With careful attention to design details, it is possible to retrofit your barn to be healthier for your horses. One important renovation to existing built structures is the addition of skylights and ridge vents to increase light and air flow.
Only a fortunate few horse owners design and build a barn from the ground up. Most buy a property with an existing barn. As the photos illustrate, Blackburn Architects’ client Kevin Plank, the CEO of Under Armour®, bought historic Sagamore Farm in Maryland, and undertook a significant renovation to add light and ventilation to the interior of his historic main barn.
Significant expenditures are not necessary, however. In this discussion, I’m offering simple recommendations for achieving healthier living space for horses starting with an existing barn.
For venting an existing barn roof, I suggest one of two options:
1) Add Dutch doors along the barn sides or
2) Add a vent along the bottom edge of the skylight (or ridge if that works best though I prefer the curb vent for better free air access).
Option 1: Add Dutch doors along the barn sides
This option provides good access for ventilation to each stall and a great method of controlling air flow. An owner has the option of leaving just the upper door open to reduce the flow or open both upper and lower doors to give maximum free area. (Of course, in order to open both doors for full access you’ll need to add an interior mesh panel to keep horse in the stall.) If Dutch doors aren’t possible or within the budget, then I recommend adding low wall vents to bring in air low to the floor (which is good for foals and to vent odors caused by ammonia gases near the floor). The vents should be dampered for air control and screened to keep rodents from getting into stalls.
Additionally, Dutch doors provide an abundance of natural light, which reduces the need for electric lighting in the barn and helps purify the stall flooring, reducing the creation of harmful ammonia gases.
Option 2: Add a vent along the bottom edge of the skylight (or ridge)
This option allows for vertical ventilation of the barn using the Bernoulli Principle and the chimney effect. Though the existing barn may not have the best angle for prevailing breezes or roof slope, it will help nevertheless. I also recommend vents at the top of the wall at the roof eave if they can be added. This permits year-round ventilation above the heads of the horses, but still ventilates the barn vertically using the techniques described above.
There are a variety of methods and materials that can be used to retrofit skylights into an existing roof. At Sagamore Farm, Blackburn Architects’ design replaced the existing shingles with a new metal roof (not necessary; Sagamore’s roof shingles were worn out and metal was chosen as a better long term material). In more typical circumstances where the existing shingles are salvageable, simply remove the shingles along the ridge and cut out the sheathing or sub roofing material, leaving only the roof rafters.
Continuous curbs should be built along the edge of the opening. Although a continuous skylight or curb is not necessary, I find it aesthetically and functionally preferable. A skylight can then be placed on top of the curbs spanning from one side of the aisle to the other. The curb can and should be vented. The size and amount of free area depends on the barn design, size and location. The skylight width does not have to span the full width of the aisle but somewhere between 8 to 12 feet should be adequate.
The skylight can be either glass (costly and should be safety glass) or some form of polycarbonate. Check your local building codes for requirements. I do not recommend clear glazing. Translucent glazing reduces the visibility of dirt and filters light, which better serves the barn interior. It’s best not to let a strong band of sunlight hit a stalled horse for a long period of time. I also recommend painting the interior of the roof and framing members a light color to improve reflectance.
If a continuous skylight is not possible, then individual roof skylights can be installed over the center aisle. However, if the skylights are not high on the roof and are not vented, they may not do much to increase the barn’s vertical ventilation.
If the barn has a loft it may be possible to remove it, leaving specific structural members spanning across the barn to hold the building together and to provide wind shear strength to the barn. If the loft is used for hay storage (which I don’t recommended for health and safety reasons), then it may be possible to remove a portion of the loft over the aisle leaving the loft in place over the stall for storage or the reverse of that (remove the loft over the stall but leave it in place over the aisle).
While these approaches to increasing light and ventilation in existing structures can work wonders, you should always contact a structural engineer before installation of skylights to determine if the barn can take the modifications needed of if some additional structural work needs to be done.
I thought I’d take a minute and explain Blackburn Architects’ process for designing a new equestrian facility and overseeing its construction. While not carved in stone, for planning purposes, can easily become a two-year process.
The first step is usually a visit by me or another Blackburn architect. The initial meeting is our first chance to meet, walk the site, look at any existing buildings and discuss the project goals. I’m a firm believer in “a picture is worth a thousand words” but “being there is worth a thousand pictures” Following this, we’ll send a proposal for service, which outlines the process and fees.
Once a contract signed, we get to work immediately.
The timeline usually looks something like this:
• 6 to 10 weeks for Feasibility Study, Site Assessment and Master Plan
• 1 to 2 months for Schematic Design
• 2 to 4 months for Design Development and Construction Drawings
• 1 to 2 months for Permitting
• 12 to 16 months for Construction
At Blackburn Architects, equestrian design starts with the horse and ends with a building that fits the horse, the owner, and the surrounding environment like a glove. It’s as simple and beautiful as that.
