Big Red Barn Dance – Part 2

empty barn - before whitewashingIf you’re just tuning in, Lee & Katelynn, a couple of young engineers, took on the challenge of holding their wedding reception in a barn filled with 50 years of accumulated “stuff”. You can catch up on the story here in Part 1.

Today, Lee gets into the nitty gritty of whitewashing the barn interior and preparing to pour a new concrete floor in part 2 of this 3-part series.

Enjoy! – Rick

Old-time solution

With the barn cleaned out it was time to make it presentable enough for a  wedding reception. Pricing out paint for such a large area can be quite a shock, but there is an old-time solution: whitewash. Used in barns as a disinfectant, whitewash is a mixture of lime, salt, and water that dries to a chalky white appearance. Because of the ingredients it is much cheaper than paint, but also less durable.

There are hundreds of different recipes online with various additives to help make it longer lasting and less prone to rubbing off but we used the basic ingredients, which resulted in a very effective finish.

Prior to applying the whitewash, it was necessary to clean many years’ accumulation of grime and cobwebs from the walls and ceiling. A pressure washer would have been quick and easy, but in May it would have taken too long to dry. A combination of vacuuming and sweeping, along with lots of elbow grease cleaned the walls and ceiling to a point where the whitewash could be applied. Scraping old whitewash off the ceiling with a stiff bristle broom is quite the workout!

buckets of whitewash in barn

leveling the floor with sandDue to the grittiness of the whitewash mixture, some trial and error was necessary before an easy and consistent application method was found. Paint brushes tended to gather dirt from the walls and even industrial paint sprayers clogged up because of their fine nozzles and filters. We found that using a manual-pump garden sprayer allowed us to get a thick coat on quickly without having to stop too often to clean out the nozzle.

When first applied, the whitewash appeared grey, but given a few days to dry, it whitened considerably. If you’re considering doing this, be sure to wear overalls, lung and eye protection as this stuff will stick to everything and is not fun to breathe.

Concrete progress

With the whitewashing complete, it was time to look at the floor. Since the original purpose of the barn was to house cattle, the existing concrete floor was uneven, cracked, and completely missing in some places. We filled in several of the low spots with insulation and levelled the floor with many, many (many!) wheelbarrows of sand.

After laying down a vapour barrier and covering the floor with wire mesh, we hired a contractor to pour and smooth out the concrete. I would say they did an excellent job!

Since the whitewash is based off of salt, it wouldn’t have been a very good coating for the metal support posts and manure trolley track that runs through the barn at ceiling level. Even though the trolley hadn’t been used in ages we thought it was a very interesting piece of history, and after raising it so the taller members of my fiancée’s family didn’t bonk their head, it was given several coats of white paint.


new poured concrete floor We were only days away from our wedding, and with the barn spic and span we had conquered our greatest hurdle. The last phase was to gather our treasure from the cleanout and decorate.


Check back for the conclusion of the Big Red Barn Dance – Part 3 next week.

Big Red Barn Dance  – Part 1

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