Ready, Set, Build: Barns From the Ground Up, Part Two

In part one, we discussed the thought process leading up to putting in a barn, as well as legal considerations. In part two, we touch on the next, and some would say most important facet of barn design: location, location, location. That's the phrase that is traditionally quoted when the subject of real estate comes up. However, it's usually made in reference to homes or businesses and is a shorthand catch phrase for amenities such as schools, neighborhoods, exposure to a customer base, et cetera. When it comes to putting up a barn, though, the phrase takes on an entirely new (and literal) meaning.In part one, we discussed the thought process leading up to putting in a barn, as well as legal considerations. In part two, we touch on the next, and some would say most important facet of barn design: location, location, location. That's the phrase that is traditionally quoted when the subject of real estate comes up. However, it's usually made in reference to homes or businesses and is a shorthand catch phrase for amenities such as schools, neighborhoods, exposure to a customer base, et cetera. When it comes to putting up a barn, though, the phrase takes on an entirely new (and literal) meaning.

Story originally posted by: Maryanna Skowronski

In part one, we discussed the thought process leading up to putting in a barn, as well as legal considerations. In part two, we touch on the next, and some would say most important facet of barn design: location, location, location. That’s the phrase that is traditionally quoted when the subject of real estate comes up. However, it’s usually made in reference to homes or businesses and is a shorthand catch phrase for amenities such as schools, neighborhoods, exposure to a customer base, et cetera. When it comes to putting up a barn, though, the phrase takes on an entirely new (and literal) meaning.

Of course, before you begin construction you will want to have walked the property many times and over a period of several months if not an entire year (in the case of a recently purchased piece of land). It is important when planning a barn to pay careful attention to weather conditions and the geography of your property. Pay careful attention to wind direction and water runoff. A barn located at the foot of a hill might be sheltered from the wind but is also susceptible to water. If you choose this as your option, then swales, culverts, and drain fields may need to be figured into your plans. Also, a spot that you decide provides a nice cool breeze in the spring and summer may turn into a wind tunnel in the fall and winter.

You might be able to compensate for a site more protected in the winter with a building design that allows for more cross ventilation: such as exterior stall doors and windows in addition to the traditional interior ones. Wind can also be a deciding factor in the type of doors you select. If you decide on tracked sliding doors then make sure you have a drop bolt for each half of the door and drill holes periodically so that if the doors are closed/opened partway they can be secured from blowing outward. A cut out people door in one half is a nice feature too. This eliminates the need for struggling with the larger doors during bad weather when you are not bringing animals in or out but merely checking water, for instance.

Another factor in deciding upon a location is the building’s proximity to the house. Is your building going to be strictly utilitarian in design? Are you going to want it as part of the overall picture that your home presents? Many people place their barns close to their houses. They like being within earshot should any trouble arise within. It is also a convenience (especially in snow country) to cut down on the distance you might have to trudge during the cold winter months. If you are in an area that is prone to losing electricity during ice storms the shorter distance for hauling water might be a deciding factor in location. On the other hand, if you are in a more temperate climate you may prefer that the barn be located away from the living area of your property.

In either case a very important point to consider is the location of your muck pile. After all, they don’t call them horse flies for nothing! You might even have a little leeway in this too, though. If you bed with sawdust and have a regular pickup from a bin you will obviously have less odor and fewer flies than you will with a traditional muck pile.

You are not finished yet, though. Have you taken into consideration any possible future expansion? If you are opening a boarding stable might you want an indoor arena at some point in the future? If so, do you want to access it directly from the barn? Do you want a stable yard–an enclosed place for mounting up, making those last minute tack adjustments or to provide a small area for an animal perhaps recovering from an ailment that requires limited turnout?

Now, once you’ve decided where you’re going to put the barn you have to finalize your design. It’s probably safe to say that everyone who has built a barn has started out grand and then gotten realistic. If you’re fortunate enough to be in the category of "money is no object" then by all means go for it! However, if you have budgetary restrictions, start out by planning your ideal setup, price it out, and then compromise. A heated wash stall might sound great and if you can afford it, then put it in. However, if you are a show rider and compete primarily in the summer months do you really need that stall? Could you get by with an outdoor tie line and a hose? Or those built in feed bins. They are beautiful and very classic and traditional in appearance but if you are working on a budget perhaps metal containers with tie-down lids will suffice.

A tack room is ideal, and in a perfect world they would all be heated. It’s better for the condition of your leather equipment and certainly more comfortable to work in. Make sure it has enough ventilation in the warm months though too. Again, though, if your budget is tight or if you are only providing shelter for one or two animals without a lot of accoutrements, then you might be able to do a combination feed/tack room or even utilize an extra stall. You do want to make sure in that case, though, that both feed and gear are well protected from chewing horses. Grates, chains and placement well away from the aisle are important. If you are concerned about your tack there is always the option of storing it in your house and carrying it back and forth. Not very convenient, admittedly, but an option nonetheless.

If you are planning to utilize your barn as a hay storage facility as well, make sure you check with local regulations. I was advised that in some areas overhead hay/straw storage is not allowed. So if you are figuring a loft into your design look in to this.

As for the interior of the barn itself there are several considerations to be made: size of stalls, aisle width (in a center aisle barn), flooring, lighting, and on and on.

The center aisle should be at least ten to twelve feet wide. This gives you room to safely work around the horse and still provides containment so it doesn’t try to move around in the cross ties. Stalls themselves can vary in dimension. 10′ x 10′ is about the minimum with 12′ x 12′ the ideal. If you can go to a 12′ x 14′ stall, excellent. Stall door openings should be about four feet wide allowing for room for the horse to turn into the stall and wide enough to allow you to safely lead him in without being crowded. Ceiling height is also important, with eight feet being the probable minimum. Even here you do have some cost options. If you are stabling Shetlands rather than warmbloods you can get by with a smaller stall.

In terms of lighting, fluorescent lights burn cooler than incandescent bulbs but are not as efficient in cold weather as they are gas lights and the gas is heavier when it is cold. No matter what type of lighting you select it is important to make sure that the fixtures are either out of reach, safety coated or protected by cages. The same goes for any exposed wiring.

Flooring has been the subject of many a debate. There are those proponents of concrete stall floors with rubber mats. Some horse owners prefer dirt floors with bluestone or clay for drainage and traditional straw or sawdust bedding. Some stall floors are macadam and stone dust with bedding over top.

Aisles are also subject to debate. Concrete is the most practical in terms of ease of care but it can be slippery, so if chosen it should have a rough finish. Many old barns have dirt aisles but they require a lot of maintenance (wetting, raking, grading). Macadam is a good choice in that it has the ease of care of concrete with more traction and a bit more shock absorption. It is also quieter. The new cushioned paving bricks are wonderful from a safety point of view. They provide excellent traction.

This article has only scratched the surface of what is involved in building a barn. It may seem a daunting task, but think of it more as a challenge with a great reward at the end. Probably the best piece of advice that can be given to anyone who is thinking about building a barn is to visit as many barns as you can. Talk to people. Ask your friends and fellow horsemen what they like and dislike about the barns that they work in. What would they do differently, if anything? Finally, take your time. Chances are this is something you’ve been contemplating for a long time. Rome wasn’t built in a day, as the saying goes, and neither will your barn. But the Coliseum still stands and if you plan well your barn should last you and yours for a long time.

Review Part I.