Let’s explain the steps in greater detail:
Feasibility Study / Site Assessment / Master Plan
The goal of the Feasibility Study is to determine, as early in the process as possible, whether the intended project fits the owner’s program, the site, and the budget.
We assess any existing building(s) and the site. We take measurements to determine if an in-place structure will work for the goals of the project. We study the land until we come to a clear understanding of wind and solar direction, soils, changes in elevation – all natural and architectural characteristics that guide placement and design of any new buildings. Central to the success of the project, this “Master Plan” addresses all these things and more, providing a road map for the success of all future phases of our work.
The site analysis also includes a review of applicable zoning and easements for the property; we determine what (if any) limitations or restrictions may apply at the property. Land disturbance allowances? Height restrictions? Set-backs?
In tandem with the site evaluation (as soon as we have a contract), we send the client a unique Blackburn Architects questionnaire that we’ve developed over the years. Answers are collected and inform the design; starting off the process with clear direction from the client. It is extensive and though it covers about 25 pages, once it is completed it “paints” a picture of exactly how you would like your farm to operate. The efficiency of the operation is critical and can have a huge impact on your operating cost and maintenance budget.
Moving seamlessly from the master planning phase (often there is a fuzzy line here where one ends and another starts), we start schematic design. In this step, we help our clients visualize the project design with a variety of techniques using both computer and hand renderings to illustrate the scale and the relationship of the project elements. Ideas, concepts, goals take form at this stage.
Once we’ve worked up outline specifications for the work, we can begin to get a rough idea of the costs. At this point we will either develop a rough estimate based on our 35 years experience with over 300 farm projects, consult with a professional cost estimator or a builder who is familiar with the building type in your location.
Design Development and Construction Documents
Once we have the site layout, design, and budget, drawings and other documents give serious form to interior and exterior finishes, and firmly establish the size, character, and details of the project. These documents will be used by our professional consultants to design the electrical, gas, and other utilities. When these systems are defined, and we have a basic finish schedule and budget, we’re ready to file for the permit and start construct of the building.
Bidding and Construction Administration
With the construction documents complete, we can help clients select a contracting company through a “bidding” process for the work, or we can work with a client’s pre-selected Construction Manager. We work side-by-side with our clients to ensure that the best and most informed decisions are made during this process.
While in my experience this process typically lasts about 18 to 24 months, a lot of this depends on factors that are outside of either our control or our clients. The time of year and weather, for instance, can greatly influence how fast construction progresses, especially in colder climates. Pastures have a growing season, and they need at least a year (maybe two) to establish.
Designing and constructing a custom facility is a very subjective process, which is guided by all kinds of factors including the complexity and size of the structures, the time of year, the strictness of zoning regulations and neighborhood associations, state environmental regulations, and so on. But rather than let these things hold you back, I say, “Jump In” or give us a call to discuss how the process can work for you. When you slide open the doors to your dream facility and see the happy heads of your horses looking over the stall doors, all the time and effort will vanish. At least that’s been my privileged experience over all these years.
Stumbled across this photography blog and am glad I did. Seems he too has a thing for old barns. Really like how the images seem to capture the mood of the large, weary structures. Great stuff.
Designed in response to an adjacent new residence and in the style of existing barns on the private ranch, this eight-stall barn in Montana uses heavy timber framing and western cedar siding.
The program includes wash and grooming stalls, a lounge/office, large tack rooms, and a loft with a balcony that overlooks an outdoor arena. The barn’s deep overhangs create covered areas to wash and groom horses outdoors while a continuous translucent ridge skylight allows generous amounts of natural light within the barn.
Program 8-stall barn, outdoor arena, service building
Sometimes it’s hard to believe that I’ve been practicing architecture for over 30 years. As a consequence of all that time, I’ve had the opportunity to design all types of facilities, from garages and additions to horse barns to new and renovated residences. Like many architects, I enjoy working with all types of clients and building types, as I’m always eager to confront a new design challenge. So I thought I’d share a residential project that follows the same ideals I always pursue: design that balances the demands of the site with the needs of the owner.
The Grant Residence and artist studio, located on a historic family estate in Ware Neck, Virginia, was designed to fit in the historic architectural context of the pre-Revolutionary War era property. The estate includes an original home, Lowland Cottage, which was built in 1670 and is listed as a registered historic landmark.
The original home, Lowland Cottage, remains on-site and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The new artist studio and main house, both designed by Blackburn Architects, were built around stringent wetland requirements, yet they still take advantage of the scenic panoramic river views on three sides of the site.
Both structures feature hardwood floors and French doors throughout, building on the historic context of the Lowland Cottage and other structures on the Ware Neck peninsula. French doors in the main residence lead out to a spacious screened porch with ceiling fans, accessible through the kitchen, living room, and dining room.
An 18’ by 64’ screened porch serves as a welcoming exterior room that stretches the full width of the west side of the house with 180-degree panoramic views of the beautiful sunsets across the Ware River. The room was designed to be usable in all seasons with passive solar heating in the winter, and cooling river breezes in the summer.
