horse barn design
How can you can be proactive in the design of your farm and your barn to protect your horse from the threat of barn fires? What can you do to minimize the damage and loss of buildings and most importantly your horse and human life?
Prevent, Contain, Suppress
Prevention is your best protection and your first line of defense. There are any number of reasons why barn fires occur. Many are outside your control but there are steps you can take to prevent a fire from getting started. Never overlook important management practices – organize, clean and prepare.
1) Keep a clean barn/farm (dust, cobwebs, bird nests, debris).
2) Keep aisle ways clear.
3) Keep your barn neatly organized.
4) Develop a fire safety plan and practice it.
5) And, of course, NO SMOKING!
Site planning is a critical component of farm fire prevention.
We recommend a separation of buildings and hazardous functions/materials from the barn.
Generally, we use a rule of thumb of 30’ to 50’ and sometimes 100’ depending on the terrain, building codes and building materials used. Hay / bedding, equipment and other flammable materials should be stored separately from the barn and isolated if possible within masonry fire resistant structures.
Manure storage is a critical concern and can be a flammable substance if not stored properly. It should be isolated separately.
Egress from the barn for people and horses. In case of a barn fire, the barn should open into a contained area so horses can be let loose quickly yet contained. We recommend locating at least one good size paddock near the barn that can receive a number of horses at one time. If possible, provide perimeter fencing around your farm to contain horses that may get loose and out on a roadway. Consider access to the farm and buildings for the fire trucks (we recommend a 12’ to 14’ access road minimum) with adequate support and clearance for the trucks and other emergency vehicles. Provide adequate clearance under trees, power lines and over farm bridges. Make sure you have adequate turn-around space for the emergency vehicles.
A suitable water source is critical. Provide either an on-site storage ponds, water tanks (above or below ground) and your water supply. If it’s from a well or municipal source consider the GPM flow, water pressure. You may also want to have a generator on the farm that can serve pumps if the power service should fail. And remember, fighting a fire will produce a great deal of water and that will turn into mud. So consider surface drainage for added safety around the barn.
Building layout is critical for preventing barn fires. Blackburn always designs wide center aisles. Keep them free of clutter. A shed row provides a safer layout for escaping a burning barn but they are not suitable in all locations.
Design your barn with no dead end aisles. Provide at least two exits for people and horses. We recommend openings of 1½ to 2½ the width of your horse (from stall and barn).
Consider the swing of doors – the direction of swing as well as latches used. We recommend sliding doors in the main aisle and hinged doors from stall to turnout stalls connected to the barn. The pin latch is far safer than the typical throw bolt latch. The pen latch is simpler in design (fewer moving parts and no springs and much faster to release.
The designers at Blackburn Architects make disaster prevention a priority through careful site planning and building design following THREE BASIC DESIGN PRINCIPLES:
1. BUILDING SYSTEMS/MATERIALS/FINISHES
The building materials and finishes are as critical as the barn layout. You should check your local building codes. (A good reference is the NFPA 150, 2019 edition). Though barns in many jurisdictions may be considered agricultural structures and not required to comply to building codes, we recommend you consult the NFPA code and adhere to it where possible.
There are four types of framing materials used in construction of equestrian facilities: light wood, timber, steel, masonry.
Light wood is the most common and lowest cost, but has the lowest resistance to fire. Timber frame is much safer. It will stand longer without collapse than light wood frame. Steel frame is flame resistant and can provide excellent protection. However, it is commonly used with light wood framing and other flammable finish materials that reduce its effectiveness in preventing or protecting from fire.
Electrical systems must be dust proof, rodent proof. Protect all light fixtures with cage or shatterproof lens. Remove or repair any frayed or damaged wiring. Do not use residential extension cords and do not overload circuits. Do not use household box fans. Heating systems within the barn should be kept to a minimum. Remember the barn is for horses, not humans.
Do not use portable space heaters and in warm rooms provide for installation of permanent heating equipment.
Lightning protection is another area of concern. Lightning rods are relatively inexpensive and should be installed on all barns if not all farm structures. Provide proper grounding devices and protection for all electrical equipment. You can install a warning system or rely on your phone weather app to alert you when lightning is near.
