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Converting an existing garage into a barn - feasible?

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  • Converting an existing garage into a barn - feasible?

    Well, we finally did it. After much loan frustration, everything went through and we closed on our country property / farmette-to-be earlier this week. It's got a great house and a beautiful 18 acres, but no horse-related amenities. I've been reading the "rehabbing an overgrown pasture" threads diligently! I plan to build a small barn, and had some tentative designs in my head - then discovered that the large garage/shop that is already there matches one of my tentative layout designs quite well.

    I know it would take a lot of modification to make it horse-ready, but I'm optimistic that it would still be cheaper than building a whole new structure from scratch. Has anyone else done this? Is it worth it? What do I need to consider?

    These are things that have crossed my mind already:

    Flooring: is concrete. If I put stall mats over this, will that allow enough drainage? Is there a way to score or otherwise rough up the surface where it will become the aisleway to provide traction? Is this necessary for barefoot horses?

    Ceiling/truss height: I think it's high enough. (I haven't measured anything yet, just eyeballed.) What height is considered adequate? I have do have large (17hh) horses.

    Ventilation: is a big question mark. I don't know much about ventilating barns to begin with, so I don't know if vents etc need to be put in when the barn is built, or if that's something that can be added now.

    Lights: will need to be hung higher. That should be easy enough.

    Doors: it currently has two single-car-width garage doors on one long wall and a people-door on one short side. How big an ordeal is it to convert the people-door into a small sliding barn door? I also dream of added dutch doors to the opposite long side, into the stalls. Feasible?

    Overhangs: I'd like to put on overhangs on one or two sides for run-in shelter space. How high do the sides need to be to allow adequate horse head height and pitch to keep snow from piling up?

    Anything else I haven't thought of?

    For what it's worth, my horses live out 24/7 and so the stalls would be used only for daily feeding and layup when needed. So I don't need anything fancy though of course they have to be safe. The aisleway/work area will get more use than the stalls. Also, I am in Kansas, so we do get weather - stifling heat and humidity in the summer; cold, lots of wind and some snow in the winter.

    Any and all advice welcome! Thanks.

  • #2
    first - congrats! welcome to farm ownership!

    sure it's doable. the house we live in was formerly a utility building/garage for the now-defunct ski resort (the pastures are the former bunny slopes).

    a lot will depend on the integrity of the structure you are looking to retrofit. what are the exterior walls constructed of? wood frame, brick, block? also, what's the proximity to the house and the grading like?
    * trying hard to be the person that my horses think i am


    • Original Poster

      Thanks Jacksmom! we're really excited!

      The garage is in great shape. It's a wood frame building, pretty new. The good news is that it's pretty close to the house - just what I would consider the right distance, not adjacent but significantly closer than the site I had originally imagined putting a barn in.

      The bad news is that it's on the low side of the property, which is why I hadn't considered it for a barn before. However it rained pretty hard all day last time we were there and it was not muddy around the garage at all. I know the ground slopes down away from the garage on one side, but the other three sides I'm not sure - it looks pretty flat, I'd have to look a lot closer to know for sure. Once we are moved in and fall weather rolls in I'll be able to get a feel for how well that ground handles the rain/mud.


      • #4
        Mats over concrete for horses who are out 24/7 shouldn't be a problem. I'd use pelleted bedding to soak up the pee spots if needed.

        Adding an overhang on the side your horses use as stalls is an excellent idea. You can build a free standing "overhang", just remember it needs to be 10-12 feet high on the low side for horse-head clearance. We built a free standing 12 x 24 porch on our house the same way we built our overhang--just didn't run the roof 2 x 6 boards into the house like we did the barn.

        Scoring the concrete is a bitch. I have a converted metal pole building with smooth concrete floors I use as a barn. We bought the 1/4 inch rubber mats you can get at farm stores (we have Wilco's out here) that run about $150/24 feet by 4 feet and use those as our barn aisle way mats. They do very nicely, don't move, easy to move and keep clean.

        I'd suggest having a contractor come in and give you an estimate for cutting your outside doors, framing in stalls (or you can go with HiQual or Priefert Modular stall pieces (I did) and do your own. You want to think about water, too. Does the garage have water inside? Not hard to do, but a plumber is your friend here. We had to cut concrete to bring H2O into the barn, and put in a frost free faucet.

