Operation: Wash-stall Design

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An indoor wash stall is on the wish list of many farm owners. A well-designed area for bathing horses and treating injuries can do wonders for a busy farm’s work flow. From large, stressful considerations—such as actual placement of the wash stall—to small, fun choices—the color of hose, for example—there are many decisions to be made regarding your wash stall’s design.

There is not much that’s straightforward about designing a wash stall, and it’s easy to get into a jam mid-project. If you have construction and plumbing experience, you could take on the project yourself, but it might be wise to contact an architect or planning consultant otherwise. Weigh the cost of working with a professional versus what it would take to fix a problem caused by an incorrectly installed wash stall.

Placement

The population of your barn is a factor for where you want your wash stall built. “You have the potential for a lot of congestion in that area,” points out Tom Croce, owner of Thomas L. Croce Architects based in Lebanon, Ohio. “Make sure there’s adequate room in front of the wash stall. It shouldn’t necessarily be in a high-traffic area of the barn.”

While, say, around the corner from the indoor-arena entrance isn’t the best place for a wash stall, another high-traffic area—the tack room—is a good companion to the wash stall for three reasons: the wash stall is often the first stop after riding, so clients won’t have far to carry tack; some wash-stall supplies can be kept in the tack room; and the water heater and plumbing can be housed in the tack room, which tends to be more enclosed and well-insulated than other areas of the barn.

Size

Croce designs wash stalls to be a minimum of 10 feet wide and 12 feet deep to give you room to work around the horse safely.

Flooring

A nonslip, easy-draining floor is obviously an essential element of wash-stall design.

“Concrete can get slippery when it’s wet. Stall mats get moisture under them, and some of the organics [such as manure and mud] can get under there, encouraging mold and mildew,” Croce says.

His recommendation is seamless, poured-rubber flooring with a nonslip coating: “That keeps all the water on top and doesn’t trap dirt, hair and manure.” (See “Get Wet,” at article's end, for examples.)

Drainage

The wash stall’s slope dictates whether it drains properly or floods your barn aisle. Penn State Cooperative Extension recommends one inch of slope per 6 feet—enough to get water moving but not so much that it stresses horses’ tendons.

Croce likes installing a 4-inch-wide trench drain set two feet from the rear wall with a nonslip, removable grate. “I’ve never seen a horse spook at it, unlike the ones in the center of the floor,” he says.

Ask clients to clear the drain grate after each use. Ensure your drainage system has a sediment trap in it, and clean it out regularly.

Walls

Wash-stall walls need to be waterproof and easy to clean. Two options fit this description: concrete block that’s painted with a waterproof sealant and fiberglass-reinforced panels. Unlike wood, both resist water, mold and mildew and can be easily cleaned with a sanitizing agent.

Croce discourages the use of metal panels because they will rust, they stay cold and they are noisy when water is sprayed on them.

Lights

Sealed, waterproof enclosures for wash-stall lighting are the only way to go, according to Croce. You and your horses will be safe if the units get wet or bumped into.

Place them on the walls, rather than directly overhead, to reduce shadows. Croce places a set on each side of the wash stall: one at the top and one at about three feet high so you can better see the whole horse.

Warmth

A radiant-heat heater suspended from the ceiling helps to dry out the wash stall and the horses (and people) in it. Put the heater on a timer to remind boarders of how long they’re spending in the wash stall and to keep the line moving.

Water Needs: Hoses

If you’re using your wash-stall hose to fill water buckets, the hose never seems to be long enough. If you’re only using the hose in the wash stall for bathing, the hose always seems to be in the way. Find the most convenient hose type and storage for your setup.

Even with the best frost-proof hydrant and extra insulation, you have to disconnect and drag hoses from outdoors to indoors to keep the water running all year long. Heated hoses are an alternative to hose-dragging, though they’re also 10-times more expensive than traditional hoses.

Coiled hoses require less storage space but can get wrapped around horses’ legs. Flat hoses are lightweight, require little storage space and are less cumbersome to walk around.

Hose Storage

If entering a wash stall with hoses strewn about is your pet peeve, ask clients to put hoses away after use. Make that task easier with convenient storage, like a hose rack or reel mounted to the wall or a muck tub in the corner in which to coil the hose. You can also keep your hoses frost free and store them conveniently with an insulated hose-storage bag. (See “Get Wet,” below, for heated-hose and -storage options.)

A swinging hose boom keeps the hose overhead so it doesn’t get in your or your horses’ way. They’re easy to install and easy to use.

Hot water

Installing a warm-water source in the barn is less difficult now than it once was. Giant, inefficient storage-tank heaters have given way to smaller storage-tank heaters, on-demand heaters and solar heaters. The U.S. Department of Energy suggests selecting a water heater using four criteria: fuel type, expected water use, energy efficiency and unit cost.

On-demand water heaters are more expensive to purchase but less expensive to operate. Croce says barns with busy wash stalls would benefit from an on-demand heater, but a 40- to 50-gallon-tank heater could also suffice.

He also points out that you don’t need scalding water in the wash stall. Turn down your water-heater to 80 or 90 degrees F to save on electricity costs.

Learn more about water heaters from the USDOE at http://energy.gov/energysaver/articles/selecting-new-water-heater.

Storage

With a 10- by 12- foot wash stall, there’s enough room to mount shelves or cabinets to keep basic bathing and medical supplies. Croce suggests using 12-inch-deep medical-grade cabinets, which are more expensive than hard plastic, but they’re also more durable and water-resistant. Stay away from laminate cabinets, as they expand and fall apart as they get wet.

The size of your barn and needs of your clients will dictate how elaborate your wash-stall planning should be. As long as safety remains the top concern, the rest of the details are up to your imagination and budget.

Get Wet

Take a look at some of the wash-stall extras mentioned in this article.

Poured-rubber Flooring

DynaSteed Equine Flooring System: http://www.dynamicsportsconstruction.com/equine-therapeutic-flooring.html

Evoflex Seamless Equine Flooring: http://www.rephouse.com/products/equine/seamless

WERM Flooring Systems: http://www.sofdek.com/

Heated Hoses

K&H Thermo Hose: http://www.khmfg.com/thermo-hose-pvc.html

No Freeze Water Hose: http://www.nofreezewaterhose.com/

Heated Hose Storage

K&H All-season Hose Heater: http://www.khmfg.com/farmandranch/all-season-hose-heater.html