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I've been blessed with the possibility of building an actual building to house my model railroads. This is nearly 25 years in planning, and this is the first time where it seems like something that can be grasped. I believe now is the time to reach out here in an attempt to gather insight and wisdom from those who have gone before me.

The plan for the model railroads themselves are well established, but I would appreciate input on the structure itself. The attached picture is an overhead draft of the train room, and does not take wall-width into account.

The general plan for the structure is a 40x60 metal building. Half of the building (roughly 30x40 minus wall-width) will house the model railroads. Above the train room ceiling will be open space used for storage (accessed from the other half of the building). So, I'd be starting with a big, empty rectangle with no support beams in the way.

And yes, I acknowledge that this is a dream of many on this forum, and I am not gloating in anyway. I am thankful for the opportunity to proceed with this dream, and most thankful for a wife who is supporting me through the process. And I'm thankful for the collective experience on this forum - frankly I'd be foolish not to take advantage of your insight.

So, I'm interested in your thoughts on things like: flooring material, ceiling material, ceiling height, lighting, HVAC, security, door width, etc... Finances are certainly limited, but inspiration isn't, so be free with ideas. For example, I dreamed of an in-ceiling lighting system over the layout that would allow me to mimic different times of day on the layout, complete with the colors of sunrises and sunsets, the shadow effect of clouds passing overhead, and twinkling stars at night. Great inspiration, but somehow the $million needed to design and install a 1200 square foot programmable LED ceiling is lacking... But maybe individual programmable dimmable LED bulbs in cans or on tracks (the ceiling kind) would be affordable and worthwhile?

As I'm working with an architect, I'd like to make any plan adjustments that would benefit the train room before any work actually begins.


Thank you most kindly for ideas and insight. It is a pleasure to be here ~



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  • Poynter_Layout_001: Overhead draft view of Train Room
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I would suggest to spend some contemplative time in Armstrong"s layout design book.  One aspect he develops quite well is that there is nothing more expensive than a free standing train room.  Every facet is additional.

I know this in real life because I did it before I read his book.

I had to provide a dedicated HVAC system, I had no benefit of thermal spill over of a shared wall or ceiling.   Constant turning the temperature up and down did not help stabilize the wood.  Even with R-35 in the walls and R-58 in the ceiling, recovery from big temp  differences was always a delay when I went out to the train room.  I had to dress up in harsh weather to visit the train room.  Bug season was always a pain.   Rain was another frequent thing to contend with.   Just stepping into the train room in the middle of a sleepless night did not happen.   It got to a point that many times that I did not look forward to the effort to go out in the train room.  I had to fight with zoning code department to pull it off. It banged my real estate taxes real hard, which of course became a permanent annual expense.  I grew to resent the set up.

That prompted a purchase of a long ranch home.  An open dry basement 1970 sq ft with an 8' ceiling that already had the benefit of a temperature radiance from the living space above.  No zoning issue.  I can walk into the train room at all times of the day any day of the year, dressed "come as you are".  Just wish I had this setup years ago.

Separate train room?  Nope!  Done that, got the tee shirt.  Never again.

Last edited by Tom Tee

My first comment is that your wisest decision so far is to enlist the aid of Architect (You use the adjective "Professional". I hope so.).  That being said he should be aware of the Local Building Codes.  There are numerous threads on this forum relating to what Electrical capacity is needed on a layout of this magnitude.  I would pay attention to your Architect.  You will find that you never have enough receptacles nor is the nearest one close enough.  You will be spending a great deal of time under your layout as it goes together performing the necessary wiring.  So even a few receptacles under the layout will come in handy if you are soldering connections.  Disregard this if you are planning on using suitcase connectors.  Some form of lighting under the layout is a luxury.  And lastly layout height is a decision to be thought about.  Lower layouts have the concept of a more overall view.  Medium Height layouts have the concept of being involved in the action.  And Tall Layouts have the benefit of reduced head butts as you move around under your layout.  And the last comment is to have fun learning numerous new trades such as electrical, mechanical, artistry, etc.

Mark, I'm glad to see you here.  Yes this is the right place to get the best feedback on all your questions.  Someone here has done anything you can think of!

It looks like an ambitious project, and I am happy for you!  I do not have any experience preparing a room, much less a new building or addition for trains.  All my layouts after I left my parents' home have been in already completed spare rooms.  (The teenaged layout was in a dark, dirty basement in a 1888 house.)