The second floor occupies space within the roof using a series of dormers and gables to provide head room for three bedrooms while the master bedroom is on the main floor. Built-in china cabinets enhance the contemporary design of the interior while modern lighting focuses attention on the highlights of each specific room. The lighting is adjustable for showcasing artwork, including that of the artist-owner.
The artist studio complements the cottage-style of the main residence and the original Lowland Cottage. Both buildings were designed to comply with the requirements of the Historic Review Commission.
We just received a copy of Chris van Uffelen‘s new book called Re-Use Architecture from the German publishing house, Braun. This substantial book highlights adaptive reuse projects throughout the world: Blackburn’s New River Bank Barn project is part of the stunning collection.
As van Uffelen asserts, building conversion is more relevant than ever as recycled and eco-friendly solutions are becoming the norm. It’s a gratifying challenge for me to “save” an old barn or convert a worn out structure into something different while paying respect to its former use. I can’t help but appreciate a book that makes showing off these type of projects a mission.
We’ve been fortunate to have received attention for the New River Bank Barn, which was a memorable and exciting project for our firm. I still can’t help but feel proud when I look at the “before” photo of the 1800s bank barn, which was in severe disrepair. Most of the structure was preserved, but re-clad in SIPs panels to provide insulation and structural support. The SIPs panels are sandwiched between the original barn walls and a new board-and-batten exterior. The northeast-facing wall of the original structure was removed entirely and glazed, opening the interior to expansive (and very private) views of the property to the Potomac River. Steel columns were added and wrapped in indigenous fieldstone to support the new glass wall, which was designed with mullions that align with the original frame columns and purlins so that the framework fits aesthetically with the original structure.
Our work could only be done thanks to the owner’s foresight to envision a new future for the old structure. I couldn’t be more pleased to have been given the opportunity to “save” the bank barn, which now hosts gatherings and parties for the owner’s friends and family. Re-Use Architecture is available at Amazon and major book retailers.
Well, I finally decided to give Facebook a try. I’m not sure I can keep up with it, to be honest. But mainly I hope to get a nice “fan page” started for Blackburn Architects so that people who are interested in equestrian design—or just architecture and design in general—can meet, collaborate, and ask questions.
Do you think this has value? If so, I’d love to have you as a friend and a fan on Facebook.
I thought I’d share a relatively new blog by the talented writer Jennifer Sergent. I first got to know Jennifer’s work through the now defunct Washington Spaces Magazine. Spaces closed its doors in January, which is a shame not just for Jennifer, but for architects and designers in the DC Metro Region. The magazine was beautifully produced and showed off some of the best interior design and residential architecture in the District and surrounding areas. (I’m proud to report that one of our projects–an old bank barn converted into a party barn–graced the cover.)
However, Jennifer’s new blog–DC by Design–helps fill that void by continuing to bring light to great design in our area. She’s also had recent pieces in the Washington Post and the Examiner. Whether you live in Washington or are just a fan of all things design, I think you will find DC by Design a blog worth bookmarking.
A few weeks ago, Cesar, one of our project managers, and I went to Meggett, South Carolina for a site visit. We planned our visit to review the ten recently completed stalls added to an existing ten-stall barn on the property. Soon, the barn will also have a larger tack room and lounge. In the next phase of work, our design plans include adding a full-ridge skylight across the length of the barn to maximize natural light as well as improve ventilation.
Upon our visit, two things struck us: the humidity and the regal old oak trees with Spanish moss scattered across the property that provide ample and much-needed shade (and, of course, natural beauty and Southern charm). Otherwise, the 63-acre property set in South Carolina’s Low Country is relatively flat with large and open grassy paddocks.
This project required expedited design and construction, since the client had to move her horses across the country before the end of the month and the stalls had to be ready before their arrival. This timeline left our team less than a month to undertake concept design to completion of construction. And, thanks to the efforts of Jack Hart and Jimmy Thompson of Advanced Construction, Corbin, KY, who put in overtime and weekend hours, in conjunction with extremely fast turnaround by stall systems production at Lucas Equine, the stalls were installed quickly and efficiently. Given the heat and humidity, this was no small feat.
The property also has an existing 1-story residence, garage with apartment, small outdoor arena, and several existing paddocks. Future design plans include the addition of a riding field, 4-stall foaling barn, pool with pool house, round pen, covered arena, and hay/bedding storage.
Here’s a video of the new stalls, now home to some very grateful horses.
I really hope you’re enjoying my new stable-minded blog. It’s here to help provide a professional source of information, to be a place to exchange design ideas, address barn problems, discuss the ways an architect can impact horse health and safety, and to help guide you to sustainable choices in the design of your facility. Equestrian structures can go green with cost-effective design choices. For example, there are many options for preserving, restoring and adapting old barns to new uses. You might be interested in a project we did a few years ago that converted a 150-year-old bank barn into a guesthouse.
I have been thinking green throughout my career and would love to hear your thoughts on the subject. Let me hear from you. What do you think? How is your barn working or not working? Let me know what’s on your mind.
Looking forward to hearing from you.