of your buildings. For example, a 60-foot-wide shop should have at least 60 feet of staging area, measured from the building's major doors.

-- Visual connection. Visual connection allows the owner to look out of his office window and see what he wants to see, Nyberg said. Does the owner want to see the weigh scale? Visual connection to the scale determines building orientation.

-- Office. Office design is thick with detail. Hire an expert. Don't forget desks and desk space. A desk where general day-to-day work is done may not need the same amount of space as a desk where maintenance is tracked. The maintenance desk area may need room for file cabinets and shelving, maybe a printer, perhaps a table. If the family business includes a semi-retired father or grandfather, make sure to honor the legacy of that person with a desk of his own.

-- Doors. Of door types, bi-fold, overhead and sliding, hydraulic doors dominate new construction. "Overhead doors require 'headroom' to account for the curve of the track," Nyberg said. "An 18-foot-tall building, there may be room only for a 16-foot overhead door. Hydraulic doors require only the headroom for the door hinges -- you lose almost no space." It is increasingly common for the hydraulic door to be 45 to 50 feet wide. Note that hydraulic door creates 45 to 50 feet of overhead, outside cover when it is raised. You might consider pouring under the open door's shadow a concrete apron of similar size.

-- Walk doors. Well-placed walk doors "raise the satisfaction level in the shop," Nyberg said. They are relatively inexpensive in new construction and they support efficient human traffic patterns. Put walk doors adjacent to parking areas and in proximity to the shop's larger doors.

-- Heat. Hire a consultant. But always install ceiling fans to mix the air. In-floor heat is "comfortable heat. The heat is radiating past you," Nyberg explained. Radiant heat can be directed to specific portions of the shop. But heat shadows are left when the flow of radiant heat is blocked by equipment.

-- Power. "The days of four rows of lights and four-switches are gone," Nyberg said. A qualified electrician will recommend the shop's electrical service and its lighting and outlet design. Outlets every 10 feet around the shop are not too many. Several outlets to accommodate welders should be placed strategically around the shop, but definitely at the location of the main doors.

-- Compressed air. Consider a sound-insulated, yet well-ventilated, compressor space. When designing a compressed-air distribution plan, it is hard to have too many compressed-air drops (with drains). For certain, install drops at each of the main doors.

Dan Miller can be reached at

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