Retrofitting a century-old barn
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Suzzane Cotton-Porth can remember when the barn she now calls home housed livestock. Dubbed the Sweet Pea Barn, the 2,400-square-foot house demonstrates how a little imagination and a 500-gallon propane tank can transform an abandoned structure into an efficient home.
Suzzane and her mother rediscovered the dilapidated building while four-wheeling on their 260-acre property in rural Missouri. They crawled through an opening and discovered that, appearances aside, the structure was in remarkable condition.
“We kind of went poking around and saw that it appeared to have really good bones,” Suzzane recalls.
From hog barn to home
Turning it into a home would take expertise. Thankfully, Suzzane’s mother is a custom home builder. Pauline Porth immediately saw the potential: an open-concept ground floor with a high ceiling exposing the original wood beams and an airy loft.
“It was easy to envision,” says Pauline Porth, owner of Porth Construction, LLC in Lawson, Missouri.
When it came to choosing an energy source, Suzzane had another expert in the family she could turn to. Her brother, Mark Porth, is a propane dealer with CHS, an agricultural cooperative. Far removed from the nearest natural gas service, the property utilizes propane, a clean-burning fuel, to power an outdoor pizza oven and grill, patio heater, linear fireplace, tankless water heater, dryer, cooktop, and an infrared heater.
Exploring heating options
Space heating was of particular concern.
There was an opportunity to install radiant in-floor heating: Contractors had to chip out portions of the concrete floor where there were indentations that had kept feeding troughs in place. With the floor roughed out, it would have been easy to lay in hydronic tubing, but Mark advised against it. Wild temperature swings in this part of Missouri meant the house needed something more responsive. Radiant heat, he says, wouldn’t cool down fast enough during those unexpected warm spells.
“Last week the temperature was in the teens. Today, it’s 70 degrees,” Mark says. “If she had radiant, she’d have to open every door and window to dump all that heat.”
Pauline ruled out a forced-air system. She didn’t want ducts to detract from the exposed beams.
That left infrared heating. This type of system combusts propane to produce heat, which is emitted through a reflector to radiate infrared waves. A ceiling unit provides whole-house warmth.
The propane fireplace provides supplemental heat. The linear fireplace is surrounded by a heavy-duty steel plate. It’s a modern touch that also serves to amplify the heat.
“It radiates all the way to the second floor,” Suzzane says.
Closed-cell insulation and energy-efficient windows maximize comfort and curb fuel consumption.
Preserving Sweet Pea
Converting barns into entertainment spaces or erecting barndominiums from steel kits has become ‘country chic’ as of late, a trend Suzzane bristles at. She and Pauline took measures to make a stylish and comfortable living space while honoring the building’s roots as a working barn. You can see it in the original wood posts, open air shafts and untouched shape of the gambrel roof.
“We wanted to be true to her,” Suzzane says of the barn. “We wanted to improve and not take away.”
Photos courtesy of MOPERC.