For those who have the time, inclination, and the ability to follow instructions, assembling a run-in shed, stall, or a barn from a mail-order kit might be a 21st Century option. These do-it-yourself kits can yield impressive savings and offer you control over the quality of workmanship and materials. Novices with basic tools can put together a stall or run-in shed, even a shed-row barn or small stable.
Still, assembling a barn kit is a long way from an afternoon of stacking up a few Lincoln Logs. Barn assembly, depending on size and type, might be a multi-person project that takes weeks of full-time work to complete. Some building elements are fairly heavy, requiring a person of moderate strength capable of manipulating awkward, 50-pound wood pieces. In some cases, a forklift or other lifting equipment might have to be rented in order to hoist heavy trusses.
Like on-site, professionally constructed barns, made-to-assemble barns come in a variety of styles. These range from the simple shed row to the raised breezeway, from traditional styling to utilitarian design, from the gable-roofed to the gambrel-roofed.
Building materials fall into two main categories -- wood and metal. Kit prices vary depending on the size, quality, and quantity of materials, and the amount of pre-fabrication completed by the manufacturer. If assembled correctly, nothing stands out to indicate that the barn was a do-it-yourself project; it looks just like its builder-constructed counterpart. In fact, it’s not uncommon for professional builders to order barn or stall kits when hired to build equine housing.
As with any major do-it-yourself project, disappointment and wasteful expenditure can be avoided by employing a heavy dose of realism. You need to have a good idea as to the amount of time you and your building comrades can invest, and how much time you’ll be able or willing to put into the project -- a couple of hours every day, all day every weekend, your entire two-week vacation? The same can be said for having a clear idea of what you need in equine housing and understanding what the manufacturer does and -- equally important -- does not provide.
For starters, consider the pros and cons of the most popular barn kits available: post and beam, clear span, and modular.
Post And Beam -- This is the aesthetically pleasing, time-honored style of wooden barn that has been popular for centuries. Says Nancy Ambrosiano, co-author (with Mary Harcourt) of the book, Complete Plans for Building Horse Barns Big and Small, Post and beam barns have a more traditional feel and are pleasing to the old-fashioned folks among us who enjoy lots of wood around. Wood also has naturally good insulating qualities and is easy to work with. However, some people believe that wood is expensive, can splinter and be chewed, and is subject to rot and termites. Andy Prokosch, president of Shelter-Kit Inc., disagrees. "Wood is not especially expensive and doesn’t need much maintenance."
In post and beam construction, vertical posts are anchored to concrete piers or footings. Interior support posts typically are spaced from eight to 12 feet apart, depending on the manufacturer. Horizontal beams connect the posts and provide support for the loft floor and roof. Diagonal braces stiffen the frame and provide wind bracing. There are no supporting walls, so the interior layout is somewhat flexible in the planning stages. Explains Prokosch, "Standard post spacing is eight feet, but we can change that if people want 12-foot by 12-foot stalls. It’s also possible to build the posts within the walls of the stall." Once the barn has been completed, stall sizes will be restricted to interior post spacing.
Generally, the post and beam kit contains pre-cut lumber that is marked, packaged in bundles, and ready to put together, says Prokosch. "Our kit contains all of the framing members to produce the building, plus siding, flooring for the loft floor, roof plywood, shingles, doors, windows, hardware, and vertical rough sawn white pine boards. Foundation and flooring are up to the owner." Other companies might vary in what they include in their barn packages and types of siding. Always ask what is included in the price you are quoted.
Assembling a wooden post and beam style building can be fairly easy, even for the novice. "Our kits are designed for people who know absolutely nothing about construction," Prokosch says. "However, you should be in reasonable physical shape. You’ll need to pick up plywood that weighs about 50 to 60 pounds each. With a completed 24-foot by 24-foot barn weighing about six tons, that’s a lot of stuff that will be carried around! No power tools or lifting equipment are needed, just hammers, a level or two, ladders, and a handsaw for occasional trimming."
Clear Span (also known as free span) -- Because these structures have no interior weight-bearing posts, clear span barns offer the maximum in interior layout flexibility and no obstructions. Indoor riding arenas, skating arenas, etc., often utilize this style. Says Ambrosiano, "You can drop in stall sections with round pens or breeding pens, move free-standing components around, and generally create anything you need all under the big roof." The horse owner can put in whatever size stalls he/she wishes, avoiding size limitations imposed by the modular barn or post and beam barns. However, clear spans utilizing the truss roof (like the riding arena) provide no options for a second floor or hayloft.
