View Full Version : pros and cons to a bank barn?

TB Fan
Dec. 15, 2009, 12:46 PM
The area I cleared for my new barn apparently has more of a slope than I anticipated. We are now back to the drawing board. I am shooting for a 36x48 center aisle barn. It will have in effect 8 stalls, but I'll be using one for tack and one for feed.

I currently have two horses. I wanted to build something bigger than what I needed for possible future boarding or if my two get evenutally retired and I want a third riding horse.

The area for the barn is just about an acre. Unfortunately, there is not much better luck in other parts of the acre. Either its still too large of a slope or I'm moving it further from electric and water lines. This area would be the winter paddock. I have 3 other acres I am clearing for turnout when the weather is milder.

We could cut into the slope and basically build into it? Can anyone provide pros/cons to this idea? My biggest concern is the water aspect. I would think it would take some engineering to direct any water away from the barn.


Dec. 15, 2009, 01:13 PM
I love my bank barn. It is WAAAAY cooler in the summer. I don't notice it being any colder in winter though...

Good for the anhydrotic horse I have in my barn!

Honestly can't think of too many cons, although mine does have a drainage problem and sometimes the rain comes in through the back wall. But, my barn is SPECIAL. :rolleyes:

I can't imagine having any other type of barn!

You could always plan for a french drain when you are building. My barn was already here, and darn near 100 years old. I am not disturbing it to install a french drain!

Dec. 15, 2009, 01:17 PM
Many years ago, we boarded at a bank barn and loved it. I tried to get a builder to put one in at our house, but he said our hill was not steep enough so it would be prohibitively expensive.

Dec. 15, 2009, 01:20 PM
I have no working knowledge myself but visited a friend's horse at an old bank barn recently. It was very neat, almost completely underground at one end, the only issues they had were ventilation and the concrete walls would sweat and they had frequent mold issues, etc.

I was there on a blustery day though and it was soooo cozy and quiet!

Dec. 15, 2009, 02:04 PM
We boarded in one and the temperatures were much more consistent--cool in summer, warm and quiet in the winter. Ours had big windows in the outer wall stalls, and big doors on either end. Made of concrete block, very sturdy. Horses seemed very content.

Cons? Ours had a low ceiling, but that was unique to the old building. Some drainage issues, due to its design (it was about 50 years old!). No way to have dutch doors/attached paddocks-you always had to bring in/out.

Dec. 15, 2009, 02:53 PM
I boarded at an old bank barn...

Pros: cool in the summer, warm in the winter, very 'cozy' feel to it

Cons: horses in the 'inner stalls' had no windows to the outside (but could see out into the barn obviously), low ceilings/beams (horses smacked their heads a lot if they threw their head up for whatever reason, the one I boarded was really big (5 aisles, plus a 'new section') and the side aisles were very narrow and I imagine in the event of a fire or other emergency it would have been pretty near impossible to get the horses out.

Since you're building it yourself and yours will be smaller I would imagine it would be easy to eliminate most of those cons. I like bank barns in general (the one I was at was just not a nice barn), but if I was building one I would try to arrange my horses stalls along the outside so they could have windows out at least and my tack/feed room in the middle. And in CT, I imagine the added winter warmth would be a big plus?

Dec. 15, 2009, 07:54 PM
LOVE my century bank barn!
It is built into the side of a fairly steep hill.

Mine was built in the late 1800's ...
Thick limestone walls in the 'downstairs' part where the stalls are. But...the ceilings/beams are really low.
This does keep it much cooler in summer and warmer in winter.

'Downstairs' on the 'bank' side of the barn there are -obviously- no windows.
I made my fed/tack/hay storage rooms along this wall. I have 5 box stalls with windows.
'Upstairs' is a huge loft. The beams are huge...hand-hewn. Beautiful.
You can drive right up the hill with the hay wagons...Storage for at least 5000 bales.
Also an tin-lined grainery. I keep blankets hanging in there.

We have never had any issues with drainage...but the pioneers who built this style of barn, knew what they were doing and where and how to locate it to avoid flooding.

Dec. 15, 2009, 08:53 PM
I love how easy it is to store hay and other things in the upper part! My neighbors all have them, and they'll roll their tractor right up in them and use them for equipment parking in addition to hay storage.

Expense may be the big shortcoming, since you'll need to do more cement or block wall on the side with the embankment. You will also lose windows/doors on those stalls, of course.

Dec. 15, 2009, 10:01 PM
Love my bank barn. Cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Lots of hay storage upstairs. It was built in the early 1800s. My ceilings are taller than many bank barns, although not quite as tall as one local bank barn. Although it would be prohibitively expensive to try and replace the structure as is if it ever had to be rebuilt (ie, very big timbers, lots of mason work, etc)

photos here


Dec. 15, 2009, 10:34 PM
LOVE my bank barn! Just do the earthwork and guttering to keep water flowing away from the barn and not into it, but that's true for any type of barn.

Dec. 15, 2009, 10:42 PM
When I was a kid, I worked off my horse's board in an big old New England barn. The horses were kept in the cellar portion which was built into a hill. I've worked in and owned many barns since then but I have never had a barn that was so snug in the winter and so naturally cool in the summer as that old barn.

I hope you will be able to incorporate such a natural benefit into your barn design.

Dec. 15, 2009, 11:02 PM
I worked at a bank barn for a while and LOVED it.... fantasize about building such a thing when I get around to having my own place.

