Restoring Your Barn

(excerpt from the Michigan Barn Preservation web site)

Restoring our barn was a process of trials, tribulations, and triumphs. We are quite pleased with the end result. In retrospect, however we might have done some things differently which would have taken some of the trials and tribulations out of the process. We would like to share some of our thoughts with you.

Before You Start

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Why do I want to restore my barn – sentimental reasons? Safety reasons? New use?
  2. How much am I willing to spend? How authentic do I want the restoration to be? What compromises am I willing to accept? How will I finance it? Are there any grants or tax incentives? Will this change the tax base on my barn? (If the property is zoned agricultural, the restoration is for agricultural purposes, and there will be no charge in the footprint of the barn, there is the possibility that the taxable value of the barn will not be increased after reconstruction.)
  3. How is it going to be restored?
  4. Who is going to do this project? Do I want to be physically involved in the restoration process?
  5. How long will it take? Does it have to be done all at once? Can it be done in phases?
  6. How much is it going to cost? How much should I figure for overages?
  7. Do I have the ability (financially and emotionally) to be flexible if plans have to change?

During the Process

  1. Keep a daily journal of the whole process. Note decisions made, work completed, and money paid.
  2. Go to your tax assessor and get written information on the assessed values of your buildings. Ask for the worksheet that he uses to determine the taxable value of your buildings. Make sure the locations of your buildings are documented on the assessor’s worksheet. At this time check to make sure information about all of the buildings on your farm are listed or deleted if buildings were removed in the past.
  3. Take extensive photographs of the outside and inside of your barn. Document all structural damage that needs to be repaired. Make sure your photographs document the location of the barn. If your camera has the ability to print dates on your photos, use that option.
  4. If your property is not zoned agricultural and the restoration is being done for other reasons than for agricultural purposes, you will probably have to pull a building permit.
  5. Communicate regularly with your contractor. Don’t assume anything. Talk to the people that your contractor hires. Don’t be afraid to ask them what they are doing.
  6. Inspect the work each day. Don’t wait to talk to your contractor if you have a concern.
  7. If the barn has to be dismantled, be sure you know where the contractor put the sections of the barn. Make a map of the locations.
  8. If changes need to be made during the process, ask for time to think about the changes. Make sure you have an estimate of the cost of the changes. Agree to them on paper.
  9. Expect the contractor to be involved in any subcontracting activities, i.e., excavation, cement work.
  10. Encourage and praise your contractor and his employees. They need to know you appreciate their work. It should make it easier to talk with them when questions or concerns arise.


The first step in repairing a barn is to know what use the barn will have. Without a use, a purpose, the barn will have no value that justifies the effort and expense. Without a specific use, the future needs are unknown and the repairs cannot be made to fit the purpose.


We are all aging and constantly replacing our cells – barns need the same, roofs get old, siding blows off in a wind, sills rot at the threshing floor.

Wind –

If the reason you are replacing a beam or post in the old barn is that the wind comes from the west and your barn is heading east, then it is time to triangulate! Most barns are rectangles, some are round, but none are triangles, the most rigid. Wind braces are placed at the comers (post to beam, post to sill) to make many small triangles that stiffen the building. Only half of them work at any one time while the other half are getting close to falling out. Many barns with wind braces are lying in the hay below the beam it used to brace. Put it back in and secure it with a spike (big nail) or wedges.

Farmers sometimes remove wind braces to reconfigure the space for new uses. The work of wind braces is cumulative. There is no need for one at every post to beam connection, but you can’t take them all out.

Unused barns are not weighted down with hay or grain and are more easily pushed by the wind. After you have straightened the barn load it up, put it to use!

Rain –

Water should run off and away from the barn, period.

Insect Damage –

Powder Post Beetle: If your barn has timber peppered with pencil lead size holes it is most likely a wood (beech, ash, maple) that powder post beetles like – replace it with a wood species that is less to their liking (white oak, cedar, hemlock, white pine). If the entire barn is made of the same wood with the same problem get a new barn.

Termites: With a nearby source of water termites will eat most any species of wood and they will do it in a way that is less evident than powder post beetles. The chemicals used to kill termites do the same for farm animals and so are not often recommended for long-term use. When replacing sills that have been infested with termites it is wise to install a termite shield- a continuous piece of sheet metal that extends beyond the foundation to deter the termite from direct access.


