No one can deny that the housing market is becoming more expensive. Not only purchases but property rental costs are becoming out of the reach of ordinary families.
One of the options that more and more people consider is to buy or build a barndominium or “barndo,” as many call them.
Read on, and you’ll find out everything you need to construct a home suitable for any size family quicker than, and costing less than, a traditionally built house.
We’ve compiled information from barndo owners and their construction experts to provide as much information as possible for those who are serious and want to develop the latest in self-build properties.
What Are Barndominiums?
A barndominium is a metal structure, mainly consisting of living quarters. But, often with a garage or workshop area incorporated into the design.
Therefore, a barndo is ideal for owners of small businesses or those with hobbies requiring plenty of space. Furthermore, if you’re interested in horses and riding, you can include stables and indoor riding arenas, depending on the size of your barndo.
Currently, you can buy metal barn kits, quickly converted into factories, workshops, offices, stables, and many other purposes.
So, it makes sense that using one of these, wholly or partially as living accommodation, should be just a case of altering the internal design slightly to conform to your local building codes for residential structures.
Furthermore, you can take an existing barn structure and convert it to residential status or build one from a bespoke kit. The choice is up to you.
How Much Do Barndominiums Cost?
One of the most important questions that everybody asks is, “how much will a barndo cost me?”
On the face of it, this looks pretty straightforward. But, in reality, the cost depends on the barndo’s size, the building’s features, and where you live or want the barndo built.
Therefore, we can only give you a ballpark figure of the overall cost without going into your project in great detail. However, we can say that, all things being equal, barndos are cheaper to build than a conventional home.
At the time of writing (January 2023), the cost of an average barndo ranges from $90-$130/sq.ft. with an average price of $225,000, including many high-quality features.
However, as we’ve said previously, this figure depends on several factors, the most important of which is how much work you’ll do as a DIY project and how much will a general contractor do.
Generally, if you hire a general contractor to organize everything, you’ll be nearer $130/sq.ft. or more.
But, if you feel confident about handling most of the work, you’ll save yourself a lot of money. In fact, it’s possible to reduce construction costs to around $30/sq.ft. if you know what you’re doing.
Comparing the Costs of a Barndominium with a Traditional Home
We already know that a barndo costs between $90-$130/sq.ft. However, compare this with a regular home, with costs starting around $140/sq.ft., and you can immediately see the savings.
Generally, the majority of the construction costs of a traditional building cover the exterior framing, roof, and external covering such as brick or stucco.
Apart from a roof included in the kit, barndos don’t have these outer coverings. The main cost provides the metal shell, which incorporates the roof.
In addition to the shell, consider other exterior costs. For example:
- Land clearing
- Land leveling
- Concrete slab
- Drainage and plumbing
Once again, these costs vary depending on several factors such as size, land gradient and geology, and the distance to the nearest municipal utilities.
Speak to your general contractor and barndo supplier for advice.
Who Will Benefit From A Barndominium?
Barndos are just as good for first-time homeowners as retirees, and for people who want a large home to those who want a commercial workshop or hobby area connected to their residence.
Generally, a barndo is ideal for just about anyone who wants quick construction times with better construction efficiency. But, they’re also great for those people attracted to a gentler lifestyle.
The majority of barndo owners say they like having a combined house and shop, allowing them to work from home, thus avoiding the daily commute.
Another advantage is providing a home for large families and those with relatives and elderly parents. Barndos are cheaper than a traditional home, so you have better value for money and can afford a larger structure for the same expenditure.
Generally, the roof comes with the kit and is added to the structure after erecting the walls, and before you start the internal work.
The roof style depends on the type of barndo and your personal preference and includes the following popular styles:
A gable roof is the most common roof used with a barndo. It has two equally pitched sides, meeting at the ridge to form an “A” shape.
This type of roof is simple to build, and you can customize it by adding multiple gables for porches, garages, and dormers.
- Easily constructed
- Provides additional living space under the roof
- It easily sheds rain and snow with the correct roof pitch.
- The roof pitch is usually steeper than in other designs.
- You need to know what you’re doing to get the pitch right.
Gambrel roofs have two pitched sides. Each side has a steeper pitch with a shallower slope sitting on the top, meeting the opposite slope at the ridge.
This design looks sophisticated but also provides a cozy barn feel.
