When your building materials are “green,” your farm’s environmental footprint is reduced
Attributes that help determine if a building material is “green” include whether the product is - natural - renewable - non-toxic - made of recycled materials - produced locally - reusable - certified sustainable. A material does not have to have all these attributes to be considered green, but, in general, the more of these attributes it does have the better.
With the help of Blackburn Architects, P.C., we highlight four green building materials to consider for your horse barn. John Blackburn and his team have been designing green horse barns for more than 25 years.
Aided by a growing public concern over depletion of forest resources worldwide, a number of certification programs have been developed to recognize wood that has been sustainably managed and harvested. The most recognizable of these certification programs is operated by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a non-profit organization dedicated to responsible management of the world’s forests. FSC certification means the wood was harvested and transported in a manner that respects local laws and worker rights, is environmentally responsible, and protects the health of forests worldwide.
“Our line of Greenbarns® specifies FSC-certified lumber in the framing and siding,” Blackburn says, “but we encourage all of our clients, whether they are building a Greenbarn or a custom barn, to use certified lumber.”
FSC-certified wood, however, isn’t the only green option. Some land owners harvest timber from their own property to be used in onsite construction or to be sold locally. Using local building materials helps reduce resource consumption needed to transport materials from one place to another. It’s also easier to know how local wood was harvested, ensuring it was done so in an environmentally friendly manner.
Another green option is to use wood renovated from old homes, barns, or other structures. Avoid wood that you suspect has been painted with lead-based paint or treated with other potentially toxic chemicals.
Bamboo is one of the earth’s fastest-growing plants and can be grown without the use of fertilizers or pesticides. While most trees typically need decades to grow before they can be harvested, bamboo requires only four to six years. Bamboo has also been reported to sequester 35% more carbon than trees, making it attractive in the battle to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. Because of these qualities, bamboo has become a popular material for use in a variety of green products.
Not all bamboo is the same. Luke Schuette, president of Lamboo®, Inc., notes, “there are nearly 1600 species of bamboo worldwide. Some are soft while others are very dense.” To engineer a laminated bamboo product suitable for structural use in buildings, including horse barns, Lamboo, Inc. uses five species of bamboo that are harder than wood. “The structural capacity of Lamboo,” says Schuette, “is over three times stronger on average than wood.”
In addition to considering the strength of a material used in a horse barn, it is essential that any building material used in your barn is safe for your horse. “It’s really important to be wary of what may be marketed as ‘green’ substitutes for wood products to be sure they aren’t toxic, either in the material itself or the binding agents, and how it does or does not splinter if chewed since horses will nibble on whatever’s within reach,” notes Blackburn. According to Schuette, testing performed by Lamboo concluded it is safe for animal consumption, and horses are less likely to nibble on bamboo compared to wood.
An added benefit of Lamboo is that it burns more slowly than wood due to its increased density, making it less of a fire risk.
RECYCLED RUBBER FLOORING
One recycled material popular in horse barns is recycled rubber flooring, which can contain upwards of 95% post-consumer recycled materials. In general, recycled rubber flooring requires less petroleum to produce than its non-recycled counterpart, is easy to install, is very durable, and can be recycled at the end of its usefulness.
“Our hands-down favorite flooring option is recycled-rubber brick,” Blackburn says. “It is a horse-safe, attractive option for aisles. While I have heard some concern over off-gassing from the rubber, that is minimal and emissions should be low, making it quite safe in a well-ventilated barn.”
Using recycled materials to construct your barn conserves resources and keeps unnecessary waste out of our landfills.
“Arena footing is often composed of recycled content as well (old newspapers, carpet shreds, and rubber car tires) and is another way to introduce recycled materials to your facility,” Blackburn continues.
ORGANIC MILK PAINT
You might have heard of low-VOC paint that contains low levels of volatile organic compounds known to be carcinogenic. These paints are an excellent choice for finishing your green barn. But did you know that there is an organic, all-natural paint that contains no VOCs at all?
Milk paint is made from milk protein, lime, clay, and earth pigments. First used by ancient cave painters, it is experiencing a resurgence in popularity thanks to its eco-friendly qualities. Known for its distinctive flat, course finish, it is a popular choice among furniture makers and historic house renovators and is great at achieving that old country look perfect for the interior of a horse barn.
Anne Thibeau, president of the Old Fashioned Milk Paint Co. Inc, points out that using milk paint in your barn might have an added benefit as an organic fly repellent. “I’m quite sure that whitewashes, a combination of lime, water and pigment, have been used in barns to help repel flies,” notes Anne. Milk paint, which includes these same ingredients plus milk protein as a binder, may share these same beneficial qualities.
As the ultimate testimonial to the safety of milk paint, Anne reported that one of her customers emailed her with a story that they accidentally spilled a yogurt sized container of milk paint into their 70-gallon fish aquarium, turning it a deep rich blue. Rather then clean the tank, the customer let it be. Twenty-four hours later the color was gone and the fish were still alive and healthy.
MAKING GREEN CHOICES
Learn to ask the right questions when selecting a material for you barn:
- How is the product manufactured or harvested?
- Where does it come from and what is required to get it to my farm?
- How long will it last?
- Can the material be recycled or reused when I am done with it?
Asking these questions will empower you to select materials that are good for the environment and good for the health of you and your horses.
Clay Nelson is co-developer of Sustainable Stables, an organization of environmental and equestrian professionals that provides information and consulting on eco-friendly horsekeeping. www.sustainablestables.com , email@example.com