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A Word of Caution

by John Uren

Some words of caution to your readers.

It’s easy to assume, as I did, that if the upper barn flooring and the supports underneath look OK, the floor is safe, and can carry a load.

Not necessarily so.

The barn on the East end of our property ( We have 2, the home barn being built in 1873) was probably built in the late 1800’s but we’re not sure. It has been kept in reasonable repair ever since.

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Since there has been no livestock on the property for nearly 30 years, this barn is used for storing collectables, with shop space on the stable level. The upper floor is a double drive floor, both being accessed from the gangway. I have  a convertible which I winter store on upper floor, and a heavy dump trailer conveniently parked between it and the door.

On April 15th of this past year I decided to bring out the convertible, and so needed to move the dump trailer. I have a small Ferguson tractor which ordinarily use for this, but this particular day I had a much heavier tractor in use for other jobs, so I thought I would use it to move the trailer (not considering the extra weight).

When I got about a third of the way across the floor to the trailer, there was a snap, followed by a huge crash whereby the entire barn floor fell into the stable, taking the tractor with me on it Miraculously, I came away basically unhurt ( my wife, Janet, said I used up 3 of my cat lives).

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What I had failed to realize, was that while the flooring and joists beneath all looked good, the ends of the joists had rotted under the flooring. My Grandfather had replaced the wooden door sill with concrete, forming it around the joist ends. The top was not sloped toward the gangway, and so over the years, water which could come through the spaces in the wooden doors, had collected in the sockets which held the joist ends. When the first joist snapped, the entire width of the floor failed, and fell below.

I’m sending this story to you because many of your readers may acquire, or already have an older barn, which they consider safe. I urge them to check the structural integrity of the framework, as it might not be as good as it seems.

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My floor has since been replaced with double 2 X 12’s on 12 inch centres, with 2 inch flooring on top. The joists have a waterproofing strip on top, and the door sill has been sloped to the outside.

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I’m thankful to have survived this adventure, and hope that this story may keep someone else from making my mistakes.

p.s. Following Blog Editor Jim Campbell’s comment on the fallen tractor being a nice Cockshutt, John wrote:

“Unfortunately, the “nice Cockshutt “ landed on top of a second “nice Cockshutt “ which didn’t have such a nice day.”


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2 thoughts on “A Word of Caution

  1. Thanks for this cautionary tale. We too have an old barn that has a bunch of random stuff stored on what looks like ok flooring- a good reminder to get it out of there and examine the floor! Any other tips you have on re flooring the barn are appreciated.
    Elizabeth Yake, Lombardy Ontario

    1. Hi Elizabeth:
      The floor planks, the timber mudsill, and the ends of the sleepers or joists of old barns are often particularly vulnerable to failure at the gangway threshing doors since they may be deteriorated over the years by moisture within the soils of the gangway or by rain blowing in if the doors have been left open, or by splashing of roof water if there has been problems with or a lack of eavestrough at some point in the buildings history. Assessing these components, as well as the rest of the floor system, for structural integrity is very important for safe use of the barn, especially if used for storage of heavy items. Having the input from an expert, such as a structural engineer familiar with timber-frames and agricultural buildings, is always a good idea since they should be not only considering that the sleepers-joists are suitably sized and the planking is an appropriate thickness for its span, but also determining if there is any structural damage to these components such as rot, post-beetle problems, or improper modifications done in the past. Remember that the flooring (typically planks) is only one component of the floor’s structural system, and that the whole (foundations, beams, mudsills, sleepers-joists) should be taken into consideration.
      I hope this is helpful for you.
      Jim Campbell

      [The content on this web site / email is provided for general information purposes only for our fellow barn lovers and does not constitute legal or other professional advice or an opinion of any kind. Ontario Barn preservation recommends that fellow barn lovers on this web site /email are advised to seek specific professional advice by contacting a professional engineer, architect, planner, real estate agent, lawyer, or designer regarding any specific issues. You can find some on our Barn Special-list. Ontario Barn Preservation does not warrant or guarantee the quality, accuracy or completeness of any information on this web site / email. We also recommend that user do their due diligence prior to engaging with these professionals. The articles published on this web site are current as of their original date of publication, but should not be relied upon as accurate, timely or fit for any particular purpose and all barns, sites and circumstances are unique and one should always consult a professional in the area for your particular needs and circumstances prior to making any professional, legal, construction, architectural, engineering and financial or tax related decisions related to the safety of our barns.]

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