Horses are, by comparison to other livestock, the type of animals that owners metaphorically want to wrap in bubble wrap. Some represent significant financial investments, and others represent even more substantial emotional investments.
This means that a lot of thought goes into choosing the right materials to build a horse barn. While wood is the most common, metal barns offer significant cost-savings to build. Striking a balance between the cost to build and the cost to maintain is often the primary concern when choosing the best material for barn construction.
And for many, the health and safety of the animals is also important. Barn fires kill an estimated 150,000 animals per year, with devastating personal and financial losses for many horse owners.
Types of Horse Barns
A quick drive through Thoroughbred country, and you are likely to see many different types of barns. What materials are suitable for equestrian facilities, and why do owners choose one material over another?
Pole barn construction uses a series of wood poles extending vertically from the ground. These poles are spaced ten to twelve feet apart and covered with wood or metal siding to create walls. Pole barns are cost-effective to construct and have no weight-bearing center supports, so the interior space is flexible for any use.
Metal/ Steel Barns
Metal barns use steel beams for vertical posts and roof trusses. Like pole barns, they don’t require any load-bearing center supports, so the interior space is flexible. In addition, steel beams are stronger and more durable than wood, so these buildings can offer larger sizes up to three hundred-foot spans — perfect for indoor arenas.
Concrete Block or Brick Barns
Barns built from concrete blocks or clay bricks are excellent for low-maintenance durability. However, there are trade-offs in terms of fire safety. Both materials have high insulating properties, which can trap fire inside and cause it to burn hotter than metal or timber-built barn.
Additional Building Materials
The building is often the first consideration in choosing materials. However, roofing, doors, and insulation are all essential components. All of the materials used in the barn’s construction will factor into the building’s fire safety performance. Plus, airflow is important to keep animals healthy and free from respiratory disease. The amount and type of insulation and the style of the roofing will have a significant impact on airflow.
Barn doors should be easy to open and easy to secure. When the weather is favorable, the doors should be fully open to promote cross-ventilation. Metal barns have an advantage here because the doors are relatively lightweight and glide easily on tracks to slide open and closed.
Most roofs are constructed from wood covered with shingles or metal panels. The durability of a metal roof outperforms a shingled roof. They are virtually maintenance-free and may only require infrequent painting every 12 – 20 years. By comparison, shingles need to be replaced often with a complete tear-off and reshingle every 12 – 15 years. The wood roof is also prone to rotting and may need sections replaced over the years. Another reason that a metal roof may be a better choice is that it typically contains channels that allow water from heavy rainfall to disperse from the roof quickly.
Wood, concrete, and brick are all-natural insulators. However, metal barns leave a little more to be desired when dampening noise and controlling the environment. Horses spook easily, and many riders prefer a little insulation in the barn to keep them calm. Spray foam, fiberglass or insulated metal panels work well to insulate metal buildings.
How to Build for Better Fire Safety
Fire safety on the farm is a big concern. From combustible building materials to lofts full of hay and stalls full of sawdust, a small spark can ravage a barn in minutes. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough time for the fire department to respond — the best line of defense is fire retardant materials.
Here are some tips to protect your farm from a fire loss:
- Choose materials that are fire-retardant or non-combustible.
- Be tidy, clear the cobwebs, and keep trash picked up.
- Keep light fixtures, electrical wiring, and heating elements in good repair.
- Install fire alarms and fire extinguishers.
- Dig a small pond near the barn to provide water access in the event of a fire.
- Hold fire drills and practice evacuating your animals.
Steel-frame metal buildings are built from non-combustible materials. These buildings can be paired with fire-retardant insulation and treated wood materials that resist spreading fire. At the very least, this will buy you more time to rescue your animals.
Metal barns are cost-effective, flexible options for many horse farms. These buildings cost less in the short term with quick, easy construction and economical materials. And they cost less in the long-term with minimal maintenance requirements and high fire safety ratings. All things considered, metal barns provide more flexibility and durability for a fraction of the cost of traditional building materials.
Brian Haraf is the VP of Sales and Marketing at Metal Sales Manufacturing Corporation. With 21 facilities nationwide, Metal Sales manufactures metal roof and wall panels for the agricultural, commercial, architectural and residential markets since 1963.