Wednesday, Sep. 27, 2023

Farm Design Part Eight: Build The Right Facility For Your Region

Wouldn’t it be nice if we lived in a world of perfect spring days? Unfortunately, no matter where you live, the weather has a huge impact on your way of life and the way you keep your horses. A barn’s design will be fundamentally the same regardless of your location, but you need to take precautions depending on the natural hazards common to your area.

Codes, Codes, Codes



Wouldn’t it be nice if we lived in a world of perfect spring days? Unfortunately, no matter where you live, the weather has a huge impact on your way of life and the way you keep your horses. A barn’s design will be fundamentally the same regardless of your location, but you need to take precautions depending on the natural hazards common to your area.

Codes, Codes, Codes

Building to code has been a recurring theme in this series, and it reigns supreme when it comes to designing your barn to handle the elements.

“Every area has different codes for things like snow load and high winds,” said Lorri Hayward of Hayward Designs. “There are often special requirements you have to adhere to.”

Not only must you construct to code so your buildings will pass inspection, but it will also play in your favor if your building is damaged.

“Plan for worse than the specifications require,” advised Connie McRill, Woodbine, Md., who lost her riding arena during the recent snowstorms in the mid-Atlantic region. “You can’t predict disasters, so try to make it one step stronger. Do all your building legally. It’ll pay off in the long run.”

Where To Go For Codes

  • National: The Uniform Building Code is the most commonly used code, followed by the Building Officials Conference of America (used in the Northeast and Great Lakes region), Southern Building Code Congress International and the National Building Code
  • County: Clerk, Council or Commission
  • City or Town: Clerk or Council, Building and Zoning Department, Housing Department
  • Other Helpful Resources: Your local cooperative-extension office holds a wealth of information about your local climate, geography and agricultural codes.

Making An Entrance

No matter what weather conditions you may battle, having a safe and accessible entrance is the first step to keeping your barn functioning.

“I prefer swinging doors over sliding doors,” said Hayward. “But if they aren’t protected, you can’t get in and out of the barn.”

Hayward recommended utilizing porches, rooflines or recessed entries to protect your access points. She also mentioned that installing Dutch doors on your stalls will help with fire protection, as well as providing additional access points in case of emergencies.

Varying Temperatures

While some farm owners may want to incorporate heating/cooling systems into their facilities to protect against extreme temperatures, similar results can be achieved by simply designing an effective ventilation system.

“I am a firm advocate for insulation regardless of where you are,” said Hayward. “It can help keep your barn cool as well as keeping it from being damp and cold in the winter.”

Soil Changes


Many barn designers require a geotechinical report before digging the pad and foundation for your barn. This report can also help you determine what kind of fencing you need, based on your farm’s soil.

In some areas of the country, the ground is simply too rocky to set fence posts, so alternative fencing, like buck and rail fencing, is necessary to keep your horses contained.

If you live in a very wet climate, you will want to reconsider using straight wood for your fencing, because over time it will rot. Remember, while pressure-treated wood is designed to withstand the elements, it should never be used where a horse has access to it, because the chemicals used to treat the wood could potentially poison a horse if ingested.

Another concern when it comes to soil is landslides, but, fortunately, a geotechnical report can help you prevent one.

Landslide Dos And Don’ts

  • Don’t: Build near steep slopes, mountain edges, near drainage ways or natural erosion valleys.
  • Do: Get a geotechnical report of your property.
  • Do: Contact local officials or departments about identifiable hazard locations.
  • Do: Plant ground cover on slopes and build retaining walls.
  • Don’t: Ignore changes in the topography of your farm.
  • Don’t: Ignore cracks in your building materials or newly jamming windows and doors.

Movers And Shakers

In addition to a solid foundation, barns located in earthquake prone areas need to have a sturdy wall construction.

“In an earthquake, you have the ground moving back and forth, so you want the walls to be very stiff,” said Sergio Plaza of Eagle Span Steel Structures, Loveland, Colo. “You use plywood as a bracer over the framing (called sheathing), then put the final finish over the plywood. Having a stable wall structure is huge for preventing seismic and wind damage.”

