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Barn Foundation Problems?

Invest in a lasting repair for your architectural treasure

By David Aman

barn found- barn #2

Dairy barn in Waterloo NY originally build around 1881


Are you the owner of an old empty dairy barn? Have you noticed some deterioration on the hill side of the foundation? It turns out that the heat from the long-time bovine residents prevented the water from freezing between the ramp and the foundation for the previous 100 years. With the cows gone, freeze-thaw cycles started working magic on your once sturdy building. It probably started with the rot in the sill beam that goes across the entrance to the upper floor which made the roof droop a little over where the doors used to be. This caused the gutter to drain in the same spot. The water worked its way between the foundation and your ramp and now you have a problem.
Don’t Panic! Don’t be tempted into making a form and pouring a concrete face against the crumbling part of the foundation. This would look good for a while until the concrete gets pushed also. This will either end up with your repair crumbling apart or the entire slab of heavy concrete falling inwards breaking pipes and posts and maybe your toes.
barn found- foundation one

Don’t be tempted into making a form and pouring a concrete face against the crumbling part of the foundation


First, you should solve the problem. Stop the water from destroying your barn. You can fix the sill and raise the barn in this area to try to get the gutter to drain properly or you could take the gutter right off. Usually the gutter is no longer functioning anyway. Taking it off or having it replaced by a professional gutter company will take away the problem of the old gutter dumping all of the water from the roof right onto the area where your foundation is crumbling.

You could go a step further and install a drain tile across the area at the top of the ramp so that the water goes left and right instead of against your foundation. You could also dig the top of the ramp away and make a bridge going up into your barn. One way to repair the foundation is to rebuild the damaged area with the same rocks. A second option is to form and pour a one foot thick concrete foundation or a third possibility is to build a block wall which you can then fill with concrete and rebar.

Looking to Restore Your Historic Barn?

The Barn Restoration program was created in 2000 to help preserve historic barns and protect agricultural landscapes throughout New York. In order to qualify for an income tax credit equal to 25% of the cost of rehabilitating historic barns the following rules apply:

  • It must be a barn (defined as being built to house farm equipment, livestock or agricultural products). Buildings built for or converted to residential use are not eligible.
  • The barn must meet the tax definition of income-producing (farming, rental, office, commercial).
  • Tt must have been built or placed in agricultural service before 1936. Please note that Register-listed barns built after 1936 do not qualify for the New York State Historic Barns Tax Credit, even though they are officially designated as historic.
  • The rehabilitation cannot “materially alter the historic appearance” of the barn. That is it cannot change or destroy the important characteristics that make the building identifiable as a historic barn.
  • Only costs incurred after January 1, 1997 are eligible.

Learn more at: http://nysparks.com/shpo/technical-assistance/historic-
barns/default.aspx#sthash.g5NlWmkT.dpuf

Since all three methods usually cost the same, rebuilding the damaged area with the same rocks makes a better looking repair. Remove the old, loose rocks until only the good and strong part of the foundation remains. Then, rebuild the wall in the same style and strength as the original. The original foundations were usually about two feet thick and very rugged. Often the wall was built upon giant boulders which can be used to build off of. The object is to have a stable, strong repair that will last another 100 years.
There are people out there that see barns in this condition every day and are experts at fixing this exact problem. There are also people who build brand new house foundations daily and are not used to this type of repair. Don’t allow a mason to talk you into just having a block wall put in to solve the problem. A block wall that has not been filled with rebar and concrete has a lot of vertical strength but almost no strength to hold back the pressure from the dirt ramp. The repair will look great to begin with but it almost certainly will buckle if there is any pressure against it.
You may also be tempted to just place lumber under the floor joists and against the crumbling wall. This, you think, will have the double effect of holding up the floor joists so you can continue to drive in upstairs and it would hold the crumbling wall in place. This would be a temporary fix at best and will not hold back the pressure from the dirt ramp.
If you end up having a good repair done and stop the water from doing any more damage then you should be able to get another 100 years out of your barn.
Boy, they sure don’t make barns like they used to! You may not know it but you are the owner of an architectural treasure. Do you think a brand new pole barn will still be around 100 years from now?
David Aman owns Stone Works and has been repairing foundations and framing in old barns for 30 years. He works in western New York and can be reached at 585-905-0998 or stoneworks14@yahoo.com.

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Sarah Diana Nechamen

21 Comments

  1. Avatar Dixie McCready on May 31, 2015 at 3:52 pm

    Good article. We have a small family farm in Indiana where the barn block foundation is falling down. We are not sure how to get started in repair. As usual, money is the problem, there will be a lot of sweat equity in this project , any suggestions on how to start and save this barn.