Generally, clear span barns are made of steel framing, although some are made of wood. "We utilize steel because of its longevity," explains Wendy Claiser, president/owner of Heartlight Equestrian. "We do offer timber barns and pasture shades, but found wood’s not effective in the long run; a lot of people don’t want to have to rebuild their structure or repaint it." Steel is extremely strong, is less expensive than wood, and requires little upkeep -- it won’t rot or warp, and it’s not subject to chewing or termite damage. However, steel can be colder than wood in the winter and hotter in summer; extra insulation will remedy that condition.
Exterior wall panels usually are laminated wood-core panels encased in steel. Framing and wall panels are pre-measured and pre-cut; the owner assembles them by bolting them together. "The owner can use a standard hand wrench, or an impact wrench works fine," Claiser says.
As with all kits, package components can vary. Some kits contain only the framing materials, with the owner providing the wall panels and roof. Other kits include insulated or non-insulated exterior panel walls and roofing materials. Add-on options might include exterior doors and windows, stall fronts, interior stall panels, latches, feeders, waterers, mats, footing, etc.
Aesthetics also vary. While some steel clear-span barns look like metal warehouses due to the design and type of exterior wall panels used, some manufacturers offer designs that look like a traditional wood barn. Says Claiser, "We design a special steel wall panel available in a variety of colors."
Although manufacturers might advertise that a steel clear-span barn is easy to assemble, Claiser cautions that this type of barn usually requires a minimum of four people plus equipment for lifting materials; once the trusses are assembled, they are heavy and awkward to handle. "For a big barn, you may need a crane to lift the trussing," Claiser advises. Horse owners should plan into their budget the cost of equipment rental or hiring someone to handle the lifting of the trusses.
Modular -- Modular barns consist of steel framing erected in module formation, much like a series of boxes. Several can be linked together to provide the size barn one desires. Panels, often a steel laminate over a plywood core, are bolted onto the framework to form the walls. Depending upon the company, modular barn packages can include steel siding, roofs, interior walls, hardware, exterior doors, windows, stall doors, etc.
"In my experience, modular barns are handy packages, sort of the Lego kit of barn building, since you can add and subtract sections comparatively easily," says Am-brosiano. "They’re fast to set up, so if you have a site in place, you can erect a pretty functional barn in place in a matter of a few days." The two-person project can be handled by the novice and requires no special tools.
Modular barns offer the same advantages and disadvantages as any steel building: they are strong, maintenance free, and cheaper than wood, but have less insulating values. In addition, a damaged wall component can be removed easily and replaced with a new one, or taken out in order to create an enlarged space for foaling stalls, recovery areas, etc.
Stall packages usually are made of steel and are available in three styles -- a full assembly kit, component stall, and panel stall. In most circumstances, the package includes materials for the front and one side. The horse owner is expected to construct the first stall in the corner of the barn where the side and back of the barn serve as two walls. As the owner adds stalls down the length of the barn, it’s a front/side, front/side configuration.
"A kit-style stall comes with 30 pieces of bar and framing material," says Eric Swanson, vice-president of National Horse Stalls. "It’s basically a hardware kit that is built bar by bar. Kit stalls are usually inexpensive, but are pretty labor intensive. We offer the other types, which are component style and panel style."
The component style of stall can only be used in a post and beam style barn, as it relies on the barn’s interior support columns to support the stall. "The component format that we offer," Swanson says, "includes a pre-welded set of bars that goes on top of a four-foot partition, sliding doors, tracks, guides, and hardware. Some companies only include the steel work. The lumber used under the bars is typically supplied by the barn owner, which is usually more cost effective to acquire locally." Other manufacturers may include different options."
A component stall is best installed by someone comfortable with a circular saw and who possesses a bit of measuring, layout, and woodworking experience, Swanson states. "You have to be careful how you measure the header," he says. "If you start out wrong, it continues wrong all the way through. It’s also fairly heavy material. An eight-foot section of bars weighs 80 pounds. Not everyone has the strength to hold up an 80-pound piece of steel while they are installing a piece underneath it."
The panel format can be installed in any kind of barn, and it can be disassembled and moved easily. Consisting of four pre-drilled panels, the owner merely has to bolt them together to form the stall. It’s a particularly easy, two-person project, Swanson says; no measuring or special tools are needed. "Panel systems cost more because you’re buying a full panel stall where we’ve done the extra fabrication work," notes Swanson, "but from an installation aspect, it’s the simpler way to go."
Pasture shades, run-in sheds, and shed rows are available in kit form in wood or metal. "A novice can assemble these," Claiser says. "They’re best erected with two or three people."