You have now looked closely at the barn and know what is wrong and why it happened. It is time to make the job safe.

Clean the place up – time is wasted and accidents happen when job sites are a mess.

Pick the best weather – that final day when you lift and replace that plate should be calm and dry. If you are ready and the weather is not – clean some more.

Use good equipment – farmers are famous for being “innovative,” but a plow blade that breaks is not so dangerous as a jack post that buckles under the load.

Get enough help – plan out the process for getting the job done and add at least one more. Extra help can hold a safety line, spell a tired worker, take photos or if need be call 911.


Restoration is to repair in the manner and with materials as were originally used. Repair can be done without matching the materials or the methods of new work to the original. If you find a 4″ x 4″ wind brace on the floor and drive it back into place, you have “restored” the barn. If you nail two 2″ x 4″ s together and nail them into where the wind brace used to be you have repaired the barn.

Repair is fine. Restoration is better.



The lowest of timbers, sills are more important than you think. Pole buildings are tables with their feet in concrete; Timber frame barns are geometric cubes with rafters above and foundations below The geometry is broken when a sill rots or breaks. Sills that need to be replaced should be replaced with full-length timbers of full dimension, or carefully repaired with like size material timber jointed, not butted. Because sills sit on foundations, deflection is not an issue but tension is. All masonry is weak at the top; sills protect and hold together the top of the foundation walls while they hold together the bottom of the frame.

Sills rot because they are watered down and not allowed to dry out. Using rot resistant timber (white oak, cedar, black locust) can help, but nothing is better than keeping the water to a minimum by replacing siding when needed and keeping an air space around the barn at the sill height. Cut down those grasses, bushes and trees growing up against the barn and let it breathe!

How to Replace Sills – It is simple – just lift the building or lower the foundation, take out the old one, slip in the new one. Lowering the foundation might sound like a joke but often a rotted sill is above a crumbling foundation and the sill can be replaced as the stonework is done. If the stonework is sound, the building must be lifted high enough to free the sill and allow the new sill to be slipped in. The work that the sill does – tension – can be done by cables and come-a- longs while the switch is being made.


Posts carry the weight of the barn back to the earth. A full height post carries great load at its base, much less at its top. Posts not well protected from water often rot at the joints where moisture can be trapped. As the joints rot they weaken and open, warning the owner to repair before things get too bad. If the post will need replacing, the load it carries must be held by temporary supports until the new post is in place.

How to Replace or Repair Posts – There is no simple formula for this, but here are a few steps:


Get the Load Out – remove the hay bales in the loft above, get rid of the old Hudson and dead tractors.

Mark the Connections – strike a pencil line across all joints that will be changed (post to sill, post to beam. Post to plate.) Some joints might be strained or damaged during the repair – the pencil line will show it.

Get Down to Something Strong – Temporary supports should be assembled in such a way as to assure that the loads are carried all the way to the ground. This can mean three stories of jack posts to repair 1 foot of rotted wood.


Plates are the beams that carry the rafters. They should be high and dry if the roofing is kept up. If the roof has leaked and a plate has rotted to the point of needing to be replaced it is a serious problem. As in any beam replacement, the load must be carried and lifted enough to insert the new timber, but the force of rafters is often out as well as down. This requires holding the roof load in as well as taking it up.

If the wind picks up during this effort it might require holding down as well. All of this is happening way off the ground. Use a lot of cables and come-a-longs.


Between the bents are Tie Beams. They tie the building together. They are most often parallel to and below the Plates. They were installed as the bents were raised and tenon into the posts, making the job of replacing them very difficult. It is therefore better to repair them if possible. Tie Beams often carry little or no downward load, working only in compression or tension. If that is the case and the damage is only at the connection (tenon), then a spine can be made to replace the damaged tenon and be inserted into a mortise made in the Tie Beam.

Hiring A Contractor

Adapted from, “Hiring A Contractor,” published by Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana with support from Porter Paints and Connor & Company. The complete publication is available by writing the Foundation at: 340 W Michigan St. Indianapolis, IN 46202 or call 1-800-450-4534.