With so much space you won't have the issue of getting the most layout out of a small space.  I see you also have planned many shelves for engines and rolling stock.  I'll leave off for now with another statement I'm glad you are here.  I'll look forward to seeing what is suggested and how your building plan comes together.

A track layout before construction is very handy to have for lighting locations and electrical receptacle locations.  Plan on switching the bottom of all duplex receptacles so layout can be shut down at a central point where the lights are also switched off.  Plan for in floor receptacles.

In the future you may wish for "people access bridges" instead of duckunders.

Consider 45 degree angles at table corners.

Try to visit existing layouts for the best of all worlds.

My two cents worth ...

The area allocated to a separate "O Classic" train table might be better used for storage sidings and/or a roundhouse or diesel loco shed -- that feature would allow easy to locos awaiting the call to service with less hassle of taking trains off storage shelves and re-railing them in the large layout. I realize that you may intend the "O Classic" mini-layout for use by your kids or grandkids, but two loops or a "X within a figure eight" design with in large layout would keep them engaged and provide four built-in reversing loops.

You are wise to provide adequate aisle space around the layouts with access hatches! It seems that the trains "know" to derail at the least-convenient place(s) on the layout!

*  Consider Mianne benchwork as a base for the train platforms; most of the geometry is already figured out. Also, The base pieces could be rearranged later on -- if you want to make a change.

*  Consider adding an upper level. It could be dedicated to elevated trains going from a suburban settings (at the ends) to downtown (in the middle section).  Or decorate that level with DEPT 56 lighted porcelain NORTH POLE VILLAGE buildings (some are animated) as a Christmas-all-year-round attraction.

*  When track planning, allocate places for action accessories;  this gives "reasons" for your trains to travel from site to site to do actual work: i.e., load coal at a tipple and dump it at a coaling tower for re-loading for hipping to a coal yard, an oil field with derricks and a nearby oil drum loader accessory, a barrel loader ramp that dumps the barrels into waiting barrel ramp cars for delivery elsewhere, an "up and over" log lifter accessory that handles logs dumped into its input bay and lifts the logs over the top and into a log dumping bay for further shipment - perhaps to a sawmill, etc. This avoids the monotonous running of "unemployed trains going in circles to nowhere."

*  Incorporate reversing loops in your track plan. This creates longer routes, provides changes in direction. and adds variety. Anti-derail switches at the entry and end of a reversing loop will make these loops goof-proof.

*  Provide passenger train(s) with "country" and "suburban" stations and an "urban" depot so that there are "reasons" for passengers to travel. The urban depot could have related action accessories: newsstand, passenger platform, freight  platform, taxis (perhaps running on SUPER STREETS).

*  A farm to city route could include a milk platform, an ice loading platform, and a milk unloading platform next to a designated dairy building.

*  The downtown main street could include iconic action accessories:  MTH Fire Station, MTH Gas Station, MTH Car Wash, a car dealership with ERTL 1:43 cars (from a designated time period), with urban buildings and some suburban buildings.

Enough ... these ideas should keep you thinking and planning. Carry on valiantly!

Mike Mottler     LCCA 12394

You mentioned that you are considering your options for overhead lighting.   I Got good results with LED strip lighting.  You can see how I did it by visiting page 5 on my topic “Yes, I am a Looper” in the Track Plans and Layout Design Forum.

l see that you have plenty of room for your dream layout.  Have fun and best of luck going forward.


First congratulations on being able to have such a space dedicated to trains! I'm jealous!

Several thoughts on the building and usage come to mind.

1. Heed what TomTee wrote above!!!

2. If you want to garner information on the actual layout construction, See GunRunnerJohn's thread here. Lot's of great ideas!

3. Think about a workshop area. A layout of that size will use plenty of lumber. You need to stockpile it before you use it, and you need an area for carpentry. Cutting wood makes plenty of dust! Dust control??? And you need lighting and power there as well.

4. Think about visitors. What experience do you wan them to have? What do you want them to see? Not see? How are they going to move in the room? Are your aisles wide enough? Seating? Refreshments? Wi-Fi connection?

5. Noise. This is a big one. Not having materials to absorb sound makes for a very "live" noisy room, especially when the trains start moving! Think about how to deaden the sound. Don't worry: the engines will make enough by themselves.

6. Flooring. Carpet? This does a great job of deadening sound, and is easy on the feet. But its a pain to clean up while you are under construction. Plus small parts get lost. Tile/vinyl is easier to clean and find stuff, but is very noisy.

