Check back every Wednesday through Feb. 24 for our continuing series on Farm Design, sponsored by VirginiaCountryProperties.com.
Every farm should function like a well-oiled machine, and machines need power. Electricity provides the power for all of your barn’s needs.
And when it comes to planning and installing electricity for your barn, an expert opinion is of the utmost importance.
“I don’t recommend doing your own electric for safety reasons,” said Debra Corr of Exclusively Equine Properties. “Electricity can be the scariest or the best thing in your barn.”
Knowing Your Codes
The NEC (National Electric Code) is the go-to guide for safe wiring. While wiring codes can vary between states, counties and even towns, the NEC is used as a template for all projects that require electricity. Some states require a licensed electrician to install all your wiring, while others allow you to do everything aside from the actual hook up.
It’s important to speak with your local inspectors before building to determine how to organize your electrical service.
“The electrical system of your barn can be as extensive and sophisticated as your needs, desires and budget allow,” said Tom Gumbrect, a master electrician who specializes in horse barns. “There are minimum standards [for electricity and plumbing], however, and they differ in horse barns from other types of construction. Proper planning will ensure that these standards are met, with no unpleasant surprises lurking.”
Water Wheels Or Power Lines?
The first step in getting power to your project is determining how the electricity will reach your barn.
“I look at how remote the location is, whether it’s going to need its own service or if it’s going to come from another building, and if it’s going to run underground or overground,” said Gumbrect. “Sometimes the utilities play into the actual location of the barn. It could cost $5,000 to put it here, but $35,000 to put it there. That’s why we like to come in during the planning stages.”
Today, most utilities run underground to the barn, and excavation for utilities can be expensive. It’s important to plan for your future needs as well as your current ones, so you only have to dig once. This includes things like providing spare and/or oversized conduits to upgrade electrical service in the future or running the wire for video monitoring.
Another consideration for barns is to have an emergency generator installed in case of power outages.
Gumbrect said that while any certified electrician is technically qualified to install electricity in a horse barn, many electricians aren’t familiar with agricultural building codes. Because of the unique environment of a barn, many “normal” electrical practices, such as bare light bulbs or an uncovered electrical outlet, are actually prohibited in agricultural buildings.
Special Codes For Horse Barns
Based on the 2005 National Electrical Code, which is the most recent code adopted by most municipalities. Local codes may supercede. Final interpretations of applicability of codes always lie with the Authority Having Jurisdiction, which is the local inspection authority.
- Metal Conduit isn’t recommended due to the corrosive atmosphere of horse barns (Article 547.5).
“Most publications and old horsemen push metal conduit, but the temperatures, moisture, and ammonia content of the air in barns causes deterioration in the conduit and fittings,” said Gumbrect.
- Vapor-proof casing is required on all light bulbs and fixtures to prevent the barn environment from damaging the fixtures. The casing also prevents animals from making nests in the fixtures, which reduces risk of fire (Article 547.8).
- All the switches, outlets, fixtures and wiring boxes should be weatherproof, dust tight and corrosion resistant (Article 547.5B).
“Within the barn, power outlets should be designed and laid out so that the only time an extension cord will be used is to power an occasional portable tool or appliance,” added Gumbrect. “Anything that uses electricity and occupies a dedicated space needs to have an outlet within reach of its factory installed cord.”
Under The Lights
As mentioned in the first article of this farm design series, lighting is one of the most important considerations when designing your barn.
“Lighting will consist of vapor proof fixtures that completely enclose, seal and protect the lamps within the fixture,” said Gumbrect. “Lighting is laid out so as to illuminate the sides rather than the top of the horse. The vet and farrier will appreciate that. Even though lighting in the center of an aisle makes it look bright to the casual observer, efficient lighting that is pleasant to work under requires placing fixtures closer to the sides.”
The amount of light you need depends on the space and what you plan on doing there. Barn materials will reflect light in different ways as well. For example, dark materials such as black rubber mats or dark wood will absorb a lot of light, whereas lighter materials will reflect it.
There are several different options when it comes to lighting, but the three main types of electric lights are incandescent, fluorescent and high intensity discharge. They differ in how they produce light, how efficiently they operate, and the color of light they produce.