1. Seek free information and advice – There may be no such thing as a free lunch, but free advice is a real possibility. The Michigan Barn Preservation Network (MBPN) and the Michigan Rural Historic Resources Program maintain a list of barn contractors and consultants. While they do not endorse these firms, the list can be a good place for you to start identifying people to help you. Members of the MBPN are a valuable source of information about their experiences with different problems, design solutions, and products or materials for use in renovation.

City building inspectors can diagnose structural problems as well as identify code violations.

Local preservation organizations and community development corporations may keep lists of contractors, know which lending institutions are friendliest to rehab projects, and provide tips based on first-hand experience.

Builders associations provide lists of contractors by type but do not endorse the listed firms (see step 5).

Renovation books give tips on detecting problems, suggest possible causes and describe remedies. Understanding the process helps to determine the scope of work and your budget.

2. Define the scope of work – The scope of work describes what you want a contractor to do in narrative or outline form. A clearly written scope of work allows each contractor to submit a bid based on the same information. An unclear objective forces contractors to bid high to protect themselves. If you’re having trouble defining or articulating your project, try clipping magazine pictures of layouts and materials you like, or sketch your ideas.

If you expect the contractor to obtain any necessary building permits and handle debris removal, be sure to include in your scope of work

3. Identify the timetable – Determine the date you want the work to start and finish, and note any special timing considerations. When tackling a large project, consider breaking the project into smaller phases. Remember that contractors may offer a better price for indoor work scheduled during the slower winter season.

4. Determine the budget – Be realistic about the amount of money you can spend, and include a 5%-10% contingency in your budget. When drafting the budget consider how you could scale back the project if problems surface that add to the cost — where might you cut, select a lower cost material, or postpone a part of the project

5. Research contractors – Do research to compile a list of contractors to call about your project. This list will help you get started; but you may also want to contact members of the Michigan Barn Preservation Network in your area and your local Extension office for additional names.

Ask for recommendations from friends and neighbors who have undertaken similar projects. Talk to architects, suppliers, and neighborhood groups where lots of rehabilitation has occurred.

6. Interview contractors from your preliminary list of candidates, select two or three to interview. Give a copy of your scope of work and preferred schedule to each contractor so all bidders have the same information. Some contractors may charge for a pre-bid meeting and review of your project so you should ask in advance.

The contractor’s approach to the initial interview sets the stage for all subsequent interaction. During initial phone calls and meetings, note the contractor’s professional habits: punctual? Organized? Prompt in returning calls? These factors forecast how the contractor approaches projects, and the firm’s attentiveness to detail and schedule. Most of all, trust your gut reaction to the first meeting. If you are not comfortable with a contractor, keep looking.

In the interview, ask questions about the contractor’s project history, approach to managing jobs, and your project in particular. Discuss your expectations, especially regarding the project cost and schedule, to get the contractor’s initial reaction. Be sure to ask the contractors how they handle change orders, which document time and/or material alterations to the original bid.

Here’s a sampling of questions you might ask each contractor:

  • What are your current projects?
  • Have you done projects similar to what I described?
  • How long have you been in business?
  • How many people will be on the job?
  • Can the job be completed within the schedule?
  • Will you hold weekly meetings with the client?
  • Will the supervisor be on site?
  • Do you arrange for building permits and debris removal?
  • What labor and material warranty do you offer?
  • What are your payment terms?
  • Will you share re(erences for projects completed within the past three years, including a contact person’s name, address of project, and date completed?

7. Ask for bids – Ask for a bid in writing due by a specific date. Contractors will give a bid as a lump-sum amount, a cost-plus amount, an amount based on time and materials, or a combination of these bid types. If the project is well-defined and straight forward with little chance of unforeseen problems, a simple lump-sum bid should be possible. However, if the project calls for one of the other bid types, agree to a mark-up of no more than 10%-15% for materials prior to bidding

Most contractors require a down payment of 25%-30% of the contract total. Upon substantial completion, 90% of the fee is due with the remaining 10% due on total completion. Make sure you understand in advance and agree to the contractor’s definition of “substantial completion”.

Request that the contractor provide a copy of the firm’s insurance certificate. Pass the certificate along to your insurance agent for an opinion on the adequacy of coverage.

8. Check references – Check the contractors’ references by phone and in person to gauge the customers’ satisfaction and if the details of the work meet your standards.

