Norm Basco used to work on equipment in his farm’s gravel-covered yard. If it was raining and his baler needed fixing, the Manitoba forage producer was out there turning wrenches.
“I hated it,” he said.
“Working out on gravel is awful.”
It’s one of those things that makes a farmer age faster than he should. So it’s no surprise that item No. 1 on his bucket list was a big, insulated, floor-heated shop. In 2011 he decided, “that’s it, we’re doing it.”
Basco called local contractor Dave Bibault at Nodaco Building Solutions in Notre Dame de Lourdes, Man. Together they drew up the plans, signed the papers and within a few months Basco was the proud owner of a new 50 by 70 foot structure.
Nodaco put the building on a four-foot grade beam and built the 18-foot walls with 2 x 8 inch studs. The walls are R-28 and the attic is R-40. The main 26 x 16 foot overhead door has R-18 insulation. At the other end there’s a 12 x 12 foot overhead door with R-18.
The floor is a seven-inch reinforced concrete slab with Styrofoam insulation below and a U-drain floor drain system. An electric boiler powers the in-floor heating system. In the coldest months, the power bill averages $350. The building uses T-8 fluorescent lighting throughout.
There’s no hiding the fact that, even after six years, Basco is still excited about the shop.
“This is great. It’s quite the difference. Good lighting. No wind blowing on you. No birds flying around in here when you’re working on a motor and they’re trying to nest on the same motor.”
Basco and his brother grow 500 acres of hay. Hay is their main enterprise, and they have a big inventory of implements to maintain. The shop can’t hold everything, but they can easily put two machines in with plenty of room to work around them. Except for computer problems, they do all their own maintenance.
“We don’t need four-wheel-drive tractors or combines, but we run a big square baler and accumulators for picking up the bales. I have one lane just for my tractor and baler so it’s never out in the rain. And we have quite a few loaders and tele-handlers to move bales.
“The shop has Tyvek on the outside, and I think that really makes a difference. The floor heat is really great. Always nice and cozy in the winter. Dave put in these special florescent lights. I’m not sure how to describe them. It’s like a high-grade florescent. It’s really light in here.”
Water for the shop comes through an underground line from the house, which is located across the road. The line had already been installed under the road to service their cattle, so it was merely a matter of splicing into it.
However, it’s not all that simple. There’s no useable well water at the home farmyard up on the Manitoba Escarpment, so their well is located 2.5 kilometres away to the north. The well, which puts out 75 gallons per minute, is shared with a neighbour who runs five finishing barns.
“The first few winters, we rented space out to other farmers so they could do winter maintenance on their equipment, but we found it was hard to get going on your own work when there’s always some other machine in the shop. It was nice to have our heating bill subsidized, but now we use all the floor space for our own projects.
“I’ve built a mezzanine with a washroom and a shower in case we get too gritty to shower in the house. And we have a lunchroom up there with a microwave. Then below the mezzanine I have my tools and workbenches.
“I’ve got two boys, so they’re able to come in and work on their own projects whenever they want. This whole thing just makes farming much more pleasant.”
Basco said the shop cost $200,000 with the mezzanine and electrical costing another $40,000.
Norm Basco says he’s satisfied with his electric boiler, and the $350 per month heating bill during the winter seems fair, but he’s contemplating a source of possible free energy.
It’s not solar or wind energy. It’s natural gas that comes bubbling out of the ground from shale deposits on his land. No fracking is involved. Subterranean pressure pushes it to the surface.
“This gas comes right out of the ground continually. If we could tap into that and control it, we might be able to pipe it over to the shop.
“In 1938 my grandfather dug a well up there. He thought he’d find good water, but he hit natural gas with 32 pounds of pressure. It just bubbles up alongside the pipe.
“When I cap it for just a while so the pressure builds to 70 pounds, then I can light it and the flames shoot 20 feet into the air. At Manitou to the south of us, they get 70 p.s.i. bubbling out of the ground all the time.
“It needs to be dried and controlled to make it functional, but we’re looking into it. I’ve had Tundra Oil and Gas out here and Shell has come out to look. They’re just curious, that’s all. I’d like to develop it. It’s definitely something I want to do before I retire.”