Why are barns painted red?
There are three reasons we see so many red American barns. It’s traditional, it’s practical and the color looks good.
Although a main reason to paint wooden buildings is for appearances, paint also protects the wood so it lasts longer.
During the 1700s and early 1800s, barns on family farms in the Northeast U.S. were typically covered with thick vertical boards. When they were left unpainted, the boards would slowly weather to a brownish-gray color.
But after the mid-1800s, to improve the efficiency of their barns by reducing drafts to help keep their animals more comfortable in winter, many farmers tightened up their barns by having wooden clapboards horizontally nailed on the outside barn walls. These clapboards were sawed quite thin, so painting them provided needed protection and dressed up the appearance of the barns.
According to the 1884 edition of “Everybody’s Paint Book,” by F.B. Gardner, Venetian red was “suitable for any common work, or for brickwork and outbuildings.” This red pigment penetrated well into wooden barn boards and resisted fading when exposed to sunlight, so it could age gracefully for generations.
Venetian red got its name because historically this pigment was produced from natural clays found near Venice, Italy. The clays contained an iron oxide compound that produced this red color.