Building Sustainable Barns and Other Farming Structures

Reader Contribution by Devin Morrissey

The definition of homesteading has evolved significantly since the implementation (and subsequent repeal) of 1862’s Homesteading Act. But what hasn’t changed is the fact that outbuildings are a big deal in the homesteading world. For a self-sufficient homestead to truly function, you need a greenhouse as well as a barn or other type of farming structure.

Photo by Pexels

The good news for DIY homesteaders is that building sustainable barns and greenhouses is easier than ever. There are myriad possibilities in the realm of sustainable barn design, and it starts with your personal needs. What is the barn or farm structure’s primary purpose? If your barn will be used to store tractors and other types of farming equipment, your design blueprints will differ greatly from those intended for a barn that houses horses and other farm animals.

No matter the size or function of your homestead, building a sustainable structure on your own is a lofty but achievable goal. Here are some points to consider when constructing eco-friendly barns and outbuildings.

Sustainability Issues on the Homestead

Many homesteaders are passionate about alternative power and dedicated to energy efficiency best practices. At the start of your sustainable barn project, do some research about your homestead’s location to determine the best alternative energy source for your property. In the Great Plains, for example, wind capacity is high, so a DIY wind turbine may be the best choice for optimal energy efficiency.

Where solar power is concerned, ample peak sun-hours are the key to maximum efficiency. Peak sun-hours are sunlight hours that provide at least 1,000 watts of photovoltaic power per square meter. Typically, the closer to the equator you are, the more peak sun-hours you will experience. Arizona, Nevada, and California top the list of U.S. states with the highest average amount of peak sun-hours.

Another aspect of sustainable outbuilding construction is paint choice. The majority of traditional interior and exterior paints contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as acetate, benzene, ethanol, and formaldehyde. VOCs negatively impact indoor air quality and are widely known to cause cancer, respiratory issues, and other health problems; thus, they are far from sustainable.

When shopping for eco-friendly paint, skip brands with VOCs and opt for paint made from natural ingredients such as iron oxide pigment, milk casein, and lime.

Building with Sustainable and Upcycled Materials

VOCs may also be present in building materials, so you may need to think outside the box when you’re constructing a sustainable barn or outbuilding.

When it comes to a farming structure’s floor, you have myriad options. Many people choose concrete for barn floors as the material is inexpensive and relatively durable, but the downside to a concrete floor is the fact that it’s not eco-friendly. In fact, the main material used to make concrete is cement, which is a notoriously hazardous material.

In lieu of concrete, homesteaders have several eco-friendly flooring choices. For instance, bamboo floors are a great option in regards to both sustainability and cost-effectiveness. Bamboo is sustainable due to its fast rate of growth, especially when compared to hardwood trees.

Professionals estimate that bamboo flooring typically renews itself in about 5-7 years, while hardwood takes at least 30 years to re-grow completely. Further, your out-of-pocket cost for bamboo flooring will only come to between $3-$5 per square foot on average.

Insulation is another consideration in every sustainable outbuilding project. Many homesteaders want to avoid fiberglass insulation, for good reason. Fiberglass, which is used in about 90 percent of construction projects nationwide, is a man-made vitreous fiber that contains possible human carcinogens, also known as cancer causing agents. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, fiberglass can also cause skin and eye irritation, as well as respiratory problems.

Fortunately for homesteaders, there are several viable alternatives to fiberglass insulation. You can upcycle old denim, use natural wool or soy-based foam insulation, or try out “hempcrete.” The hemp-based insulation alternative is hypoallergenic, as well as resistant to insect and fire damage, U.S. News and World Report data indicates.

Material choice is a vital aspect of sustainable building practices. Whether you’re building a barn or a larger outbuilding structure, shop around for sustainable materials such as bamboo flooring, mineral-based paint, and recycled denim insulation. Determine if your homestead’s location is more suited for a wind turbine or solar panel array, and start living a more eco-friendly life.