Top Tips for Horse Barn Renovation Projects

Authors of Dressage Today's May 2010 'Historic Barn Renovations'--Julie Cook and Suzanne Baker McDermott--share their top 10 tips on renovating old horse barns and photos from their renovations.

Suzanne Baker McDermott’s Top 10 Tips
View Suzanne’s barn renovation photo gallery!

1. Take your time and choose a fair and reputable contractor. Visit their work independently on your own and get fair and unbiased feedback from the customers.

The McDermott barn

2. Consult a structural engineer if you are excavating to the extent we did (digging down 4-5 feet below the existing floor level) to assure soundness of overall structure to gain as much knowledge of added costs and or issues prior to digging.

3. I visited all of my friends’ barns and some others to gather as much knowledge and ideas for design, layout and useful applications as possible. I asked each one of them what they would change if they could or what they would have done differently. The overwhelming response, funny enough, was “A larger drain in the wash stall!” I immediately changed my drain to the biggest I could find. (In retrospect, this was one of my most important steps.)

4. Create a plan and budget prior to construction. Review with builder/contractors and follow as closely as possible to avoid delays, added cost and mistakes.

5. Work closely with contractor on a daily basis. Follow progress, make or review changes and monitor daily activity for any adjustments that need to be addressed or reviewed.

6. Should changes or additions occur during construction, immediately review and agree on cost with contractor and get an addendum to contract or agreed price in writing. This will avoid any misunderstandings and issues regarding costs.

7. I invited my “horse” friends and owners over to visit the project and give me input and advice from their many years of practical horse daily living. It was both a wonderful experience and education. I made some changes per their suggestions and am happy every day because of them.

8. Measure, measure, measure! Take the time to walk through the layout and structure prior to installation of cement footers and alleyways. This is a lesson I learned the hard way. The evening prior to the poring of our cement alleyway a couple of my horsewomen friends stopped by to see the progress. Our plans clearly indicated 12×12 stalls, but as we walked through my friends commented on the stalls looking smaller than what was called for. So I immediately measured and to my dismay they were correct–the stalls would have been 9’6″x12. I immediately called the contractor. Had my friends not noticed we would have been “set in stone” and had a major issue to correct.

9. Keep an organized file of all names and numbers of contractors, subcontractors, companies and suppliers of equipment and materials used for the project. You may need these for future repairs, replacements or additions. We already have.

10. Be as prepared as possible both mentally and financially for a project like a major structural renovation. Inevitably it will take longer and cost more than what was originally planned.

Julie Cook’s Top 10 Tips
View Julie’s barn renovation photo gallery!

1. You are never really finished renovating the barn if you do it yourself, because it seems like the projects keep on coming based on how much spare money you have to spend on it.

The Cook barn

2. You can learn how to do almost any project yourself with the help of the Internet. Don’t be afraid to look up instructions/directions on the Internet–with a little searching, there is always a source for incredible information and insight.

3. Interlocking stall mats are a must, but if finances dictate (or, as in our case, you have an odd-sized stall), carriage bolts work great to keep the mats in place without ANY shifting. Drill holes in the mats and place 6″ carriage bolts through the mats and into the dirt underneath. This keeps them solidly in place. This was a tip from a friend, and it works fantastically well.

4. Invest in good metal exterior doors and stall doors, but know that just because you get them powder coated doesn’t mean they won’t rust.

5. Wash rack drains are a pain no matter how they are constructed. Pay attention to how they are put in and make sure that gravity is on your side. We ended up having to dig ours out and re-do it. It works perfectly now.

6. The interior stall walls are oak planks that we had planned to make smooth. We stained them and then applied six coats of clear gloss–they wash up like a dream when soiled. I questioned my husband’s sanity when he said we were going to do it this way, but now I see the benefit in having them so easily cleaned.

7. We built two extra large stalls for my 17.2 hand horses, and I love that they have the extra room. We split three stalls into two and they have 12×18 each, and it is great for the large horse or a foaling stall.

8. Get an itemized estimate from any contractor doing work for you and make sure you both sign the estimate. These estimates don’t hold up in court unless signed by both parties. Also, don’t pay any contractor until the work is complete. I have seen friends pay people for work and then had them never show up to do the work.

9. Really think about what all your wants and needs are for the barn and try to do everything that you think you can’t live without. If this is a barn that you will be working out of for years to come, it needs to be comfortable and well-appointed. Make a separate feed room, tack room (with heat and air conditioning) and wash rack and include the appropriate number of stalls.

10. If you are doing it yourself it may take months or years to complete. We spent the last six years on ours and there are still things that need to be done. We are hoping to put a new roof on this summer!






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