4 Fixes For Common Barn Problems

Give your old barn some love so that it will serve your farm for many years to come.

by J. Keeler Johnson
PHOTO: Carol Von Canon/Flickr

There’s nothing that says “farm” more impressively than the sight of a classic old barn, weathered by the years but still standing proud and doing its job. Perhaps its paint has faded, its windows are dirty and it could use a good cleaning, but just as you can’t judge a book by its cover, you can’t judge a barn by its appearance.

Of course, while beauty is only skin deep and a barn needn’t be aesthetically pleasing to be the serviceable and valued home base of your farm, it’s important to ensure that your barn is structurally sound and free of hazards that could cause bigger problems for you, your livestock and your equipment. An old, weathered appearance doesn’t come without side effects, and over time, barns can develop a variety of issues that must be addressed. Fortunately, with a little DIY talent and a few tips, you can easily fix many of these problems yourself.

1. Broken Windows

Many old barns, particularly those that were built for keeping livestock, are lined with windows, usually one for each livestock stall. Over time, these windows can be damaged, with either the glass panes being broken or the frame wearing out to the point that the window can no longer be opened. While busy schedules can make it tempting to simply board up a broken window, it’s better to repair them quickly, as they play an important role in ventilating the barn.

In the case of a broken window pane, carefully disassemble the frame and remove any remaining broken glass, being sure to wear thick gloves and goggles as you do this. Afterwards, install a new pane of glass. You’ll need to place putty around the frame and on both sides of the glass to act as a moisture seal. Once the new pane is in place, you can paint over the frame and putty, taking care to paint a little bit past the putty and on to the glass to further seal out moisture.

2. Rotting Floorboards

Over the years, many barn roofs start to leak, which can cause a variety of issues. If you have a two-story barn with a loft, a leaky roof can be particularly troublesome because the water will puddle on the floorboards of the loft and cause them to rot.

Although a leaky roof is a problem that usually requires the services of a professional roofer, replacing rotten floorboards is a much simpler task. Using a power saw, cut the boards back to a point where the wood is good, and then remove any nails or screws that are holding the rotten boards in place. Use the claw end of a hammer or an electric drill, and be careful not to step through the rotting boards while working. Once the rotting floorboards are removed, cut some replacement boards to the appropriate size and secure them in place. In no time at all, your floor will be as strong as ever!

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3. Fading Grading

It’s important to ensure that the ground around your old barn slopes away from the foundation. If the ground slopes toward the barn—which can happen over time—water will gather around it, rotting the foundation if it’s made of wood or simply eroding the ground beneath the foundation and causing the entire barn to shift, which can lead to structural issues and damage.

By adding dirt around the foundation of your barn and grading it so that the ground slopes away from the barn, you can ensure that water won’t gather near the structure. With some effort, the project can be done with limited equipment. Given enough time, a person can do the job with a shovel and a trailer for bringing dirt to the barn, but larger equipment, such as a tractor with a front-end loader, can greatly speed up the process.

4. Stubborn Doors

Perhaps the most heavily used part of any barn, it’s not surprising that barn doors have their share of issues, as well. Over time, the settling of the barn, the shifting of the foundation or even changes to the floor can make doors difficult to open and shut. Perhaps they don’t swing as smoothly as they used to, don’t quite fit in their frames, or even drag the ground and grind to a halt.

If you have a door that isn’t acting right, there’s no need to struggle. While the solution will vary from door to door, removing the door from its hinges and making a few modifications may be all you need to do. (Bear in mind that major structural issues compromising the door frame are best addressed by an expert.) Shaving some wood off the bottom of the door can stop it from dragging the ground and getting stuck, and something as simple as tightening loose hinges back into place—or shifting them up or down a few inches and screwing them into stronger wood—can make a big difference in some cases.

So the next time you have a free hour, why not use it to give your old barn a little TLC? It will reward you with many more years of valuable service.

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