Category Archives: Design

Kennel Construction; Building Material Choices

By Craig L. McAllester

What is the best building material for a kennel?

With so many new building materials being developed for increased energy efficiency, someone building a new kennel might have questions regarding the best for their project. While, conserving energy is certainly important, also important is choosing materials that will withstand the harsh environment of a kennel.

Making the wrong choice here could cost you big money in just a few years, and it may even shorten the life of the building. There is no one right answer for every project.  In this post, I’ll list some choices available, and share a few thoughts on each.

Wood Construction:


Wood, not the best choice for around water!

For years, the most common building material has been wood frame, or ‘stick frame’ construction. Typical wood framing with a drywall finish will simply not stand-up if it becomes wet, and so, it is not the best choice for a kennel.

But stick framing is not the only wood choice.  Another wood choice that is gaining popularity in the small animal care industry is Pole Barn construction.  Used for hundreds of years to construct farm buildings, new technologies that are being used today are allowing this type of construction to be used in wet areas, and with very promising results. There are several reasons one might choose this as an option.  A biggest reason is cost-savings. A costly concrete foundation is not needed in a post and beam building, as the posts go deep into the ground to support the structure.  Many of the barns you pass along the highway every day, were built over a hundred years ago, and they are still being used today–and many are as strong as ever.  The key is to design the building so the water and the wood never meet.  I address this in our latest book.

Masonry Construction:

Perhaps, the most common material used for an animal shelter today is CMU (Concrete Masonry Unit), also known as, cinder block, cement block, masonry, and block construction among other various terms.  CMU is durable, no doubt, and will stand up to most any abuse. Once the walls are laid up, the voids in the blocks, known as cores, are grouted solid with concrete and  structural steel reinforcing bar make for a very strong building.  The thermal mass of this material along with proper insulation, will help keep utility bills low.  Because of its mass, masonry will help reduce sound transmission, a real advantage in a noisy animal shelter.  Masonry naturally resists pests, because there is nothing for bugs to eat.  Because it is a cement product, the cost of fire insurance is low too. All that said, there are a few drawbacks.  CMU is labor intensive to build.  Each block is laid-up individually by a mason, and labor costs are very high.  Masonry is a porous product, and thus, if not completely sealed, water, urine and bacteria will work their way inside of the block walls where it cannot ever be cleaned.  The porous surface makes it hard to seal, even with a roll-on or spray-on finish, and when the finish is scratched off, it must be reapplied regularly to ensure waterproofness.

Glazed Masonry:

There is a factory finish available for CMU, where each block is glazed making the surface completely waterproof. The cost of glazed masonry is high, but, if the money is available, it is a good option, giving a tile-like appearance.  The grout used should be a non-absorbent type.  This further increases the cost.

Concrete Tilt-up Construction:

Example of Tilt-Up Construction

For projects with a flat concrete floor slab, concrete tilt-up construction might be considered.  Once the foundation and floor slab are poured and cured, the building walls are formed and poured directly on top of the floor slab.  When the walls are cured, they are ’tilted-up’ into position and bolted together.  This type of construction provides a very strong and very durable building.  Casting the walls using a high-strength concrete will make them waterproof, and with proper furring, insulation and finish, a tilt-up building will last for many years. The exterior finish may be of any type, or simply painted or left unfinished.  These heavy walls help to control sound transmission, so there is less chance of neighbors hearing any noisy barking.  Though, normally used in larger commercial/industrial projects, tilt-up construction has been used on smaller kennel projects too.  As shown in the photo, the doors, windows and other openings are all blocked-out before pouring, when the walls are raised, the wall framing is finished.

Pre-Cast Concrete Construction:

Precast concrete wall systems have been around for years.  They are used primarily for basement wall construction, however some of these manufactures are using precast concrete panels for above grade as well.  There are several reasons to use this product, one being the walls can often be set in place in only one day!  Another reason is because the walls are waterproof–the high-strength concrete will not allow water to pass through.  Companies like Superior Walls® manufacture concrete panels in their factory, then deliver them to the construction site where they are lifted off the truck and onto the foundation where they are bolted together.

ICF, insulated Concrete Form Construction:

Insulated Concrete Forms, or ICF’s have been around a while now too.  I designed several buildings back in the ’90’s using ICF’s, when fuel prices started to climb.  I have never designed a kennel using ICF’s, as it is typically more costly than most other framing types discussed here.  That said, ICF, depending on the brand, would work well for a kennel because they are strong, energy efficient, make a good sound barrier and most are impervious to water.

