Last winter, we had to make the hard decision to take our barn down. It was a hard call to have to make, but after carefully considering all of the options, we knew it was the right call.
Before moving in, the inspector who came to look at the house also took some time to look over the barn for us. Unfortunately, he told the foundation of the barn was leaning badly and that the barn would probably not stand for more than another 5 years without doing major work to repair it. Our options came to the following: have it torn/taken down, let it fall down, or have the foundation (and the roof and the floor) repaired. We had somebody come to look at the bar to see what it might cost to have the barn put back into safe working order, and the price tag was far, far more than we’d be able to pay any time into the foreseeable future.
When we knew for certain that we would not be able to have the barn repaired for what would be a reasonable sum of money to us, we decided that we’d rather have it taken down than just to let it fall. A fallen barn would be a safety hazard, and with all of the things we would like to do with this land, it just isn’t an option to leave it like that.
We knew that having the barn removed could potentially cost us money or earn it for us. There are people out there who specialize in barn removal, and some can pay you to take it down. The barn wood market is a rather lucrative business, but since they go through the trouble of taking the whole barn down, depending on their time and resources used will determine whether or not they will be able to pay you for their services or if you pay them.
I sat there feeling frustrated. I didn’t really want the barn to come down, but it’s a safety issue to keep it up. Even though I didn’t grow up on this land, with this house or this barn, the barn holds nostalgia for me. My grandparents had a barn on their property that I loved to play in growing up. Neither barn had been used to house animals in a long time, yet there is that dust and dirt that stays with them, no matter how well they are cleaned or how vacant they stay. On sunny days, the sunlight filters through the cracks between the boards and the golden dust floats around. There’s something beautiful about it. Tearing the barn down just felt wrong.
And the more I got to thinking, I realized that there were so many projects around our home and property that I wanted to build, and the wood for it would cost thousands of dollars new. The best quote we were given was for $1,200, which was a far cry for what we’d need for the projects we had in mind. We wanted to build a porch swing, new garage doors, benches, and tables, just to name a few. And if the barn came down, we’d need a new building to house the tractors and some of the other equipment since it doesn’t all fit in the granary (not to mention the fact that we had other plans for the granary). Why would we have somebody else take the barn down when we could do it ourselves? What would the benefits be? What would the negatives be?
The pros for having somebody else remove the barn were that it wouldn’t cost us anything, and we’d end up with some cash in hand. With somebody experienced on the job, it could probably be removed fairly quickly (weather permitting), and the people doing the removal know what they are doing. The cons were that we would have to purchase any wood for our projects, and it would cost considerably more than what we would earn. The barn would also be gone for good.
The pros to taking it down ourselves would be that we would have all of the wood we needed for just about any project we could dream up, and our cost would be that of labor and any additional materials needed. And for me, instead of the wood going off somewhere else to be used on somebody else’s land, someone else’s projects, it could stay here and serve that same purpose. For Scott, it seemed like what a true homesteader would do. The cons were that we’d still need to spend money on this project. There would be tools and dumpsters and equipment that we would need to purchase or borrow or rent. It’s dangerous. The barn is at least 40ft. tall, and the roof is a hip roof, which makes taking that off even more tedious and dangerous.
I think what it came down to for Scott is that if the barn is going to need to be replaced or substituted with something else, and the materials we already have are suitable enough for the job, it makes much more sense financially to reuse what we already own. For me, I love that I have most of the wood I will need for the projects that I dream up and that we get to keep some of that nostalgia from the barn.
Scott was not as convinced as I that this was the right thing to do, though he definitely did see the merit. For him it meant more time spent away from the house, time the kids would mostly be unable to help or spend time with him. He’d also need help from time to time, and that means being constrained to the help and schedules of others. I would help as much as possible, but seeing as I lack a certain level of strength and that somebody needs to watch the kids. At the time we made the decision to take the barn down, I was pregnant and completely unable to do anything to help, other than make sure that Scott and whoever was helping that day, would be well hydrated, and get fed at the end of their work. This year, I should be able to participate at least a little bit more (children permitting), though my job is largely constructing new things out of the barn.
The benefits would outweigh the negatives in the long run, so on the first warm day that followed, Scott set out for the barn with a sledge hammer and crow bar. For the most part, he started with cleaning. There was still hay in the hay loft that needed to be taken out of the barn, and garbage stored inside it. He disassembled the interior room walls, removed metal sheeting from the loft floor, and with some help, removed part of the loft floor itself along with some of the beams beneath it. A portion of the barn roof has been taken down, and several of the large, sliding doors, along with a few smaller sections of walls. We made piles of wood for immediate use, piles by materials, size and type, and wood that was rendered useless was set aside for fire wood.
One of the first projects to be tackled with the barn wood removed so far was the porch swing. I’ve also used wood to rebuild our trailer bed, make a coffee table for the living room, build a set of carriage doors for the garage, make shelving in our bedroom closet, and building the new table for the classroom, among other projects. There is a part of me that feels like we will end up using all of the wood that we remove, and another part that wonders what we’ll do with it all. As I said before, we are hoping to build a rather large structure for storing the equipment, which will use a large amount of that wood, but it’s hard to say just how much wood that will use up.
We have considered the option of selling some of the wood and parts that of higher value that we may not have a purpose for ourselves, but that is still undecided. We have one neighbor that has been letting us use his lift (he owns it for his house painting business), and there has been plenty of generous help (along with some other offers for help) and there have been days where Scott has gone at it alone. We didn’t see as much of the barn dismantled this past year as we would have liked, but any progress is better than no progress. This year we are hoping to have a little bit more free-time for our big project, although there is so much to be done, there is no telling how far we will get.
My projects for using the barn wood this year will include making a few changes to the interior of the chicken coop, building a second set of carriage doors for the garage, and repairing some of the sliding doors on the granary. I’m tempted to build a new dining room table, but there are so many other things that should really be done before a project like that gets started… I might have to get on that before E transfers to a regular chair at the dining room table because we will definitely need something longer. I’m also planning to build the roadside stand this year so that I have a more visible and shaded spot for us to sell some produce this year. There are several other things I would love to build, but will be entirely time-dependent.
I’d like to hear from you! What would you do if you had a barn to take down? Would you hire somebody, just pull it down into a heap, or take it apart carefully for materials? If you took it apart, what would you do with all of that lumber? Have any of you ever had to take a barn apart, and if so, any tips?