Renovating an Older Barn

You bought the property of your dreams, complete with good pasture, nice fences, and a picturesque barn. Now you just need to make a couple of updates to the barn and add horses! Before you break out the tool belt, here are some tips and things to consider when renovating an older barn.

  • Purchase materials that go the distance. Dr. Bob Coleman (State Extension Specialist, University of Kentucky) explains that when doing renovations, select construction materials that are maintenance-free or will last a long time. “Often we worry about the initial cost and don’t consider the longevity of a well-constructed door, stall panel, or equipment in the stall. All too often we are saving money today but it will cost us more tomorrow,” he says.
  • Have a plan and bring in experts. What might be involved in renovating an older barn will depend on what that barn is like and the condition it is in. It is important to make a plan. What do you want, and what do you really need? If the existing structure is in good shape, this will also make a difference in what you have to do. It may pay to have someone knowledgeable come check it out, top to bottom. You need to know whether you can use the existing structure or might have to replace a roof or some of the other original materials.
  • Be flexible and realistic. “Maybe you want a certain number of stalls, of a certain size. See how your wish list will fit within the dimensions of what you already have. You can’t make a barn wider very easily (because of the structure supporting the roof) but you can make it longer. If you want two sets of stalls and want them to be 14 feet by 14 feet and also want a 14-foot alleyway, this means the barn has to be 42 feet wide. If it is only 39 feet wide, you must give up something on your alley or your stalls,” he says. Sometimes you can make them a little longer and gain some square footage that way, with minimal adjustments.
  • Are you repairing or remodeling? In the planning stage, ask yourself why you want to renovate. Replacing and repair are sometimes necessary in an older barn, but that’s a bit different than remodeling. “What needs to be changed? Are we changing the stall dimensions? Are we changing the walls or want different stall fronts that might be better for the horses?”

[Read more: Barn Ventilation]
[Read more: Stall Improvements and Safety Issues]

  • Update your electrical system. This might be a chance to take a close look at the electrical system in the barn and possibly upgrade it. “An electrician might say you can run x number of lights and outlets off a single breaker, but you might want to think about doing a bit more. There is a good reference book called Horse Facilities, from the Midwest Plan Service. One comment in that book is that when something electrical fails, you want it to shut off everything correctly,” says Coleman.
    • In a cold climate you may be considering things like heated water buckets, but the less you put on each circuit, the better off you will be. “If you run fans in the summer, it might be best to put the fans on their own circuit or have them wired in directly rather than plugged in. Then you could have a switch to turn them on and off. You could make this addition when you do the renovation,” he explains.

    • Prioritize your to-do list. It is important to look at the whole picture when making your plan, and determine the things that need to be fixed or improved. “Prioritize what you need to do first. There might be some things you can do easily and relatively economically, and some that will be a bigger expense. You might have to plan and budget for that. If it’s a 6-stall barn you might redo three stalls this year and three stalls next year, and spread that expense.”

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