Horizon Structures Presents Series: Ditches, Dirt and Disasters

If you are planning a new barn or kennel build it’s a good idea to set your sights on the best site possible.  Disasters such as flooded stalls, damaged roofs, sliding doors that stick and windows that won’t work, may all stem from poor site selection and mediocre site preparation.

The melee of weather seen in recent months, from forest fires to hurricane winds and flooding, sets the scene for problems to occur even in the best conceived cases of site preparation.

It is always possible to make fixes for issues that arise after construction of the building has been completed. Problems such as damage due to falling trees, flooding due to monsoon rains and annoyances with minor matters of operational ease of use are usually possible to resolve. However it is usually less expensive to install systems to prevent these troublesome events before the building process begins, rather than afterward.

Before you purchase that dream barn or spacious commercial kennel ask yourself what you know about these basic terms used in construction practice and common issues that need to be addressed :

  • Laser transits
  • Settling
  • Backfill and cut & fill
  • Compaction
  • Soil types
  • Frost heave
  • Tile drains/French drains/footer drains
  • Plumbing and electric Installation
  • Generators ~ Sizes and Safe Use

Most people have a general understanding of the definitions of these terms, but do not comprehend how they work and more particularly how they may be best utilized to solve site selection challenges.

Drawbacks to a good build such as hilly/rocky ground, poor soil substructure, rapid water percolation and distances to municipal sewer systems, water or even electric services, can be easily remedied with a great plan.

Level Sites Work Best

The luxury of a perfectly level site rarely exists. A completely level site can also bring its own set of problems for effective drainage installations for roof water run-off or snow shedding on large buildings. The goal is always to prevent water entering the interior of the structure.

One of the most overlooked components in barn and kennel structures is the installation of gutters and a means of passage to carry water away from the building is an important component to consider during barn or kennel design.

How do you know if your site is level?

The laser transit is a device used to measure the grade of a site and accurately determine how far off level the construction footprint area is by ‘shooting the grade.’ A tripod with a plumb line and a tall ruler is used to ascertain the heights of different points across the surface of the ground. Similar to the surveyors’ tools there are two people involved to complete the task, one to hold the ‘stick’ or measure and one to take the reading.

There are methods to ascertain grade without the use of a transit or laser level device, but today these are rarely employed.

This is important because wherever the ground drops away from level, the area will need to be filled with materials to bring it up to level. Wherever the ground rises, the site must be flattened, large rock outcrops removed and excess soil bulldozed out of the way of the construction footprint. This engineering process or re-grading is commonly called, ‘ cut and fill.’ Not to be confused with backfilling, which is when material is moved aside from a specific area for a temporary period of time, such as when laying in drains around the perimeter of a building and then replaced.

The more ‘dirt’ that has to be moved, whether it is moved onto the site to heighten an area or removed to clear the space, the higher the cost of the site preparation.

The correct use of a laser level/transit can provide the data as to how many cubic yards of material will need to be removed or filled, thus providing the opportunity to cost the materials needed and the labor time likely to be involved in machine time.

When securing a quote for the work always try to obtain a price for the job versus an hourly rate from the excavation company, as this is usually cheaper.

 Settling and Compaction

Whenever soil or organic material is moved from one spot to another, the disturbance causes  ‘unsettling’ of its structural components. Over time, this increase in volume will diminish and ‘settle’. This settling occurs to come degree by gravity, but is influenced heavily by rain and snow, freeze and thaw and temperature variances, and above ground traffic such as foot or vehicular passage. The rate of settling or compaction may vary from one area to another within the site.

Large buildings such as indoor arenas often require some re-grading of the any proposed site due to their large footprint. As settling over such a big area is likely to be substantial, construction of the structure is often left for a 12 month period after the site is leveled if fill is required, to allow a full cycle through all four seasons for settling. Minor adjustments back to level can then be undertaken, before the building construction task begins.

The best method to accelerate the settling process is by mechanical compaction of the site. Often gravel is laid over soil, and then a layer of limestone/stonedust or other finer binding material is placed on the surface and compressed. This is accomplished by machines such as heavy rollers, compactors, or by driving back and forth with a bulldozer to compact the layers.

The advantage of mechanical compaction is that it mitigates the risk of subsidence of materials freshly added to an area. Mesh with a binding plant growth such as grass can also minimize the risk of gulley formation and water damage on aprons and downhill graded areas of the site.

 Soil Types and Structure

Every type of soil has different qualities. Different soil types all offer pros and cons when it comes to building a firm base for a barn or kennel. Did you pay attention in geography? This Geography 101 might give you a refresher.

Clay soils hold water and can even be used as a liner or backfilled against buildings to help deter water entry. Other soils such as sand based soils percolate freely but commonly shift as a result.

The type of soil will affect frost heave. Frost heave occurs when moisture collected in soil freezes and expands raising the surface area above. To prevent frost heave occurring in the footers/concrete pillars used to support structural elements of a building, it is essential that the footer must be placed below the frost heave depth for the region. In the North East USA this may be 4-6 feet deep, depending on altitude and latitude.

If footer columns/piers/pillars suffer frost heave the building will become unlevel and cause doors and windows to ‘stick’.

The type of soil and topography of the site and the area surrounding it will in part determine the most efficient type of water drainage system to be installed.