Pieces are pre-cut and pre-measured. Generally only basic tools are needed -- a drill bit for metal structures, a hammer for timber structures.
Determining how much barn you’ll need and the kind of use it will receive is as important as deciding on the type of barn.
- If you have a small farm where you’ll never have more than a few horses, then staying small and simple might be the most economical option.
- If you someday hope to increase the number of horses and thus stalls, a modular structure with easy add-on capabilities might effectively address present and future needs.
- If you board horses or have some sort of commercial facility, select barn size to meet present and, perhaps, future expansion needs. Opt for interior features that consider particular storage or grooming needs, the amount of traffic in the aisles, the amount of wear and tear stall elements will receive, the strength needed for safe stall walls, expeditious feeding by barn personnel, etc.
Carefully investigate what each manufacturer offers in their package regarding specific elements, quality of material, and service so that you’re clear on exactly what the manufacturer is providing. Important questions you should ask are:
- How much does the package cost and what comes standard in the package? What additional items will you need to finish the barn? What are the dimensions, including height of barn openings? How much are transportation charges? Pin down everything in writing so there are no surprises.
- What is the maximum snow load (weight of snow per square foot on the roof), live load (weight of human per square foot on the roof), and wind load (speed of wind against the building) for the structure? "Many companies only build for 20-pound snow/live load and an 80-mile-per-hour wind load," notes Claiser. "In areas where you have a lot of snowfall or where the winds are strong, you can have uplift problems or a collapsed roof.
- What gauge materials are used and why? The lower the digit, the thicker the material is. "A 26-gauge piece of sheet metal is what’s usually used for roofing," Swanson says. "An 11-gauge is thicker and too heavy for a roof."
- Are exterior and interior wall panels insulated? Are they kick-proof to prevent the horse from kicking through?
- What kind of finish is on metal stall framing? ‘Hot dip galvanizing’ is arguably the best protection from rust," says Swanson, "because first the components are fabricated, then they are dipped in a vat of molten zinc. This coats the whole thing, so it usually takes 20 to 30 years before the steel begins to rust. But when the materials are ‘pre-galvanized,’ the steel is acquired from the supplier with a zinc coating already on it, then it’s cut and welded. Where the steel has been cut, it breaks the rust protection, and rust can occur much sooner. Some painted finishes rust even faster -- as soon as six to 12 months." However, Claiser notes that the poly-powder painted coatings can last 15 to 20 years.
- Will you need to pour a foundation or pad for your structure? If so, what kind?
- What kinds of tools are needed for assembly?
- How long is the warranty? What specific kinds of damage are covered under the warranty?
- Is there someone the owner can contact if questions arise during construction? What is the name of the person and how can they be reached?
- Does the barn comply with local or national building codes? If a building permit is needed, can the company provide stamped and sealed structural blueprints and engineering calculations? Emphasizes Claiser, "Blueprints must be stamped and sealed to satisfy the permit department. Many companies don’t have a stamped set of blueprints, and the buyers get stung."
- Does the company have a location where you can inspect erected structures? Will they provide references for purchasers in your area? If so, ask these kit buyers what they liked about the package, what they didn’t like, and what they might have done differently.
- How soon after ordering will the package ship? During busy times of the year, particularly in late spring and early summer, it might take significantly longer for the company to produce and ship the kit.
- Does the structure meet insurance codes and standards, and will the owner be able to insure the structure once it has been erected?
Absolutely the first step in contemplating the assembly of any structure is a visit or phone call to the local building permit office. Zoning and building requirements vary considerably from one locale to another, so it’s imperative that you know what restrictions and standards are applied to your property. It is your responsibility to make sure, prior to purchase, that any package you buy meets those standards and to acquire, if needed, the stamped and sealed blueprints or engineering calculations for the structure that your local building permit office requires.
If you order a package that does not meet local building standards, the problem belongs to you, not the manufacturer.
Prefabricated Barn Manufacturers
(Inclusion in the following list does not imply endorsement. If you are a manufacturer of prefabricated barns, stalls, or sheds and are not listed here, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to be included.)
American Steel Buildings
3700 Airport Rd.
14625 You Bet Rd.
Heritage Building Systems
J.W. Hall Enterprises
Lucas Equine Equipment
Northern Light Stalls
Rocking W Round Pens
To search for ready-to-assemble barns and stalls on the Internet, use the keywords "prefabricated barn" or "barn kit" for good results.
About the Author
Marcia King is an award-winning freelance writer based in Ohio who specializes in equine, canine, and feline veterinary topics. She's schooled in hunt seat, dressage, and Western pleasure.