7. Lighting. Separate the room and layout lighting. Go LEDs! They cut the heat and power loads substantially. Think dimmers as well. A good electrician can help you here. There are several threads on this Forum about this aspect.

8. Ceiling. I'm VERY partial to a flat black ceiling, at least over the layout. It does an excellent job of pulling attention to the layout. Again, there are several threads on this Forum about this aspect. If you go this route, put the electrical, lighting, and HVAC in, then paint the ceiling. THEN start building everything else!

9. Backdrop. This one is a personal choice. Again, what do you want you and you visitors to see? How realistic do you want to go? This is an "after the ceiling" item!

This should be enough to get the thought juices flowing!




You will get so many opinions and I have a few. So, I'll just state the one that I feel the most qualified to speak of. For HVAC install a mini-split system. The air handler is in the room and the compressor is outside. They have single zone and multiple zone systems. Depending on your geographical area, you may want what Mitsubishi calls Hyper Heat. I installed one in my train room this year. I'm in NH. I've had a 3 zone system in my house for 6 years. The one in my house is not Hyper heat, so not great at low temperatures, but it's not my primary heat source.



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I will get flak for this but think Radiant floor heat. If nothing else at least put in the floor tubing in the concrete. This also means you have to put in a separate Air system for AC but the radiant heat can not be beat. Your feet will love you as will the uniformness of the heat. A big benefit is the concrete becomes a big heat sink so it will maintain stability in the temp.

I followed the URL in the OP's profile - some interesting stuff, and shows a lot of passion and interest.  It looks like he lives in Montana - when making suggestions for heating, A/C, etc., we should keep in mind that he probably lives in an area that has extremes of hot and cold - especially cold - so solutions that work for others  might not work for him.  Fortunately, he says he's working with an architect, so hopefully he'll get good advice on those topics.

Meandering thoughts:

Working in residential renovation for decades one of the finest forms of thermal exchange insulation we found is sprayed in Iso foam.

It settles in at about 6.9 R per inch of thickness.  Three other benefits are, a total block for insects, total block for tiny pin hole leaks of cold air in strong winter winds plus tremendous sound attenuation.

BTW, one of John Armstrong's cautions is the factor that going in we have a tendency to lie to ourselves as to the real construction cost, ongoing energy demand and tax expenses.

Plus upon eventual resale of the property a large accessory building limits the potential pool of prospects.

The most effective foot prints, IME, has been more of a rectangle than a square.  Considering the over all effort here the net effect of the layout; after reviewing the vehicle provision, the wall displays and the classic layout space, could fit into a much less expensive/extensive building.

Maybe review your target.  Are you attempting to construct a museum type of introduction for visitors to the world of model railroading with your personal layout being one of the aspects or is this effort primarily to house a layout?  It's a good size but it can get real small real fast with a full plate of expectations.

Unless you can freeze the aging process and lock in a healthy body it may be wise to consider a non duck under platform.


Again, I agree with TomTee , especially the heat issue, avoiding duck unders, and your target.

As noted above, we think you are in Montana. Presuming this is correct, be certain to check building codes for minimum recommended wall thickness. You may find that 2x6 studs are recommended instead of 2x4s. Or you may choose to go that route on your own. A little insulation can only help!

Also, I don't know how practical it is for you to attach this building to your house. Doing so has the advantage of easily going to the room to work on things even during inclement weather. Not having to bundle up, etc. just to get to the room definitely increases your chances of wanting to do that!



You said a metal building I would seriously consider studding out the train room within the building. You can better insulated the framed walls easier than the metal building. I also agree with the gent who mentioned radiant heat in the floor and also limit your ceiling height to what you would be comfortable with. This will make controlling the environment easier and maybe cheaper. You want to store above the train room so you need consider the span of the room or you will be dealing with support columns of some sort. Also allow for plenty of electrical outlets and placement as you don’t want to run extension cords. You also may want to consider some kind of lighting under your table for when you wiring and other stuff under the table. You did not state what part of the country you are in!

When deciding between attaching an addition to your actual residence check with your local taxing body and your insurance provider for the Yin Yang.

I was told that if the train room is attached to your home in Delaware County,  PA  and has an HVAC system where I last built,  that will be considered an addition to your home and the overall property tax assessment will be  higher based on added square footage than if it was  free standing utility building.  Also the home owners policy would be increased.  A free standing garage backed out of the propose foot print will result in a lesser assessment increase in Del Co PA.

Also many codes will call for a depressed garage floor and a fire door for gasoline fumes when there is an adjoining area for  human occupation.

