Barn Restoration

Ulster County, NY

There is something magical about working on older stone structures. I’m not sure exactly what it is, but it’s something I really enjoy doing. Maybe it’s because I frequently see these old buildings torn down and the foundations buried in the ground. I know firsthand how much time it takes to build and shape stones to fit. It’s hard work, but so worth the effort. I enjoy utilizing these stones or in the case of the barn below, restoring back to the original.

I was originally contacted by email about a client who wanted to restore their barn. Walls were collapsing, mortar was missing and most of the foundation needed to be rebuilt. I accessed the damage, developed a plan, and bid on the project. I was delighted to work with them and engineered a drain system as part of the project. Rain will heave and push masonry walls over time and this is the number one reason for collapses. I’ve learned this over the years, so water management is critical in all of my work.

Enjoy the photos below and watch our progress as we navigated this challenging project.

This is a close-up photo of what we were dealing with. Large sections were missing and the barn was leaning and settling. Most of the damage was due to water penetration and improperly set stones, as well as the lack of drainage gravel or footings.

The first step was to gain access to the inside of the barn. My mini excavator was perfect for this, as it has a limited footprint and height but is capable of lifting stones that are 3,000 pounds. I needed to remove 36” of soil to fit underneath the floor joists so I could properly navigate.

We had a timber framer support the barn above while we worked in sections. We also installed floor supports, as needed to ensure things were safe. I excavated the outside to gain access and once this step was done, we were ready to build!

A footing 18” deep x 48” wide was first installed and then we started setting the boulders. The initial stonemasons used a style where the smoothest face was set outwards and shims were put behind the stones to help stabilize. Essentially they were set “on edge”. This was problematic, due to the irregular shapes of the stones. We chose to set stones on their natural plane, with minimal shims. This made for a wall not as smooth as the original, but much stronger. There were more “snout” protrusions on the face, but this wall will last three centuries or more. As long as the gutters are maintained, water will have minimal damage to this foundation. A footing 18” deep x 48” wide was first installed and then we started setting the boulders.

The initial stonemasons used a style where the smoothest face was set outwards and shims were put behind the stones to help stabilize. Essentially they were set “on edge”. This was problematic, due to the irregular shapes of the stones. We chose to set stones on their natural plane, with minimal shims. This made for a wall not as smooth as the original, but much stronger. There were more “snout” protrusions on the face, but this wall will last three centuries or more.  As long as the gutters are maintained, water will have minimal damage to this foundation.

Traditionally, these foundations were build dry laid with mortar/pointing only on the outside. We followed these same guidelines on this build, but modified the building technique to achieve a much more stable foundation.

Here we are using a pitching hammer called a quarry buster. We do this when we want to remove sections of a stone. The “quarry buster” is held on edge, as a 20 pound sledgehammer strikes the head. With enough persistence, the unwanted protrusion is removed and allows us to achieve tighter fits and better “seating” of the stones.

We installed over 500’ feet of piping to accommodate downspouts, multiple trench drains for surface water, 300’ foot of French drains for underground water and a distribution box to handle it all. Water management is essential to the longevity of any stone project, especially a foundation.

Eric working on the final course of the back wall. At this stage, we were starting to see a real difference in our progress. We were getting close.

One final shot of the foundation. We used sand with a larger aggregate and blended our own Portland and lime. This made for a mix of flexibility and strength to stand the test of time.