- Provides a fashion statement
- Lots of space for a second floor
- Relatively easy for a professional to construct but more complicated than a gable roof
- Good roof drainage for shedding rain and snow
- Difficult to retrofit or customize
- Requires additional waterproofing
- The shallow-pitched upper roof can accumulate snow
Shed roofs have one continuous roof pitch. Usually used purely for garden sheds and outbuildings, its simplicity makes it popular for barndos.
However, they tend to make a structure look contemporary rather than giving a traditional farmhouse feel.
- Cheap to make
- Easily constructed
- You can use any roof material, depending on the pitch.
- Doesn’t accumulate water pools
- It reduces indoor ceiling heights.
- Resembles a utilitarian-looking shed
A monitor roof has a raised two-story center portion with shorter walls and a lower roof on either side.
This type is popular with barndo owners who prefer living upstairs with a shop, garage, stables, or covered porch on the first floor.
- Provides second-floor options with low-pitch roofs
- You can build these roofs using modular construction methods.
- Install windows in the central portion without using dormers
- Complicated construction
- More expensive than more straightforward roofs
You don’t need to stop there.
All these roofs can be customized and combined to create a unique design to make your barndo stand out from the rest.
The main feature of a barndo is that it can have expansive, open-plan living rooms and kitchens with high vaulted ceilings and mezzanine upper floors.
Generally, they have a rectangular floor slab allowing you to customize the layout easily. And, because the buildings are self-supporting, without internal pillars, large interior open spaces are cheaper for barndos than other buildings.
Some prospective barndo owners wonder what the internal walls look like and whether they look like a metal building. Simply put, the interior walls have the insulation and drywall that traditional houses use, so you don’t see the metal shell at all.
And, it’s not just the interior of the metal shell that looks good. Because of the combination of large rooms and cheaper costs, barndominium owners can enjoy high-quality fixtures and features, such as:
- Large rooms
- Marble or granite countertops
- High-end cabinets and bespoke joinery
- Extensive lofts
- Large pantries
- Luxury bathrooms or wet rooms with spa fixtures
- Hardwood floors
- Natural stone or high-quality tiled flooring
Generally, we say that if you can afford it, you can incorporate it into the barndo design.
Different Types Of Barndo Kits
Barndominium kits arrive from the manufacturer with all the materials and blueprint plans you need to build your barndo. Therefore, you can construct your barndo quickly, easily, and at a reduced cost.
You choose the kit based on the size and floor plan you want, or for an additional cost, you can customize these, so your barndo is unique.
If you aren’t sure what you want, speak to a local barndominium manufacturer. They’re situated all over the country and will be happy to help provide a kit to suit your requirements.
And because you’ll find one in your area, the shipping costs will be minimal.
After selecting your kit and allowing some time for delivery, the barndo will usually arrive on a semi-trailer. You then assemble the kit onto the pre-poured concrete slab.
You still have to hire someone to assemble the parts (or do it yourself), but it’s cheaper than paying someone to build it from scratch.
Furthermore, if you don’t know any contractors with barndo kit assembly experience, the manufacturer will recommend construction teams to come and do it for you.
Remember to have the foundations, flooring slab, drainage, and utilities already in place before assembling. And you’ll need a crane or other suitable mechanical handling equipment to lift the steel components into place.
There are many designs you can choose from. You can select structures resembling a simple agricultural barn to something indistinguishable from a traditional house.
Generally, the plans depend on your personal requirements and preferences. Most barndo owners choose this construction method because it allows them to have their business premises in the same structure as their living accommodations.
Therefore, you will often find that their exterior design looks more like a barn than someone who simply wants a large house.
Overall, the exterior design depends on your preferences, and any limitations the local building codes and zoning regulations impose on you.
For example, you probably wouldn’t be allowed to build a barndo resembling an agricultural building in the middle of a residential area.
So, speak to the department that issues building permits to determine if your preferred design is acceptable before buying it.
Pros and Cons
When you live in a conventionally built home, your first thoughts might be, “why would I choose to live in something resembling a barn or a warehouse?”
The only answer would be that they don’t always look like an industrial or agricultural unit unless you want them to.
The typical barndo has several advantages and disadvantages compared to a traditionally built home. Let’s consider the benefits first.
Quick to Build
Generally, traditionally built homes take about twice as long to build as a barndo.
On average, construction time for a typical traditionally made home takes months, compared to a barndo which can be erected from start to finish in a few days or weeks, depending on its complexity.
Therefore, the labor costs will be much less than for a traditional house.
Barndominiums last longer with less maintenance than traditional houses because they use a steel structural framework and metal panels as construction materials.