Of course there are architectural concerns in complementing the over all property.

I went through a living 4377 when I built my free standing train room.

Again, I side stepped all this in my good sized ranch basement. I would be embarrassed if I mentioned what I spent in my free standing train room.

Last edited by Tom Tee

This is a great conversation. In fact, just this week we broke ground for a new garage that will attach to the house AND behind the garage will be a 20’ x 20’ train room. We had formal drawings done and subsequently approved for building permits. We have mini splits in our home and they will be in the new area. We have been very pleased with them.

Perhaps I will start a separate posting to update the progress.

I have gained so many insights from the members of this forum.


First, thank you everyone for the insight, suggestions, and personal experiences related in the above posts! I really appreciate it, and these have led to some new ideas as I look at my project.

When I initially posted, I didn’t want to cause limitations in responses by being overly specific about my scenario. This obviously generated questions, mostly around geographic region. I’ll provide some more details here:

I was born in 1981, and lived in Rockford, IL for my first 26 years. I’ve lived in Billings, MT since. I was gifted my first Lionel train set at age 3. My father and my uncle (mother’s side) have been O-gauge enthusiasts for most of their lives. At age 14 I began working and was able to invest in a model train hobby (hence, 25 years of planning my final train room/building). I was married in 2011, and my bride and I have 3 boys (2016, 2018, and one more in Feb 2021). Since moving to Montana, I’ve come to learn that I really took for granted my Illinois years in relation to O-scale trains. I grew up with easy access to the many model train stores in the Chicagoland area, and frequently visited the monthly DuPage County Fairgrounds train show. The hobby was generally popular. In Montana, I’m a lone wolf in this hobby. When I was a TCA member, there were 8 total Montana members, and none of them lived near me (4-5 hours away). When I discuss my hobby with Montanans, they wonder “why in the world would anybody do that?” I’m not complaining – I’m attempting to relate that Montana is a very different place when it comes to O-gauge. This forum is priceless because it provides a place to discuss with like-minded folks.

The discussed new building will be an addition to our dwelling. The new building will house the train room, our first indoor garage, and massive amounts of storage. This storage will allow us to convert existing areas of our current dwelling into additional living space, which is handy as our family continues to grow. The lot is fantastic so we aren’t going to leave it – it is our “forever lot”, but not our “forever house”. We plan to demolish and replace this dwelling in the future. This new building is a step towards the overall “new house” plan, and will span multiple years to see through fruition. I have had many conversations with the city planning and city engineering offices about the addition. I have recently begun working with an Architect.

Tom Tee: thank you for expressing the valuable lessons you have learned regarding a separate train room. I am still proceeding, but now with more wisdom thanks to you. Strongly considering spray foam. Ongoing building costs (utilities/insurance) and increased taxes are being taken to heart, and I’m getting better estimates about what those expenses will look like. I have ordered Creative Layout Design by John Armstrong. The train building will be attached to our existing dwelling via an insulated breezeway. Optimally, this breezeway will be really close to the master bedroom, which will be ideal for the ‘sleepless night’ train room excursions you referred to. I appreciate the basement model layout construct, as this is what I’ve been used to all my life. As I’ve observed my elders advance in age, they found traversing the stairs very painful. Additionally, I have some friends who are confined to wheelchairs. These two factors make stairs a difficulty in my master train room plans, which is why I will stick with a ground-floor concept. Thermal spill will not be available in my situation, so I will take some extra steps to conserve the desired temperature in my room. This will be the largest and possibly the only accessible permanent O scale layout in the largest city in Montana. This effects the concept of ‘target audience’ in ways that most other folks wouldn’t deal with. I am looking at ways to incorporate the “minimal duck under” access that I observed at the massive HO layout at the Colorado Model Railroad Museum in Greely, CO. You’ve provided fantastic common sense advice, and it will benefit me for decades to come. Thank you whole heartedly.

Loose-Caboose: thank you for the wise suggestions regarding electric receptacles and layout heights. Yep I’ll be using an Architect. Obviously anything in the cement pad (like in-floor receptacles) need to be addressed really early in the planning process, so I appreciate that input. Regarding layout height – my current layout is 4 feet tall, which allows delightful room underneath for storage and plenty of room to work. Lighting under the layout has been a necessity. I achieved this by doing something really inexpensive and simple – I strung a giant strand of white Christmas lights through the support beams, and this has been an effective source of light for the past 6 years. I’m toying with the idea of keeping the 4 foot height, and providing safe platforms to stand on all around the layout for guests to view the action.

