Rehabilitation of Old Barns

Some barns have served the same uses for generations, and need only periodic repairs and routine maintenance. Others have become obsolete and need extensive updating for modern farming methods. To house livestock, for example, a barn may need new feeding, watering, waste removal, electrical, plumbing and ventilation systems.

Similarly, barns that can no longer be used for agriculture at all normally require changes to adapt them for commercial, office, or residential use. In such cases barns need more extensive work than the maintenance and repair treatments outlined above.

However, when rehabilitating a historic barn for a new farming operation or a new use entirely, care must be taken to preserve its historic character while making needed changes. A successful rehabilitation project is best guaranteed when a work plan is drawn up by someone familiar with the evaluation of historic structures, and when it is carried out by contractors and workmen experienced with the building type and committed to the goal of retaining the historic character of the property. Help in formulating rehabilitation plans and in locating experienced professionals is normally available from the State Historic Preservation Office and local preservation groups.

The following approaches should be observed when carrying out rehabilitation projects on historic barns:

1. Preserve the historic setting of the barn as much as possible. Modern farming practices do not require the great number of outbuildings, lots, fences, hedges, walls and other elements typical of historic farms. Yet such features, together with fields, woods, ponds, and other aspects of the farm setting can be important to the character of historic barns. The functional relationship between the barn and silo is particularly significant and should also be maintained.

2. Repair and repaint historic siding rather than cover barns with artificial siding. Siding applied over the entire surface of a building can give it an entirely different appearance, obscure craft details, and mask ongoing deterioration of historic materials underneath. The resurfacing of historic farm buildings with any new material that does not duplicate the historic material is never a recommended treatment.

3. Repair rather than replace historic windows whenever possible, and avoid "blocking them down" or covering them up. Avoid the insertion of numerous new window openings. They can give a building a domestic appearance, radically altering a barn's character. However, if additional light is needed, add new windows carefully, respecting the size and scale of existing window openings.

4. Avoid changing the size of door openings whenever possible. Increasing the height of door openings to accommodate new farm machinery can dramatically alter the historic character of a barn. If larger doors are needed, minimize the visual change. Use new track-hung doors rather than oversized rolled steel doors, which give an industrial appearance incompatible with most historic barns. If the barn has wood siding, the new doors should match it. If historic doors are no longer needed, fix them shut instead of removing them and filling in the openings.

5. Consider a new exterior addition only if it is essential to the continued use of a historic barn. A new addition can damage or destroy historic features and materials and alter the overall form of the historic building. If an addition is required, it should be built in a way that minimizes damage to external walls and internal plan. It should also be compatible with the historic barn, but sufficiently differentiated from it so that the new work is not confused with what is genuinely part of the past.

6. Retain interior spaces and features as much as possible. The internal volume of a barn is often a major character-defining feature, and the insertion of new floors, partitions, and structures within the barn can drastically impair the overall character of the space. Similarly, interior features should also be retained to the extent possible.

7. Retain as much of the historic internal structural system as possible. Even in cases where it is impractical to keep all of the exposed structural system, it may be possible to keep sufficiently extensive portions of it to convey a strong sense of the interior character. Wholesale replacement of the historic structural system with a different system should be avoided.

Reprinted from The Old House Website. Copyright 1998 - 2001, The Old House Web. All Rights Reserved.


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November 2001

Wishing Star
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Gllop 2001

Ceremony at the 2001 Wishing Star Gallop

Conculsion Tops Wishing Star
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Baxter Black -
The Environmental Inspector

Weaver Quarter Horse Annual Production Sale Results

Vet Corner -
Post Mating
Uterine Infection
in the Mare

REAL ESTATE SECTION - Rehabilitation
of Old Barns

November 3, 2001 3:48 PM