The second design principal is containment or compartmentalization. Compartmentalization uses firewalls and fire separations to contain the spread of fire and smoke. Insist that your builder close up all openings around beams, ducts, etc. Also, close up or limit attic or horizontal spaces thru use of fire curtains within those areas.
Your barn should insure proper ventilation for the health of your horse but you should be able to limit ventilation where necessary. The standard ventilation guideline is 1 sf per 100 sf of floor area in barn area or 1 sf for every 30 to 50 sf floor area in hay/bedding area.
Another design consideration to consider is to break up barns into smaller structures. A 24- stall barn is most efficient for a horse operation, but if possible it’s better to create smaller barns or provide fire and smoke separations within the barn layout. This level of planning will provide a better level of protection thru isolation.
The third design principal is suppression / detection. Early warning devices can be very effective, but they can be difficult in barn environments due to the dust and moisture. Always provide fire extinguishers throughout the barn and make sure they are inspected annually, they are the right type (A, B or C and we recommend having all three).
We also recommend including three types of detector devices; smoke, heat and flame. Each may be appropriate depending on the barn environment. For example, smoke detectors can be set off by dust and moisture. In those areas, you may want to consider another type, such as the laser light beam. Blackburn has used laser light beams in select areas, but they need to include some sort of delay mechanism so birds and other elements that can break the beam do not trigger an alarm. Consult with a fire detector manufacturer for the proper type and installation.
A smoke detector is your best line of defense, but a fire sprinkler is the best method you can install in your barn to suppress a fire. They come as either a dry or wet pipe system. The dry system is most common in barns that are subject to freezing temperatures. A wet pipe system is usually a lower cost but has limited use in unheated barns in sub-freezing areas.
Something to consider in a barn that may have nice finishes that could be subject to damage if the sprinkler system were set off by accident is the pre-action system. The Pre-action system is one that employs an automatic warning system that activates before the sprinkler system activates to protect from accidental discharge and protects damage to interior finishes
Finally, we strongly recommend that you consult with your local fire department regarding your fire protection plan and get your design approved.
Let’s talk about dry lots. Essential on nearly every equine facility, dry lots vary widely in size, location and construction.
By nature, of course, horses are herd animals evolved to roam and graze on sparse prairies. We’ve introduced a complete change to the evolutionary process – incorporating diets of grain and lush pastures. The resultant problems are many, but our solution is simple. Limit the horses’ activities or diet as you give them access to open air and light.
Blackburn recommends dry lots on most, if not all, of the farms we design. Sadly, too many farms have unintentional dry lots because of inadequate pasture management.
Why create a healthy dry lot?
1. Control the horse’s diet.
2. Preserve paddocks thru rotation.
3. Control moisture and its effect on hooves.
Here are nine things to consider:
Location: Choose a place close to the barn for ease of access. Provide adequate sized gates for horses but also an occasional vehicle. Select a relatively flat location but one that drains well and isn’t too isolated so horses can socialize but generally remain separated.
Materials: The footing should be firm but not hard packed. It must be designed to drain well to allow moisture to either drain thru or away without causing erosion. Sandy soil is preferable but some sort of gravel that is easy on the feet or, even better, an engineered footing similar to your arena should work perfectly.
Size: The size can vary, but if you are creating the dry lot to limit the horses’ movement for health reasons, you may want it to be smaller than larger. We recommend multiple dry lots of varying sizes to accommodate many uses.
Fencing: It goes without saying that your fencing needs to be sturdy. See Activities below.
Shelters: Some form of shade shelter for fly & weather protection is preferred – by humans, but horses may never darken the interior.
Feeding: Various forms of slow feeders, salt blocks, etc. can be used. If you are restricting the horse’s diet, we recommend consulting with your vet about setting up a feeding regimen that can be incorporated into your use of the dry lot.
Activities: Spreading hay rations around the lot encourages movement; toys for activity or human interaction can be very helpful. We always recommend consulting with your veterinarian because no two horses are the same. You and your vet know what’s best for your horse.
Socialization: Locating the dry lot close to other horses reduces stress and is more emotionally relaxing.