A typical barndo uses one material, steel. Therefore, it’s not like a traditional house made from various materials that need constant maintenance.
Typically, a good quality steel barndo kit will require almost no maintenance for ten years or more. Furthermore, even a coat of paint can last for many years on a barndo, compared to a new paint job every 2 or 3 years on a traditional house.
Therefore, compared to continuing to pay for repairs and renovations on a conventional home, a barndominium needs less renovation, repair, and general maintenance expenditure over its lifespan.
Apart from the significant savings you’ll have when choosing a barndominium, the other great advantage is the versatility of the structure and the space it offers.
Typically, a barndo offers the owner wide open spaces underneath a clear-span roof with no interior structural pillars or walls.
Therefore, you can put the interior walls exactly where you want them, giving the designer almost no limit to the customization of the interior space.
Often, you find barndos with living quarters, workspaces, swimming pools, home gyms, and even horse riding arenas under the same roof. And there’ll be enough room to safely park your cars, RVs, or motorboats under lock and key.
Everyone knows about the rising cost of living, including the price of energy needed to heat or cool your home. Therefore, you’ll be pleased to note that barndos are energy efficient, thus reducing your utility bills.
In fact, it’s not unusual for a barndo electricity bill to be 25%-50% less than for a traditional house. Generally, this is because of the unbroken spray foam insulation in the 24 inches between the interior and exterior walls.
And as any architect or home designer will tell you, spray foam protects your home from heat loss, cold air, and moisture from getting in from outside.
Therefore, your family will remain safe from mold, air pollutants, and allergens. Compare this with the few inches of fiberglass insulation that conventional homes have installed.
Security and Safety
The primary purpose of any home is to keep you and your belongings safe and secure from extreme weather conditions.
Even though you can place your barndo on the top of an exposed rural hill, its structural steel supports and sidings will protect against the worst that nature can throw at you.
Furthermore, in those regions that suffer from tornadoes, the approved and official storm shelters are made from steel.
How would you like to have your very own steel tropical storm and tornado shelter rather than going to the shared public one?
This guide wouldn’t be accurate if we didn’t list the disadvantages too.
But, to be honest, there aren’t many of those.
Not Everyone Likes a Barndominium Exterior
Although you can buy some expensive barndo kits, most look like a variation on a farmhouse or a barn, which is often the barndo’s greatest appeal.
And, when you can disguise this appearance with fancy roofs and balconies, it’s not too bad. But, some people still don’t like it.
On the other hand, barndos always look better on the inside, so if you’re happy to compromise, concentrate on getting the best interior look and sacrifice the exterior.
Don’t Even Think About a Conventional Mortgage
Generally, you’ll find that searching for finance can be tricky. The problem is that, technically, barndominiums aren’t classified as domestic houses.
Therefore, it is difficult, if not impossible, to find traditional mortgage loans to cover the purchase. However, this might change as barndos gain popularity and mortgage lenders see how they keep their value.
At present, your best option is to look for your local branch of Farm Credit Bank or a similar financial organization, which will usually offer a competitive loan. And, the best thing about them is that there is a branch in almost every state.
Furthermore, as the financial market is constantly changing with lenders looking for the latest product, it might be that your local bank has already developed a barndo mortgage package. It certainly doesn’t hurt to ask.
We’ll discuss financing your barndo project in more detail later in this guide.
Difficult to Sell
Although barndos sell at the current property rate, just like any other house, there are some other factors that you should consider. Usually, the current owner has customized their barndo’s interior and amenities to suit their lifestyle.
For example, the current owner might have incorporated commercial functions into the design or, in an extreme case, converted the entire first floor into an equestrian arena.
So, unless you can come up with a prospective buyer with the same interests, you’ll have problems trying to sell it for what it’s worth. And, expect a much smaller pool of buyers than you would when selling a conventional house.
What Can You Do With A Barndominium?
Of course, you can use a typical barndo as a house. But, there are far more uses you can choose from.
Some of the usual commercial and leisure uses include:
- Meeting centers
- Sports facilities
- Parking garages
- Theaters and concert venues
These are only a few of the potential uses. Perhaps you can think of some more.
Karl Nilsen, a Connecticut real estate developer, coined the term “barndominium,” and its first widespread usage was in an article in the New York Times in 1989.
Nilsen intended to develop a new type of planned community centered on equestrian hobbyists. Basically, he took the existing idea of a community of golf enthusiasts living around a golf course and adapted it to suit horse enthusiasts.
