Barn Building

If you’re considering building a barn, you’ve probably done an Internet search and maybe even purchased a couple of books on the subject. If you did, I hope you were able to find this book: Horse and Riding Arena Design by Eileen Fabian Wheeler. Of the books I’ve seen, this one is by far the most comprehensive, sensible and informative available. It doesn’t come cheap, but if you are building a barn, you’re going to spend a great deal of money anyway. An additional couple of dollars shouldn’t be an issue.

I’d bet you already know the design of your new barn. We did. We’d seen a lot of barns and looked at photos of others. We settled on a layout that focused on efficiency, with a 36 x 36 barn: three stalls (for our three horses – if you have extra stalls, you’ll likely fill them); tack room, centered water faucet, center aisle loft with a 10-foot ceiling, open areas over the stalls, black steel grill work on the fronts and sides of the stalls to maximize air flow (not aluminum). We were undecided about a wash stall but decided that would be very useful, especially if we placed the water faucet in the back of it. And it was important to me that the barn was beautiful, as I planned to spend as much time as possible in the barn and this was a childhood dream-come-true. 

One of my friends had recently built a gorgeous new wood 36 x 36 barn with 60 x 60 indoor arena attached. When she shared the cost with me, I realized we could afford that, too. In fact, when we spoke with contractors, we increased the arena size to 60 x 80, plenty of room for two or three horses. And it would double as a run-in shed, which our horses definitely appreciate.

We decided where we wanted the barn on our land and then got bids from five different contractors, convinced by all but one that metal was the way to go for construction because it was less expensive. And it is – but when you’re sinking THAT much money into anything, there’s more to consider. All but one contractor visited the site, and those meetings were very educational.

So, we weighed the pros and cons of wood vs. metal construction, and settled on wood for its beauty, natural warmth and traditional appearance. I thought about the many beautiful old wood barns I’ve seen – the ones that have been maintained. They have character. Old steel buildings can become monstrous eye sores as the years go by (my opinion, of course). 

One of the objections a contractor gave us for the wood building was that you have to restain or repaint periodically and it’s costly. He was right. However, we found a product promising up to 25 years on the siding and 10 years on other areas. Once the barn was painted, I knew we’d made the right decision.

Yes, you can repaint steel, too, but it tends to be more difficult. Good steel buildings have coatings to keep them more resistant to fading, which is important to how it looks as the years go by. But that coating can be difficult to paint over and requires more prep work. 

With metal, you will have dings and dents that are difficult to replace or repair. With wood, you can replace a board relatively easily and paint over it. The barn we were replacing had white steel siding, and it no longer all matched, depending on how the sun hit it. In addition, there were holes and dents in the siding. Bees like those holes. 

We told the builders right from the start that we weren’t interested in haggling prices back and forth for weeks. And we didn’t; we accepted the initial offer from everyone, and when we narrowed the builders down, we talked with them again and did receive lowered prices.

Because we wanted similar bids, we asked the builders to include everything – site work, electric, water, construction, materials – in the bid. What we learned was few companies do all that and, when asked to bid like this, they will job out some of it. It’s very difficult to compare quotes that way, so you need to keep track of what everyone is offering.

We also learned you do have to be very careful and make sure every single detail is specified in the contract, like steel grill work, not aluminum. One contractor had cut things out of our structure to make his bid more competitive, but I only accidentally discovered that. I asked how he planned to do the loft stairs and he said he eliminated them. Really. I asked how I would get into the loft, and he actually suggested a ladder. Since I planned to use part of the loft for storing winter blankets and such, that would be virtually impossible for me.

We chose a mid-level price builder who promised beautiful wood, and we saw a couple of the wood horse buildings he’d done before. They were magnificent . . . The final bid included the arena, barn (with stalls) and water. Only a rock base in the indoor, but cement in the barn. Rough backfill around the structure. Cement sidewalks on the sides and front of the barn. No electric, which was fine, as I knew exactly what lights I wanted. No staining/painting. We had to do the base and arena footing, staining the barn inside and out, and the finish site work.

Next, we went to get a building permit. That’s when we learned one of our most costly lessons: The first thing you need to do is go to your town building codes office and discuss what you want to do – before you talk with contractors. 

As I share more of our barn-building experience in this blog, I hope you’ll learn from our wise decisions and dumb mistakes, as you pursue your own “childhood dream barn.” 

What did you think of this article?

Thank you for your feedback!