How to Site Your First Barn

Building your first barn can make your farm feel official, but before you start construction, give these things some thought.

by Rick Sosebee
PHOTO: Peter/Flickr

As you make plans to grow your small farm, installing a new barn could be on the list of things to do. Amid the excitement of building a new barn, everything may seem to be coming together right before your eyes, but if you don’t plan correctly, your dreams of self-sufficiency could just as easily fall apart.

When scouting your land for good locations to build a full-fledged outbuilding, there’s a lot to consider. It’s very common to find the first level spot on your property and start grading, but stop and look around you. This picturesque spot could be trouble in more ways than one. Here are some things to think about first.

1. Get a Permit 

You’d be amazed at the number of outbuildings or barns built without county permits. It can be done, but most states have regulations you must follow for the barn to be built to code. It would be a shame to get the last drop of Regal red on the siding and find out you will have to tear it apart to make it a legal structure. Do your research at the county planning office and make sure you have the proper permits to break ground.

2. Find Good Footing 

Whether or not you think it’s the most idyllic setting, barns are usually placed on higher ground to avoid the mess of a river flowing around your structure should heavy rains come.

The soil where you site the barn should also be able to handle the weight and traffic it will bring. An area with hard-packed clay or some type of bedrock makes a solid foundation, while sandy soil needs much more preparation. Compacting the soil before pouring concrete is key to making sure there’s a good base layer so the concrete doesn’t crack open. If your going to have dirt floors you still need solid ground for the poles or posts that hold the roof and walls up.

3. Allow Room for Growth

Consider at least 20 percent of the surrounding land as a potential growth ring. If you want to add on to the barn later and don’t plan for it now in the space you choose, you’ll be out of luck. Also, even if you don’t plan to hook up to water or electricity immediately, you may want to add lighting and spigots in the future. It’s wise to investigate the nearest power supply and water source now before breaking ground.

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4. Plan for Easy Access

If you work your farm daily and tend to livestock that reside in your barn, find a site within walking distance to your house. The last thing you will want to do is trudge a mile through bad weather, especially if you live in an area with harsh winters, to check on animals. Additionally, having a clear, unobstructed trail from your house to the barn door will be helpful when you need to access the barn in the dark.

5. Note Wind Direction

Most love the thought of life on a farm, but just because you want to work around animals all day doesn’t mean you will want to smell them on your front porch. If you keep animals in the barn, siting your barn downwind of the house is something to consider. To determine the wind direction, tie a piece of surveyor’s tape (bright orange or pink is easily seen from a distance) or string to a 3- to 4-foot long stick, poke it in the ground near your prospective site, and monitor it for a few days.

Prevailing winds can also be used to determine where you place doors on the structure, as you want to avoid your barn becoming a wind tunnel. Angling the barn left or right of center of the wind will help moderate the amount of flow through the building.

6. Build in Drainage

You’ll also need to have ample drainage that will allow rain to run off without running through the barn or taking the dirt around the barn with it. Having the site surveyed by a professional land surveyor will dramatically increase the success rate of any project you may wish to construct on it. The surveyor can also answer questions about potential problems you may face on the site you choose. You can find a surveyor in your area by searching the local phonebook or typing “land surveyor” plus your city name into an online search engine.

The key to your success is planning, and a good plan is read through many times before the first inch of grass is scraped off the hillside. Building a barn is an exciting step in the development of your hobby farm, but be sure you do your homework so you can rest assured you have a finished and solid place to manage your property from.

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