Footing: The dry lot surface should provide a safe and comfortable footing for horses but it must also drain well. Therefore, we recommend that the upper surface/footing be 4 to 6 inches of footing material (stone dust, sand, engineered footing material as described above a drainage layer) or possibly 8 to 12 inches of pea gravel, allowing the foot to sink in without undue pressure on sensitive areas. The drainage layer can be 1/2 inch to 1 inch stones. You can add an interlocking grid within this layer to provide additional stability of the base layer and improve drainage.
Fire protection in an equestrian facility is always a concern of the highest priority. Because we’re often asked, we thought we’d offer information here on the fire suppression details the Blackburn design team has included in some of our latest projects.
At a new barn under construction in Indiana, we’ve specified a Dry Pipe System by Fire Tech, LLC. http://www.firetechstl.com/systems-preaction.php. We could have specified a “preaction sprinkler system,” but chose the dry pipe system because of the dangers of freezing pipes in the cold weather climate of the Midwestern United States.
To quote Fire Tech’s description, “A Preaction Sprinkler System is a system which employs automatic and closed-type sprinkler heads connected to a piping system that contains air (either pressurized or non-pressurized), with a supplemental system of detection serving the same area as the sprinklers. The systems are typically used in applications where the accidental discharge of water would be catastrophic to the usage of occupancy.
“Preaction Sprinkler Systems are similar to Dry Pipe Systems in that the water is kept from entering the piping valve, in the case a preaction valve. This valve is held closed electrically, only being released by the activation of the detection system (heat or smoke detectors mainly) when an electrical signal is sent to the releasing solenoid valve. The water then fills the pipe, ready for the activation of the sprinkler heads. Preaction systems can be arranged to be activated by only one detection device type, or many.”
In Indiana, our architects specifically called for a dry pipe system because of the potential for freezing temperatures, but also in case “one of the children kicks a soccer ball and takes out a sprinkler head” (the client’s words). With a dry pipe system, the sprinklers won’t go off unless they also sense smoke or fire (depending on the detector type). A false alarm could flood and ruin the barn’s expensive finishes. And using recessed/concealed pop up heads is a good idea where you can.
Another critical reason Blackburn specified a dry pipe system is because of an issue with water demand; the Indiana farm doesn’t have sufficient well water on site to power the system. Because of this, our client connected to county water. Keep in mind that If you’re on a well, you’ll likely never have enough pressure to support a fire suppression system. The gallon per minute (gpm) for firefighting is higher than your average ground well can produce. This means you must store water on site in a tank or pond.
At Sheik Island, one of our projects in Florida, we stored water below ground. In California, at a private facility, we installed an above ground tank adequate to run the system as required by the local fire department. Additionally, we posted signage limiting the occupancy (should the owner decide to sponsor a large event in the arena). The clients obtain a special permit when larger events occur, and they hire the local fire department to have a truck on hand during the event.
At the Devine Ranch, in Aptos, California, and at the Moss residence, also in fire-prone California, we provided on-site storage tanks with backup generators to operate a pumping system.
Next up on the Blog: fire limiting design guidelines we build into our projects.
One of the design considerations in nearly every Blackburn equestrian project is ground surface materials to be used at the exterior of the barn. Hopefully, the information below will be helpful in planning for your barn.
First consideration is it to be porous vs. non porous?
Either will work in this application but you need to build in some sort of drainage system for both, either on the surface or below the surface.
1) Interlocking rubber brick pavers. The Blackburn Architects’ team opinion is that this is the best all-around flooring system for horses because of its durability and aesthetic options. It’s slip resistant and holds up to abuse and in a wide variety of environmental and weather conditions. It can be set loose on a porous or non-porous sub-base or glued down on a firm base like concrete.
2) Oil base chip and seal: Chip seal is a surface treatment used on light traffic roadways/driveways, some lead paths and other areas used for horse or farm traffic. We do not use it very often anymore due to some environmental concerns in some jurisdictions (it typically requires a base layer of asphalt and oil as a binder). Chip seal basically combines one or more layers of asphalt with one or more layer of aggregate. Oil is often used as a binder. Ground up recycled tires are sometimes used as an aggregate. It tends to be slip resistant though it may deteriorate in time. Its life time is typically 5 to 7 years before it needs re-surfacing.
3) Rubber mats (loose laid or glued): This is a good material but should be laid or glued to a concrete or popcorn asphalt base. The mats need a solid base in order to hold in place or remain level over time. Rubber mats can present an aesthetic issue but functionally work well.
