Some of my staff attended this year’s Walk for the Animals, an annual dog walk hosted by the Washington Humane Society. The walk encourages DC-area dog owners to take their dog (and themselves) for a stroll around one of DC’s neighborhoods to help raise awareness for the Humane Society.
With the weather in the low 90s on Saturday, I’m sure there was quite a bit of panting and lapping up water! Still, there were (doggie) rewards: vendor handouts such as ice cream and baked goods made especially for our four-legged friends.
From Ray Paulick’s blog, the Paulick Report comes some very sad news; three barns were destroyed and at least 27 horses are confirmed dead after a Labor Day fire at the Charles Town Races in Charles Town, West Virginia. The cause of the fire is not yet reported, but the Washington Post says the damage is estimated at $1.2 million and several of the horses were worth at least $10,000.
A couple years ago, I wrote a post about preventing barn fires– I thought I’d share it again. Accidents will happen, unfortunately, but there are several ways to help ensure the safety of your horses. My thoughts are with those affected by the tragedy at Charles Town Races.
FIRE SAFETY AND WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Often owners ask about designing sprinklers in barns or to frame the barn in steel to make it more “fireproof.” However, by the time the construction estimates come in, those seem to be the first items cut. Though both are credible for preventing fire, I like to design using preventive care so sprinklers or steel framing are not the only means of fire protection. (Incidentally, a steel frame building, if left unprotected, can collapse due to fire or heat from the fire before a heavy timber framed structure. But, as many of you know, the smoke from the fire kills long before the actual flames.)
Hopefully these suggestions can help you—and your horses—sleep a little better at night.
Hay is a huge fire hazard because of the dust it accumulates, especially when stored in a traditional hayloft setting. While I’ve designed barns with a full hayloft, I urge clients to consider a separate storage facility for hay and bedding or, at least, create a partial loft that does not span the barn’s entire length and isolate the storage area with fire walls. While fire walls may not be as effective as a fire rated partition (which is expensive), the fire wall can contain smoke and fire for enough time to alert help remove the horses. If neither option is possible, keep hay in a fire-rated enclosure.
If a hay loft is required, there are some precautions that can reduce the risk of fire, such as the choice of frame; an effective choice can reduce opportunities for bird nests and cobwebs, especially around lights, and provide natural light to reduce the need for electric lights.
VERTICAL VENTILATION AND HEATERS:
In my ideal hay storage structure, a separate storage facility for hay and bedding is designed to generate vertical ventilation, similar to a well-designed barn. To do this, I take advantage of the storage structure’s large roof to capture solar energy, which heats the air inside the structure along with the heat from the curing hay. Air accumulates at the ceiling while cooler air flows at floor level, forming a vertical flow of air. Skylight vents release the warmer air and let cooler air inside. This constant flow of air supplies superior ventilation without the use of expensive or energy-burning equipment that can cause a spark or short.
Some horse owners stand behind their use of heaters in stalls, but I find it unnecessary and risky. Ideally, the inside of a barn should reflect a similar temperature to outside. After all, horses are born to survive in the wild, not confined in a stall. Because of their sensitive respiratory systems, a well-ventilated barn is a horse’s best defense.
A heated (or air conditioned), enclosed barn not only retains ammonia gases and pathogens that cause odor and disease, it creates conditions that require gas fired heaters and mechanical fans for circulation, each of which is a potential fire risk, not to mention expensive to maintain and operate. That’s why designing for ventilation is such an emphasis in my work.
Typically, if a barn is heated it is done for the sake of the staff, not the horses, and should be confined to human areas only. This should be considered an added luxury, but if requested, a heated aisle floor is the safest method. A horse that is permitted to develop a winter coat can handle temperatures as low as zero degrees Fahrenheit.For lower temperatures, blankets can usually maintain warmth without being a fire hazard.
FIRE SEPARATION DOORS:
I like to use fire walls and isolation doors to aid in the protection of fire or smoke generated by a fire. Though a fire rated fire separation may not be practical in most barns, you can create fire separations within the barn to isolate certain areas or uses from other areas of the barn especially the stalls.
