Making Sense of Barn Building Plans

When it comes to building a new barn the quality and complexity of plans run the gamut from elaborate architect drawn designs to renderings drawn by hand by a keen horse owner or neophyte construction personage.

Making sense of barn plans is essential if the outcome of the build is to match the intended design. The level of detail the drawing plans will entail will likely be a combination of what is minimally required by the local building code office for permits and what the construction company intends to complete.

Bear in mind some towns have no requirement for permitting at all particularly for agricultural buildings. As no-one is supervising the details of the plans or the construction design, this can be a huge negative for the property owner that is making a barn purchase, whether it is to be constructed on site as a stick-built or pole barn structure or delivered as a modular ‘instant’ build.

Be aware that poor building practices are sometimes done by property owners with full knowledge of the shortcomings of the design.  Unfortunately, knowledge of these issues is not always passed along to an incoming buyer of the farm. For example, an indoor arena or barn with a low pitch roof may be cheaper to construct than one that is properly rated for the snow and wind load. The property owner may knowingly choose this option and plan to shovel the snow load off the building during heavy snowfall to mitigate the risk of roof collapse, but the incoming new owner may be unaware of the issue. Building codes are there to protect everyone and should not be overlooked.

Meeting code requirements in construction of the barn regardless of whether they are mandated or not is an essential protection for the barn purchaser and buyers should not be afraid to ask for review of plan designs by their local building code officer even if permits are not required. These qualified individuals are a valuable resource and their knowledge can be a sincere effort in the barn buying process.

building plans

Outside of the level of intricacy the building plans must define for the permit process, if the property owner understands the factors that should always be included in building plans this can go a long way to ensuring that the final build matches their envisioned horse barn and avoid disappointments in materials used and the quality of the construction. Even in areas where no plans are required, having plans at hand to define the parameters of construction is a good idea.

Drawn from the two perspectives of the construction company and the building code requirements the plans can be submitted via various methods. Electronic submissions of CAD or similar software developed plans is quick and easy to do where it is accepted by the local authorities, and hard print copies can easily be provided for use on the job site and for owner approval. While not as high grade, plans that are hand drawn with pen and ruler can also work if the barn is a simple design such as a run-in shed or two stall shed row.

Some building codes require that the building plans be certified and stamped by a qualified engineer. This all important ‘stamp’ indicates that the structural integrity of the design has been reviewed by a professional and approved as safe and meeting certain codes for wind and snow loads and that the build itself is adopting commonly accepted building practices and materials.

However, not any stamp or certification will do. It is important that the stamp provided is issued in accordance with the regional requirements of your State and exact location. For example: a set of plans for a center aisle barn to be sited in hurricane prone Florida will not require the same parameters in its construction detail as the identical building sited on a snow laden New Hampshire hilltop.

The certification of plans by a licensed engineer offers the property owner important assurance that the barn will be properly built to provide safe use and to be durable.

Companies that construct horse barns on a national level are aware of regional requirements and changes in Federal and State building codes that may affect the plans and will follow directives with accuracy that minimizes delays in the permit issuance process.

Often these larger companies employ their own drafting professionals who can adjust their myriad of in-house barn designs to accommodate any need. Whether that need be a specification that a particular building inspector requires or a custom upgrade that the barn purchaser wants to make. Where it is allowed by the State laws, such companies can liaise directly with the town building department through initial submission to full approval and permit issuance for a build on behalf of the property owner.

barn building plans

Certification and issuance of the all-important ‘stamp’ will necessarily incur additional costs than plans that have not been through this review process. In the planning stage of the barn building project and before purchase of a structure, prospective barn owners should be sure to ask what extra fees may be incurred for certification of plans. Fees that may be charged range from just a few hundred dollars to $10,000+, so it pays to get this quoted in writing up front before making a deposit on a new barn build.

Regardless of who is providing the building plans and the level of complexity the barn owner is willing to accept, even the most minimal construction project should not be undertaken without provision of basic design plans. These should include profile drawings for all four sides of the structure, floor plans for each level and a site map.

Aside from the obvious advantage of mapping out the design of the structure and its construction details, plans also serve to provide an important visual aid for the purchaser where the style and aesthetic appeal of the building can be reviewed.

It is wise to note that structures often appear smaller on paper or on a screen than in real life. Even with 3D renderings of a barn the size and stature of the structure can be hard to gain perspective about unless some size known comparative building or object is drawn to the same scale.

