Six Things to Consider When Picking Materials for Barn Construction

Horse owners all seem to have one thing in common. We are meticulous about making the right decisions for our animals. That means that barn construction takes a little more than a clever sales pitch and a good price when choosing materials. The barn is the heart of the farm. It provides shelter, storage, and an opportunity to connect with your animals.

Barns can be big or small, built from timber or metal. Each design offers a unique set of pros and cons when it comes it comes to balancing costs, durability, health, and safety. Here is what you should consider when planning to build a horse barn.


With any big investment, the priority is to make sure it will be around for a long time. If you have ever taken a drive off the beaten path and noticed the number of older barns still standing on backcountry roads, you know that traditional stick-built barns tend to last. But they do take some maintenance over the years. Wood is a natural material and susceptible to rotting from exposure to the elements.

Metal pole barns and prefabricated steel structures tend to have fewer issues with deterioration. For low-maintenance durability, these buildings offer 50-100 years of use. Pole barns use metal sheeting attached to a pole frame typically made from timber. By comparison, steel barns use metal beams and metal siding, which eliminates the potential for rotting wood.

Barn construction

Every decision eventually comes down to money. A traditional wood barn can cost as much as $45 per square foot. Metal barns can be significantly cheaper to erect, typically ranging between $7 and $25 per square foot. Not only do materials tend to be cheaper with metal buildings, but they go up quickly, which means you spend less on labor.

If the decision is down to wood or steel, take a hard look at the intended use of the facility. If your building plans include an indoor arena, wood beams may not provide sufficient width. An indoor arena should be at least 70’ x 100’ on the small side to prevent repetitive stress injuries from working animals in tight circles. According to most contractors, a wood beam pole barn can span up to 60 feet which makes a fairly narrow riding arena. In this case, steel beams that can span more than 90 feet with no center supports are a better choice.

Insulation and Ventilation

The health and safety of your animals are a top consideration when choosing the best materials for a horse barn. The barn is, above all else, a shelter for the animals. Materials should be selected to keep drafts out while providing adequate circulation of air. Metal barns are good because they feature large doors that open for cross-ventilation. Metal is also non-combustible and can buy some time in the event of a barn fire.

Wood barns provide natural insulation, and although wood is a combustible material, it can be treated with a flame-retardant which slows the spread of fires. Most metal barns include an interior wood wall that provides some insulation while simultaneously adding a barrier of protection between horse hooves and the exterior wall.

Fire Safety

A barn fire is a horse owner’s worst nightmare. Barns built from wood and filled with hay are unfortunately the perfect opportunity for a quick burn. And their rural location makes it more difficult for the fire department to respond quickly. Horse owners know all of the rules when it comes to preventing fires in the barn. But you may not realize that many of these steps start before the barn is even built. The location of the building in proximity to water sources like a pond, material choices, and utility placement are key considerations during the planning and selection phases.

Nearly half of all barn fires occur overnight when no one is around to intervene. And interestingly enough, a higher number of fires occur between January and March when foot traffic through the barn is less common. But dry conditions paired with increased use of electricity to run heated buckets and tank warmers set the stage for disaster to strike.

Ease of Building

One of the reasons that a metal pole or steel prefab barn can be a cheaper alternative to a traditional wood barn is labor. An average-sized 40 x 60 metal barn can be erected by a crew of four in about one week. A DIY barn kit using wood takes six to twelve weeks with the same number of workers. Metal buildings are more efficient when it comes to labor costs.

But that’s not all. Steel buildings are fairly easy to add on to, making unanticipated plans for future growth easier to accomplish. While you can certainly add a lean-to or adjacent structure to a wood barn, the weight of building materials and the stress on the foundation is a big concern with wood. Metal buildings are lightweight, making them the perfect option for prefabrication with easy transport.


Metal buildings are great for flexibility. In most cases, the interior is wide open to allow any floorplan configuration. But that also means that there are more material decisions to make when it comes to finishing out the interior. When it comes to flooring, most barns use a combination of dirt and concrete. If stall areas have concrete floors, you will need to add rubber mats. A better option is a dirt floor with a limestone barrier to add some durability. Arena footing should consist of layers of sub-footing topped with a sand mixture. And aisles, tack rooms, and storage areas should have either dirt or concrete floors.

In most cases, stalls are built from wood with heavy-duty steel hardware. The minimum size for a horse stall is 10’ x 10’, with 12’ x 14’ being more comfortable for most breeds. Large breeds like Thoroughbreds can have a little more room. Design your interior layout so that it is easy to access tack and equipment from grooming areas and so that it is easy to move large amounts of hay and feed in and out of the barn.

The Bottom Line on Choosing Barn Materials

The best material for a horse barn depends on the project. In most cases, metal buildings offer a durable, cost-effective option favored by many horse farms. The upsides of choosing a metal barn include a long, low-maintenance lifespan and quick build time. While they may not meet every aesthetic need, metal barns come in many different styles and can typically be painted in a range of colors.

About Metal Sales

Metal Sales Manufacturing Corporation is the premier nationwide provider of metal panels for the construction industry. Metal Sales works with architectural specifiers and commercial construction professionals to create inspirational design solutions. With the industry’s largest and most knowledgeable sales and technical support team, Metal Sales has the expertise to address today’s challenges in high-performance, sustainable and Net-Zero building. Metal Sales has outreach around the world. Delivering outstanding roof, wall and fascia metal panels from its 21 facilities throughout the U.S.

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