Barn in question was nicely breezy in summer- situated so the ends had double doors. As others have mentioned the inner walls obviously don't get windows, but in this situation there were few enough horses to limit them to the outer stalls. Storage for hay etc was SO easy with the nice sloping drive up to the upper level. The comfort factor in humid, hot summer conditions was really magnificent. It wasn't noticeably colder in winter, and since it was buffered against wind it was cozy and quiet.

My one complaint might be that the lack of windows limits light- there were considerably more light fixtures in that barn than in others I've known, and it still wasn't really enough. This can obviously be overcome with planning.

TB Fan
Dec. 16, 2009, 04:37 PM
Thanks everyone for the responses. I have to admit I was thrown off when I realized how dramatic the slope was. To "eye ball" it, the area looks somewhat level. I figured I could just bring in fill to level the lower area, but the slope is too much. Again, thanks everyone for your input!

Dec. 17, 2009, 10:40 AM
I boarded at a bank barn for several years. It was great for natural climate control--warm in winter, cool in summer. The two biggest problems were ventilation and drainage (for that reason, keep a dehumidifier in your tack room if you dislike mold.) To improve ventilation, you could put most of your human space (tack, feed, storage) on the inside of the hill so your horses could be on the outside and have windows, and if you have horses on the hill side, put them in end stalls. At that particular barn, in bad storms the stalls on the hill side of the barn would often flood, but drainage was a problem anyway for several reasons (apparently the original owners many years ago had missed the memo about not building a barn at the very bottom of a steep hill) and I believe the new property owners have managed to solve that problem with creative use of large pipes and drains. You can work on making that a non-issue from the start since you're building from scratch. You will want a lot of lighting as the lack of windows tends to make it dark. Enjoy your bank barn--working in a shedrow-style now makes me miss how warm that barn was!

Dec. 18, 2009, 05:50 AM
Edgewood, your barn /farm is lovely. This reminds me greatly of several bank barns in the area in which I grew up.I worked a a few and all were tight.They were cool in the summer, warm in the winter. One farm I worked at had a huge foaling stall in the back of the barn. It was so warm and quiet ,the mares and foals all were very happy.One in particular was a dairy barn. Later partially converted. This barn was huge w/ huge stone walls and hand hewn beams.
Storage never seemed and issue . hay ,tractors and other farm equipment all fit"upstairs". Oh , and the rooms to the sides were made into offices and tack or feed rooms.

Dec. 18, 2009, 09:15 AM
My bank barn is 150yo and built on pancake flat ground! The original builders actually hauled dirt in to build the 'ramp' to the big doors in the back. It was an old dairy/grain farm so it is not sized for horses. I remodeled the barn when I bought it and ended up with a 6' center aisle (could not widen bc the support beams were set and I'm not moving those!), 5 stalls and side aisle to side room on one side. 4 big stalls, stairs to upstairs, and side aisle on other side. Only have 8' ceilings but... my 17h ISH horses fit in there fine. They don't rear up, etc. The dairy room in the back is all concrete- we use that as our tack/storage room (50' by 15') and we built our wash stall off the side of that so we could have a higher ceiling.

Pros: warm in winter, cool in summer. Cozy.
Cons: Lack of windows and/or natural light.

My ventilation is fine only bc of the way the barn is set up. I can leave front/back aisle doors open (back door opens in dairy/tack room and open windows in dairy/tack room and the winds go right through the barn. I have screen front stalls and put fans on them to blow air into the stall. Of course- in the summer the fans do all the ventilation bc I don't open the barn up to let the humidity in.

I ended up building a 24 stall barn right next to the bank barn and use it for the horses now- but wish I had enough stalls in bank barn for them all bc I love it! I use bank barn as dog boarding kennel now. Clients love it- they get the farm experience for their dogs and I get a few extra bucks to feed the ponies!

Dec. 18, 2009, 09:58 AM
Aren't the old bank barns generally huge? I mean, compared to what people mostly build today. I ask because I once worked in what amounted to a bank barn for humans - a weird office building where the office space was underground, and the lobby area was on ground level. There was zero natural light, and the average-height ceilings felt low. It was very claustrophobic, and very cold in winter. I realize this is not quite the same as a barn, where the big doors are usually open and the inhabitants are generally not stalled 8 hours a day;), but I'd be very thoughtful about providing generous natural light and a good sense of space if I was building a bank barn. The huge old barns probably gave that in spades, but if you're building smaller, it might be hard to pull off.

Dec. 18, 2009, 10:14 AM
We had the same problem as you. Tried to grade for a modular center-aisle from Horizon Structures... surprise! We had cliffs in our yard after making a suitable level spot. So the dirt was moved back and we decided to go the bank barn route. It was just finished this past July.

The walls are poured concrete, so there won't be much leaking going on. To make things really waterproof we had the sides that are below ground tarred. There is a ramp to get into the top and the ground outside of the downstairs door slopes away from the barn. We've had some torrential rains since it was built - no problems :)

Cons: No dutch doors/windows on every stall. 2 of ours have dutches & windows. 1 has a large window. The corner that doesn't have anything was made into a wash stall. Ours is also built into the hill - so, only 1 door on the aisle.. in a perfect world we would have 2. Other than that - it's great!

Here's the album:

Dec. 20, 2009, 10:41 AM
The first farm my husband and I owned had an 8 stall bank barn built in a very unique way. The four stalls and tack room on the left side of it were underground except for about 3 feet between ground and roof line. There were stall windows built right under the roof and the taller horses could poke their heads out. We would get a lot of laughs from people who drove up and saw our horses looking out of their windows with the ground less than six inches from their noses :D. It was a great barn (once we fixed the flooding problem :(). As others have said, cool in summer, warm in winter.