Build an Energy-Efficient Farm Shop

Bright Ways to Make Your Shop Warmer, Cooler and Easier to Enter

Dan Miller
By  Dan Miller , Progressive Farmer Senior Editor
The farm shop at Brooks Farms took a page from famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright when it adapted one of his solar heating principles, installing large windows high on a south-facing wall. (DTN photo by Rob Lagerstrom)

Brooks Farms, fronted by a stretch of County Road A outside Waupaca, Wisconsin, was homesteaded in 1855. It is said to be the oldest, continuously operated family farm in Waupaca County.

Ron Brooks pilots a large dairy there with his daughter, Zoey (Brooks) Nelson. Brooks Farms is focused on production and resource management. The farm embraces a strong ethic for energy efficiency in its buildings.

Here are examples. Since 1988, all new heated buildings have included solar technology -- passive or active -- for heating and lights. All buildings have been retrofitted with energy-efficient lightbulbs. Fifty-degree groundwater is pumped to precool the dairy's milk, cutting energy costs for that operation by 40%. The buildings are fitted with timers and motion sensors that run fans, lights and pumps.

Read on for more information on these ideas for energy efficiency.



It's no surprise, then, that Brooks would turn to famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright for energy-saving ideas as he planned his 8,400-square-foot shop. The shop incorporates an idea Wright developed about passive solar heating. Known as the 1-2-3 principle, it describes a heating benefit in the winter sun's low angle over the southern horizon. Here's how it works. Brooks' shop features a large southern exposure. High on that 20-foot wall is a bank of eight, 3-foot clerestory windows. They are installed 1 foot below the building's 2-foot overhanging soffit.

At 44 degrees north latitude -- Brooks' farm is west and a bit south of Green Bay, Wisconsin -- the shop benefits from solar warming as the sun streams in through those windows from mid-September to mid-April. On Dec. 21, the shortest day of the year, the low angle of the sun delivers a long day of warming sunlight that spreads nearly across his entire shop floor.

The same design, by the way, shades the windows from the summer heat while still bringing natural light into the shop. Brooks believes passive solar heating provides about 25% of his heating needs.


And, the rest of the ideas ...

-- Cooling loops. One problem Brooks encountered when looking at solar installations was that he did not plan for cooling the heat of summer. Cooling loops solved the problem.

Brooks installed PEX Tubing loops under the shop's two large aprons (the aprons used for washing equipment and outdoor repairs) and around the exterior of the foundation. The loops help dissipate the excess heat. They also work to melt ice and snow accumulating on his aprons in the winter.

-- Shop floor. The main shop floor is 80 feet by 105 feet. It is 10 inches of polished concrete reinforced by 1/2-inch rebar on 6-inch centers. The floor is perfectly level, making it ideal for fabrication and setting up equipment like planters and cultivators.

-- Heating. Two-and-a-half miles of PEX Tubing was laid into the shop floor and under a 24-foot-by-30-foot office. The building is divided into three heating zones. The floor itself is nearly impervious to radiant heat penetration. TekFoil (vinyl, bubble wrap and aluminum) acts as a vapor barrier, radon barrier and radiant heat insulator. On top of the TekFoil is 2 inches of high-density foam board. The PEX is attached to the board. The subfloor has an estimated R-value of 40.

-- Doors and walls. Brooks addressed two regrets he heard voiced when touring other shops -- the doors aren't large enough and the sidewalls aren't tall enough. He built 20-foot sidewalls.

That height accommodates a 19-foot, 6-inch-high by 40-foot-wide Schweiss Doors' hydraulic door.

The door opening is large enough for his unfolded 12-row planter to enter the shop. The door is positioned on a gable end of the building to avoid the snow that would otherwise slide off the roof onto the open door or apron. A second door, 10 feet high and 12 feet wide, opens on the northwest side of the building. It was sized to allow only trucks and small equipment to have access there.

-- Wheels down. Only a hydraulic hose station, a fluids rack and a welding table are permanently mounted to the floor. Brooks poured a footing to support a jib crane. Parts cabinets, workbenches and toolboxes are rolled up to equipment for repairs and maintenance. Each piece of equipment has its own cabinet or shelf.

To see a video of the shop, go to:….


Editor's Note:

This is one in a series of America's Best Shops. If you have a farm shop you'd like us to feature, send a note to: If we publish your shop story, we'll pay you $500.

Follow him on Twitter @DMillerPF

Dan Miller