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Pros and cons of building bank barns?

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  • Pros and cons of building bank barns?

    Looking for some feedback on the pros and cons of building a smallish bank barn.

    We have the option of building a single-storey bank barn (four stalls plus tack) with one long wall (north) against a south-facing slope (approx 1 in 6-8 grade).

    The four stalls would back side-by-each on to the bank, and the bank - we *think* - could come "up" the back wall to an interior height of 5 or so feet, leaving room above the stalls (ie, maybe a foot above grade outside, so snow/rain doesn't get in) for windows.

    Tack/feed room would be at the eastern end (nearest the house!). One stall area would suffice for storage of hay, straw, etc, as the bulk of it will be stored in a separate hay shsed.

    We're in a fairly exposed location in a fairly northern climate, so this would give us protection from prevailing wintery north winds. And it's probably the most accessible spot for the house!

    The concept of bank barns used to be fairly popular (there was even one here on the farm originally, although we had to have it demolished); just curious to know if they're built any more, and anything in particular we might want to consider.

    Construction method would probably be a pole barn, probably on poured concrete foundations. "probably* being the operative word, of course!

  • #2
    I'd kill for a bank barn. Cooler in the summer, warmer in the winter. Just be super careful about grading to keep the water away.
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    • #3
      The cost. That is why people don't build them anymore. Far too expensive. And they can be very hard to make warm. Mine is FREEZING in the winter and the fix would cost me many thousands.

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      • #4
        I have one circa 1849, would most definitely consider replacing instead of building new.
        Temps are near perfect since 2003 can count on 1 hand # of times H2O buckets have frozen & stays @ or below 80* during summer.

        The one thing that absolutely won't work for you is;
        Construction method would probably be a pole barn, probably on poured concrete foundations.
        If built as a true bank barn the weight of bank will collapse back wall.
        The stone fell in on mine a few yrs ago, we replaced w/ 2' footers & 18" poured concrete wall. Although mine is a true 2 story

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        • #5
          I've never had one myself, but have ridden at barns with them.

          Frankly, regardless of the weather, they always seemed dark & unpleasantly cool (even in summer), & definitely always felt damp. Wouldn't be my choice.

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          • #6
            I board my horse at a 2 story bank barn. It does stay pretty cozy in the winter (a miracle in NH!), and is cool and has plenty of ventilation in the summer. I moved her there from a very modern, airy barn, and the difference in interior temp (both winter and summer) is significant. The barn does have windows in all of the lower level stalls, so it never feels like a cave. Good luck with whatever you decide!

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            • #7
              My horses are in a bank barn. It's warmer in the winter, cooler in the summer. Only downside is that it's damp in the summer. In the summer I run a de-humidifier and that helps a lot.
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              • #8
                Bank Barns are terrific

                My main barn is a Bank Barn. Love it, summer, winter, and in between.

                Since mine was built sometime in the 1850's, the ceilings are lower than I like, and it has few windows. *If* I were to rebuild this barn, those are two things I would correct.

                It is not damp however, because this barn has proper air flow. Whoever built this barn (bless him/them!) did it right.

                They even made it possible to channel water flow in a high water year. That would be this year Usually the pipes under the floor can handle it all, but if not, there is drainage in place for an overflow.

                The same people must have built my Farmhouse, because it has the same channel system.

                While I do use heated buckets, that is more for my comfort, as I want the Oldsters to drink as much as possible. It can be absolutely howling outside, and you barely hear/feel it inside.

                The Horses that inhabit this barn seem quite happy and content in there.
                Facta non verba

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                • #9
                  My daughter loves her old bank barn. It is cool in the summer and warm in the winter. She stores her hay and grain on the upper level, so there is no chance of an escaped horse getting into the grain. She has her stalls in the back of the lower level, and then a large open area in the front of the lower level so the horses can come and go from that area as they please.

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                  • #10
                    Bank barns are great IF you build them correctly. My family's business is restoring old barns, so I've seen a few (and have one)... Ltc4h is correct that a nice, thick, reinforced poured wall is the way to go--that's what goes under all the old barns my dad pulls back straight and sets on a new bank wall.

                    Folks are correct that it'll be quite a bit more expensive than buliding a pole barn on grade would be. The most common repair (aside from people letting the roof go, which leads to the $upports rotting out) is the bank wall rolling in. Two big causes: Poor drainage outside the wall and (believe it or not) people driving tractors and whatnot into the main floor of the barn. Over time, that tiny bit of forward momentum you transfer to the barn structure each time you pull in and stop the tractor starts to move the barn away from the bank. The former can be addressed with some kind of groundwater diversion inside the bank, such as drainage tile or even just a nice section of gravel against the concrete wall before packing in the dirt. Plus, keeping your gutters in good repair is huge.

