the agritect

@VELD architect, southwestern Ontario

Archive for January, 2012

Farm Yard Design

When the helicopter photographers come knocking at your door each year asking if you would like a photo taken of your farmstead from the air. Do you shudder at the mess and disorganization of the yard, or are you proud to see the life you have built. If your like most farmers, its a combination of both. You have a beautiful piece of land and farmstead, but the mess of tractors and projects in the yard leaves much to be desired. The last time my parents had the photo taken, (and google as well) the yard was immaculate because a wedding was going to occur in the following few days (mine) and we had to clear room for the many guests. But I digress…The layout of your farmstead is an important part of farm design and there are many factors to consider.

1. View from the road

There is a tendency to arrange buildings perpendicular or parallel to the road. But we have to remember that these roads, drawn by a surveyor in an office randomly cut concessions through the landscape when they divided the lots in the townships. It is human’s nature to rationalize and organize the landscape to our will, (but that’s my artsy side coming out and post all on its own). The roads have no relationship to anything other than the ruler. They don’t compensate for creeks, drainage, sun paths, wind, mountains, etc. That being said we still want the barn, house, or farmyard to look appealing from the road. It should be understood where the house and barns are, where the laneway is, etc.

2. Wind Patterns

East wind is all it takes to make my mother-in-law shudder! The pig barn is about 300 ft east of the house, so when the uncommon occurrence of an east wind sweeps through the area it brings all the wonderful smells of pig farming with it! When you choose your site for a barn that might have smells associated with it, think about the prevailing winds of your area. In Southwestern Ontario the summer winds are generally from the south-west and the winter winds are from the north-west. locating a bad small to the west of the house is probably not a good idea, put the garden to the west.
You can also take advantage of natural ventilation in your barn or house if you understand you local wind patterns. Natural ventilation can remove hot air from a barn and keep air moving in the heat of summer. The cold winter winds can also encourage air movement int he winter, reducing the need for mechanical ventilation and energy consumption.

3. Sun Paths

The sun makes predictable paths through the seasons and can provide a building or yard with twofold advantages if we pay attention to the sun paths; light and heat.

The sun can provide the interiors of our buildings with free light! i.e. no electricity bill! There are technologies that can help regulate the light switch automatically so that energy savings are maximized when sufficient natural daylighting is available. The light also affects what the farm yard might be like, or where to plant your garden. Buildings cast shadows onto your yard, so you need to consider locations for new buildings relative to existing uses.

The second benefit from the sun is heat. Capturing the heat from the sun is a bit more difficult, but can result is huge savings in heating bills. By allowing the sun to shine into our buildings and capturing it using heat sinks like concrete floors we can achieve these savings. The sun even made it easy for us, in the summer the sun shines down on us from a very steep angle, and in the winter it is a very shallow angle. So in the summer using overhangs we can keep the heat from the sun out of the building when we don’t want it, but allow it under the overhangs in the winter when we do want the free heat.

4. Relationship to Other Buildings

Your farmyard is an important part of the farm, its where all the activity happens. Walking distances between buildings is important. Driving and turning space for tractors with wagons is also important. Make sure the milk truck or feed truck can get access to a building is key to an effective site design.

There are other relationships between buildings that can be designed into a site plan. Perhaps your building is a tall shed, it can protect a sensitive chicken coup from cold winter winds, or a pig barn from hot sun rays. There also may be energy connections between buildings

5. Regulations

Minimum distance regulations are a big part of siting buildings on farms. The regulation takes into account type of animal, smells, manure, and proximity to other buildings and your property line. More information on MDS can be found

Be sure to check local zoning by-law at your municipality for permitted uses and conditions on your property.

6. Topography

The bank barn is the prime example of how topography can play into building siting. The natural hills (or man-made if none can be found), allow easy access to multiple levels of a barn or house. Hills can also provide microclimate areas. Every hill has a warm side and a cold side, use this to your advantage.