Structural Steel Frame Construction:

Example of Structural Steel Construction

Structural steel is another good option, and the one I have used the most over the years for kennel construction.  A heavy steel frame is erected, and then the exterior skin is applied.  All too often, my clients think these need to look like metal industrial buildings, but that’s simply not the case. It is often the most cost effective option.  The outside, they can have any exterior finish available–even masonry or stucco. Inside they can have any finish there too. Columns locations need to be taken into account when designing the building, but, for new construction, that’s easily done.  The frame itself can be painted, boxed-out to conceal the frame completely, or even hot-dipped galvanized to reduce the chance of rust forming on exposed steel.  The latter adds to the cost, but inside the building, the galvanized finish looks real nice for a long time.  These buildings go up fast too, and that’s of great benefit.

Light-Gauge Steel Frame Construction:

Light-gauge or cold-formed steel, is sometimes overlooked as a structural framing choice.  It is used as an interior, nonbearing wall framing choice in commercial construction every day, and is used as an exterior choice for infilling a structural steel frame building too.  The only drawback is that it is a bit time consuming to frame a structural wall with light gauge steel.  Material is available with a galvanized finish, helping to keep it from rusting, and that is a good choice for the sill plate.

So, what is right for your project?

And, there are more, but there really is no single answer for every project.  A lot depends on your local climate, the use of the building, (i.e: shelter vs commercial boarding vs animal hospital etc.), the budget, access to your building site, new construction vs addition,  and more needs to be taken into consideration.  Most of these materials are available in any area of the country. When choosing, keep an open mind until a conceptual design is developed and preliminary pricing is complete.  Contact me to discuss all your options.  Once a decision has been made, select a contractor familiar with that particular construction type.

More Information:

National Concrete Masonry Association
Tilt-Up Concrete Association
ICF Insulated Concrete Forms Association
Light-Guage Steel Supplier
Renovation vs New Construction
Building Costs

A New Folding Kennel Option

A Folding Kennel Option

Crates Don’t Work Well.

Folding crates are a pain. You never seem to have the right size for the animal. When you fold them up, where do you store them? Most often, I see crates with a broken plastic floor that causes the animal to lie on the wire bottom-certainly not a good thing.

So, what do you do when you need more kennel space?

This folding, Space Saver kennel came across my desk today. It is full size, and folds flat to the wall in no time. I think this new kennel has great potential for use in a daycare rooms for downtime or to provide additional boarding for that busy holiday weekend when you’re out of space. For an SPCA, these would be great for those times when you need a lot of intake space, but when not needed, they fold-up in short order to free up the room for other activities. Have a look at this link, and be sure to watch the video.

If you are interested, let me know if you need help in laying the space out, and then we can get you some pricing.

Boarding Kennels: The Design Process

Now Available as an E-Book

Boarding Kennels: The Design Process

New E-Book:

New E-Book:

Our latest book is now available as an E-Book. See it here. If you are planning to build a new boarding kennel, you owe it to yourselves to read Boarding Kennels: The Design Process.

It covers land acquisition, building a list of wants and desires. We cover Kennel Enclosures, Drains, Vacuum Systems and so much more.


Cattery Design

 See my latest article in Pet Boarding & Daycare magazine:

Cattery Design; CATS ARE PEOPLE TOO!

CATTERY DESIGN Cats are people too!
Cats are people too!

Design Your Kennel For The Future

no parkingKennel Design; review all the codes before you start your project.

I am an architectural designer, and I specialize in animal care facility design. My work extends all across the USA and in countries around the globe.  Because my work is, well,  everywhere, I find it very interesting how both local building codes and zoning ordinances vary from one project to the next.  Even neighboring cities have different regulations.

One of the services we offer is a Feasibility Study.  In this study, we examine the local regulations to help ensure that the design we are about to prepare meets these local regulations. This will help design your kennel for the future.

I saw post recently where a homeowner posted a giant NO PARKING! sign on his front lawn.  Apparently, patrons of the kennel across the street are parking in this man’s driveway while they are conducting business at the kennel.  The kennel has no off-street parking, and the street is only 18′ wide, leaving little room for parking.  Because the kennel has been there for years, the city says, “…it’s not our problem!”

_DSC6950-31On many projects, we use a circular driveway for customers to drive up, drop off / pick up, and then drive off.  I might suggest that a kennel have an attendant on the drive too during the morning intake hours, and in the evening, offer a service where the customer can call ahead to pick up an animal, and having the pet ready and waiting.  Services like this, reduce the number of parking spaces needed and are especially good in situations, like this, where the kennel is operating in a non-commercial zoning district with no off-street parking.