Drainage options include:

  • Surface drainage: The area around the level footprint for the structure is graded down away from the perimeter of the structure called an ‘apron’. This method works best if small ditches are included beyond the apron to take excess water away during heavy rainfall or snow melt.
  • French drain: A type of sub-surface drain. A trench is dug around the building and filled with permeable material such as rocks, stones or gravel and then backfilled with soil. These trenches are extended away from the building and may go to ‘daylight’ by becoming shallower as they terminate. Pipes may be buried within the gravel to expedite the water removal as in footer drains. See below. These drains may be laid in parallel lines to facilitate extra protection from monsoon like rain flooding an area. A single French drain may become overwhelmed in torrential rain events.
  • Footing drain: This is another term for the French or sub-surface type of drain. Commonly used around poured concrete foundations, footer drains are large pipes laid within a gravel or stone bed at the base of the foundation. These pipes are perforated on the underside to collect the water. The pipes are laid at a specific grade to carry water away from the structure to protect the integrity of the concrete. Pipes may be wrapped in water permeable fabric to prevent surface soil from migrating into the pipes over time and blocking the holes in the pipes.
  • Tile drain: Large flexible runs of plastic pipe that are buried sub-surface to collect water and similarly remove it to a lower elevation or graded area away from the building. This type of drain is often installed under outdoor arenas to prevent puddles and surface water issues during heavy rainfall. They are also commonly used in agricultural water management to remove spring water and sub-surface water and carry it to ditches or collection systems within or at the perimeter of a field.
  • Gutters and Downspouts: The passage of water collected in the gutter will convey to downspouts which can then disperse the water to a slightly graded and fanned out surface area away from the building or be hooked into an existing sewer system where allowed by building code.

 Services for the Structure

Plumbing and electric services required for a barn or kennel merit careful consideration. Disposal of waste/sewage is another important factor to incorporate in the overall building plan.

Consider whether electric service will be provided above or underground. The advantage of repairs being easy to make when electric is run above ground is often offset by the lack of interruption in service due to extreme weather such a high winds. There is additionally an aesthetic appeal of no visible power lines to the building when cables are buried.

As most barns and kennels are within view of the house, the underground option may be attractive but it is also more expensive. Cables buried under high traffic areas such as driveways should be encased in a plastic tube for their protection, and in rocky sub-soils sand can be placed around the cable to help deter damage from sharp rocks that may happen over time.

Water from a well should be tested for health and safety. Even though it may not be intended for human consumption, health risks from ingestion of contaminated water for dogs, cats, horses and other animals should be considered.

Interior plumbing for wash stalls can be designed to work as an aerial system to facilitate drainage through taps placed at eye or waist level in regions that experience freezing temperatures during the winter. The use of flexible ‘Pex’ or plastic pipe and fittings, can be used to minimize the risk of cold weather damage from freezing to pipes in bathrooms, tack and feed rooms, grooming parlors or other water fed interior areas of the building.

Sewer drains for bathrooms should be connected to either the existing house sewer system or direct to the main sewer. A separate sewer system with a tank and leach fields may be required if the barn or kennel is far from the current services. Check with local building code and zoning ordinances to find out what is allowed before embarking on a separate waste system.

For peace of mind and practical considerations of feeding and watering animals during power outages the provision of a generator is a smart choice.

It should be installed to code to avoid back-feeding electricity to the mains and should always be connected to the main electrical feed by a licensed electrician then inspected by the local power company afterward.

A generator should always be placed outside. Use of a generator inside a confined space can cause suffocation and death. Various types of generators are available. Fuel options include diesel, propane, natural gas or gasoline.

Consider the storage location for back up supplies of fuel and its delivery to site, especially for larger units. Propane units are generally cheaper to buy than diesel units.

Generators may be smaller mobile units that will run just a few electrical circuits or permanently placed larger units to service entire homes/barns and structures.

It can be handy to place the heavier generators on a concrete pad, which can be poured at the same time as footers or foundations.

Look What You’ve Learned!

Even though your nominated excavator or ‘dirt’ company team should have knowledge of all the above, it pays to be able to talk the talk and oversee the process to ensure any concerns are taken care of now rather than later.

If you ‘inherit’ a barn or kennel on your property and experience problems with water, wind or other damage, retrofitting is possible.

Consider removing leaning trees that may fall that perhaps have grown bigger than expected when planted eons ago.

In areas where forest fires are likely always clear all brush and tree cover away from the buildings and carefully consider the type of roofing material to be used on the structure.

Fire suppression systems around and within the building can also be implemented.

To manage flooding add tile or French drains around the structure. Clean out gutters and downspouts regularly, to keep them free for efficient operation etc.

Whatever shortcomings there are in site selection or site preparation for a structure, you can be sure they will come back to haunt you in future years. Don’t be shy to ask lots of questions of the excavation company personnel, barn or kennel building company staff. They most likely have a wealth of experience they can share to help you overcome any hurdles you face.

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 About Horizon Structures:  One horse or twenty, there’s one thing all horse owners have in common…the need to provide safe and secure shelter for their equine partners.  At Horizon Structures, we combine expert craftsmanship, top-of-the-line materials and smart “horse-friendly” design to create a full line of sheds and barns that any horse owner can feel confident is the right choice for their horses’ stabling needs.

All wood. Amish Made. Most of our buildings are shipped 100% pre-built and ready for same-day use. Larger barns are a modular construction and can be ready for your horses in less than a week. All our barn packages include everything you need –

Horizon Structures also sells chicken coops, equine hay feeders, greenhouses, dog kennels, 1 and 2 car garages, storage sheds and outdoor living structures and playsets.

Headquartered in South-Central Pennsylvania, Horizon Structures, LLC is owned by Dave Zook.  Dave was raised in the Amish tradition and grew up working in the family-owned shed business.  He started Horizon Structures in 2001 in response to an ever-increasing customer demand for high quality, affordable horse barns.

For additional information about the company or their product line, please visit their website at https://www.horizonstructures.com

Horizon Structures LLC, Atglen, PA
Media Contact: NAS@NikkiAlvinSmithStudio.com
Tel: 607 434 4470

Photos are available on request.

About Nikki Alvin-Smith:
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Please visit https://nikkialvinsmithstudio.com/ to learn more about her affordable services.