I hate winter. I don’t hate it enough that I want to move out of Kansas just yet…. It’s just that I don’t like the really cold, icy, nasty stuff we have had lately. The horses had frozen icicles on their backs this morning. While Finn’s feet were fine, Kadeen had a small amount of snowpack. I find a screwdriver works the best to chip out snowpack, but it is preferable that I don’t stab myself, as I did this morning!
Schools are closed, my office is actually closed, and my dentist told me via email not to expect them to be open either. The dogs jump up expectantly every time I change position, hoping that we are heading out for our daily 2.5-mile walk, but the temperature is single digits and I am not interested in going out today. If I burn any calories, it will be at the gym.
I am in my third winter at my barndominium. As much as I hate horse chores in winter, things are so much easier in my current digs. I first wrote about my unique home in this post. I enter the barn through an interior door directly from my house. The barn is cold, don’t think it isn’t! But I don’t have to traipse outside to do horse chores.
When I built this place, there was a small possibility that I could drill for natural gas. I have neighbors across the street and a bit west that are enjoying the benefits of their own natural gas well. But after doing my due diligence and actually speaking with a geologist guy from the local university, I decided not to gamble on it. It was an agonizing decision, but it would have cost me about $8000 for every drilling that wasn’t successful. The geologist wasn’t terribly optimistic that I’d “get a hit”.
I was also strongly considering putting in a radiant heat floor, and that wasn’t cheap either. I struggled with the concept of throwing $8000 (or twice that) away. If I had been able to heat using natural gas, I would have put some heat in the barn/garage area. I have the ability to close off the barn area from the garage area using a garage door, so the barn wouldn’t have been so warm as to mess with the horse’s normal coat production. But alas, it was not to be, so my barn/garage is cold. Not as cold as the outside because it has some insulation, but it’s cold.
The horses have a lean-to and I don’t usually leave the outside stall doors open. They come in twice a day to eat, and are only in for about 15 minutes each time. Last winter I had a windbreak built to help block the cold wind that can sometimes still affect them in their lean-to. A micro burst last spring damaged my windbreak. We are still trying to figure out how to construct the next one. In the meantime, if I think they need more of a break from the wind, I leave the stall doors open and they can come and go. I don’t do that very often as they usually do just fine in the lean-to.
As I mentioned in my first barndominium post, I have a Hay Hut that protects a round bale. They still waste more than I’d like, but the wastage is somewhat controlled. And it is SO easy! They can (and do) nibble on it all day long providing them with plenty of roughage to generate heat.
I ordered an attachment for my new John Deere that would enable me to buy more than one round bale at a time and feed them as needed. That saves me from having to wait on my hay guy to deliver a new bale every few weeks.
When the John Deere guy brought me the mowing deck we had ordered when we bought the tractor, he needed to show me how to attach it. While doing so, he accidentally slammed the tractor bucket into the side of the barn! Fortunately, the company paid to fix my barn and also threw in the hay bale attachment as a perk for the hassle! Never a dull moment…
As I mentioned above, I had many decisions to make when I built this place. One big consideration was how to heat it. Because I obviously needed central air conditioning, I had ductwork in place for that. Consequently, I had a high-efficiency propane furnace installed. I buried my propane tank. Since I opted not to gamble on a natural gas well, I did decide to put in radiant heat flooring. My home is on a concrete slab and I knew that would get mighty chilly.
I have three zones of heat; great room, laundry room and guest room, and master bedroom. The radiant heat is hot water heated in a special boiler located in the HVAC room which is on the very west side of the living area, in the recaptured space from the barn section. That means the hot water heat travels from the west side all the way to the master bedroom on the far east side. It passes through the great room. The thermostat for the great room is about 10 feet around a corner from my awesome wood-burning stove, so rarely does that thermostat register a need to call for heat.
The bedroom, however, can get very cold. It took me quite a while to figure out how to make all three heat sources play nicely together and be efficient. Finally, I think I have it figured out. Even though I never call for floor heat in the great room itself, the floor is quite warm in the areas where the pipes move hot water from the boiler into the bedroom. That generalized heat plus the tremendous contribution from my wood burning stove makes the great room really cozy.
I won’t lie… the master bathroom can be a freezer on days like today! I have an electric heater that I use to warm up the bathroom when I get ready in the morning. However, I am rarely in the bedroom or master bath during the day. I could easily crank up the thermostat in the bedroom but I don’t want to pay for heating a room I am only in briefly. The really interesting thing about the floor heat is that even when the thermostat in the bedroom shows something really crazy like 59 degrees (what it showed this morning!) it doesn’t feel nearly that cold. When the heat is on, it warms your lower body in a very encompassing way.
The other notable thing about the radiant heat floor is that it is very slow to respond to change. That means it can take a while to heat up, and take a while to cool off. It has really been a learning curve to figure out how to make it all work. The other issue I am having is that I almost never use the actual furnace, and my humidifier is attached to the furnace fan. Even though the fan is always on, I am struggling to get the humidity level up. The woodstove just makes that worse. I just had yet another HVAC guy out to evaluate my situation. He moved the humidifier water source from the cold water to the hot water. He thinks that should help.
A few minor details aside, I absolutely love this place. From the early days of building it up to the delivery guy a few days ago, I am always getting compliments on it. I would have no reservations in recommending that others build a similar structure. I will continue to post details of my home and decisions I faced as I built. Perhaps I can help others figure out what might work for them!