Double Duty

Firing up the fans during the winter months can help keep the barn warmer.

Many farms use fans during the summer to help cool stalls and aisles in their barns. But have you considered using these same fans in the winter to bring warm air to your horses and clients?


Whether you live in California or Maine, you can take advantage of the warm air going to waste in your barn. “Both horses and humans give off heat,” says Adam Hatton, the agricultural market development specialist at Big Ass Fans in Lexington, Ky., “and in an enclosed environment such as a barn, that heat has to go somewhere.” Where it goes is up. “Because hot air rises,” says Janet Dahl, president of Northwest Envirofan in Oshkosh, Wis., “there can be significant temperature differences between the floor and the roof, and heat trapped at the roof is wasted.”

“In the winter,” Hatton adds, “it may be 30 degrees where you’re standing, but there can be a 10- to 30-degree difference between where you are and the roof, depending on the height of the ceiling, the size and design of the barn, and the number of inhabitants. A four-stall barn may not produce much heat, but in a 40-stall barn, there is a lot of heat generated.”

Hatton argues that it makes no sense to let that valuable heat escape through the roof when you can utilize it by slowly moving it back down to where humans and horses can enjoy it. By running a large fan at a low speed, the heat that has accumulated at ceiling level will move down along the walls to the floor, where it will then rise again, creating a more evenly heated barn.

Hatton emphasizes that the heat needs to be slowly moved down from the ceiling. A traditional high-speed fan placed on the stall grate or directly above the horse will just blow in one direction across the horse’s back, moving cold air sideways. Also, if you run the fan at too high a speed, instead of bringing the warm air down, Hatton warns, you’ll actually cool the barn by dispersing the heat too quickly.


As noted earlier, regardless of the region of the country, fans are quite useful in the winter. “You could argue,” says Hatton, “that facilities in northern climates would need fans more than say California or Texas. They leave horses indoors more often, have longer winters, and might have bad weather when they can’t turn horses out for several days at a time. Horses are standing in methane, ammonia, urea; standing in a non-natural environment. You need to create a bit of a breeze so that it feels natural for them. Addtionally, the particulates in the air, are reduced or at the very least are homogenized so they are the same throughout the barn. So the stalls get flushed out, not just the aisles.”

Barry Goldsher, president of FarmTek in South Windsor, Conn., adds, “You can open doors at both ends of your barn for 15 minutes while running circulating fans at full speed, exchange the air, then close the doors back up. You’ll be far better off then if you keep the barn door closed all day.”

In warmer climates, fans are still quite useful, to flush out the barn and get fresh air into the stalls. Then, if there is a chill at night, the fans can be used to move the warmer air down from the ceilings.


Many barns are designed with two floors, utilizing the top floor for hay storage. This creates low ceilings above the horses’ stalls. Add the numerous obstructions, such as stall partitions, and airflow becomes quite restricted. Can you still take advantage of warm air above the animals? Yes, but “it is going to be difficult to position a ceiling fan so that it is effective and doesn’t hit horses’ heads,” says Goldsher.

An effective solution: use of high quality basket fans (similar to those sold in department stores, with blades in the basket for protection). “They should be positioned up in the corners, as high as possible, so nobody hits them, and should be set up to move air in a square or rectangular fashion,” Goldsher says. “For example, with a barn that runs 20 feet wide by 60 feet long, we might suggest putting four small diameter fans in the corners; two on one side, two on the other, moving air in the opposite direction. That would help get air moving around the barn.”


Indoor rings can also benefit from the use of fans in the winter, Goldsher explains. “If it’s a large arena, say 100 wide x 300 long, I’d suggest a giant fan, 24 feet in diameter. They move at extremely low speeds, are easy to install, and are energy efficient. The cost would be about $5,000, which as a percentage of the total cost of the arena is very low. If you have a metal roof with no insulation, the heat will disperse through that roof very quickly. I’d suggest insulating the roof so the heat is captured and the temperature will get 10 degrees higher in winter. A large ceiling fan will enhance getting the heat to the floor.”


Dahl suggests purchasing fans that are “proven to hold up in an agricultural application. Typically, residential or commercial fans will expire quickly, as they are not sealed to repel the moisture and dust in a barn application. Agriculture is a tough environment that requires a tough product.

“Read the fine print on the warranty. Many fans are not designed or warranted for agricultural applications. Look for fans that are rated for agricultural use by Underwriters Laboratories (UL). To achieve this rating a fan must pass of series of tests to prove that it will safely hold up in an agricultural environment that usually includes a lot of dust, moisture, condensation, and possibly pressure washing. You want fans that are sealed to repel moisture and dust, have extreme heat bearings, and a one way condensation plug which allows any moisture that may accumulate on the inside of the motor housing to escape so that the motor does not rust.”


The type of fans and the number you need to install depend on the needs of your barn. However, to provide a rough guide, Goldsher offers the following example. “A 48-inch industrial ceiling fan, with 48-inch diameter blades, can cover a square floor area of approximately 1,100 square feet.” But if the ceiling is very low, a single fan will concentrate its effect over a smaller area. Then, he says, “I would go to four 18-inch circulating fans, two on each side, which would do a much better job. A high-quality three-speed air-circulating fan is about $140 and you’d need four. As a comparison, a 48-inch ceiling fan would run about $90.”

What about the cost of running all those fans? “A 48-inch ceiling fan requires no more energy than a 60-watt light bulb,” says Goldsher. “Now if you have 20 or 30 of them, that can get expensive, which is why you’d use one giant fan instead, if possible, because it runs on about one-tenth the energy of those 20 fans. To keep it ‘green,’ you should also insulate the barn or arena, as insulating is as big a part of energy conservation as the fans.”

“Ceiling fans use considerably less energy than direct drive (basket-type) fans,” says Dahl. Quoting a California electric company study comparing ceiling and direct drive fans, Dahl notes that the study found that to purchase and install 36-inch wall fans costs $700 per fan, with a total energy cost for 100 fans per year of $10,760. At the same time, five-foot ceiling fans cost $330 per fan for purchase and installation, with a total energy cost for 100 fans per year of $1,800. That’s an 83 percent savings over wall fans!

Although the air may be cold at ground level, using fans at ceiling level will help keep the chill out of the air. It can also improve your horses’ health by providing fresh air while saving money in heated barns and arenas. Fans are certainly worth considering for your farm this winter.






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