OUTLETS AND WIRES:
Always use UL-rated fixtures and properly installed electrical fixtures and fittings. All wiring should be in metal sheath conduit such as solid conduit or BX type cables, even in concealed areas because of mice and other small animals that inhabit barns. Consider explosion proof outlets and switches, and protect all lights with shatterproof lenses or wire cages. Set up a maintenance routine to clean all light fixtures periodically (for fire risk concerns but also for energy concerns, i.e. a dirty light is much less efficient that a clean one that is otherwise identical.
· Fire extinguishers throughout
· Fire retardant building materials (use heavy timber in lieu of light wood or truss framing when possible or affordable).
· Design Dutch doors where possible to the exterior, as they are better for ventilation and helpful for getting the horse—and people—out in case of emergency. Make sure the doors can be operated from interior and exterior.
· Separate living spaces (apartments) from barn where possible or at least placed behind fire separations.
· Separate farrier services when possible.
· Never store motorized equipment within the barn, but if you do, isolate it behind fire separations or separate areas. (A barn burned in Northern Virginia a few years ago simply because someone cranked up a lawn mower that backfired, setting a nearby bale of hay on fire.)
· Install an effective fire alarm system (preferably one that is monitored by a 24-hour service) and plan an emergency evacuation route.
I worked with the Grosse Point Hunt Club years ago after they suffered a barn fire and lost over 20 horses, as I recall. I believe the fire was caused when a firecracker was thrown into the barn simply for mischief, resulting in a tragic loss of animal life and property. That was an older barn that had very little fire protection “designed” into it.
Regardless of how much protection you design into a barn, no system is perfect. Still, much can be done to protect older barns from fire and reduce the hazards. We often work with existing barns to modernize their operation and look, while doing everything we can to protect the health and safety of the horse—whether from fire, bad ventilation, or other unsafe conditions.
If you have any other recommendations to prevent fire, please let me know. As always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
Size & Scale
When designing, I’m often concerned about maintaining proper scale and proportion. In equestrian design, arenas in particular pose a challenge simply because they are such large structures. An arena is never small, but since different riding styles determine the amount of space required, it’s important to first understand how much space you need. Once you gauge the room necessary to ride, you may consider some of the following elements to design a proportionate and functional arena.
Lower the Stakes
Arenas of all sizes benefit by lowering the structure within the site. Push the structure into the ground and the visual height is greatly reduced. Typically, I recommend lowering the arena four to five feet into the ground. That way you can create an observation area on one or more sides, that has visibility over a kick wall or fence, with an on-grade entrance from the exterior. The “bird’s eye view” observation area is excellent for spectators and the lowered grade takes full advantage of the site without increasing the structure’s bulk.
If there are several facilities on your site, carefully placing the arena amongst the facilities you have—or the ones you plan to build—can help to break up the arena’s large scale. The slope of the roof is often overlooked in prefabricated arenas; often too-low roofs of these structures offer only a massive, box-like look. If, however, the roof is sloped at five in 12 or greater, the arena can appear smaller and fit more naturally into the landscape. Sometimes you’ll run into zoning or code restrictions with height, so lowering the arena into the ground can literally give you more working room.
Covered vs. Enclosed
Geographic location is everything when considering an enclosed, covered, or open arena. An enclosed arena is probably necessary in cold or windy climates. Roll-up garage doors with translucent or clear panels on all sides of the arena can provide an indoor-to-outdoor feel; just open it up when the weather permits or, alternatively, close it up during inclement weather.
We try to take advantage of natural light in all of our designs—from equestrian to residential—because natural light really can’t be beat. A continuous ridge skylight is the most effective method to achieve this, and the technique also increases natural ventilation within the arena. Operable louvers can further contribute to natural light and ventilation while maintaining control as you adjust them accordingly. Any glazing used should be translucent to avoid creating shadows that might confuse a horse. While a large skylight is a more expensive option, various materials can reduce its cost. A naturally lit arena doesn’t rely on electric lights during the day, which is another bonus for horses and riders.
