After nearly 120 years of agricultural service, this 7,600-square-foot bank barn was no longer being used, and in fact, was in the direct path of a planned housing development.
A community effort saved the barn from demolition, moved it to its present location on the Donohoe Road in Greensburg, and transformed it into the keystone of a new conservation campus.
Many practical examples of conservation were incorporated into the barn to prepare it for its new life as the Westmoreland Conservation District’s headquarters, and today the barn also serves as a teaching tool to illustrate practical, green building. Following are some of the conservation practices and materials that went into adapting the barn for its new use.
The barn originally was on a family farm in Penn Township, where it housed animals and grain for about 120 years. In the late 1990s, the farm was sold for development and the barn was set to be razed.
We saw its value and, instead, enlisted the help of Amish craftsmen to dismantle the barn, move it, and rebuild it as the District’s offices.
Reclaiming a barn about to be lost to development is practicing the conservation ethic that the Westmoreland Conservation District preaches.
It also promotes sustainability and honors our country’s agricultural heritage (the Conservation District itself got its start more than 60 years ago when local farmers gathered in a neighbor’s barn to discuss soil, crops, and conservation).
NEW WAYS OF THINKING
Building with conservation in mind started with a teamwork approach to planning.
Instead of operating separately, the barn’s architect, engineers, and contractors all spent time at the table together before the first shovel of earth was turned. They agreed on common goals for the project and worked together to design and build integrated systems that achieve those goals.
The physical geography of the barn’s new location was especially appropriate because the style of the barn – one designed to fit into the profile of a hill – fit the contours of the land almost perfectly, minimizing the amount of earth-moving needed.
Orienting the barn very carefully on this location also helped us to reduce our long-term dependence on mechanical systems for heating and cooling. The bank of earth against the lower level of the barn helps to moderate the temperature inside. And the building’s position allows us to take maximum advantage of the southern sun’s natural warmth in the winter and the prevailing breezes in the summer.
Beneficial Use of Iron Oxide
The main meeting room’s floor is concrete, which provides thermal mass and helps in passive solar performance. The floor, like the window shades in the room, has been colored a rusty orange by using iron oxide captured from local streams.
When used as a pigment, iron oxide is harmless. But when it gets into streams and rivers (as it does when water leeches from abandoned coal mines), iron oxide is a pollutant.
A local group is working to raise money to clean up the pollution in the streams by capturing and selling this iron oxide.
The District helped this effort by using more than 400 pounds to tint the floors and window treatments in the barn.
Lots of Wood
Another renewable resource throughout the barn is wood.
More than 80% of the barn’s original timbers of poplar, white oak, red oak, and chestnut were reused when the barn was rebuilt, and actually are in such fine shape that they should be able to stand and serve in their new purpose for at least another 120 years.
The limited number of new structural timbers needed for the barn came from Westmoreland County forests.
The wood used to finish the inside walls of the barn is local timber not usually used for this purpose because it is judged to be lesser quality. We think otherwise; that there is beauty even in “cull” trees – such as the wormy red oak salvaged after a gypsy moth infestation.
Yellow poplar, sawed on site, was used as siding for the barn’s new exterior.
Inside, water-saving toilets reduce the amount of potable water drawn from the municipal system, and save twice: once in the cost of water and once in the cost of sewage.
Outside, landscaping with indigenous plants reduces the need to water.
Overall, the building itself has been designed to create no burden on the storm sewers. A cistern catches rainwater runoff from the roof and then uses the sun’s energy to pump it to the flower and herb gardens nearby.
Parking areas are made of gravel to allow snow and rain to slowly infiltrate the ground instead of flooding into the storm-sewer system.
Heating and Cooling
The adapted barn draws on the earth’s natural HVAC qualities with a geothermal system that uses 19 wells, each 150 feet deep.
In winter, this system pulls heat from the ground and brings it inside. In summer, it takes heat out of the building and deposits it in the ground.
Geothermal systems cost more to install, but much less to operate than conventional HVAC systems. In winter, our geothermal system can produce an extra $3 of heat for every $1 spent to run it. In summer, it can save as much as 60% on the cooling bill. Plus, in the air-conditioning mode, it uses the heat it takes out of the building to heat the barn’s water — for free!
The adapted barn also employs radiant floor heat. Radiant floor heat makes our feet warmer than our heads – an arrangement that most people feel is very comfortable.
Warm water flows through flexible tubing under the concrete floor, warming the floor gradually to a maximum of 85°F and then acting as a huge radiator that keeps the air warm at your feet instead of letting it rise.
This zoned, radiant floor heat is efficient because it avoids heating unused space; yet it also is extremely comfortable.
The windows in the barn also are a factor in the building’s heating and cooling. They all feature low-E glass, and can be swung wide open to allow nature to do the space conditioning many days.
The barn’s new shell is made of structural insulated panels. Produced locally, the panels are a “sandwich” of waste wood with a non-CFC-producing foam in between.