Parking is a real concern, but for a kennel, there are so many aspects to getting the design right.  So, when planning for your kennel, be sure to research all the local regulations, but also, consider the needs of your neighbors too.  Starting off on the right foot will go a long way in building a business.

If you need help in the design of your new boarding kennel, animal shelter, or veterinary hospital, give me a call.


Shipping Container Kennels

Containers for Kennels

Containers for Kennels

The other day, I saw a few pictures on Pinterest of shipping container kennels. They made me raise an eye brow.

At first glance, one might think that these containers seem like the perfect answer for all your shelter’s troubles.  No more leaky roof, or over-crowding, or broken kennel enclosures, poor drainage, or whatever plagues your kennel.  Just drop in another container and everything is well again, and they’re cheap too!  Now, that really sounds great…

but, not so fast!

A Google search on the words ‘container architecture quickly reveals that using containers in construction is nothing new.  Homes and commercial buildings are made of containers and containers are stacking up on every port around the country.  They were shipped into our country with products and goods, but they cost too much to return them empty.  So the cost of containers are fairly cheap.

With a little planning, containers make a very strong, safe and watertight building.  But, these ‘buildings’ must meet all the building code requirements that any commercial building would need to meet.  Hence, the planning!

The inside needs to have water, both supply and drainage.  It must have heating, cooling, ventilation,  electric, lighting, insulation, and must meet all the requirements for the ADA, Americans with Disabilities Act, too.

Outside, these ‘permanent’ buildings must meet the requirements for gravity and lateral forces; both a proper foundation to rest on, and the building must be tied to the foundation to resist lateral wind loads.  The doors and pathways around the buildings must also be accessible for wheelchair access and they must meet zoning and setback requirements too.

So, the thought of just dropping a few containers in place, cutting in a few dog doors, and moving in the animals, could be not be farther from the truth.

However, with a little planning,

shipping container kennels may come in handy for short-term housing of animals after a natural disaster, or for emergency quarantine.  Also, it is always a problem finding housing for animals when renovating an existing shelter. This is especially so, when taking an existing shelter building down completely, to build a new one in it’s place.  Perhaps temporally housing of animals in containers may be an answer, but, it’s all a matter of proper planning.

For all your kennel or animal hospital design needs, give me a call–that’s what I do, worldwide, and  I’m here to help.

Quarantine, Whether Ebola or Parvovirus, Think INSIDE The Box!


Ocean Shipping Containers assembled creating a mobile hospital!

sThis latest outbreak of Ebola has me concerned. Now, I am certainly no doctor or scientist. I’m an architectural designer. I design animal shelters, boarding kennels, military and police kennels and veterinary hospitals too. Most of these buildings have quarantine rooms in their designs, and that’s what sparks my concern.

I do have a little bit of medical background. I was a US Navy hospital corpsman, an ER staff corpsman, a battle dressing station triage officer, and an ACLS paramedic. I went through the Navy’s training for handling of and the treatment of patients infected with chemical and biological warfare weapons. Back then, it was my job to run towards the fire, the sick and the injured, or the flooding on a ship to fix problems. Today, I design solutions.

Last week on C-Span, I listened to the House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations as they try to find answers. Tim Murphy, Chairman, Pennsylvania, outlined that mistakes have been made thus far here in the USA.  He also said that 1000 people are entering this country each week from “Ebola hot zones.” I certainly understand that we must protect our homeland, and perhaps travel restrictions are warranted, but there is more that needs to be done, and done right now!  It is estimated that more than 4500 people have died as of this writing.

Chairman Murphy noted that the number of Ebola outbreaks in Africa are doubling every three weeks. It seems to me that more effort needs to be directed at stopping ebola at its source. The African hospital workers must have, not only the proper medications and equipment, but they must also have the proper facilities to contain this deadly virus.

Containment is likely the only way to prevent the spread. Last week, I saw a video where a hospital worker was exiting an isolation ward, walking through clear plastic doors, then across the dirt ground where he stepped through a pan of liquid, presumably a disinfectant for his shoes.  This is simply not enough.

How can these hospital conditions be changed, and right now, to expedite the eradication of ebola?

Building new hospitals is simply out of the question. It would take too long and too many would die waiting for a bed. This has been going through my head day and night, and then it came to me, maybe the answer is…

Ocean Shipping Containers!


Advantages of building a single-level hospital from available shipping containers.