4) Stone dust or brick dust: A good material to use but requires maintenance to retain a clean and orderly look. It’s slip resistant and drains relatively well. Not good for plowing conditions unless it is re-spread at the end of the winter season.
5) Popcorn asphalt: An excellent material because it’s slip resistant and drains well. Its problem is its aesthetic appearance. It should be laid over a layer of crushed gravel so the surface water can drain through the asphalt and away. The advantage of the popcorn asphalt is it has the ability to reseal itself in warm weather if the ground freezes and heaves. It can also be used as a base layer under rubber mats or rubber bricks.
6) Concrete (custom colored and/or textured) or concrete pavers: Not a very horse-friendly material to use. It can be scored to give it texture, tinted to give it color and in some cases a brick pattern, but it is nevertheless a very unforgiving material. Horses shoes can slip on it and spook a horse especially when crossing from one material to another. However, this material is great when installed under the interlocking rubber brick or rubber mats.
7) Poured in place non slip surface material: This is a good material (a number of different types and manufacturers available) that can be slip resistant, cushioned to protect from a fall and can be used outdoors. It is often used on playgrounds. Blackburn Architects uses it most often in foaling stalls where a seamless continuous surface is desired.
8) Grass ground cover: Not recommended due to its maintenance needs especially when under cover.
9) Grid mats: Can work if the owner wants to use stone or brick dust or some other type of light screenings but requires periodic maintenance.
10) Brick or stone: Not highly recommended as it is less slip resistant though it can look great, especially if brick dust is used elsewhere such as the driveway in a chip and seal application.
An apartment or condo in the barn isn’t the same thing as short-term accommodations. We’ll often design a “warm room” into our barns so clients can stay close in case there’s a sick horse or for foaling. Even though technology provides some good methods to provide warning or protection (alarms, cameras, etc.) there are times when you just need to be close to respond quickly.
Permanent living quarters, however, can be problematic:
1. If the residential component is too large, then the change of scale can overshadow the scale of the barn and you end up with a “tail wagging the dog” situation. Aesthetically the design looks awkward.
2. If the residence will house a family, you run the risk of injury to children, pets, or visitors and there’s an increased risk of fire caused by household activities.
3. If the apartment or condo is for the owner it’s easier to control but if it’s for a groom or an income rental it’s important to be prepared that lifestyle choices may clash with your own. For example, the tenant may be entertaining guests who may be unaware of the impact of their activities on the horses.
Because a barn usually has a lower cost per square foot (to design and build) than a residence, you may be able to save money by separating the two different uses and avoid building in the necessary fire and smoke separations. For example, the barn could be a simple pole barn and the residence constructed to a higher standard.
Another option is to build the apartment or residence as part of a service /storage structure or another farm building. Two examples of Blackburn Architects’ projects where we did this are Great Roads Farm in New Jersey and Kindle Hill Farm in Pennsylvania.
To conclude, without building in substantial fire/smoke separations when adding an apartment in the barn you increase your risk of disaster. Building codes in most areas require you to include a two-hour separation. It’s essential that you check these regulations before planning an apartment in your barn.
Furthermore, an apartment in a barn or connected to it can impact the farm by forcing a larger footprint for the barn, and this can impact service roads, lead paths to paddocks, land grading, etc. If the apt is added to the second “loft” floor unless it is designed properly it could negatively impact the introduction of natural light and ventilation (see Bernoulli principle and chimney effect).
Over the years, Blackburn has been asked what we think of adding stalls along the side of an indoor arena. Sounds like a good idea, right? Well, we strongly recommend against it. The problems are many.
1. Air Quality. Forced to breathe arena dust many hours of the day, stalled horses live in an environment that isn’t healthy. We recommend instead that the stall portion of the stables be connected in a separate but attached structure running perpendicular to the barn. Not only does this arrangement help isolate the arena dust from the barn, it allows the barn to sit independently. The structure can then catch the prevailing breeze which permits two scientific principles (Bernoulli principle and the chimney effect) to provide natural ventilation and light to the barn.
