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More than a barn, eco-minded Geobarns have many uses

  • A Geobarn for two potters takes shape in Vermont. (Courtesy Geobarns/MCT)<br/>
  • Framing on the Blacks' Geobarn in southeastern Virginia shows the diagonal technique. (Courtesy Geobarns/MCT)<br/><br/>
  • A Geobarn in Vermont is used as a horse stable. (Courtesy Geobarns/MCT)<br/><br/>

For 2013, Sue Black is delighted to have her dining room back to use for its intended purpose. Gone are the woodworking tools, the sawdust and the projects in progress that have claimed it for 20 years.

Husband Doug is equally happy because he also has what he wants — a new workshop for his woodworking hobby.

Doug’s man space, however, is more than just a rectangular building with a roof, doors and windows.

It’s a Geobarn — part classic barn, part architectural art, part smart engineering.

“Geobarns have a number of signatures,” says George Abetti, who started the Vermont-based business in 1991.

“There’s 2-by-6 diagonal framing throughout their perimeter walls and free-span trusses that precludes the need for any support for up to 36- to 40-foot widths. They are built with upper-eave beams that provide enormous strength and stability from the roof system all the way down to the foundation.”

“It’s very artsy but very structurally sound,” says Doug, standing in sand at his Buckroe Beach home in southeastern Virginia. He and Sue watch George and a Geobarn-trained Charlottesville, Va., crew from Arterra Design frame the 16-wide, 24-foot long, 20-foot-high building.

Geobarns blend modified post-and-beam construction with diagonal framing that uses less material than conventional stick-built frames. His open-span truss systems without any internal support mean you get an open interior that allows greater flexibility in use and layout.

George, 62, says he’s built Geobarns as small as 400 square feet and as large as 24,000 square feet, working on projects in New England, Nova Scotia, California, New York and elsewhere. In Virginia, Geobarns have been built as a residence at Wintergreen, as a workshop for a boat-building naval architect in Kilmarnock and as a winery with tasting room at Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards at North Garden.

“Geobarns are built for every conceivable use imaginable — homes, stables, farmers markets, art studios, auto barns, wineries and endless variations on multi-purpose outbuildings,” he says.

“Each one is a work of art.”

Because the Blacks’ barn sits behind their waterfront house, built in 1973 to withstand 90-mile-per-hour winds, it also is engineered to deal with wind, water and sand from storms like last year’s Hurricane Sandy and nor’easters.

Attentive to every inch of detail, George says he met his match when he began working with Doug, an engineer who recently retired after 48 years at Newport News Shipbuilding in Newport News, Va.

After Doug sent preliminary plans based on close-to-water conditions, small lot and working budget, he and George went back and forth on a wide variety of ideas. In the end, they agreed on a design that is built on massive pilings driven almost 20 feet into the sand, and tied with huge bolts and Geobarns’ signature diagonal framing that resists hurricane-force racking, as well as seismic stress — something Hampton Roads felt during the August 2011 earthquake.

The building also features plenty of windows — Andersen Silverline with vinyl trim — and handmade doors of beaded Douglas fir. HardiPlank siding in a khaki brown and a 29-gauge metal roof complete the barn’s custom look. The design includes a winch beam on the street side to haul heavy items onto the upper level, double cupolas, stairs with architectural balusters in the railings and a floor system that can easily support thousands of pounds.

Most important to George, who believes in environmentally friendly construction, his Geobarns minimize waste, achieving a waste coefficient of half of 1 percent. Waste from the Blacks’ project, which cost $48,000, barely fills two good-sized trash cans.

“I’m just loving this, I’m so excited,” says Doug.

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