Barn Heaters 101: How to Heat a Barn
Not sure how to heat a barn? Like any industrial or commercial space, barns present their own unique set of heating requirements, and special consideration is needed before the proper heat source can be chosen.
Due to a typical barn’s size, infrastructure, and various purposes, a heat source that may be fine for your home won’t necessarily be appropriate (or safe) for your barn. We at Total Home Supply are committed to helping our customers choose only the best possible heaters for their own needs, and this post is designed to help you consider everything you need to know about heating a barn.
Barn Heating Basics
Before you even begin looking for heaters for barns, there are a few different factors that should be considered — namely, whether or not your barn actually requires extra heat, and, if so, which areas of the barn need to be heated versus which do not.
If you use your barn to keep livestock, the most important thing to keep in mind when heating a barn is the health and safety of your animals. Many livestock are fairly resistant to colder temperatures, and too much supplemental heat can actually be detrimental to their health. There are exceptions, however, and to properly determine whether a supplemental heat source is the right choice, you must consider the average winter temperatures in your region as well as the needs of the animals you keep.
Most large farm animals such as horses, cows, sheep, pigs, and mules do just fine in cold weather, but if you live in a region where the temperature regularly dips below 30-35º F, you may want to consider livestock heaters, even to use sparingly in cases of intense cold fronts. Smaller animals such as chickens, rabbits, dogs, and cats need slightly more heat, and a supplemental heating source should be considered in regions where the temperature regularly dips and stays below 40º F.
Even if you determine the stalls do not need supplemental heat, that does not mean other parts of your barn couldn’t do without a heating unit. Sick, injured, or young animals should always be kept sufficiently warm, so your vet room should most certainly be equipped with the option of heat, as well as the space around your water tank, to keep your animals’ water supply from freezing. If you keep dairy cows, you may also want to heat your milking room. All farm animals should be monitored closely during winter to make sure they aren’t losing weight or suffering other health problems as a result of cold stress.
The absolute best heating option for livestock barns is an infrared/radiant gas heater.
Radiant technology works much like the heat from the sun, warming people, animals, and objects (including floors and walls) as opposed to the air. Infrared heaters do not blow heat (though many come equipped with a blower, but the use of it is entirely optional), so the air inside the barn won’t become overly dry or suffocating. Because it mimics natural, solar heat energy, radiant heat is actually soothing to animals, which may also help combat the seasonal depression common in several species (including humans).
Radiant heat can also be directed at certain objects or areas, so you can choose exactly what parts of your barn get heated and which do not. This is especially useful, for example, for nursing sick or injured animals, as radiant heat can be directed at one, single stall without disrupting the others around it.
Infrared gas heaters are safe to use and are usually lightweight enough to be moved around to accommodate extra heat as the need for it arises. Radiant heaters are not vented, but because infrared units heat objects, not air, they work well with your barn’s existing ventilation system, for clean air without the loss of heat.
If your barn is not for keeping livestock, there is slightly less you need to consider when seeking a heating solution for your space. Many people use their barns for storage or workshop purposes only, and so the primary concern in these cases is keeping your tools in tip-top shape throughout the cold winter temps.
You should also consider heating your barn’s tack room, to keep equipment from becoming damaged or cracked as well as to offer you a place to escape the cold while you go about your chores.
Most tools do just fine in cold weather so long as they have time to warm up before you use them. Manual tools can crack or snap if they become too frigid, and power tools can be strained if used without proper time to heat up. Proper storage of your tools can act as a bit of insulation to prevent your tools from getting too cold, but you’re still going to want to consider an extra heat source to make the inside of your storage space or workshop better for your tools and, of course, more comfortable for you.
If you use your barn to store equipment only, consider a Reznor UDAP industrial heater.
UDAP heaters are great at heating large, industrial spaces, making them a perfect choice for barns used for storage and workshop purposes. UDAP units are gas-powered and, unlike infrared heaters, work to heat the indoor air first, for fast, effective heating that lets you utilize your space quicker and more comfortably than if you were to use a regular space heater.
The two main concerns of people interested in this sort of heater usually have are 1) accommodating the unit’s size, and 2) the cost of operation. Industrial heaters are on the whole larger than other heaters, it’s true, but the Reznor UDAP units conveniently suspend from the ceiling, leaving all wall and floor space free for storage purposes. These units are also designed to operate at 83% thermal efficiency, meaning they cost significantly less to operate than other heaters of the same size and capabilities.
How to Heat a Barn
Once you’ve established if and where you would like to install a barn heater, the next step is determining how to do it.
1. Insulate it.
The single best thing you can do for your barn — any barn — is make sure it is properly insulated. Most modern American barns are of steel construction, which on its own offers no insulation. Steel can also get very cold to very hot, increasing the likelihood of condensation build-up. Condensation and humidity can damage your supplies and the infrastructure of your barn over time, as well as pose dangerous health risks to your animals due to added moisture in the air and on walls, floors, and bedding. Condensation and humidity resulting from huge swings in temperature can also cause your tools and supplies to rust. Insulation can help steady your barn’s indoor temperature, making condensation build-up much less likely, as well as keep your barn warmer, in general, in the wintertime.
Spray foam insulation is the favorite choice for steel-sided barns, as it works 50% more effectively at steadying indoor air temperatures, thus eliminating the need for a vapor barrier to control condensation and humidity. For best results, make sure your insulation is 4″ – 6″ thick, depending on how severe your region’s winters are, on average.
For regions that experience more moderate winters, a few inches of insulation may be just enough to get you through to the spring. Colder regions, however, will still want to consider a supplemental heating unit for their barn.
2. Choose a correctly sized heater.
Any of the infrared/radiant heaters and UDAP heaters listed on our website would be a fantastic choice for your barn. The only thing left to consider is exactly what size you need to best accommodate your space.
Size is determined by BTU rating, which we have written about before in regards to air conditioners, and the same basic rules apply to heating BTUs — the larger the space, the more BTUs are required. We offer infrared heaters featuring 10,000 – 30,000 BTUs, which accommodate spaces 300 – 1,000 square feet in size, respectively, and UDAP heaters featuring 30,000 – 400,000 BTUs, for any space over 1,000 square feet.
Determining how many BTUs you need is easy — our very own Heating BTU Calculator is designed to tell you, in minutes, exactly what size unit is best suited for your space, based on your room’s dimensions, insulation, and your region’s coldest average outdoor temperature. When shopping for your unit, be sure to round up to ensure the barn heater you choose is capable of sufficiently heating your space.
Pole Barn Heaters
Pole barns are structures built with wooden posts that are buried directly into the ground. Unlike standard barns, pole barns do not have any kind of foundation — they either have a basic concrete floor or a dirt floor.
Pole barns are typically used for storing equipment such as tractors, lawnmowers and combines. They also work well as workshops.
Like standard barns, pole barns in themselves do not offer much insulation. Therefore, the first step to heating your pole barn is to insulate it with fiberglass, foam or cellulose.
If you’re looking to add heat to your pole barn, we always recommend the Reznor UDAP series heaters. As mentioned above, these heaters work by heating the actual air in the barn versus just the objects in the barn, allowing you to enjoy efficient and effective heat.
If you’re interested in heating your barn but you’re still unsure which heater is best for your needs, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our resident heating specialists. We’ll help you size and shop for the right barn heating option to keep your space comfortable all season long.