Dimensions for all structural lumber and their exact placement distances O’C’, meaning on center, and sizes of all doors, windows and stalls should be noted together with materials to be used and the plans drawn to scale with a legend included. Examples: grade #2, 6” x 6” x 12’ ground contact pressure treated lumber, 25-year asphalt shingle over a ¾ inch tongue and groove plywood sheeting, grade # 2 2” x 4” x 12’ Douglas Fir or Cypress. The type of joinery at key points such as bolted or mortise and tenon, rafter tie sizes and type etc. should all be defined.

photo of completed barn with drawings

The site plan should define what aggregate materials should be used across the levelled site, to what depths they should be laid and whether compaction is required. Larger structures may require special drainage provisions and positioning and specifications for any pillars to be installed for structural support or a concrete foundation.

As drainage considerations or subsidence that may be caused by water or run-off are an important part of any building’s integrity, this factor is better addressed at the outset of the build rather than down the road. It is much easier to create a drainage apron around the building, excavate for footer drains if needed and then backfill than to dig up the area surrounding the barn later to fix a problem. Correctly installed gutter systems are an important component of construction that ensures run-off from the roof is properly dispatched away from the foundations of the structure.

It is also a good idea to define on the plans or the supporting purchase document whether substitution of materials is acceptable. While it may be necessary due to local availability to switch up a Douglas Fir member to a Cypress wood without compromising the quality of the build, substituting an off-brand siding material for a name brand with full warranties can make a world of negative difference in future years.

lumber piles

Substitutions are a great way for a manufacturer or builder to cut costs. Budget constraints may determine that the property owner wishes to go along with lesser quality or lesser warrantied products, but it is wise for the purchaser of the building to be aware of the differences between products so they can make an informed decision.

Ensuring your barn building project goes as smoothly as possible means having everyone on the same page. The property owner, the construction company and their crew, and the local building inspector.

Collaboration from the outset along clearly defined lines is the best method to mitigate upsets with building delays, shoddy workmanship, and unexpected budget overrides caused by work order changes mid project.

family in front of barn

Toying With a Playground Project – Here’s Some Help

The biggest toy in the garden is the playset. It is the center of the universe when it comes to developing a playground and figuring out just what to buy and where it fits is an important part of the playground project.



You may not be building a city or community playground, but there’s much that can be learned from understanding a 101 course on playground design. It’s not hard to make your backyard or community playground the best on the block by following a few simple rules.

Creation of a neighborhood playground will likely require review and inspection by a Certified Playground Safety Inspection officer {CPSI}. You can locate one here. It is prudent to begin liaison with a CPSI in the earliest stages of a community playground project to avoid costly mistakes and gain some savvy advice, including ideas and options on how to save money on the cost of the equipment and supplies needed.

For the homeowner a CPSI is not necessary, but there is plenty of good press the National Recreations and Parks Association [NRPA} provides that can help engage the parent that is keen to build a functional and importantly safe playground, in their backyard. The 12-Point Playground Safety Checklist published by the NRPA is a must read. It offers parents and caregivers a great resource of pertinent information that can be applied to choosing a safe playground for their children inside and outside of the backyard. It covers topics such as trip hazards, types of surfaces that are acceptable, and common issues as well as more technical aspects such as UV degradation of equipment and surfaces.


Ruling Factors

The budget for your playground project does not need to be set in stone as thankfully it is easy to add equipment to a design piecemeal as needs and finances dictate. However, you do need to identify a starting point, and this will be affected not just by how much money you must put into the project but also how much space you have to play with to accommodate playsets and equipment.

Siting is necessarily an important part of the process. Ideally the site will be level and need minimal preparation by heavy equipment. But where this is not the case aggregate may need to be brought in and other surface material cover for safety underneath the playset will need to be installed on top of a compacted site.

When considering the site think about the dimension of the entire play space as well as the topography and drainage, but don’t overlook the need for access for equipment to modify or prepare the site.

Also consider whether the site will be in the sun all day, as a sunny location may require provision of shade for protection from the harmful sun’s rays and to minimize risks of children becoming dehydrated and/or suffering heat exhaustion.

Bear in mind that every type of playground equipment or structure has a need for safe use zones. This means that all products must be safely spaced from each other and from other objects such as walls and trees.

