Photo by David Hartig. Courtesy of Blackburn Architects.
A combination of natural light and savvy fixture selection can keep your facility bright, safe, and cheerful, without breaking your budget. Be sure to check out the photo gallery.
It never fails. You hear an odd noise coming from the barn in the wee hours. You stumble out to investigate, tripping over the hose in the driveway that you were too busy to put away that day. You finally make it to the dark barn, hoping that the big hairy spider you saw earlier isn’t lurking behind the switch as you grope for the light.
Fortunately, there are many lighting solutions available that can help make this scenario a part of your past. Here are some basics that will help ensure the safety and comfort of your farm for horses and humans alike.
1. Go Natural as Much as Possible
The best and most economical barn lighting is natural sunlight. Sunlight also helps kill mold, mildew, bacteria, and viruses. John Blackburn of Blackburn Architects is so committed to these advantages that he approaches every new project from the perspective of using as much natural light as possible. Features he uses to flood his barns with natural light include:
- Skylights. Continuous ridge skylights can be used to facilitate ventilation.
- Dormers or cupolas. Cupolas are not the best source of natural light but they enhance appearance and ventilation and allow some light to enter the loft.
- Clerestory (also spelled as clearstory) windows. These are high windows above eye level that allow light and ventilation. You see these in monitor barns that have a central raised roof.
- Transom windows above the doors and below the roof eave.
It is more difficult to retrofit an old barn with these features to allow natural light to penetrate the interior, but it is not impossible. “The biggest problem with old barns, “ John notes, “is the hayloft, which will typically block any natural light from reaching the lower levels of the barn.”
2. Safety is Key
Naturally, safety is a leading consideration when lighting your barn and property. Blackburn offers these pointers:
- Put all wiring in a metal conduit. Rodents can gnaw through plastic wiring.
- Ceiling light fixtures in areas open to horses must be at least 12 feet above the horse.
- Cobwebs, bird nests, and dust accumulation on hot light fixtures are a leading cause of barn fires. Therefore, lights should be contained in a housing that prevents or limits contact between the bulb and flammables, or the fixtures mounted in a way that permits easy cleaning.
- Light switches and outlets—especially those located in dusty areas like lofts—should have explosion-proof junction boxes.
- Cover glass bulbs with a plastic or shatterproof lens. A cage is better than nothing, but will not contain shards of glass in the event of bulb explosion or breakage.
- Make sure lights in wash stall areas are waterproof, and have rust and corrosion-free gaskets.
It is not a bad idea to check with your local building code about lighting and electrical requirements. However, Blackburn points out that many towns consider private equestrian facilities as an “agricultural use,” and therefore exempt them from codes. This might not be the case for barns being built or renovated in suburban areas or for public use. Blackburn also notes a growing energy-conservation trend where some towns are limiting the amount of lighting in an area. This can be especially challenging when lighting a large indoor arena that has a high ceiling.