All Barns Are Not Created Equal
By Nikki Alvin-Smith

All Barns Are Not Created Equal

Shopping for a new barn is a fun and exciting time. Whether the purpose of the barn is housing horses or other livestock, an event space, or an adjunct structure for other enterprise such as woodwork shop or an agritourism building. The options for use of a barn really are endless. Some barns are even being built like horse barns with stalls that are then set up as glamping accommodations), the purchaser should be savvy about what they buy.
Value for money is always top of people’s list of priorities. But how do you know what truly good value for money is if you have no knowledge of construction.
Sadly, there are many nefarious builders out there. Their agenda seemingly to make as much money as possible for as little work as possible and then run away with the profits of their activities. There are also the inadvertent ill-educated builders who simply don’t know what they don’t know and aren’t worried about finding out how to do a better job.
It is essential to protect yourself from bad business practices. No-one wants to end up with a building that is poorly or even dangerously constructed. While the local town building inspector (if one is needed for permission, in many cases rural area authorities don’t require permits for agricultural structures) can protect you from wonky or dangerous workmanship, it is not the only source you should rely on to protect your interests. And certainly, from a value for money standpoint you really need to take responsibility up front by learning a bit about the building business.
Here's a crash course to help you along the way and put you on track for a pleasurable experience during both the purchasing process and your happiness with ownership of the barn once it is built.
Plumb and Square
This may seem obvious but in fact it is anything but usual to find. If a structure is constructed on a level surface, preferably a flat concrete one, then working off that surface to build a barn plumb and square is certainly easier than trying to work literally out in the field. This is one of many reasons modular or prefabricated barns are so popular. Price, timeline, choice of design and craftsmanship being four others.

Modular Barn Factory Floor
 Pole barn construction is a popular method of on-site construction but is not without its pitfalls.  Namely if the site is not completely level the likelihood of large gaps beneath walls is inevitable and if the base layout of the structure is not accurately measured out the final building that results will never be perfectly squared off in the corners even if it is erected to be plumb.
The advent of modern easy to use lasers and other measuring equipment (people even use apps on smartphones to measure though I don’t advise it), should mean the construction crew can get it right.
If you opt for an on-site build don’t be shy to get out there and check the corner-to-corner measurements yourself to make sure they match.
If the base is out of square, then everything else that follows will also be out of alignment. While small errors can be hidden by a good carpentry crew, know that the bigger the distance covered either in height of the building or size, the more it will matter. Think about areas of work you may do yourself later such as when you come to lay mats in a stall, and they need cutting down to square or you go to finish the walls of the tack room with sheetrock and everything has to be custom cut. This necessarily involves more time and effort and often results in more wastage of products and hence increases costs.
Wood You Know
How about wood species? Typical wood species used in framing buildings include Southern Yellow Pine, Douglas Fir and Cypress. It is possible to find varieties of hardwoods such as oak used too though these are more expensive due to their higher cost to produce. Higher end builds, such as timber frame barns – a high end option that includes morton and tenon joinery – will often use higher priced woods.

Timber Frame Barn
Wood is graded using a numeric system with the lower numbers being the better options as this reflects fewer weakening factors in the wood such as excess knots. The lower the number of the grade the stronger and more aesthetically pleasing to look at, the lumber will be.
Only As Strong As Its Weakest Link
While you’ve heard this expression what does it mean in construction terms? You’re probably familiar with the carpentry term, joinery. This is the method by which wood is cut, shaped and held together. There are 13 types of joinery and some are stronger than others while certain methods are suited to particular purposes in woodwork craftsmanship.
And talking of craftsmanship, it’s not just how framing of the structure, its skeleton if you like, is joined together that gives it strength and durability but also how accurately this is done. For example, hammering a nail in a metal tie that doesn’t bite into the wood member because it is placed too close to the edge of the wood or the nail is not the right material (zinc coated, aluminum etc.) or its length is not sufficient, is simply not going to do the job.

All Barns Are Not Created Equal
 If the construction crew lacks technique, knowledge and talent wielding what is hopefully good quality tools using good quality hardware and good quality wood, then the quality of the resulting build is a foregone conclusion. It won’t be good either!
If you’ve ever seen sheetrock being installed on an interior wall of your home and have witnessed someone hammer on the sheet of material to get it in a tight space versus screwing it to a stud, then you’ve probably also seen the large cracks appear under the paper covering of the sheetrock. This will be brushed off as cosmetic, something that can be fixed by the taper later with some mud (spackle). This damage has weakened the sheetrock. While regular sheetrock is not structural (the Firerock variety is) so it probably doesn’t matter, if you apply the same principal to hammering a piece of lumber that is then split along part of its length, the integral strength of the wood is now weakened.
I once had a roofing company lay plywood sheathing for a new roof and was able to see from the attic that almost every nail being driven by a nail gun was missing the rafters! Needless to say, that kind of poor-quality craftsmanship can spell disaster for the integrity of the roof.
Aiseway Timber Frame BarnNails and screws, ties, grills, door handles etc. all factor into the hardware equation. There are many types and qualities of hardware, and some are specific to purpose, rafter ties for example, while others vary considerably in their ‘worthiness’ based on their manufacturing process and the quality of materials used. A good example of this are stall grills. Stainless steel grills and aluminum grills are available but very expensive and the latter material is not usually crafted with sufficient strength to withstand the force of a horse kicking it especially for grilled stall doors. While powder coated steel is popular it may rust eventually, and painted steel needs to be proficiently manufactured to ensure it does not crack or deteriorate over time.
Look at the details when determining what to buy and how it compares to competitive quotes. The devil truly is, in those details.
It is likely that you will not wish to supervise the entire details of your barn build, and some trust is involved in any project where a collaborative effort is involved. This brings us to reputation and warranties.
It’s Not All In The Verbiage
Writing a slick warranty or contract for the purchase is not a hard thing to do. The question becomes, is the party issuing the paperwork honest and can their word be trusted? If an error occurs during the build, will they come back and fix it at their own expense?
Obviously, you’ll want to have a clear understanding of the terms of the purchase especially when deposits or payments are due and what the terms for remedy are if the work is delayed or goes over budget.
Parameters of the work in both time, materials and labor costs should be defined, (never sign for a by the hour or ‘time and materials’ style contract unless you seriously want to overpay).
Modular High Profile BarnA fixed price contract with a full-break down of materials that are to be utilized and a timeline for completion, that will be honored with no shortcuts in material quality or use of copycat products rather than highly regarded brand names for items such as siding and shingles may be at hand. But do your due diligence now rather than later and check out the reputation of the company and if possible, talk to actual clients firsthand to validate the claims made.
Warranties, financing contracts and purchase contracts should always be clearly written, easy to understand and executed by both parties not just the buyer.
The terms trust and transparency are bandied about with abandon these days but do seriously look for it. Always talk to the company firsthand and go with your gut feeling. If you aren’t being treated with respect at the outset, then you know it won’t get better down the road.
Be Inquisitive
You don’t have to go Monty Python style “The Spanish Inquisition” on your barn purchase but it won’t be a joking matter if you don’t have a working knowledge of the fundamentals of construction when it comes to enjoying the day-to-day use of your barn.
Ripped metal roofs in high winds, endless repainting tasks, doors and windows that stick during cold weather snaps, or even collapsed structures could result if due attention isn’t taken to ensure a job well done in the first place.
Know that any customer service representative or company owner that brushes off your concerns rather than addressing them, or makes you feel awkward or fussy about asking questions, is not the construction firm you should choose.

Run-In Shed