Security for the children is an essential component of their safety. While we often think about what the ground cover will be under a swing set, we might overlook the need for a playground area to be fenced to keep both the kids in and others out. Figure in the budget to allow for fencing. Site selection that offers safety away from busy roads but within view of other buildings for supervisory purposes is a good idea.


What To Buy

There is a myriad of options from which to choose when it comes to playsets and outdoor equipment. The first consideration should be the age range of the children that will use the playground. Building up and out from one point as a young family grows up is always a good way to minimize the initial spend. Bear in mind there is an active secondhand marketplace for playsets and equipment that has ‘aged out’ of use so consider whether you want certain pieces to be portable rather than permanent.

Structures are generally grouped into age group categories. For example, 0-2 years, 2-5 years, 5-12 years and then there are playsets designed to address multiple ages from 2-12 years.

The main choice you will encounter will be between vinyl or wood products.

wood vs vinyl playset

Eco-friendly wood is a replenishable natural resource and choosing a manufacturer that sources their wood from a sustainable operation is an option. Locating a manufacturer that builds playsets in the U.S.A. from U.S.A. components is also a patriotic way to buy.

The downside is that wood is higher maintenance in general than vinyl, and it can splinter and rot over time, despite being treated with an environmentally friendly nontoxic preservative.

Woods more durable cousin, vinyl on the other hand, can be a super low maintenance option that many homeowners appreciate, as there will be no need for repainting and re-staining. Consider selecting a vinyl playset from a manufacturer that uses recyclable plastics for an eco-friendly option.

Choose a good quality vinyl product that is made with the color manufactured throughout the entire product, not just a superficial coating.

Color is an important part of the aesthetics of design, but so are the aspects of use regarding how a playground will promote a child’s learning and develop fitness and social skills while at play.

kid swinging on playset

Each component of a playset can fulfil more than one benefit. For example, did you know that swinging can offer a calming effect on a child as well as provide a physical activity.

“Swinging is not only a super fun outdoor activity (that can even help develop a child’s sixth sense), but it also allows a child’s body to be in constant motion while ALSO sitting (mostly) still at the same time AND giving his brain a chance to rest and reflect. Win. Win. Win.”  Amanda Webster

Read more here…

The different styles and designs of playsets lend themselves to different imaginative adventures for the kids, but the view of the playset and playground from the house is also something to consider.

Modern or traditional, ensure the playset and all components are properly installed following manufacturer’s instructions. Volunteer help to assemble and build is often available from neighbors and family, friends if needed, but don’t be shy to involve the kids themselves in the project where it is safe to do so.

playset in backyard

Consider the needs of adults in the design process too. It is a good idea to strategically place close by, a shady seating area, picnic space or other conversational spot. This will encourage parents and grandparents, and other family members or friends to interact with each other and with the children while at play.


How To Buy

When looking at price comparisons between manufacturers it is all too easy to not compare ‘apples to apples”. In fact, some manufacturers go out of their way to make such comparisons difficult.

Check the grade and quality of each component, along with how any hardware features are coated or protected from wear. This should include bolts and fixtures that hold the structure together. All points of connection should offer longevity and be safely rounded or capped, to protect the users of the playset. The cheapest option is usually not the best option.

Many manufacturers have a knowledgeable staff on hand that can offer advice on design options as well as means to mitigate expenses.

Be aware that many manufacturers will offer a quantity discount if you purchase more than one type of unit from their line-up. Ask about funding options, warranties and always check references and reviews on the playsets on offer.

Certain manufacturers offer impressive 50-year warranties on their products, but make sure that the company you collaborate with on the purchase has a proven reputation for standing behind their products.

A ‘to the penny’ quote, including any delivery and set up charges should be provided in writing. Don’t part with any money on deposits without written terms and an executed agreement, particularly on a large multiple purchase that might extend over a timeline (that should also be detailed).

Availability and delivery timelines should also be considered in your selection process. A great price is not much help if the product is not readily available.


Expect Some Maintenance

While a backyard playground does not require regular safety inspections the way a community project would do, it is still important to conduct safety checks periodically of the structures and to maintain the equipment.

Ground covering materials may need to be replenished periodically due to environmental break down or displacement. Some examples: wood chips will disintegrate over time; sand has a way of migrating away from the play area either in drying winds or in the shoes of the little persons using the playground.

In conclusion, designing and building your backyard playground should be a fun project and one that can involve the whole family. Following a few simple protocols will help ensure your money is well-spent.