                    Then, the two big design concerns are controlling interior dampness (especially if the lower floor is below/near the water table) and designing the whole thing for horses--rather than cows--and modern machinery. The first can be addressed with in-floor drainage as necessary and taking care to add a lot of ventilation (pole barns being 'tighter' than old plank siding)--both passive, like roof vents/turbines, and sliding doors/windows you can adjust. The latter by designing in plenty of headroom and clear span (much easier with pole barn above).

                    I've had to retrofit the drainage and clearance in mine (old cow barn), and it'd be much easier and cheaper to do it right from the get-go. The horses love it--cool and fly-free in summer, nice and snug in winter. The area against the bank wall is very popular. I also use the part with the lowest ceiling for poultry and they don't get heat stress. Good luck!
                    ---------------------------

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by lawndart View Post
                      My main barn is a Bank Barn. Love it, summer, winter, and in between.

                      Since mine was built sometime in the 1850's, the ceilings are lower than I like, and it has few windows. *If* I were to rebuild this barn, those are two things I would correct.

                      It is not damp however, because this barn has proper air flow. Whoever built this barn (bless him/them!) did it right.

                      They even made it possible to channel water flow in a high water year. That would be this year Usually the pipes under the floor can handle it all, but if not, there is drainage in place for an overflow.

                      The same people must have built my Farmhouse, because it has the same channel system.

                      While I do use heated buckets, that is more for my comfort, as I want the Oldsters to drink as much as possible. It can be absolutely howling outside, and you barely hear/feel it inside.

                      The Horses that inhabit this barn seem quite happy and content in there.
                      I love lawndart's bank barn. So does my horse Sonny who lives in it. He is a pretty bulky build and does not like the heat. I think he does better in the bank barn because it does stay cooler than most regular barns.

                      I have boarded at other bank barns and love them as long as they are built with decent cross ventilation. They do tend to be cooler in the summer and warming in the winter. Yes it can be cooler in the bank barn than outside in the sun during those first warm spring days.
                      Having hay storage above is nice for insulation too.
                      Oh, well, clearly you're not thoroughly indoctrinated to COTH yet, because finger pointing and drawing conclusions are the cornerstones of this great online community. (Tidy Rabbit)

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                      • Original Poster

                        #12
                        Really helpful feedback so far - thanks, all!

                        I agree about the back wall being braced, reinforced, etc; poured concrete with rebar is certainly a feasible option.

                        It would only be a single-story structure, so no upstairs/downstairs going on at all.

                        Our hay is all large squares and rounds, stored in a separate shed.

                        The floor in the current "barn" (converted gambrel-style tin 30' x 70' shack; 4 stalls and tack along one side, open storage for hay at one end) is simply stonedust, and for us this makes a super footing; we deep-litter the stalls (muck out every year or two with a skidsteer), and there's no dust, no slipping on icy floors, etc.

                        We have very good soil - sandy loam - so, the occasional time the shack did flood with spring run-off, it dried out in a couple of days.

                        We thought we'd put a 12' deep lean-to/run-in along the length of the south-facing side of the bank barn, which would give the horses shelter from wind and snow in the winter, and shade in the summer, and would also keep much of the sun off the south wall of the barn, thus helping it to stay cool.

                        I hadn't thought about the possibility of it staying warmish in the winter - thanks for that reminder!

                        Anything else to consider?

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                        • #13
                          I was in a very big one with horses below and hay upstairs and an attached indoor. It was VERY dark. Like black as night. Ugh. Damp in the summer.

                          That said, I can see the advantages if you are in the south or doing one story only (and can let in natural light).
                          DIY Journey of Remodeling the Farmette: http://weownblackacre.blogspot.com/

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                          • #14
                            My understanding of a bank barn is one built onto a hill, that you can enter on at least two, some times three levels.

                            I am not sure that is what you are talking about, but a barn that is banked on some sides so it is partially below ground level, built onto a hill.

                            One advantage of a self standing barn is that you have access to one on all sides, something you can't on all levels in those built against a hill.
                            You can have overhangs for horses or machinery, extra runs off stalls, parking lot extensions, can get all around in a fire, etc.

                            I would say, the cost of a retaining wall and engineering to keep water off the barn wall and floors and to divert any other water around the barn would be considerably more than a self standing barn would cost.

