Editor’s note: Animal Arts provides answers to your questions about building and construction around equine facilities in the Ask the Expert: Barns and Farm Building forum. You can post questions to have an expert respond on the forum.
Q: What would be required to add a hot water heater to our barn so we can have warm water in the barn year-round? We have very cold temperatures in the winter, so I’m worried about pipes freezing. Thanks!
A: This is a good question and one that no doubt many barn owners face. Barns are tricky. They need to be kept warm in order to prevent pipes from freezing, and yet it’s not really recommended that they’re kept TOO warm (i.e., over 55-60 degrees) or it can be hard on the horses to go in and out. It’s better to keep barns a little cool so horses stay acclimatized during the winter.
The main issue for adding hot water is that barns don’t have crawl spaces–unless you have a pretty unusual barn! So the water line needs to come into the barn in a deep trench that is below frost depth. It needs to get a little way into the barn–a few feet–then come up through the soil. In other words, you need the barn’s thermal protection before the water line starts to come vertical. If you come up right by the outside wall, the line will freeze. This freeze can occur under the soil as well as above it.
Once the water line comes up into the barn, be sure to leave it exposed and not bury it in the wall, so it can borrow the barn’s heat. And be sure to keep that part of your barn heated where the water pipe is. Once the line is safely inside of the heated area of the barn–it should never go near the outside walls again–so be strategic about where a water heater is placed. If there are any sections of pipe that for whatever reason are near an outside wall, they need to have foam insulation placed behind them, and it would be a good idea to wrap the pipe with heat trace. But it’s best to avoid this condition entirely.
So the bottom line is, you’ll have to dig a big trench a few feet into your barn from the outside in order to bring water to the barn. It might be worth it, but it will be a little costly.