ELLE Magazine recently featured Millbrook, New York in the “Jet-Setter” column of its magazine and website. Of particular interest to us at Blackburn is its mention of the riding facilities at Winley Farm. We designed this project a few years ago, which has a 40-stall barn, an enclosed arena, a veterinary facility, and other amenities. It’s a terrific spot to safely board your horses or to attend a public riding clinic. I’m happy that Winley is getting the recognition it deserves as it couldn’t be run by a nicer group of people.
I’m excited to share today’s blog entry about Blackburn Architects on DCmud.com contributed by Beth Herman. DCmud is a top blog in the world of architecture and design in Washington, D.C. and is presented by DCRealEstate.com. Hope you read the article and enjoy!
One of our project managers, Dan, traveled to California last week to check in on the construction progress at Lucky Jack Ranch in Rancho Santa Fe. The last time I blogged about the project—about 8 months ago—the construction was just underway and where it was headed may of been difficult to visualize.
I’m now happy to report that visualization is no longer necessary to gauge the progress of this project, which will wrap up construction before we know it. Personally, I find it hard to believe the following photo isn’t a rendering. I’ll include the rendering too so you can compare for yourself. I hope the owners are as pleased as I am with how their project is turning out and that they will be able to enjoy the new facilities very soon.
I thought I’d share some news I received today for the thouroughbred racing fans out there. Starting July 24th, HRTV is airing the Saratoga Special Show live from 10-10:30 a.m. EST on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the meet. For more information, please click here and be sure to check your local listings.
Where your barn sits on your property is one of the first decisions you’ll make when planning for a new barn. Grade, drainage, proximity of service roads, prevailing winds, and barn angle in relation to the sun all play a key role in the health and safety of your horses.
Equestrian site planning can help you avoid mistakes that can have significant health consequences for your horses, as well as improve the efficiency of daily operations. Here are a few points to consider when site planning with the environment in mind.
Building orientation as it relates to the path of the sun and prevailing winds.
This single decision—where to place your barn—has a huge impact on energy efficiency as well as the health and comfort of your stabled horses. Harnessing passive solar heat energy and prevailing breezes can keep your barn cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Design decisions that include the placement of façade openings, overhangs, skylights, roof vents, and more allow a building to work with solar energy passively.
Drainage lines, water conservation, prevention of pollution.
Barns and arenas create large footprints with massive roof spaces. Water displacement should be considered so that water draining from the barn site doesn’t contaminate local streams with hazardous runoff, cause soil erosion, and water loss. Storm drainage can be collected and returned to the ground or conserved for other purposes.
Construction machinery can cause soil erosion, damage root systems of timber, and destroy sensitive grassland. Stockpiles of materials can create similar damage to the natural ecology. Thoughtful placement of machinery and materials is important. Where paving is necessary, choose recycled, permeable materials. Plan adequate paddock spaces and establish a paddock rotation plan so that horses can rotate the use of outdoor areas to avoid damage to sensitive grasslands.
It’s 10 a.m. here in Washington, D.C. and the temperature has already reached 89 degrees. In no time, I’m sure we’ll have reached the expected temperature for the day of around 100 degrees. While it’s easy enough for most people to hide out in air conditioning all day (and really, if it’s this hot where you are–I hope your time outside is minimal), horses most likely aren’t afforded that same luxury. So how are you helping to keep your horses cool this summer? How early (or late) do you turn them out? I’ve read that towels with ice or cool sponge baths can help comfort your horses, along with plenty of water, but how else do you manage?
I think a break in the weather in the form of thunder storms is coming our way later this week. In the meantime, I’m thinking cool thoughts for you and your horses.
I was recently interviewed by Clay Nelson, a founder of the green farm design and management website, Sustainable Stables, for an article about green barn design for this month’s Equestrian Professional newsletter. You can read the article here.