        Good luck! Sounds like a fun project.
        Proud member of the "Don't rush to kill wildlife" clique!


        • #5
          The concrete is going to be your biggest problem. You can put mats down over it, but it won't drain anywhere so you either need to use really absorbent bedding and clean diligently, or break up the concrete floor and replace with crushed stone and mats, which is what I would do (that's a tough job and won't be cheap). If your ceilings and trusses aren't at least 9', I'd say that's too low (10' would be better) and raising a roofline is technically possible, but would be prohibitively expensive. For the aisleway you might consider some of those foam brick pavers or whatever they are - great cushioning, not cheap but very safe and a nice look, and you can put them right on top of concrete. You can easily convert doors or cut in dutch doors - you'd just have to take the siding and interior walls off and frame them in.
          One piece of advice - we've been on our new 25 acre place for about 2 months now and I already want a workshop/toolshed/equipment storage building! You could always build your horses a nice solid shed and think about it over the winter to see if adapting the garage makes sense. I think being in your place for a little while might help you think about it a bit more. Good luck and congrats!


          • Original Poster

            We were out there again today but I forgot to bring the measuring tape (we're not living there yet so we don't have all our tools at hand like we do at home!) Gotta measure the height of the roof - that may be the limiting factor.

            I agree we'd miss having the workshop - I'm thinking we'd build a (smaller, less fancy) new stucture for shopwork and storing cars in case off weather. I really like where the current garage is located and that's part of the reason I think it might be worth converting and building a new garage rather than just building a new barn. But I'm not committed either way yet...


            • #7
              Don't worry about the concrete floors for stalls, way too many prefer them, many, many horses do fine in them and, since that is what you have, why not use it?
              Only if you were one of those that hate them, then sure, pull the concrete out.
              I know someone that did that and later was sorry too.

              If your garage floods, dirt would be even worse than concrete to keep dry.
              Anyway, your horses won't be in there all the time but rarely.

              It would be easier to say what can be done if you had pictures and maybe measurements and a tentative plan with what you would like to do.

              We added an overhang to our old Quonset hay barn for a quarantine horse barn, but since we are not building the main barn/arena for now, it is our horse barn now.
              The front of the overhang ended up at 9' height, good enough for most horses, but would not want it any lower for bigger horses.
              Our roof slope is 3/12, but you may get by with 2/12, depending on your weather and that would give you more height on the overhang in front.

              Portable stalls are your friend if you want to keep the area clear span and have the choice to rearrange as your needs change.

              You can make anything work, just get creative and measure and plan and watch the rain and snow to see how to handle any runoff and drifts, as you already are doing.


              • #8
                Congratulations! We did wind up building our barn from scratch, but we looked at a LOT of properties with old barns, outbuildings, etc. that were all potential horse barns. Shoot, I can't look at ANY outbuilding, ANYWHERE, without mentally converting it to horse space.

                Flooring: is concrete. If I put stall mats over this, will that allow enough drainage? Is there a way to score or otherwise rough up the surface where it will become the aisleway to provide traction? Is this necessary for barefoot horses?
                Concrete will not drain, whether you put down mats or no. I certainly would put down mats for cushion, just make sure you use enough bedding to absorb the urine. It'll be fine. It would be hard to "rough up" existing concrete without tearing the hell out of it, but you can always put mats in the aisles, too. My aisle is concrete and yes, if a horse scrambles they will sometimes slip a little bit (shod or bare, it isn't much different) but it's certainly not a huge problem for me.

                Ceiling/truss height: I think it's high enough. (I haven't measured anything yet, just eyeballed.) What height is considered adequate? I have do have large (17hh) horses.
                My ceilings are 12 feet, with trusses hanging down 8" from that height over the aisle. My stalls have no "ceiling" per se, (center aisle barn with stalls open to the roof, which is WAAAY up there) but I've certainly kept horses in barns with ceilings and 10 feet is plenty, IMO.

                Ventilation: is a big question mark. I don't know much about ventilating barns to begin with, so I don't know if vents etc need to be put in when the barn is built, or if that's something that can be added now.
                Most garages are sealed up pretty tight. You can certainly add roof vents. Hopefully there are windows, for natural light and ventilation? Those are do-able, too, but a little tougher.

