Farm Design Part Two: The Right Materials Are Essential For A Lasting Barn

Jan 13, 2010 - 3:44 AM

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Now that the hard part of picking your property and designing your layout is over, it’s time to consider what type of materials you’ll use for construction. Barn builders rely on a variety of ingredients to construct a building, and often their choices will depend on where the facility is located.

“The region you live in often defines what materials are available,” said Lorri Hayward, who has run her own barn-design company, Hayward Designs, for over 20 years. “Cost is a key element in making your decisions, but you also have to remember that you get what you pay for.”

But even if you’re building on a budget, there are still plenty of options out there for safe, lasting construction.

“You have to remember that horses are very destructive to your structure,” said Hayward. “It pays to have things done right the first time, it’s a financial investment to your facility.”

From The Ground Up

As in all constructions, the foundation of your barn is one of the most important elements. For barns, designers often utilize two methods: poured concrete slabs or pole construction.

Concrete foundations, or stem wall, are normally coupled with timber framed barns. The foundation extends above the ground, usually about eight inches, to protect the framing and siding from moisture. Dimensions and the depth of concrete foundations are regulated by local code. With pole barn construction, the poles form the foundation and initial framing. The spacing of the poles depends on the design of the barn, but generally they are placed at 12-foot intervals.

“Even in conventional framing, you are looking at what will span the distance [between] the post and keep the frame strong,” said Hayward. “The farther the spacing, the weaker it will be.”

Framing, or the skeleton of your barn, is strictly regulated, because if it’s done incorrectly or with the wrong materials, it can be dangerous.  It’s important to inspect the lumber you’re using to make sure that the material is not warped, twisted, split or damaged.

Walls And Stalls That Last

After the framing is set in place, it’s time to construct the walls. While wood is a logical choice, it can be expensive depending on your area. Sheet metal siding is a cost-efficient alternative and is just as effective at protecting your horses if installed correctly. Concrete composite siding has also become popular in recent years and allows for some aesthetically pleasing alternatives for the outside of the building.

“You need to have a double wall system,” said Hayward. “One wall does not serve both services [of protecting the barn and the horses].”

Hayward recommends kick boards in any area that the horses can access. The kick wall should be four feet high and made of a strong, but flexible material.

“People often think that the perfect thing to do is to make their stalls out of block, but if the horse gets cast, it’s hard for them to flip themselves back over, and it doesn’t give,” said Hayward. “If you have a horse that kicks or paws, capped hocks or other injuries can occur.”

If you’re building your walls with wood, use pressure treated wood whenever it’s in contact with earth or steel, or on any siding within six inches of the ground. Pressure-treated wood should never be placed where horses can get to it.

“Tongue and groove wood material for your stall lining is one of your best options because it’s flush and there are no ledges,” said Hayward, who recommended installing boards horizontally. “There should be nothing they can get a hold of. If you have exposed posts, or places where there’s exposed wood, any of those exposed corners should have a bite cap. It will protect your building and protect your horses as well. Anytime a horse can chew on wood, there’s a possibility of splintering and chemical ingestion.”

In addition to wood, concrete and steel, some barn owners chose to spice up their barns with masonry, brick or stone accents.

“If you’re going to put on a little pizzazz, you put it on the front of the barn,” said Hayward. “You don’t need to put it on all four sides of the building.”

Focus On Flooring

In addition to the foundation, the floor you and your horses will stand on is something that should be thoroughly thought out by barn owners.

You can construct a floor out of nearly any material, including the natural ground, but climate and traffic should be major considerations.

For stall floors, Hayward recommends using a base of limestone screenings rather than concrete, as it’s easier on the horses’ joints and provides better drainage, but she also warned that you don’t necessarily want all of the moisture draining into the earth, because eventually the ground will become boggy.

For general working areas, Hayward encourages her clients to go with broom-finished concrete.

“Concrete floor is probably the most common flooring out there,” said Hayward. “It’s durable and can be hosed down. Rubber alternatives are more expensive. The broom-finish keeps it non-slip, but you should never paint it. As soon as the paint seals it becomes a skating rink.”

For a touch of color in your barn, there are several different types of stain that work on concrete, but it’s still a very practical and functional flooring.

“With any kind of concrete base you have flexibility,” said Hayward. “If you want some ornament in the aisleways, you can do a medallion in the middle of the floor with brick, or do a little boarder on the edge of the aisleway.”

Floors made of wood planks make a barn visually unique and are easy to maintain as long as they’re installed over a base that drains, such as road base, limestone or gravel. A wooden floor can be repaired or replaced fairly easily, but it may be trouble when it comes to traction. Wood gets very slippery when wet, and horses with studs on their shoes could become stuck.

For many barn owners, a floor made of rubber pavers, bricks or tiles is the floor of choice, but it’s expensive. A less expensive alternative is to place rubber mats over the concrete where horses stand for prolonged periods of time, like in grooming areas or wash stalls.

Topping It All Off

As mentioned in the first farm design article of this series, designing a ventilation system into your roofline helps create a healthy atmosphere in the barn and also adds visual appeal. A more steeply sloped roof will help snow slide off and creates a larger space in the interior of the barn. Hayward doesn’t recommend using that space for hay storage, but it can be utilized for other types of storage.

There are plenty of different types of roofing materials, but the benefits of some are different from the others. For example, tile or asphalt roofing will muffle the sound of heavy rain, whereas steel roofing will magnify it. The roofing material you choose also affects temperature and humidity control in your barn.

“In the most basic roof systems, you’ll see the bottom side of the roofing,” said Hayward. “The problem with that is condensation. I don’t care for it to rain indoors! The alternative is to install good quality, vinyl backed, rolled insulation with a vapor barrier. Insulation keeps things cool in hot climates and warm in cold climates. It takes care of the issue without breaking the piggy bank.”

Using steel as roofing also has a green benefit. In some areas of the country water is still a commodity, and installing a steel roof provides barn owners with a clean method of water capture.

“On Long Island [N.Y.] water is very important,” said Hayward. “They capture all their water in cisterns and use it for landscaping and for the animals.”

Steel roofing is inexpensive and requires little to no maintenance, but you have to consider the gauge, or thickness, of the material before purchasing.

“If it’s too thin, sometimes it will look buckled, and the finish may not look right. It’ll look just fine when you put it in, but five years down the road you’ll see the flaws. You get what you pay for when it comes to building materials,” said Hayward with a laugh. “You get what you pay for.”


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