Getting the foundation for your horse barn right can be tricky. You may be wondering what a foundation looks like in a small horse barn or if it’s even necessary. We learned a lot while building our barn that may help answer your questions and help you plan the best horse barn foundation.
We talked to several barn builders and experienced excavators before moving forward with our project. Some were more knowledgeable than others and shared their best practices, which we implemented in our project.
Horse Barn Foundation: Site Height
To our untrained eye, our site selection didn’t seem like one that would be prone to flooding. It was a seemingly flat, raised area of our property that had formerly been the outfield of a baseball diamond. However, upon closer inspection, there was a slope to the field going towards the barn site. It may have only been a 1 or 2-foot drop over an acre or so, but that’s more than enough to cause flooding issues.
To reduce the chances of flooding, our excavators recommended increasing the site height to about two feet. This elevation would put it slightly above the surrounding area.
Remember: It is much easier to avoid water in your barn from the beginning than it is to drain it out. It’s better to spend money raising the barn foundation than using expensive drain systems that could fail over time.
If you have clay soil that doesn’t drain well, you may consider a thicker foundation of better-draining materials like sand or crushed asphalt, concrete, or rock.
Barn Foundation: Site Prep
We had grass, weeds, and part of our former garden where the horse barn would be located. The first step was to remove the top few inches of organic material. Our excavator recommended removing the organic material from an area seven to ten feet larger than the outline of the barn.
Organic material isn’t stable, so removing as much as possible from your foundation will improve the longevity of your barn’s foundation.
Barn Foundation: Material
After the sod and organic material were removed, it was time to bring in the fill material to raise and level the site.
Depending on your intended flooring and your soil, your excavator may recommend different materials. For our barn floor, we opted for concrete on 2/3rds (center aisle, hay storage, tack room) and crushed limestone/rubber stall mats for the remaining third (the stalls).
For this application, we used fill sand on the bottom layer. Fill sand is clean, free from organic material, and packs well. Fill sand is also cheap: about $8 per ton.
On top of the fill sand, we used crushed/recycled asphalt. This is literally ground-up streets, so there can be some stray rebar and other junk in it. Crushed asphalt is a mix of large and small material. Some of it is up to a couple of inches but it also includes finer dust.
Crushed asphalt has the potential to have some weird stuff in it; nails, rebar, wire. It is not suitable for a finish layer but makes an excellent (and cheap) base for concrete, limestone, or other finish-grade material.
Similar to removing the sod and organic material beyond the proposed building lines, you’ll want a buffer of at least a few feet of material around the outline of your building.
Barn Foundation: Leveling
To make sure the outline of the barn would be level, our excavator used a laser level to measure the height around the four corners of where the barn would be. This is a critical step because our eyes play tricks on us. We ended up needing two or three feet of material on one side down to nothing on the far side.
Even the excavator estimated the difference to be about a foot, but it ended up being over twice that.
Barn Foundation: Ready for a Pole Barn
That’s it! Surprised? You probably thought if there was any concrete that it would go down first. We thought so too. But, we had never built a pole barn before. It isn’t until the barn is essentially complete that the concrete floor is poured into the barn. The building is held up by the long poles inserted into the ground. Hence the name: Pole Barn.
Barn Foundation: Pouring Concrete
If you have concrete in your barn, such as in the aisle or tack room, it will be poured into the completed pole barn. For horses, it’s critical to add texture to the top layer of concrete. This is called broom or brush finish and keeps the horses (and you) from slipping when the concrete becomes wet or soiled. We chose a light broom finish for our concrete because we wanted the grip but didn’t want it so deep it was impossible to sweep or keep clean.
Tip: The broom finish concrete will be relatively fragile until the concrete cures completely. Although it’s tempting to let your horses in before the ~1 month cure time, your concrete texture is more likely to last if you can keep horse hooves off during the curing process.
Barn Foundation: Horse Stall Flooring
On top of the fill sand and crushed concrete from the foundation, we added 3 inches of crushed limestone (¼ inch size with no dust), and then used 1-inch stall mats on top of that. That gave us 4 total inches that matched the poured concrete height. Limestone has properties that help absorb smells from urine and drains well. It’s also more expensive, which is why we only used it as a top layer and not a base.
Hay and bedding and quickly mix in with this stone and create a mess, but the stall mats on top help keep things tidy and separate the bedding, hay, and manure from mixing with the limestone.
Tip: Do the limestone and stall mats after the build is done to avoid having construction debris and nails in your horse stall. It will be more work to bring in the stone (rather than having a loader bring it in), but it’s safer for your horses.
Summary: How to Build a Horse Barn Foundation
A great horse barn foundation will follow these steps:
- Raise the foundation high enough to avoid flooding.
- Remove the organic material from the site area
- Use fill materials suitable for your intended barn flooring such as fill sand and recycled asphalt.
- Make sure the site is level using a laser level
- Finish the top layer with your desired material/flooring once the barn is in.
Horse Barn Foundation FAQ:
How do you avoid flooding in your barn?
The best way to avoid flooding in your barn is to raise the foundation height during the original construction. If that’s not possible, professional excavators can recommend moving surrounding land to avoid water collection or drainage systems.
Does a barn need a foundation?
Barns need a foundation, but that doesn’t mean a concrete slab. It could be as simple as a high-ground area that’s level and the organic material removed. Pole barns are supported by large beams in the ground, not by building atop a concrete slab.
What is the best flooring for a horse barn?
Concrete with a broom finish is great for aisles, storage, and tack room areas. For horse stalls, we like to rubber stall mats on top of a few inches of 1/4inch limestone.
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