  2. Avatar cvf22 on June 8, 2015 at 12:12 pm

    Hi Dixie,
    You’ll need to contact the author of the article directly with your question! Thanks!
    Carli Fraccarolli – Cornell Small Farms Intern

  3. Avatar Travis on November 16, 2015 at 3:54 pm

    Our company repairs barn walls throughout the country. Please visit our web site at http://www.premiergunitellc.com or give us a call

  4. Avatar Missy Miller on June 24, 2016 at 4:38 pm

    I am looking for someone to repair a barn foundation in Holstein, Missouri or Warren County, Missouri. The barn is over 100 years old. Can anyone advise or help?

  5. Avatar Dwayne on February 26, 2017 at 10:42 pm

    My name is Dwayne James owner operator of Dwayne James General Contracting in structural lifting we do foundation repair in home and Barnes in Upstate New York any questions you can call me or text me 607 316 1896

  6. Avatar Sue Cooper on May 25, 2017 at 9:58 am

    We have a large barn in need of foundation repair and not sure where to turn to, we live outside Rushville, New York, any help is appreciated.

    • Avatar Lindsay Borman on June 20, 2017 at 1:55 pm

      Hi Sue,
      If it’s not a historic barn, you may want to refer to a local contracting service for an evaluation of the state of the foundation. This resource may be of use: http://www.barncoalition.org/contractors.html
      I hope this Helps!

  7. Avatar Bonnie Reardan on August 22, 2017 at 7:53 am

    I have a dairy barn that could use this exact repair. I live in Dexter, Michigan. The barn was built in the 1860’s and is beautiful and we really want to make sure it stays around for a long time! Any suggestions for a company in our area? Thank you so much for any help.

    • Avatar Tara Hammonds on August 22, 2017 at 1:15 pm

      Hi Bonnie,
      One barn restoration company I found close to you is called the Barn Doctor, and is located in Brooklyn, MI. A larger company would be something like Michigan Barn Restoration, but they are a little farther from you, located in Grand Junction. Make sure you take a look at the explanation of tax credits for restoring a historic barn, found on the National Barn Alliance website. I hope this helps!

  8. Avatar Chuck on August 28, 2017 at 8:57 am

    Do you know if there are any local experts in phoenixville, pa? We have a historic mill foundation that could use repair and improvement. Thanks for your assistance!!

    • Avatar Tara Hammonds on September 5, 2017 at 1:45 pm

      Hi Chuck,
      One option would be Stable Hollow Construction; they do barn building/repairs across PA and could be a good resource. Otherwise, I would just suggest contact local contractors to see if they have any experience with barns or mills. Hope this helps!

  9. Avatar Patty McCurdy on October 9, 2017 at 6:38 am

    I have a huge old vine that is growing into the side of my barn. I had no idea this was happening. I need help eliminating the vine’s trunk and pulling all the growth off the side of the barn. I also need help clearing the sumac trees away from my barn. I live in Upstate NY, outside of Syracuse.

    • Avatar Tara Hammonds on October 11, 2017 at 1:27 pm

      Hi Patty,
      I would suggest contacting a local landscaping company; most likely, barn construction and repair companies would not help to clear vine and other vegetative growth, but a landscaping company would. Hope this helps!

  10. Avatar Shawn on April 3, 2018 at 12:39 pm

    I am needing a 150 year old barn foundation repair. My grandfather ran a mechanic business from the barn for 40 years and now I am needing to restore it to open up my own business. The foundation needs repaired on 2 sides, and it needs roofing and siding. Any recommendations on contractors would be much appreciated! The barn is in Canonsburg PA, just South of Pittsburgh.

    • Avatar Talia Isaacson on April 13, 2018 at 10:46 am

      Hi Shawn,
      I did some research and came across Stable Hollow Construction, which is a barn restoration and construction company that does work across PA. I also found Kistler Builders, which is a construction company that has experience with historic barn restoration services. It might also be worth contacting a few local contractors and seeing if they have any barn restoration experience. Hope this helps, and good luck!

  11. Avatar Holly Lester on July 2, 2018 at 11:18 am

    I have inherited the family farm in central Iowa and am looking to repair the concrete foundation of our barn that is beginning to crumble. Recommendations for a contractor would be appreciated. thank you

    • klr235 klr235 on July 5, 2018 at 12:20 pm

      Hi Holly,
      Unfortunately, I can’t recommend any contractors, but good luck in repairing the foundation!
      -Kelsie

  12. Avatar Sarah Smith on January 23, 2019 at 8:36 pm

    All the methods of foundation repair sound really interesting. It makes me wonder if these are the same methods used for home foundation repair. Our house apparently has a cracked foundation and we need to find a contractor to fix it.

  13. Avatar Kelly on October 31, 2019 at 4:10 am

    Looking for someone in Oregon/Washington/Idaho area. Our barn is in Oregon, but we are close to both states wa & id. The foundation is crumbling.. lucedelsole00@yahoo.com

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