2. Fire Safety. We always recommend fire separations by providing sliding doors to isolate the barn from the arena in case of fire. These doors may or may not be rated fire separations. The decision is usually driven by cost, and we often provide an automatic rolling fire rated shutter to isolate the two separate areas – this at least reduces the risk of smoke moving between structures. (Quite often it’s the smoke that is more dangerous and faster moving than the actual fire.) The isolation by sliding doors also provides critical time to get horses out of barn. If the arena and barn share the same space, there is less opportunity to isolate fire or smoke from the stable area. Furthermore, when the stables are parallel and part of the arena, the structure is generally shared – raising the risk it could collapse and trap horses inside.
3. Cost, Scale and Building Height. When stalls are designed as part of an indoor arena, the design requires a wider structure (often steel due to the long spans) which is typically more expensive. When it’s a separate but attached structure, it can be framed in wood with smaller spans reducing the cost of the framing. If the stalls are part of the indoor arena, then the building becomes wider which also means a corresponding height increase. In many areas, the local zoning codes restrict building heights. We have found typical restrictions of 35 feet. It’s difficult to get any height in the barn or arena if you are trying to build a 100 x 200 ft arena with a row of stalls and aisle way. Also, from an aesthetic perspective, wider and taller building begin to get enormous and have the potential to look like an airplane hangar and overshadow the entire farm.
4. Storm Water Issues. Finally, if your property is not flat, such a structure with a large footprint may require significant grading that can be expensive and create storm water issues. By breaking the barn and arena into two connected structures you can more easily work it into the natural slope of the land. Also, the isolation of the barn and arena permits opportunities to push the arena into the ground – helping to reduce the scale and height of the arena above finish grade. The entry to an observation area can be elevated above the arena floor (but entry level still at grade) for more easily viewing over the kick wall from a sitting position.
Blackburn has designed many arenas with this perpendicular arrangement. Rocana Farm, designed by us in 2002, is a great example of what we mean. Stalls at this hunter/jumper facility are attached to the enclosed arena with an elevated observation room, tack room, wash and grooming stalls.
Fences are one of the most common discussion points among the Blackburn team and clients when we’re designing an equestrian facility. The options listed below are certainly not exhaustive but reflect what we commonly find in many of our projects.
Some options are better suited for pastures, while others are more appropriate for small stall turnouts. We’ve tried to identify a variety of approaches that meet the safety needs for horses, limit maintenance needs, and often fall within neighborhood guidelines.
1. Steel rail fencing is an option for stable turnouts. The material is available in a thinner profile so it isn’t as visually heavy and it can be painted black or another dark color so that it does not have the “ranch” appearance seen with galvanized steel pipe corrals. The up-front cost is higher but the material is durable and will have little-to-no maintenance needs.
2. Woodguard polymer coated wood fencing is treated wood with a non-toxic, non-chipping surface covering. The wood grain is still visible but the finish has some of the plastic texture of the polymer. This product allows for fencing to be constructed similar to a wood fence, with the rails attached to the face of the posts. The result is a stronger, safer fence. Woodguard has a 20-year warranty. The cost is similar to wood board fencing but the maintenance needs are less. While the manufacturers state that this product is resistant to cribbing, we would recommend that a hot-wire be provided at the top rail to discourage the horses from chewing. This material would be acceptable to use for both stall turnouts and paddocks. It offers the appearance of a traditional 3- or 4-board wood fence without the significant maintenance demands. https://www.wood-guard.com/horse-fencing/
3. High Tensile Polymer (HTP) comes in both rail and wire styles and is typically mounted on wood posts. The rail is typically 5” wide and from a distance will appear similar to wood board fencing. Because wire fencing has a lower visibility, we suggest using a thicker top board so that the horses can more easily identify the barrier. The HTP materials’ inherent flexibility makes these products durable and resistant to horses leaning on or running into the fence. Typically, these are more suited to large pastures or for perimeter fencing and less so for stall turnouts. The darker colors tend to exhibit a chalky appearance over time.
4. Rubber fencing is a durable, flexible, and low profile fencing material and is similar to the HTP fencing. We’ve not seen this product used as often and we understand that there’s a risk that the strings of the fabric (which is an internal support for the rubber) can become exposed and offer a hazard for horses to chew on. A hot-wire at the top of the fence may combat this risk.
