Lighthoof: 5 Reasons to Love Gutters From a Farm Design Consultant

Having been in the horse farm mud management business for many years, I’ve given lots of presentations on barn design and renovation for a mud-free lifestyle. Of course the hot topic that everyone always asks about is drainage, i.e. what to do with your water once it’s already standing around in your horse’s paddock. One subject that is rarely on people’s minds, but should be, is barn gutters. This is one of my favorite little nuggets, because so many out-buildings are designed without them. There are quite a few reasons why you will want your horse houses, from the fanciest stable to the most modest run-in shed, to be equipped with gutters and downspouts. Here are five.

1) Get a Jump on Mud Control by Keeping Roof Water Out of Your Paddocks

This may seem a little “Captain Obvious” but… the less water you have where your horses are walking, the less mud they will create. Since we can’t keep water from falling from the sky, we must do our best to direct it away from our horses’ hooves. This plight can be helped with clever earthwork, grading and drains, outside our horse paddocks and around our barns. However, building roof water is an alarmingly gigantic source of rainwater concentration that often leaves huge amounts of water in critical high traffic horse areas, such as right outside stall doors or barn entrances.

Of course there is stuff you can do to prevent mud from forming, even in very wet areas, such as enhanced ground stabilization using Lighthoof mud management panels – designed for bad mud situations in horse paddocks – but you will be giving mud the one-two punch if you also capture and redirect roof rain water before it ends up near your horses’ hooves.

It may be hard to believe, but not having gutters on just one pitch of roof line can be like dumping out the water trough in front of your barn door. Here’s some math. Let’s say you have a 12 foot x 24 foot horse shelter with a shed-roof style design and no gutters.  For every inch of rain that falls, there will be 41,472 cubic inches or 179.5 gallons of water deposited in your horse’s paddock.

Keeping water away from the areas where your horses will be spending time is a great start to your mud management plan.

2) Protect the Longevity of Your Barns/Sheds/Shelters by Preventing Undercutting

One of the key reasons that most homes have gutters is to prevent water from eroding or undercutting the ground around the home’s foundation. This is equally crucial for protecting your horse homes, which to many of us are even more important than our own homes!

I will share a personal “failure story” in which one of the gutters on my home (which doesn’t get nearly as much attention as my barn!) rusted through and was spilling water out before it could reach the downspout. Unluckily for us, the place the water was spilling out was right over the pipe from the house to the septic tank. The extra wet spot created settling that backed up all of the toilets in our home! All from a failed gutter!

I’ve seen equally bad problems in barns in which the effect of roof water caused settling that damaged the barn walls and roof. Protect your valuable barn investment by directing roof water away from the foundation with properly maintained gutters and downspouts.

3) Collect and Store Rainwater for Garden or Livestock Use

Designing or managing a “green” horse farm? Many environmentally-friendly property owners opt for rainwater collection as part of their conservation strategy. From rain barrels to built-in cisterns, there are lots of great ways to store harvested rainwater on the farm and even more great uses for it. The most popular use for stored rainwater is garden irrigation. It’s great to use for bathing, dust control, washing vehicles, etc. Potable collection systems can be designed to use clean rainwater for their animals to drink and in some cases, it’s even permitted to be used in the home.

Besides being socially and environmentally responsible, collecting rainwater offers the benefit of being completely free to use, outside of municipal water systems’ limits and regulations, and free of chlorine and other chemicals.

The important part of harvested rainwater usage is that it needs to be kept clean on its journey from the sky to its next job. This means that one of the best ways to collect it is to take advantage of a clean rooftop to capture all those cubic inches of rainfall before it hits the ground. From there, it’s relatively easy and inexpensive to use gutters and downspouts to direct the water into clean plastic barrel to use later. Of course, that’s just a simple system. There are many elaborate aboveground and underground cistern systems that offer infinite new possibilities for your roof runoff.

4) Prevent Water and Mud from Splattering Your Barn

Keeping a clean and nice looking farm starts with the appearance of your outbuildings. Mud splatters the siding and instantly dulls the appearance of even the freshest paint. In wet climates this can also lead to mildew forming on the surface or cause wood siding to rot.

If your barns or shelters are pole buildings, they will lack a concrete foundation and most likely have pressure treated wood in areas of ground contact. This helps to prevent deterioration of the structure from sitting in the wet ground. However, much of the wood above the original area of ground contact will be non-treated wood. Even if it is still above ground, this wood is not outside the range of roof water splattering and can be damaged if this goes on for a long time.

If your barn siding is well protected by recently applied paint or stain, you can freshen up its appearance by scrubbing with an exterior house wash or a diluted mixture of dish soap and water and rinsing with a hose. However, you can reduce the frequency of this maintenance task considerably by using gutters and downspouts to keep your walls from getting wet or muddy.

5) Keep Your Horse’s Head and Neck from Getting Soaked

Horses that have in/out access to their stalls or shelters from an attached run or paddock will often choose to stand inside when it rains. However, many of them prefer to keep their heads and necks outside of the stall so that they can use their first line of defense, their long range eyesight, to keep track of any potential “risks” in their surroundings.

If you don’t have gutters on that pitch of roof, rain water doesn’t just drip on your horse – it pours on her! I have one mare who, when housed in this type of situation, would leave her whole neck hanging out no matter what the weather. Water would run down the front of her blanket and soak her shoulders to the point where she started to develop a fungal infection from having the moisture held against her shoulders.

Lo and behold, proper gutters solved the problem and while the rain made her mane all frizzy, it didn’t drench her down to the bone.

So as you can see, both from personal experience and from consulting on many years worth of farm design and remodel projects, I’ve definitely got my mind in the gutter! And you should too!

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