Jump ahead to the mid-2010s, and the term resurfaced again when a popular HGTV show named “Fixer Upper” detailed a conversion from an agricultural barn to a barndominium.
This show gave the barndo concept much-needed popularity among the general North American public and brought it out of the equestrian niche that limited its development.
Property insurance is one of those things that no one wants but everyone needs. And a barndo owner is no exception.
So, if you’ve recently bought a barndo or are planning to build one, you should find an insurance provider that supplies this essential service.
But, who is the best provider, and what do their insurance products cover?
You’ll find that most U.S. property insurers will provide barndominium insurance. After all, it’s no different in principle from a standard single-family home policy. However, there are various factors you should consider when searching for an insurance policy to suit your property.
- Types of coverage available
- What does the insurance company cover?
- What are the policy’s exceptions?
- How much does the policy cost?
Generally, barndo insurance is slightly more complicated as usually the same structure contains residential and commercial or storage space, so having a dual role.
This can affect how much the policy costs.
Insurance Cover Determination
Insurance companies generally consider many factors when determining a policy’s premium.
Typically, these include:
- What proportion of the total area is residential?
- How much of the whole area is for commercial use?
- How much storage area is there?
- The number of electrical powerpoints
- Type and amount of plumbing
- The number of windows
- Which construction material
- Security and fire alarms
- Value of the property
Furthermore, there is an added problem that you might have people not related to your family, but necessary for the business, who have unrestricted access to the property.
Generally, this will increase the overall risk of damage or theft. So, if you don’t use an insurance company that understands the features and advantages of a barndo, you might end up paying more for the policy than you should.
When searching for a suitable policy, we recommend using an insurance company that knows about barndos and specializes in their insurance. That way, you’re likely to get a much better deal.
As a barndominium isn’t much different from an agricultural barn, you might find issues when applying for a mortgage with one of the giant national lenders, such as banks and credit unions, unless you already have a relationship with your bank’s local branch.
Instead, try looking for a loan with one of the farm credit companies.
The United States has a long-term tradition of farm credit banks with local branches in small towns, serving small agricultural businesses.
Financial institutions like these might be much more willing to lend money to finance your project as they already understand farm buildings and their construction.
Also, it won’t harm your reputation and creditworthiness if you give them some of your banking business before you decide to ask for a loan.
These are small local companies or financial individuals who sell loan products from several finance companies. Generally, they receive a commission from the lender based on the product’s value.
Although this might not seem initially a good resource, brokers have several companies from which they can choose a product. Furthermore, many of them specialize in barndominium mortgages if that lifestyle is common in your area.
Online Loan Companies
Over the past few years, these online lenders have sprung up, supplying mortgage products to a wide geographical area, often nationwide.
Typically, they are part of a large national or international bank but deal with their customers in a way that wouldn’t be possible before the internet became widely available.
How to Approach a Lender
It doesn’t matter which type of mortgage lender you choose; they all have one thing in common. They are a business trying to make a profit.
Therefore, you must convince their representative that your project is sound, will produce a return on their investment, and that you can afford to repay the loan plus interest.
The best way to show the lender that you mean business and are serious about building a barndo is to supply them with as much information on paper as possible.
Basically, you must be willing to do some homework, conduct intensive research, and sell the idea to someone who might not be interested or know much about the concept.
Therefore, you should provide the following:
- Professionally drawn plans. You don’t need an architect’s drawings as several websites provide barndo plans. Alternatively, the company that supplies your barndo kit should give some basic blueprints and artist’s illustrations or photos with the quotation. It will always help if you get pictures of a finished barndo similar to yours.
- Barndo kit supplier’s quotation.
- General contractor’s quotation. Make sure the contractor has experience. If you don’t have anyone local to ask, the barndo supplier will probably have a list of suitable contractors near your home.
- How much will the barndo be worth when completed? Ask a local realtor for a professional appraisal suitable for a mortgage lender. You will have to pay for this, but it’s indispensable if you want to make it easy to get a loan.
- Proof of a good credit rating. This helps at the initial meeting, although lenders won’t take your word for it and will check your creditworthiness before lending the money.
It’s always best to provide as much detail as possible.
This level of precision proves to the lender that you are serious and have put some thought into the project and know what it entails.
If you’re designing and building the barndo from scratch, ensure you supply a complete materials list with a feasible construction timeline. Once again, provide as many details as you can.