The advantages of rubber, HTP or any type strap fencing is the posts can be set further apart which is useful when its highly visible and you want to minimize the number of posts. The fencing is flexible and resists breaking when a limb or tree falls on it therefore it’s a good material for perimeter fencing large acreage and where it encounters wooded areas. This is safer if/when a horse runs into the fence; especially a problem on larger paddocks when horses can get some speed and not be able to slow down.
5. HDPE is a post and board fencing material. It’s stronger than PVC and performs better in all weather conditions, but the primary issue is in the assembly of the fence. The rails are set between posts, instead of fastened to the face, and can pop out if the fence is not secured properly. Its requires more frequent posts which tends to look busy and it’s difficult to bend or angle corners because of the assembly method. The Blackburn team isn’t particularly fond of this material because it can look clunky and isn’t the safest option. http://www.amberwayequine.com/products/hdpe-fencing-2/
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’ve always made it a point to use passive renewable design elements and sustainable materials in my equestrian designs. The motivation is designing for the health and safety of horses, so it’s not surprising that what’s recommended for creating human and eco-friendly structures is also recommended for equines.
Nowadays, Blackburn Architects’ team rarely encounters a client who isn’t enthusiastic about including sustainable design principles in their farm program. With green technologies evolving every day, there are more systems and product choices available to suit the unique demands of equine properties. The most prevalent elements include natural light and ventilation, recycled materials and regionally sensitive natural woods and products.
SUSTAINABLE BUILDING MATERIALS
We incorporate recycled and sustainable materials into the firm’s barn designs. We’ve used recycled rubber bricks and pavers for aisle flooring, and recycled rubber mats for stall floors, and occasionally, stall walls. Not only are these products more comfortable for the horses’ legs and knees, but they also provide a slip-resistant surface. As for building materials, we use everything from FSC (Forest Steward Council) certified lumber and recycled steel to fly ash concrete blocks and recycled wood.
However, we are always mindful of what some recycled material mixtures contain. Some products include substances (plastics, resins, binders, etc.) that could be toxic to horses through off-gassing or if they chew on the material. If you’re designing your own facility, be sure your builder is familiar with the materials ahead of time and is comfortable working with them. Occasionally, we’ve run into a situation where the builder is unfamiliar with a product recommendation and accidentally convinces an unaware owner to use a product that may exhibit these harmful qualities.
BUILDING FOR CLIMATE
It’s important that building materials make sense for both the design and the climate. In more northern locations, we try to design with timber that will provide more insulation for the structure. In the south, a masonry-style building helps keep the structure cool and is more resistant to humidity and insect infestation. While bamboo is an excellent renewable resource option, it’s not often locally sourced and can be costly to ship. Douglas fir and southern yellow pine are the typical go-to lumber products for our firm. They are quality assured, sustainably harvested, and regionally sensitive. When combined with low VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) finishes and paints, these materials make for sturdy, sustainable buildings that do not sacrifice quality or aesthetics.
Conserving water is imperative to any agricultural property, and there are many top-to-bottom green approaches to consider. It’s crucial to intercept and collect storm water before it becomes ruinous run-off that can affect ground water and nearby ponds and streams. We frequently use porous or “popcorn” asphalt for interior and sometimes exterior floor covering. It’s “self-healing” and aids in water drainage.
Since many horse farms around the country face changing weather extremes (torrential rain and drought come to mind), rainwater collection systems are vital for alleviating the resultant water issues. Roofs can be designed to route storm water into cisterns. The harvested water can then be channeled into irrigation systems for fields, paddocks, arenas and pastures, or collected for controlled distribution to prevent muddy conditions.
ACTIVE RENEWABLE SYSTEMS
In addition to passive systems, I highly recommend including active renewable systems in the design of any horse farm. The beauty of equine and agricultural properties is that they often feature characteristics that compliment these systems. Large swaths of land can facilitate geothermal power systems or wind-powered generators and other equipment. Roofs with large surface areas are common features of many agricultural buildings and make perfect platforms for solar panel systems.
One of the firm’s current projects is an extremely energy efficient property in Missouri. While targeting net-zero energy use, we’ve included a geothermal heating system and solar panels that power infrared heaters in the wash stalls.