  • Containers make for fast manufacturing–the frame is already to go
  • Containers are strong
  • Containers are a cheap buildings
  • Containers are plentiful, there are thousands of used containers stacked at every seaport
  • Containers may be renovated fairly easily to allow for:
    • Windows
    • Skylights
    • Air-tight man-doors
    • Roll-up storage doors
    • HVAC mechanical systems
  • Containers are easy to ship
  • Containers make for easy-setup once delivered on-site
  • Containers may be insulated to suit most any climate, cold or hot
  • Containers are watertight
  • Containers are air-tight
  • Containers have steel interior walls that could be easily cleaned and sanitized.
  • The only drawback, they have a wooden floor, but there are several options.

More than 21,000 shipping containers enter this country on a daily basis. These extremely strong, steel, air-tight boxes can be quickly modified to make most any kind of room needed. Fitted with proper lighting, plumbing and HVAC, (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning), they can be renovated quickly to make quarantine wards, offices, treatment rooms, labs, pharmacy, X-ray rooms, break rooms, supply and storerooms or, of course, kennels. They could even be used for housing for emergency personnel or most any other need. When shipped, each could be packed with all the medical supplies, beds/bedding, HVAC equipment, water heaters, generators, and supplies needed for the specific emergency at hand.

The interior walls and ceilings are metal and may be painted for easy cleaning. The floors are wood, and may be finished a welded sheet goods material or an epoxy finished concrete.  Just as in any hospital, the entire inside, then, can be sanitized and the waste water vacuumed from the floor.  If no sewage is available or if it is inappropriate for the specific emergency, the water would be collected into storage tanks awaiting treatment.

Once arrived on site, the units would be anchored and the exterior walls and roof would receive spray polyurethane foam insulation, as thick as needed to maintain proper indoor temperatures. Then the exterior would be finished with a spray elastomeric or other roofing material.  With proper planning, a little engineering, and some site development while in transit, these units could be occupied within days upon delivery.

So, whether parvovirus in animals or ebola in Africa, think INSIDE the box for emergency quarantine!  When you have a need for an overflow kennel, or disaster relief housing, consider shipping containers as an affordable emergency shelter/quarantine kennel, or a full fledged hospital to combat an ebola crisis in West Africa.

Please share this article. Just maybe, it will spark an the right idea, in the right minds.

God’s blessing to those sick and to their health workers.

Fast, Low Income Housing Using Containers

Multi-Level container Hospitals 

Kennel Design Services

Kennel Design Services

Your Drawings Are Ready!

Whether You Need Just a Simple Plan, A Full Building and Site Kennel Design, or Just Consulting Services; We Have You Covered!

I often get questions about the kennel design services that we offer and the costs involved. This post explains what we do.

We design projects for:

  • Boarding Kennels
  • Pet Hotels
  • Animal Daycare
  • Animal Shelters
  • Veterinary Hospitals
  • Police, Military & Homeland Working Dog Kennels
  • And even private Chicken Coops
    We do it all.

Our services are available in two ways:

  • Design Services:

    Depending on your needs, we develop plans for your project based on the information you provide from our Conceptual Kennel Design Purchase Order Form. Each project is unique, and so, each is customized to the clients’ specific needs.  It costs no more to get exactly what you want.  Working from the office here in Pennsylvania, or meeting with clients’ anywhere in the world, our work extends to countries around the globe.

    Working one on one with clients, we develop as much, or as little, as the project demands. From offering design ideas, to preparing complete construction documents, we only provide what you need. This keeps your costs very low; you’ll never pay for unneeded services and building design fees start as low as $800.00 USD.

  • Consulting Services

    Sometimes, a client needs just a little information regarding their existing building, or perhaps needs specific information about a portion of an upcoming project they are planning.  Perhaps an architect is needing information regarding a kennel project for which they have never designed in the past.

    In these cases, we offer consulting services to answer questions guiding them to a successful project.

So what ever the need, we can design a solution.  Call me anytime, I’m usually, here in the studio designing a kennel.


Support Hotels for Pets!

Pets Deserve a Red Roof Holiday Travel Motel-K9 Lodge Too!

I make my living designing animal shelters and boarding kennels and catteries. My projects have been all across the USA and in other countries around the world.

As with most designers, an architect friend of mine got a little behind in his work. So, for the last few weeks, I have been helping him with the design of a new Holiday Inn hotel. That got me to thinking, wouldn’t it be nice if all hotels had a small, attached, clean, secure boarding kennel to keep watch over the four-legged (or feathered) family member, while you were at the beach? Hotels for Pets!!

Perhaps the next time you are booking a room, you might ask what the rates are for the kennel? When they tell you that they don’t have a kennel, then ask, “Why not?!”