Planning Ahead For Earthquakes

  • Fasten shelves securely to walls.
  • Place large or heavy objects on lower shelves.
  • Brace overhead light fixtures.
  • Repair defective electrical wiring and leaky gas connections. These are potential fire risks.
  • Secure a water heater by strapping it to the wall studs and bolting it to the floor.
  • Repair any deep cracks in ceilings or foundations. Get expert advice if there are signs of structural defects.

Lightning Strikes

Every thunderstorm produces lightning, regardless of the severity of the storm.

“In a lot of our structures, size dictates the concern for lightning protection,” said Plaza. “Normally, we attach a lot of little rods all over the roof, almost like a widely spread porcupine, and they’re all tied into a large grounding rod.”

Plaza added that, in general, wood constructions don’t normally attract lightning.

Neither Snow Nor Rain

In areas of heavy snow and rainfall, your barn’s drainage system is just as important as the roof structure.


“You simply need to evacuate water away from the building,” said Plaza. “That involves well designed grading away from the building. If it’s sitting up so the water is going away, then the structure will last longer.”

In addition to proper drainage, roof pitch can make a difference in the way snow collects on your building.

“The local codes will take historical data and calculate what your snow load will be for the area,” said Plaza. “Higher pitched roofs will have different codes than a flatter roof. A higher pitch is definitely the way to go for heavy snow areas.”

Plaza also recommended using metal panels instead of shingles, because the panels are more slippery and allow the snow to slide more quickly off the roof. However, falling snow can be dangerous, so it’s important to incorporate snow stops into your roofline, which slow down how the snow falls off the roof.

“Drift conditions are very overlooked,” added Plaza. “If your barn happens to have gable features, then you’ve created valleys, and those areas will accumulate more snow. When snow falls, it accumulates evenly, but wind will shift it and make it unbalanced. The codes usually protect against those conditions.”

Another thing to worry about in heavy snow areas is ice dams. If you don’t excavate the snow correctly from the low areas on your roof, snow will melt, then freeze overnight. Since ice is denser than snow, it can seriously damage the roof and drainage systems of your barn.

Preparing To Get Snowed In

  • Winterize your barn:
    • Clear gutters
    • Repair roof leaks
    • Cut away tree branches that could fall on the barn
    • Provide adequate shelter for all animals and equipment
    • Insulate pipes, walls and overhead storage areas
  • Know where your water shut-off valves are in case of broken pipes.
  • Keep an emergency water supply.
  • Keep an emergency supply of feed in an accessible location.

Hurricanes, Tornados And High Winds

It’s difficult to make a barn completely weatherproof, but careful planning will help create as safe an environment as possible for your horses. In areas known for high winds, tornados and hurricanes, it’s important to design the internal structures properly.

“The actual elements of your barn (roof decking, rafters, frame, etc.) should all be properly designed to withstand extreme conditions,” said Plaza. “What we often see in high wind areas is that if the roof decking isn’t properly screwed down, it will flap. The failure you see in barns is usually the roofing material tearing off.”

Plaza recommended using “hurricane clips,” which attach the rafters to the wall structure and prevent high winds from taking the entire building. In a pole barn style construction, the actual columns need to be embedded in concrete to provide a solid foundation.

“For the roofing material, the only thing you can do is put more fasteners down,” said Plaza. “In terms of wind, the corners and edges of the roof are the first to go. You really need to address those areas with a lot more nailing.”

Hurricane And Twister Tips

  • Permanent storm shutters offer the best protection for windows.
  • Be sure brush and trees around the barn are well trimmed.
  • Clear rain gutters and downspouts.
  • Tornados can strike quickly and with little or no warning.
  • Tornados can accompany hurricanes and tropical storms.
  • Tornados are most frequently reported east of the Rocky Mountains during spring and summer and are most likely to occur between 3-9 p.m.

This is the last article in an eight-part series about Farm Design. To read the rest of the series, please click on the Farm Design tag. Stay tuned for more upcoming series.





Follow us on


Copyright © 2023 The Chronicle of the Horse