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Barn Electric Power

Determining the electric service size for a horse barn is not a difficult task, but it does take a little thought. Generally, it really depends on what you intend to do in your barn. Therefore, a barn can be a small electrical power user. Many barns have only lights and a radio. For those needs, a 120 volt, 30 amp circuit is more than enough for that, especially if you're going to use Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs) (which you should).

But if you're going to do more, then you need to think a little bigger. For example, if you want to have hot water in the barn, that usually means installing an electric hot water heater. And I can tell you from personal experience that it's GREAT to have hot water in a barn. It makes cleaning everything much easier, neater, and more comfortable.

Hot water heaters come in many different sizes and heating speeds. The smaller ones will draw 1,500 watts and can run off one dedicated 120 volt, 15 amp circuit, while an instant, tank-less heater supporting a higher flow rate (such as for a washing machine) could require as much as a 40 amp, 240 volt circuit. You'll need to add the appropriate amount to your barn service size depending on what size water heater you buy.

Electrical Panel If you include a fridge in your barn, figure another 15 or 20 amp, 120 volt circuit. A refrigerator is nice for keeping medications fresh and longer lasting, keeping beverages for staff and boarders, even keeping the requisite bag(s) of carrots and apples for the local tenants. If you include the aforementioned washing machine and, perhaps, a clothes dryer like the barn where I board my horse has, you're talking still more, especially for the dryer which can require as large as a 50 amp, 240 volt circuit just for it. I will admit, it is great to be able to wash our horse sheets and saddle blankets at the barn, especially because we'd all rather not put them in the same washer we use for our clothes at home — lots of horse hair is always left behind in the washer.

What about the water buckets in each stall? Are your putting heated buckets in your barn so the drinking water doesn't freeze? If so, figure another 50 - 60 watts per bucket. In a 10-stall barn, that's only 600 watts, but you need to add up even the little appliances so your total service size is adequate to handle your load and have some room for future expansion.

Note: If you do install heated buckets, be sure to have the installation performed professionally and also assure the power cord is not accessible for chomping by the horse. An exposed cord would make it both an electrocution and a fire hazard and you definitely don't want that in your barn.

As you can see with the foregoing, no one I can give you just a "one size fits all" voltage/current rating for you to have installed in your barn because we don't know the size and number of appliances you plan for your new barn. But you should first decide what appliances you want out there and then speak with an electrician. It's a good idea to put in a bigger electrical service now to which you can add more appliances in the future rather than saving on the service now just for lighting and having to spend much more to have a bigger service installed later. The utility will charge you only for the electricity you use regardless of the size of the service. So, putting a larger service now is a reasonable, one-time cost and you'll have ample room for expansion in the future.

Besides being an avid trail rider, Jerry Tardif is a technology consultant and a horse and nature photographer in SE Connecticut — see his work at: www.jerrytardif.com. He is also co-founder and President of QueryHorse.

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