Green technologies have come a long way and today’s solar panel systems offer more choices for collecting and storing energy. If designed properly and in the right location, it is often possible to fully rely on the solar panels for all your energy needs. Including these systems in conjunction with natural light and ventilation could conceivably eliminate outside energy dependency for your equine buildings. Over time, solar panels will pay for themselves in savings. Check with your local and state government about tax incentives for incorporating green energy saving systems into your property.
FRESH AIR AND NATURAL LIGHT
Accomplished with steep sun-heated roofs and vented skylights, the combined effects of the Bernoulli Principle (an equation of vertical lift championed by Dutch-Swiss mathematician Daniel Bernoulli) and the chimney effect (air pulled in low and vented up high) circulate fresh air throughout the structure while flooding the space with natural light. This method provides the optimal environment for horses because it turns the typically static barn into a machine while imitating the equine’s natural environment. The process significantly cuts down on the cost and operation of electric lighting and fans and the health and safety risks they can create.
One of the challenges we sometimes encounter with clients is convincing them to include active systems in their design programs. This is usually due to upfront costs. The price impact can be minimized by smart design decisions. Knowing ahead of time what green options are available and which ones you’d like to incorporate will inform your budget early on and, if need be, help you plan the property with future installations in mind.
THE BENEFITS OF COMPOSTING
Composting is another great passive renewable option. We strongly encourage all our clients to include a composting system in their design program. Composting helps manage muck and removes harmful bacteria and other organisms to create natural fertilizer for paddocks. It also helps keep organic material that could produce harmful uncontrolled run-off out of landfills.
Sustainable barn design is about what’s healthiest and safest for your horses. Remember, horses were never meant to be inside. But if they’re going to be, then it’s important to create an environment as close as possible to what they would encounter in nature, using materials and techniques that at the same time don’t harm the very environment they come from.
1. Blackburn designs stalls of all sizes, but the most common is 12’x12’. 16’x16’ is often requested for larger horses, but with more space comes increased maintenance, a need for more bedding and a bigger area to clean. Larger stalls can, therefore add considerably to the cost of building a barn by:
a. Adding to the overall length and/or width of a barn.
b. Requiring roof framing to be increased from 2×10’s to 2×12’s or even greater.
c. Increasing the span of the framing lumber.
2. Partitions between stalls should be at least 8 feet high, but they don’t have to be solid from top to bottom. Barred or mesh portions on the top enhance ventilation. This also has the benefit of allowing horses to see their companions — and provides easy observation of the horses by their owners. The down side is the increased ventilation between stalls can increase the risk of bacterial infection between horses. For the same reason, doors that are open on top increase light and ventilation. Bars must not be more than 2 to 3 inches apart, and openings should not be more than 2 inches across to prevent hoof entrapment.
3. Steel mesh or bar fronts on stalls allow an owner to look down the aisle or into the stall as they walk down the aisle and see their horses. The mesh is good for ventilation, too. The drawback is that bedding can be kicked into the aisles, so we recommend adding bedding guards. Welded steel mesh is typically stronger than bars but the horizontals tend to collect dust and can add to barn maintenance.
4. Doors should be at least 4 feet wide. This is wide enough for a wheelbarrow to enter the space or for a horse and handler to exit or enter the stall. Sliding doors are preferred over swinging doors. If you must use swinging doors, remember to install them to swing outward. You’ll have a major problem if a horse goes down and the door swings to the inside. Additional safety reasons for outward swinging doors include:
a. Prevention of an unlatched door swinging open accidentally, or the wind catching it.
b. Added visibility of looking down an aisle and recognizing that a stall is open and empty. (Handlers need to leave stall doors open when the horse is turned out. This also makes it easier when bringing the horse back to the stall – you don’t have to open it.)
5. We recommend rounded edges in stalls and anywhere in the barn where horses have access. A casting rail (which can be a groove in the wall or a 2-by-4-inch rail bolted low to the wall), provides something for the horse to catch his foot on when rolling to avoid getting cast.
6. Provide for easy access to the stall for feed buckets without opening and closing the door. Place in one of the front corners adjacent to the aisle.
7. Automatic waterers have the advantage of offering constant fresh water, but be sure to buy a model that is easy to keep clean. If you don’t want automatic waterers, install water hydrants between every couple of stalls and provide for ample drainage for drips and overflows. Don’t forget to frost-proof them in climates where pipes are apt to freeze.