                            Then, if that is what you want to build, you really will be happier if you just build what you want, the way you want and so be happy, even if it takes a bit more to get it built that way.

                            When I moved up here from the canyons seven years ago, I wanted to build a covered arena/barn with an apartment on a corner.
                            For many good reasons everyone talked me out of it and I built a house and was going to build the indoor/barn later.
                            The house cost way more than expected, the covered arena with overhang and stalls may never be built now.
                            I kind of wish now I had gone ahead and built what I wanted, although I am glad I didn't, as now I know so much more, after building the house, if I built the barn now, I would do a much better job of it.

                            Just think seriously what makes sense and what you will be happy with later, that may not be the same.

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                            • #15
                              Bluey has a really good point. If you're not going to have an 'upstairs' portion to access via the bank, building a partially-buried barn might not give you much bang for your buck.

                              Unless it's so cold you're burrowing into the ground to stay warm, 12" masonry walls on a free-standing structure will give most of the same thermal benefits as a 'bank' barn but without the drainage issues and expense.
                              ---------------------------

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                              • #16
                                the barn where I work/board is a bank barn and it is fabulous year round. We are in Canada with some pretty wild temps and it has been great. Worked the day it was humidex 42 degrees and had no problem with the heat as well as worked there -40 windchill and it was quite warm. No problems with being too dark. PM me and I can send you the link to the website which has pictures. The barn is over 200 years old and the owners installed all new stalls, mats, etc. and it's really nice.

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                                • #17
                                  We had a bank barn built and I love it. We did it because our slope is so steep, that if we had done a regular pole building, we would have had to put up a 12' high, 90' long retaining wall. UG-LEEE!

                                  Of course, once you start planning, you can't stop. Which is how we ended up with......

                                  The GARAGE MAHAL
                                  Its 30x64, 3 levels

                                  The "top" level, 6 car garage, a loft above it
                                  http://i3.photobucket.com/albums/y56...Picture013.jpg

                                  The "lower" level: One the left is my husband's shop, and the right is my barn area. I have 3 stalls, and a space for one more.
                                  http://i3.photobucket.com/albums/y56...g/P1170389.jpg

                                  We are very happy with it!

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                                  • #18
                                    Originally posted by spacytracy View Post
                                    We had a bank barn built and I love it. We did it because our slope is so steep, that if we had done a regular pole building, we would have had to put up a 12' high, 90' long retaining wall. UG-LEEE!

                                    Of course, once you start planning, you can't stop. Which is how we ended up with......

                                    The GARAGE MAHAL
                                    Its 30x64, 3 levels

                                    The "top" level, 6 car garage, a loft above it
                                    http://i3.photobucket.com/albums/y56...Picture013.jpg

                                    The "lower" level: One the left is my husband's shop, and the right is my barn area. I have 3 stalls, and a space for one more.
                                    http://i3.photobucket.com/albums/y56...g/P1170389.jpg

                                    We are very happy with it!
                                    That is a true bank barn, on several levels and access on several levels also.

                                    Many of the barns in Switzerland were like that, some had one lower level of stalls facing the pastures, above another level of stalls accessed by one side, higher yet, accessed on the third side, the two story house, facing the street generally.
                                    All that one very large structure.

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                                    • #19
                                      Yes, one of the levels is bigger than our house. We joke that we're just going to move into the loft instead of trying to remodel our stone farmhouse. There is radiant heat underneath both the garage level, and the shop side of the "basement".

                                      We needed lots of car bays for hubby's hobby, and so it just morphed into this monstrosity. I'm actually in love with how it turned out.

                                      Also won 3rd place in a national builders contest! It was the most extensive project the company had done, and we could not be happier with the craftsmanship.

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                                      • #20
                                        Le sigh...I adore gawking at your Garage Mahal, Spacey.
                                        Frankly I'm surprised it took 3rd place and not first. I'd want to live in it too.

                                        We wanted to build a bank barn here. My property is full of banks. Hills. Little Cliffs. You name it; I got it, LOL!

                                        The cost was about a billion % more than a traditional barn. The work is extensive as heck so that the floors and bank support one another. Extra cost for ours would have been not just the extra excavation, drainage and grading but add in blasting for ledge removal.

                                        But if it's affordable (I live in CT where everything is overpriced and we have too much ledge) then I do adore a nice bank barn. Dampness or not will depend on proper ventilation *and* typical local weather conditions.
                                        You jump in the saddle,
                                        Hold onto the bridle!
                                        Jump in the line!
                                        ...Belefonte

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