6 Horse-Barn-Design Basics

You’ve taken stock of your barn, and have found signs of wear and tear. Or, you finally have that slice of horse heaven and are ready to build for the first time.

A raised center aisle (RCA) design, in which the roof is split into three parts, can increase your barn’s light and ventilation. This model is by Castlebrook Barns.

Either way, this article can help. We’ll give you six barn-design basics, plus tips on how to select a builder.

Barn Building 101
Today’s barn options are many, from a pole barn with dirt floors to an insulated, padded horse heaven. You can build your own barn, buy a prefabricated model, or hire a company to custom-build your barn for you.

Typically, building your own is the least expensive choice (if you know what you’re doing), a custom barn is your costliest choice, and a prefab barn lies in the middle of the cost scale.

Which type of barn is right for you? Major considerations include type/materials, size, layout/design, cost, and add-ons. Here’s a quick look at each one.

? Type/materials. Barn type and materials go hand in hand. Consider a wood barn if you live in an area with a low fire risk, and would like to build the barn yourself or have one custom built. Note that wood ? while cost-effective for small barns ? costs more and is more difficult to maintain than steel models. Prefabricated barns are made from steel, which is strong, reasonably priced, a breeze to keep up, and great for areas with high fire risk. Steel barns do, however, lack the character and warmth of a wood barn.

? Layout. Next, decide how many and what size stalls you need (the bigger the stall, the happier your horse will be), how much feed and hay storage you need, and the size you’d like your tack room to be (if any). Depending on your budget, you might want a wash rack/vet-care area, storage for wheelbarrows and other stable supplies, and even a bathroom or an office.

Layout and design is the fun part of barn building, but if your “wants” exceed your budget, it’s easy to get frustrated. Stable Wise can translate your needs into barn plans and provide you with blueprints. It also offers ready-made barn plans and barn-building information. Homestead Design, Inc., also offers a wide selection of ready-made barn plans.

? Cost. What you’ll pay for your barn varies widely, depending on the type of construction you use. A no-frills pole barn with a metal shell is around $4 per square foot. Custom barns can run you into six figures. Whatever you choose, be sure to factor in materials, insulation, excavation, grading, concrete foundation, water lines, stalls (including mats and fittings), and add-ons.

Also consider location. If you build on an uneven surface, an excavator will charge more than if you build on a flat one. If you’re tapping into a preexisting well, be sure that move will meet code in your area. Consider, too, how far you’ll need to lay your water pipes.

? Add-ons. These include such construction features as overhangs, eaves, gutters, flooring, ceilings, artificial light, doors, windows, and skylights. Give yourself plenty of electrical outlets for clippers, tank heaters, etc. Also, decide if you’d like to budget for an automatic watering system, and/or fly system.

? Ventilation. Good ventilation is critical to your horse’s health and well-being. Enclosed barns harbor ammonia fumes (from urine), hay dust, and other debris. Constant exposure to such irritants can put your horse at risk for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (heaves). To minimize this risk, place your barn perpendicular to prevailing breezes, install a high ceiling, and add plenty of windows. Carve inlets near the ground to draw air in, and place vents and windows up high to let the air out. If your budget can handle it, install a cupola with an air turbine on the roof.

? Natural light. The more light you let into your barn, the better. The sun’s ultraviolet rays help kill harmful bacteria, viruses, and larvae of internal parasites. Again, this means plenty of windows. Another secret to good lighting is a raised center aisle (RCA) design, in which the roof is split into three parts. Two sides slope down to each eave, and a raised portion runs along the roof line. By placing windows in this raised portion, you can increase light and ventilation.

For the one-horse owner, MDBarnmaster offers this affordable model, with one 12-by-12-foot stall, an 8-foot tack room, a rear paddock, and a 10-foot overhang.

Builder-Selection Tips
Unless you’re doing all the work yourself, the next step is to select a builder. You can check out a nationwide builder. Or, you may prefer to find a regional builder working in a multi-state region. To find a regional builder, pick up a local agriculture publication, or go to a local horse expo, show, or other horse event.

You can also talk to a local builder. To find one, talk to other horse owners in your area, check tack/feed stores, hardware stores, and your phone book.

If you drive past a barn you like, ask the owner who built it. (Note: If you go with a regional or local builder, check out other barns the company has built, and ask for references.)

You might find that your barn builder also builds stalls, can finish your tack room, and/or lay a foundation. This may be more cost-effective than subcontracting all the work needed.

Make sure you feel comfortable working with the representative from the company you’ve chosen. Invariably, miscommunications occur, you’ll change your mind, or you’ll have new ideas for your barn, so choose someone you feel will work with you.

During construction, keep a close eye on the progress, but be flexible. For instance, if the salesman who sold you the barn hasn’t visited your premises, the builder may need to make some changes.

Finally, look for a company that will guarantee its work, and is established. A new company may give you a low bid, but might not be around later. If things start to go wrong, you’ll be out of luck.

National Barn Builders

ACE Buildings

American Steel Buildings

Ameri Stall

Castlebrook Barns

Cleary Building

Heritage Building Systems

Lester Buildings


Morton Buildings, Inc.

Universal Steel Structures

Walters Buildings

Weldy Enterprises

Wick Buildings

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