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Why and How Best To Insulate Your Horse Barn

Poorly designed barns can be cold and damp places to stable equines. Damp air can cause several health issues for horses, including respiratory illness, and stiffness/arthritis. Fungal and bacterial growth in the environment are both enemies to a horse’s good health. Passive ventilation systems within any barn are an essential component to help ensure good interior air quality.

Aside from the obvious reasons of keeping horses protected from molds, dampness and poor air quality, there is also a safety issue involved for the horse caregiver that is working around the horses when stabled. A cold horse often tries to keep warm by being hyperactive. In a stall or stable environment where containment is necessary, the horse or Equus will likely be more excitable to work around than one that is blanketed and warm.

Sidebar: Feeding good quality hay rather than upping a grain ration is the best way to keep the horse warm, as digesting hay releases microbes in the horse’s cecum and colon that will help keep the animal warm.

The controversial subject of heating horse barns with radiant or other safe heating methods in colder climes is often touted as a remedy for improving the air quality and temperature inside the barn. Due to a barn’s size and the need for passive ventilation to keep the air quality fresh for the horses’ respiratory health, heating a horse barn is an expensive enterprise.

Radiant heating systems are costly to install, and even with modern day geo-thermal options heating a building as large as a horse barn all winter long can be a huge draw on the bank balance. However, their use under certain floors such as the tack room where expensive equipment is usually stored that is better maintained with a consistent ambient temperature and bathrooms where warmth is required to keep piped from freezing, is certainly something worth considering.

Eco-friendly solutions such as solar panels on the roof of a barn and geo-thermal applications can make good sense for heating the barn. Though battery storage issues need careful consideration for fire risk and safety concerns.

An effective remedy to assuage the damp or cold in a horse barn can simply be to add insulation. Insulation may be retroactively installed in some instances or preferably completed during the original horse barn build. The addition of insulation can help the inside surfaces of the building remain similar to the inside air temperature which means less chance condensation will occur and will also prevent conduction, which is a direct heat transfer through walls and panels.

Hot Air Rises

Heat produced in the structure either from the animals themselves (through respiration, evaporation through their skin or from their manure) or the use of any heating system will necessarily dissipate to the highest reaches of the rafters. Here it may escape from the building carried outside by breezes from open soffits or gable vents or exit through continuous roof ridge venting.

Installation of a dropped ceiling in the barn can help defray the exodus of the warm air. Though care to incorporate some form of fresh air input to the building should be accommodated through functioning windows or other means.

 

A dropped ceiling with panel insulation that offers some protection from rodent infestation, can offer a good remedy to improve the warmth of the interior of a horse barn given the current design of the structure will allow sufficient head room for the horses once a ceiling is installed.

A dropped ceiling also provides an opportunity to incorporate a good lighting system, particularly in aisleways where lighting can be added to each side of the center of the aisleway to facilitate light on the side of the horse rather than just over its topline. A factor that grooms and vets truly appreciate.

The hot air rises factor also means that high profile A-frame barn designs offer a method for warm air to escape the building in hot summer months. So cutting off the air’s access to the rafters is not the best idea if the barn is sited in a region that endures high summer temperatures.

A better method to insulate the barn roof is to sheath the underside of the roof with insulation boards. These will helpfully also cut down on noise on a metal roof from hail and heavy rain and address another important issue – condensation.

 

 

Drip. Drip.

When temperatures fluctuate it is common for warm air to condense underneath metal roofs and as a result an annoying (and sometimes slippery) drip, drip event will ensue where water will fall onto the ground along center barn aisles or into stables, hay or feed storage areas. It’s amazing how much damage a tiny but persistent drip of water onto a haystack can do to the product quality.

Generally, condensation will occur in climates where the temperatures reach below 35°F for extended periods of time.

Whether the roof is made of wood with shingle overlay or is clad with metal, an underlay of insulation sheathing beneath the outer roof material will eliminate the dripping issue.

It will also insulate the interior of the structure from heat caused by radiation from the hot sun in summer and is well worth the initial expense. Heat radiation from metal roofs can raise the interior barn temperature significantly during hot weather spells, and keeping horses cool and comfortable in summer is actually more important than worrying over them being chilly in winter months.

 

Wood: A Natural Insulator

Aside from its obvious availability, the nature of wood has long been heralded as a prime building material. From the settler’s first log homes (built just as high as a man could reach to place the logs thus with low ceilings), to today’s intensive use of timber particularly in the U.S.A. where wood structures are common, wood is a user-friendly material.

Insulation value is expressed as an R-Value. The “R-value” of insulation refers to its resistance to heat transfer and the higher the R-value the better the insulating capability of the product. As wood is a natural insulator, using wood for horse barn builds is a good idea. Certain species of wood offer more insulation benefits than others. The R-value for wood ranges between 1.41 and 0.71 depending on whether it is a softwood or hardwood. The thicker the wood generally the better the insulation value.

 

The V-Factors

What type of insulation to use in the walls of the horse barn is a topic of some import. The V-factors in any barn are the vermin factor and the vapor factor.

Two things you want to keep out of the walls/roofs are vermin and vapor (moisture).

Vermin can do significant damage to the internal infrastructure of a wall by chewing through wood and making holes. Vermin may die within walls, or simply set up house, both of which can create a bio-hazard. For this reason spray foam insulation is preferred over batt insulation (fiberglass, mineral wool or sheep’s wool), as it is less vermin-friendly.

Spray foam is also a practical solution to adding insulation during barn renovations. The use of spray foam under floors between pressure treated joists under tack rooms and utility areas, as well as in walls, is widely utilized as a practical and relatively inexpensive easy method to add good insulation to any building.

There are many different qualities available in spray foam insulation products and ‘closed cell’ foams offer the best benefits for application. Learn more about the advantages of modern-day spray foam applications here.

A vapor barrier is designed to act as a moisture barrier, so is commonly fabricated out of products such as aluminum foil, plastic sheets, or gypsum board. It is added to only one side of insulation, the side closest to the interior surface. The idea being this will block any moisture conducting through the wall or ceiling from the interior warmer side of the structure into the insulating material. As moist insulating material not only offers poor R-values, it also encourages mold and degradation of the product, this vapor factor is an essential one to include during installation.

Consider The Flammability Factor

The use of certain insulating ‘bats’ and other materials for insulation pose a risk for their flammable nature in the event of a fire. It is wise to choose materials that offer the lowest possible risk in terms of their flammability factor.

For example, fiberglass fibers in fiberglass batt insulation can be hazardous to respiratory health and cause damage to eyes due to the glass polymer components if the installer does not protect themselves with mask and goggles during the installation process. But any batts that are backed with paper or foil will burn quickly and accelerate a fire if subjected to the fire element.

While spray foam insulation is a flammable plastic material, it is usually treated with flame retardants to lower its inherent risk as a fire accelerant.

About Horizon Structures

Horizon Structures is now the industry’s leader in quality built horse barns, horse stables and run-in sheds. The high level of craftsmanship in our Amish built barns, horse stables, storage buildings, sheds and garages provide for a long lasting structure that comes with our Written Guarantee.

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