The more information you can provide, the better your chances of getting a mortgage loan. So, for a full self-build, you need to supply the following information:
- Blueprints of the interior and exterior layout
- A credible materials list
- Realistic construction timeline, taking into account seasonal weather delays if necessary.
- A folder containing the subcontractors’ bids for all the trades
- Any other documentation that will raise the lender’s confidence level to prove you’ve thoroughly planned your project.
As there isn’t much detailed information available online about barndos, you won’t be able to find much advice unless you speak to existing barndo owners.
Therefore, make a list of barndo owners in your neighborhood and contact them for advice. They will probably be able to advise you on the best lenders to approach and how to submit your proposal.
By asking around, you can get an enormous amount of relevant information.
If you find a barndominium social media page, you will have a ready-made group of people willing to help you achieve your goal. Preferably, find an online barndo group local to you who will know the issues in your county or state.
Otherwise, join some of the several local and national Facebook groups. So, you can ask a few questions to get relevant answers from people who have already gone down the barndo route.
As we mentioned earlier, you must give the mortgage lender information on the value of the proposed property.
Approach a professional realtor who can appraise the finished project’s value based on the existing plans and the current land value. The appraiser should be able to value the barndo as if it already existed and present it as such.
Construction Loans vs. Mortgage
These aren’t the same, although you will probably get both from the same lender. A construction loan from a traditional lender will cost more than a conventional mortgage and be issued over a shorter time.
Typically, the construction loan will be for one year and will cover construction costs only. Usually, the lender releases money at certain previously agreed stages in the timeline.
Then, the permanent loan pays the remaining costs and sets your monthly payment based on the funds already released from the construction loan and the traditional mortgage loan on the finished property.
Usually, you will have to pay 20% of the loan value as a deposit.
For more information, speak to your lender.
Is a barndominium value for money?
Compared to a conventionally built property, a barndo is much cheaper. Typically, a conventional house starts at around $140/sq.ft. Compare this with an average barndo costing $90-$130/sq.ft., and you can see how much you save.
Furthermore, barndos need much less maintenance. Therefore, they will cost less over their lifespan.
However, if you eventually decide to sell, you will have a much smaller pool of potential buyers because the barndo’s design will be to your unique specifications.
Are barndominiums warm in cold weather?
As the usual barndo is primarily made from steel, we can forgive you for assuming that the building will lose all its heat during the winter while leaving you and your family shivering in the cold. Surprisingly, that isn’t the case.
Using good quality insulation with an R-Value suitable for your temperature zone will ensure you remain toastie during the winter and cool as a glass of lemonade during the summer months.
You can use many types of insulation: fiberglass, rigid foam boards, and spray foam.
But, with typically 24 inches between the outside and inside walls, the best type to use is spray foam, which will adhere to the metal surface and block any small holes or joints, thus preventing the warm air from escaping.
Whichever type you select, check with your local building codes before installation, as there will be minimum standards, thicknesses, and R-Values depending on the weather in your region.
Complying with the regulations will allow your barndo to pass official inspection and save your heating bills in the winter and air conditioning in the summer.
Do barndominiums rust?
Before we answer this, we must know what rust is and how it forms.
Rust is a result of a chemical reaction that occurs when iron is in the presence of oxygen and water. Oxygen is present in the air around us, and water comes from condensation, humidity, rain, and snow.
As the iron reacts with oxygen, the reaction forms hydrous iron oxide, which we call rust. So how do we prevent this reaction from taking place?
The steel supports used to make the barndo’s frame usually have anti-corrosion protection applied before delivery, known as hot-dip galvanized coatings.
Initially, this layer prevents the oxygen and moisture from reaching the iron. However, time and wear and tear will eventually expose the surface to water.
An even better way to prevent corrosion is to add different metals to the steel during manufacture to create an alloy. The additives to carbon steel, such as chrome, nickel, copper, and titanium, provide different grades of protection against corrosion.
However, these additives are expensive, so rustproof steel alloys will cost much more than basic galvanized or carbon steel.
Most barndos also use steel panels as exterior siding to create the shell and protect the interior.
Usually, these panels have a hot dip plastic coating which bonds with the steel to provide a completely airtight seal preventing oxygen and moisture from reaching the steel.
However, nothing is perfect; eventually, the steel will rust and require replacements or repairs.
Generally, the steel siding and roof can last without maintenance for up to 50 years without severe rust damage. This is a much better lifespan than conventional construction materials.