Questions you might ask the owner include:

  • Were you satisfied with the work?
  • Would you hire the contractor again?
  • Was the crew timely and professional?
  • Did the crew observe safety procedures?
  • How did the contractor handle problems?
  • Was the job completed on time and within budget?
  • Were change orders handled promptly?
  • Did the crew maintain a neat and clean job site?

9. Select a contractor – Once bids are returned, compare them with your scope of work and initial budget. If all bids exceed your budget, scale back. If not, base your selection on the bids you receive and on the results of your reference checks. If a bid is unclear, or does not appear to include all elements of your scope of work, ask the contractor for written clarification.

Once you’ve made your choice, ask the contractor to draft a schedule that will allow you to gauge the progress of the project. Make sure you get copies of the contractor’s insurance certificate, with your name listed as an additional insured. And be certain you understand and agree on the payment terms and approach to change orders.

10. Document the project – Take photos or videotape the project daily to record progress and document all phone conversations with the contractor. If you make an important decision over the phone, verify the decision by sending the contractor a letter stating the agreement you reached. Set up weekly meetings with the contractor to review progress and discuss any problems or concerns that might have arisen. Regular, face-to-face communication ensures mutual understanding of the project and a cooperative contractor-client relationship.

What are the Names of the Timbers in a Barn?


Federal Barn Tax Credits

Click here for information regarding federal tax credits for rehabilitating historic buildings (PDF document).


Are there Grants Available?

From state historic preservation office:

Financial Assistance for the Rehabilitation of Historic Barns
Presently there are no grants available for the rehabilitation of historic barns. There are 20 percent and 10 percent federal rehabilitation tax credits available for the rehabilitation of certain income producing properties. If you are interested in applying for the 20 percent tax credit, contact the State Historic Preservation Office at 614-298-2000 for more detailed information. For advice on the 10 percent credit, contact your tax accountant.

But there are tax credits available for renovating a barn for commercial purposes.


Where Can I Hold My Event?

Event Barns

Everal Barn & Homestead
Heritage Park
60 N Cleveland Ave
Westerville, OH 43082

Brookside Farm of Louisville
Louisville, OH
Bob 330-284-4997
Wayne 330-418-0669
John 330-284-0907
[email protected]

Valley View Cabins
29301 Klump Road
Sugar Grove, OH 43155
[email protected]

Barn at Rush Creek
29130 Klump Rd
Sugar Grove, OH 43155
[email protected]

Waters Edge Vineyard
7805 Georgetown St NE Louisville, OH 44641

Rivercrest Farm
6612 Boy Scout Road NE Dover, OH 44622

Jorgensen Farms
5851 E Walnut Street
Westerville, OH 43081
[email protected]

The Botzum Farmstead
3486 Riverview Road
Akron, OH 44313
[email protected]

The Barn At The Meadows
8447 Back Orrville Road
Orrville, OH 44667

The Barn
1947 Linden Ave
Zanesville, OH

Sunshine Farm
6640 Hall Rd
Galloway, OH

The Party Barn
672 Twp Rd 88, 5 Mile Creek Rd
Proctorville, OH 45669

Thee Old Barn
An hour from Cleveland or Pittsburgh
[email protected]

Canyon Run Ranch
[email protected]

Mapleside Farm
Brunswick, OH

Meadow Ridge Events
17305 Mayfield Road
Windsor, OH 44099

Camp Mary Orton
7925 North High Street
Columbus, OH 43235
[email protected]

The Gish Barn
530 Gish Road
Rittman, OH 44270

Souvenir Farm, Ltd.
2368 VanBlarieum Road
Cincinnati, OH 45233

The Ohio Village
800 E 17th Ave
Columbus, OH 43211

Meadowood Centre
4827 Rule Road Bellville, OH 44813

The Barn
8480 Columbus Road
Mount Vernon, OH 43050
[email protected]

The Barn
5451 Edwards Farm Rd
Columbus, OH

Snod’s Restored Country Barn
Sue – 330-863-0787

Halloween Barns

Haunted Farm
5450 Old Millersport Road
Pleasantville, OH 43148

Haunted Ohio
1881 Milden Road Columbus, Ohio 43221
[email protected]

Bed & Breakfasts

1895 Ohio Barn Bed & Breakfast
8790 Dayton-Springfield Rd
Fairborn, OH 45324
[email protected]