May 2015 - The Gallop: Stick To It!
Written by Kim F. Miller
Saturday, 02 May 2015 04:33
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Begin at the beginning when budgeting for a barn project.

by Kim F. Miller

A curved NorCal Structures barn makes the most of a pie-shaped property.

“Begin with the end in mind” is an effective idea in life coaching programs, but not so much in budgeting for a barn building project. “Begin at the beginning” is a much better plan, says Kelly Landry of NorCal Structures. “Before ever considering what kind of barn and what style you want, you first have to consider the property you want to put it on.”

Variations on that theme dominate advice for creating a realistic budget and sticking to it, whether it’s new construction or a remodel. “Whether you are thinking a 20-stall barn or a four-stall barn and a pasture, there are so many different nuances,” Kelly continues.

An assessment of the property is a smart first step to see if expectations for the barn’s size and location are realistic and affordable. At the obvious end of the spectrum, building stabling on a hillside or a even slight slope will involve grading that increases the already substantial budget item of creating a pad for the barn structure. “You could be looking at a $40,000 grading project for a $20,000 barn,” Kelly cautions.

Horse owners who haven’t been through a major construction project can reduce “green” mistakes by getting a handle on the whole process at the outset.

Position relative to wind, breezes and shade, accessibility of hay delivery and manure removal and, very important, drainage, are all essential when evaluating a desired location’s suitability. Figuring these things out at the start of the planning project are easy ways to create a realistic budget. “The cost of grading for a barn pad is something that pops up and surprises a lot of people,” observes Kim Schaul of K and M Contracting. That’s often the case with foundations, too. “They’ll see a four stall barn for $20,000, buy it, then find out it needs to be on a foundation.”

The cost of grading for a barn pad sometimes surprises people, says Kim Schaul of K and M Contracting, who built this barn.

A foundation is technically optional in some cases, but Kim rarely recommends going without one. “Without it, your barn is sitting on dirt, which becomes mud and that becomes a problem.” In some cases, concrete piers can be substituted for a full foundation, but he still shies away from that. Read the barn manufacturer’s fine print, he advises. Some company’s warranties don’t cover barns unless they’re built on a foundation.

Factoring in permitting fees and the cost of connecting utilities for the barn are other expenses that are often overlooked in the early planning, Kim notes.

Involving stall and interior providers early can save many hassles and extra expenses, says Classic Equine Equipment’s John Daniel. “A common mistake we see is owners getting well down the path with their barn builders and, sometimes, their architects, before bringing the stall manufacturer into the project. Often, they’ve designed the barn and pulled permits, etc. before we get involved.

“When we understand a project’s goals and the budgets on the front end, we can help advise the builder and architect in ways that will save costs later. Like what size door openings are needed or where to locate structural elements to fit with stall components.”

Sometimes people mistakenly assume that ordering stalls and other interior equipment is like ordering an item off an a la carte menu. “It’s a little more complicated than that,” John says, but in a good way because reputable companies typically bring extensive experience to the project.

In remodels, John advises a careful evaluation of when to incorporate existing structures and materials and when to use new. Incorporating the old is nice in theory but often more complicated, and thus more expensive. With the customization possible from today’s barn and equipment providers, it’s usually possible to honor original looks with new equipment.

Dennis Marion of Innovative Equine Systems counsels clients to take a two-step approach to barn budgeting. “When a customer is not sure what they need, I tell them to start with a budget that includes everything including the kitchen sink,” he says. Then go through it with a minimalist approach, backing out items or finishes you can live without to get to a baseline. “I just finished doing that with a client building a public barn. We started with a $200,000 budget and now it’s $60,000.” The reduction was mostly accomplished by cutting out fancy finishes in favor of good quality construction and materials available at reasonable prices.

A budget basher Dennis sees too often is owners ceding too much control to contractors. “Builders want to build things, rather than have anything outsourced,” he says. “That can look cheap at first, but when labor is added it can triple the cost of a project.  It’s easier to stay on budget if your organize the interior separately because you can pre-budget for that.” Labor and construction costs are essential to factor in when considering a kit barn, Dennis continues. He relays a case of one client ordering a $70,000 kit of pre-cut wood and blueprints and getting a $400,000 estimate to build it from a contractor.

Modern day barn-raising parties are an idea that Jessica Sherman at Barn Pros has seen work well for some clients. Structural work needs to be completed by people with construction skills and experience, but many site prep or finishing touches tasks can be done by unskilled friends with the right supervision.

Trainer Dacia Imperato enlisted the help of her clients in putting the finishing touches on her 11-stall barn project in Temecula (see article, pg 28). “We got our clients involved in the vision at the beginning,” Dacia says. She and her husband Mario shared blueprints and solicited opinions when they had narrowed down their choices on paint colors and other finishes. Toward the end of the project, clients were happy to chip in. “We had moms and dads with paintbrushes and sanders,” she says.

The Gallop welcomes news, tips and photos. Contact Kim F. Miller at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or 949-644-2165.