7. Existing Services

Electricity, Septic, water are likely all existing on your property. Running these services long distances across your property can be time consuming and expensive. You want to ensure that distances are reasonable and efficient.

Site Design is a complex equation without clear answers, or one solution. Many of the factors above are simple, no-brainer decisions that don’t cost anything and can improve the building’s operation and efficiency. It’s all about what is a priority for you and your operation. What are the factors you use in designing your farmyard? Feel free to contact me if you want assistance in balancing all these aspects of site design. Good luck with your aerial photo shoot!


Suburban Seeds


I met a wonderful lady this week in a pursuit to win an equestrian design project. She is from Albany, New York and she had a great saying about suburban development. as we drove though many suburbs along Highway 410 she stated “look as all the house seeds growing.” and I might add… ‘there like invasive weeds, once you plant one you have a million!’

Simple Practicality

Gray Organschi Architecture

This beautiful project looks expensive and complicated, but it's so not. This wood storage barn takes the need to store pallets and uses them at the exterior wall of the shed. A steel frame provides insert pockets for each pallet to create a wall of storage. Designed by Gray Organschi Architecture, they take the simple need for storage and made it beautiful with only lighting. It's even off-grid lighting, powered by solar panels! The mosaic pattern of different pallets creates a simple practicality for this shed. A perfect example of form follows function.

Gray Organschi Architecture

Gray Organschi Architecture

Gray Organschi Architecture

Hay and Straw Storage as Insulation?

I'm sure you've heard of straw bale houses, but did you ever think that you could use your straw and hay storage as insulation for your farm buildings? Straw and Hay makes a great insulator because it is full of air pockets, air being a great thermal break that does not allow heat to be transferred to sensitive areas like inside barns where animals are living. By strategically locating hay and straw storage on your farm you can save cooling and heating costs for barns and houses depending on your farm needs.

Winter above, summer below, Image from Barns and Outbuildings and How to Building them

This technique dates back to the pioneers who settled and started farming.  A simple wooden structure would be placed in the pastures and covered with straw of hay. This would then provide shelter from the sun in the summer, and be a supplementary feeding for animals out to pasture.

Winter-hay and/or straw storage, copyright Krista Duynisveld 2009

summer-no hay or straw storage, copyright Krista Duynisveld 2009

We can also take this principle and apply it to a winter situation.  As hay and straw are collected in through the summer and stored for use during the winter, strategic storage can provide wind breaks for barns in the winter. Keeping the prevailing cold winter winds away from the barn walls can significantly reduce heating requirements for the sensitive chickens or piglets. By also adding an extra layer of insulation the heating that is put into the barn stays inside longer.  Not only that, but the convenience of having straw or hay located close to the feeding and bedding area is a bonus.  As the hay and straw get used through the winter you are left with an open barn again that can take advantage of natural ventilation and prevailing summer winds.

With a little bit of planning this simple strategy could save you money on heating and ventilation costs over the long term. And this strategy costs less to install than bigger fans and bigger heaters up front. Please feel free to add comments and critiques on how this might be adapted to work for you on your farm.

Home for the holidays or the chores?

Inevitably when you go home to the farm for any length of time you get recruited to help with chores. Not that I mind, and in many cases it is a way to spend time with my Dad. So during Christmas break I helped with cleaning out the chicken barn. This involves a retrofitted lawn mower with a scraper on the front. But operating that was not my job. My job was to fork, shovel, scrape or by any means, by hand, clean the corners of the barn where the tractor could not get to. A difficult job for an out-of-shape cityslicker like me. My dad even gave me a “break” job in case I got tired; change the dead lightbulbs. During this labour intensive task and being a designer, I couldn’t help but think “how can this be easier?” I decided that the barn should have rounded corners! Rounded to match the turning radius of the tractor to eliminate this tough job. It took about 8 hours to clean 4 corners. Eliminating that square footage and few extra birds more than makes up for my saved time and my saved back!