While travelling through the countryside of US or even many European countries, you might have noticed that a lot of old wooden barns are red. They look rather nice, but the color red originally was not chosen for esthetic reasons alone.

A big red traditional American barn with white trim. (Sixflashphoto, Wikimedia(CC BY-SA 4.0)

Red barns with white trim are a staple of American countryside. However, you may also see them in England, Norway, Sweden and many other countries. Nowadays barns are painted red because of tradition, but hundreds of years ago farmers were simply trying to preserve the wood.

Wood is a great construction material, but it is not exactly weather-proof. At first, farmers were making their own preservatives from linseed oil and various fillers, including ferric oxide, better known as rust. As you may know, ferric oxide is red and so was this homemade paint.

An old log barn in Sweden. (Calle Eklund, Wikimedia(CC BY 3.0)

Even when commercial paint became available, red was often cheaper than other colours. This was because ferric oxide is much cheaper than other pigments due to its abundance. Because barns and other buildings around the farm are rather big and require massive amounts of paint, farmers were trying to save some money by buying cheaper paint, which was often red.

But the ferric oxide actually has some practical advantages. It is a highly effective wood preservative, because it kills various fungi and mosses that could start rotting the building.

Traditional red barns are becoming more and more rare, but they are still a staple of an American countryside. (IIP Photo Archive, Wikimedia(CC BY 2.0)

Wooden barns are not that popular nowadays. Farmers use bigger, more modern metal buildings and even store a lot of feed (mostly bales) outdoors. But still, red barns with white trim are beautiful to see and are definitely an architectural tradition worth saving.


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