“Extremely cold air comes every winter in at least part of the country and affects millions of people across the United States. The arctic air, together with brisk winds, can lead to dangerously cold wind chill values.” - National Weather Service website

Prolonged winter temperatures in the single-digits—and below—present a challenge for homesteaders trying to keep their livestock warm and safe. While opinions vary widely as to ideal air temperatures for different animals and breeds, in general, most healthy farm animals can tolerate frigid temperatures as long as there is no wind and they remain dry. Unfortunately, in many parts of the country, particularly this winter, wind and snow are a daily fact of life. Even if your property includes a barn that can provide shelter, it may be too drafty and cold for optimal animal health.

The barn must be heated adequately so your animals don’t have to expend more energy than usual—requiring additional pricey feed—trying to stay warm. Given their typically open design and minimal insulation, barns can be tricky to heat on the coldest winter days. Not only is it critical to install the right type and size barn heater, ventilation is also key in order to maintain good air quality and prevent moisture buildup. And, of course, a heated barn isn’t useful just for sheltering livestock, it is also important for storing feed, medications and other farm supplies, such as leather tack, that are sensitive to temperature extremes.

Below are some tips about the best and safest way to heat a barn, along with guidelines for calculating optimum heater size.

How Much Heat Do You Really Need?

The answer to this question depends on a number of different factors, including the average ambient outdoor temperature, how well insulated the barn is, and the configuration of the animal stalls or pens, as well as their proximity to the heat source. But the principal consideration is the size of the area to be heated, which you can determine with a tape measure. Obviously, confining your animals reasonably close together in a draft-free insulated space would reduce your heating needs.

Heater Sizing Calculator

To determine what size heater you need for your space, first determine your British Thermal Unit (BTU) requirements. Start by calculating how much space you need to heat by measuring its dimensions to come up with total cubic feet as follows:

Area Length x Width x Height = Cubic Feet

Then, to determine how much heat you need for your space, multiply total cubic feet (above) by .133, multiplied by the total desired increase in temperature.

For example, an area measuring 20’ W x 30’ L x 8’ High = 4800 cubic feet x .133 x (desired heat increase) = BTUs required. Note that BTU requirements depend heavily on whether the area is insulated.

What Are BTUs?

In case you need a quick refresher course in BTUs, they’re a universal standard for measuring heat. “BTUs” stands for British Thermal Units per hour. A BTU represents the amount of heat required to raise one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit. Heating appliances are rated according to their BTU output, which is helpful for comparison shopping. Generally, the higher the BTU rating, the larger the space the heater will heat. And as you might have guessed, typically, higher-rated BTU heaters are more expensive and cost more to operate since they use more energy. Thus, it’s important to calculate your heating needs as accurately as possible to minimize your expense.

Choosing the Best Type of Barn Heater

Armed with knowledge about the BTUs you require in a heating device, your next decision will be what type of device will work best for your purposes: gas-fired forced air or infrared? Forced air heaters work similarly to many home furnaces by blowing hot air over a broad area. Infrared or radiant heaters create warmth by projecting infrared radiation (light) onto proximate objects (animals, in this case), much like the sun. Infrared heaters don’t heat the air; forced air heaters do. One advantage of infrared heat is that it’s instantaneous. It’s also relatively energy efficient. One of the challenges associated with using this type of heater in a barn is that it must be placed very close to the animals to be effective, which may not be practical in your particular space, especially if you have a number of large animals. Also, an infrared heater stops doing its job as soon as you turn it off.

Forced air heaters, on the other hand, usually suspended from the ceiling, blast out heat to a broad area, raising the ambient air temperature. The air will remain warm for some period even after the heater is turned off. However, much of the heat can escape through open doors, cracks in windows and other uninsulated space. Also, given that hot air rises, these devices may operate most effectively in a high-ceiling barn with ceiling fans and adequate roof/attic insulation. Thus, it’s important to eliminate drafts and insulate the barn as much as you can before the onset of winter.

Electric vs. Kerosene vs. Natural Gas vs. Propane Barn Heaters

Both radiant and forced air heaters are available in models powered by different energy sources including electric, propane, natural gas, and kerosene, to meet your particular needs. For example, if you live in a rural area where natural gas is not available, you can choose a propane powered heater instead. Gas-powered heaters are a good solution if power outages are common. Or, if gas is not convenient, kerosene heaters might be a good alternative. For help sorting through these various heating options to find the best solution for your needs, please contact one of our knowledgeable customer service associates at 888-433-5275. Safest Way to Heat a Barn If sized, installed, vented (if applicable), and maintained according to the manufacturers’ specifications, barn heaters are a good, safe solution for warming your barn and your livestock in winter. Quiet, durable and efficient, they will perform reliably over time.

For those who work the land and raise livestock in the northern half of the country, winter is, at the very least, an inconvenience. But when the prevailing weather pattern brings arctic air down from Canada, winter can become deadly for unsuspecting animals exposed to the elements. Protect your livestock by installing the right size barn heater.

How do you keep your farm animals safe in winter? We would love to hear from you to learn how you manage your homestead in the extreme cold. Please leave your comments below.