                Lights: will need to be hung higher. That should be easy enough.
                Cold-weather fluorescents and energy-efficient bulbs. Trust me on that one. Replacing bulbs in a barn is a job you don't need, and don't want.

                Doors: it currently has two single-car-width garage doors on one long wall and a people-door on one short side. How big an ordeal is it to convert the people-door into a small sliding barn door? I also dream of added dutch doors to the opposite long side, into the stalls. Feasible?
                See if you can find out who built the barn, and ask him to come out and go over your proposed plans with you. Or a good local contractor. That type of reworking is going to depend on how the barn is built.

                Overhangs: I'd like to put on overhangs on one or two sides for run-in shelter space. How high do the sides need to be to allow adequate horse head height and pitch to keep snow from piling up?
                Best thing I ever added to my barn. Mine are 8 feet high on the side away from the barn, and only a 4:12 pitch. We get FEET and FEET of snow, and it has not been a problem. I should also add that we get violent wind, and massive snow piles on roofs is less of a problem here than in other places. Your contractor can and should build a roof suitable to your local snow loads.
                Click here before you buy.


                • #9
                  Congratulations on your new horse property!

                  My current barn was an existing garage that we converted into a barn and added a side porch. The barn is a metal structure with regular framing. The interior was finished in drywall that I covered with 3/4" plywood to 8' height. The floors are concrete and we did put heavy duty rubber mats in the stalls and use pelleted corn cob bedding and bed heavily. The urine does not drain, but the pelleted bedding absorbs much faster than shavings and the corn cob bedding clumps like kitty litter which I find easier to clean. I do hose down the bedding daily as I find it too dusty w/out daily watering, I wish I did not have to do that and think if you have a lot of stalls it would be incredibly time consuming.

                  We made the stalls ourselves and used stall kits purchased from Country Manufacturing, although there were several other companies that I liked their kits as well. Our stalls are not free standing as we choose to make oversize 12' x 14' stalls and wanted more flexibility than the free standing stall kits that we saw. Our corner posts for the stalls are 4x4's that connect to the concrete floor w/brackets drilled right into the floor and then the top of the 4x4 connects to the roof trusses. Our roof trusses are 14' high. The brackets to attach the 4x4's came from the Home Depot's decking department. Next we attached U channels (from Country Manufacturing) to the 4x4's to make the stall sides and fronts. Our stalls have tongue and groove pine lumber to about 4' and the top half of the walls are stall grills (from CM). The grills come in 4' sections and can be cut to measure. We purchased lovely stall gates from a different source (can not remember the name).

                  We had a local contractor cut out the exterior walls to install dutch doors that he made himself. The same contractor built a side porch/shed on the side of the barn where the dutch doors are located, the inside height at the lowest point is 10', the shed is 14' deep by 50' long and I did have the ends made with solid walls. My current farm is in NJ and I wanted the extra protection from the weather that the walls provide. My last barn was in NC and I had a similar side porch that I left open on the sides.

                  I also have a garage style door that I hope to eventually have replaced with a sliding door. The contractor who did the side porch and dutch doors gave me a quote, but the original barn budget did not allow for it as the shed cost far more than I thought it would. Actually, about 4 times as much as I paid for the one in NC, everything seems to cost more in NJ! I still need to have a frost free hydrant installed. The building used to be heated, so the water line that comes in is not frost free and I currently use heat tape to keep it from freezing and I do not like doing that. I have not found a plumber willing to put in a frost free hydrant in this town. I need to try harder, I'm sure there is someone out there.

                  Good luck with your new place and have fun designing your new barn layout!
                  Annabelle Mayr, Arcadia Farm
                  Home of Fitz, Austria & Erin
                  Now over the Rainbow Bridge: Daeo, Max, Finn, Jake, Seamus & Pleasure


                  • #10
                    A friend of mine did this and it worked out really well for her. She built in the stalls (12X14), has an aisleway, and on the other side is her tackroom and feed room. She has all her hay and shaving storage at the back.

                    The front has a large "garage" door, and at the back she put in dutch doors for better ventalation.

                    For her too the barn is on the low end of the property, and it meant some strategizing when it came to drainage outside but on the inside (knock wood) she hasn't had any problems.
                    Riding the winds of change

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