Mark Boyce: I appreciate your warm welcome! I will do my best to keep the community updated on how things are going for years to come.

Susan Deats: great advice – thank you. I have a track plan in mind, which may be influenced further by John Armstrong’s book when I get my hands on it. Appreciate the mentions of receptacle configurations – I will see what is involved.

Mike H Mottler: thank you kindly! I’ll have a roundhouse area on the scale layout, and the classic layout will be more of an “anything goes” area. You bring up a good point about dealing with shelf storage and re-railing – could you please elaborate on the hassle involved in this? I have not had this sort of construct before and knowing about some potential pitfalls will be very helpful. With my current small layout, I have to re-box everything every time I change my roster (several times a year), and I had hoped that wall shelves protected by plexiglass would resolve that annoying ritual. The layout will have several regions built in to provide trains reasons to travel about. I’ll share my designs in upcoming posts, and I appreciate your discussion on the subject. Ah, reversing loops and switches – thanks Mike – you will find that I’m rather dull and peculiar when it comes to switches, but I’ve learned to live with it 😊.

SantaFeJim: Thanks! Yep LED is the way to go. Hoping that the city allows me to install thinner gauge copper in the ceilings since LED doesn’t need standard gauge stuff (no, not THAT standard gauge). I will visit your topic to gather more info!

Lehighline: Thanks for the super advice! Oooo black ceiling – interesting idea! Great comments about dust control – I plan to do my cutting in the garage portion of the building and then bring the completed lumber into the train room for construction. Sound dampening will be an interesting feat. I’ve done A/V production in various venues, and have experimented with different materials to control the travel of sound, but haven’t worked with this in my hobby yet, so I’ll be looking for good ideas. Flooring material will be key. My father-in-law has sold and installed flooring for many years, so he will be a helpful resource. I definitely want the ability to control the level of room lighting while also controlling the trains. Somewhat scary, but I think everything (lighting and trains) will be wireless and app-based by the time I get there, so maybe the type of tablet I eventually acquire for room control will be a big factor. I really like backdrops – my first layout back in Illinois had beautiful backdrops that completely changed the atmosphere of the layout. Unfortunately my new scale layout will not incorporate them. There is a possibility for a cross-layout dual-sided backdrop on the classic layout.

Oman: I very much appreciate your insight on Hyper Heat. I’m looking at a few different heating options for the overall building and specifics for the train room. Initial plan is to use electric heat only, but I’m looking at all options, and working with an Architect. With us planning to remove our dwelling and replace it in the future, HVAC considerations related to the (permanent) addition are numerous.

JohnnieWalker: Yes, you just spent more of my money – fantastic idea which I had not considered. The ceiling loop will end up being the largest loop I’ve ever constructed. Thanks!

CurtisH: Thank you – I hadn’t thought about radiant floor heating, so I appreciate the mention. As I replied to Oman above, I was planning to keep things simple with electric heat throughout, but your comments are helping me consider other heating avenues. Now to figure out ductless A/C without window units…

Mallard4468: thank you for checking out my blog! Yep you are right, temperatures can be extreme on both ends, but thankfully those extremes don’t last more than a week at a time. I just don’t want my trains or myself to melt or freeze during those weeks 😊

RJT: thank you most kindly for the wisdom. Are metal studs similarly priced to wood studs at present (with crazy lumber prices right now)? Limited ceiling height will be key, and the height of the layout will be a factor… digesting several ideas and opinions on that now. Oodles of outlets are in the plans. To achieve storage above the train room I’ll need to install a mezzanine (steel truss-based). Some of the pole barn builders I spoke with said they could do this with wood, which I found rather impressive (either a 30 or 40 foot span). And, for now I’ll stick with my inexpensive yet effective Christmas light method of lighting under the layout.

Jay Francis: congratulations and best wishes for your project!

Thank you again to everybody thus far for your comments, suggestions, and experiences!

This process surely can make you feel pulled in different directions. In addition to the insights from our “Forum Folks”, I purchased books and magazines to review. The visuals were helpful and I encountered ideas I never would have thought of. Being old fashioned I assembled file folders and labeled them such as; trestles and bridges, buildings and structures, vehicles and people, backdrops, etc. I then cut out the articles and filed them along with any notes to myself. On the inside I jot down websites and what they offer. With the extensive effort you are undertaking (between building construction and the layout)  all the information will blend together.

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