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Barns built 150 or more years ago were constructed to last generations. But the materials that compose these structures eventually wear out. They are subject to the use and abuse of all manner of agricultural practices, old ones of yesteryear and yesterday. Barns are also subject to the vagaries of weather and the onslaught of modern progress in all its wicked ways. Such is the fate of old barns. The first two rules seen below are preventative in nature while the third rule might be considered semi-preventative in kind. The fourth rule involves the hiring of professional architects, engineers or barn building or repair contractors.
Moisture Riddance
The first rule that a barn owner must follow if the barn structure is to thrive and survive is this – anything that appears to within 10 to perhaps 15 feet of the barn, either its roof or exterior walls that retains moisture must be removed. Objects include any tree branches that overhang the roof, trees or bushes or even dirt or earth that touch the walls or any man made objects of any kind. When rain or snow is present any or all of these objects that remain near or against the barn receives moisture and moisture is inimical to the buildings, especially those that are wooden. Wood retains moisture, that is their very nature, and can rot the wood in a surprisingly little amount of time. Therefore it is of paramount importance for objects of any kind or type to be removed from the near vicinity of the barn. Be aware that many barn owners do not honor this rule. In fact many abuse the privilege of leaving things, often untold amounts of things around their barn.
Post Bad Weather Examination
The second rule strictly pertains to the effect that any weather related phenomenon might have on the integrity of the barn, be it exterior wooden wall siding or masonry walls or roof or for that matter its interior structure. What is the antidote to
this potential problem or even calamity? It is the responsibility of the barn owner to check or closely look at everything on the exterior of the barn after a bad storm, be it a wind storm, snow storm, hard rain storm, hurricane or God forbid a tornado. Now the exterior of a barn is generally not a terrible problem to investigate. But an affected roof can be problematic. That is why a careful examination of innumerable interior surfaces must be done very soon after a storm. You are checking for leaks. Also needed is for a look-see to be made on the roof to see if any gaping holes were created during a storm.
The sooner the barn examination can be done either on the exterior or the interior the sooner it will be known what has to be done to make the necessary repair or repairs. The old adage is sound advice indeed “a stitch in time saves nine.” This is the pinnacle of preventative maintenance. Similarly, the sooner the repair can be done the greater the barn integrity index number will be. That is important and much cheaper in the long run. This is a word to the wise.
The third rule is unrelated to the immediate effects of weather. A barn should be periodically examined perhaps at least twice a year in the spring and early fall for problems that may have developed over a certain length of time. If the barn walls are masonry then any pushing out of walls should be looked for. Unchecked in time there could be a major problem where a wall or a certain section of it could be jeopardized as in, it might fall down. Gutters should always be checked for integrity, water that drips along the foundation can cause later problems. Walls can push out for this reason or other reasons.
Sills should in particular often be checked. If sills rot out this could cause walls to sag and then they meet the masonry foundation walls and further create all kinds of difficulties. In a very real sense sills support walls and their structural integrity should be maintained at almost any cost. Any sill repairs should be made by a reputable barn repair contractor. Timber joints should also be examined and if there are any separations, that is, tenon into mortise connections – these problems should be promptly addressed. These problems may be caused by any number of other what might appear to be unrelated complexities that the barn may be experiencing.
The fourth rule involves the hiring of professional people who can made proper repairs involving restorations or stabilizations. Any hired pro should clearly understand the various loads that various elements of buildings experience, if they involve timber frame repair or elements related to masonry problems.
Timber frame repairs are based on design concepts related to the loads that are handled by the frames. This is the very reason that any repair man should understand a sound knowledge of timber joinery if the proper repair is to be done. A clear and well defined set of repair standards or principles should be established between the repair person and owner based on certain factors, use of the building and budget among perhaps a few other things.

When a barn owner observes and knows that a timber needs to be repaired many such timber refurbishments can be made more simply than they think. For example, if a beam is rotted out partially for a number of inches or perhaps even a few feet often wood splices can be effected and is far cheaper than replacing a full timber in many cases. Such repairs are often made with the aid of field sketches. Following this procedure minimal disturbance may be made to the barn.

In summary preventative maintenance is the key to maintaining the structural integrity of a barn and if followed religiously minimal cost may be required. Not all phases of repair philosophy are included here but a basic following of the above outline is well advised.

Eastern Barn Consultants     •      P.O. Box 82      •     Macungie, PA 18062      •      Phone: 610-967-5808 E-mail
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