Barndominiums 101: The Complete Guide
Barndominiums are the latest trend in alternative houses and one of the most popular styles for metal homes.
If you’re new to the barndominium trend or just want to learn more about this new style of housing, you may be wondering about its benefits, how much they cost and how easy they are to build.
We’re going to cover all of these details – and a lot more – so that you can decide if a barndominium is a good choice for you before you break ground on your new home.
What is a Barndominium?
A barndominium, or a barndo, is a barn that has been converted into a residential home.
Barndos are post-frame structures, which makes them very different from a conventional home.
Most look like a traditional barn on the exterior, but the majority are metal building structures. The interior often looks just like any other open-layout home but that varies with your floor plan.
Bedrooms and bathrooms offer privacy, but common spaces are open, allowing for greater versatility.
Rather than the 2×4 frames used in stick-built homes, barndominiums have frames made from posts that are driven into the ground. This makes them quicker and easier to construct.
In most cases, barndos are also less expensive than their stick-built counterparts.
Barndos are typically built on top of a concrete slab, and this often becomes a feature of the home (although it doesn’t have to be!).
While some owners of barndominiums use their structures for agricultural purposes, most don’t. The barn design is part of the charm of this home style and a big reason why it’s become so popular with people looking for an alternative to a traditional home.
While they may not always be used for agriculture, barndominiums are commonly used as living/working spaces. Many owners use the “shop” area of the barndo to run their home business. This led into the popular shop house trend.
Barndominiums can have a variety of features. Just about anything you could put in a traditional home, you can put in a barndominium. The advantage of a barndominium floor plan is that the interior is open and free of the constraints of a traditional home.
Concrete floors are common in a barndominium, and they may be treated or stained to become a unique feature of the home. While it’s not uncommon for these homes to be single-story, some can be up to three stories high.
Some common characteristics and features of these homes include:
- Exposed beams, especially in the living and kitchen areas
- Vaulted ceilings
- Wooden staircases
- Sliding barn doors
- Gabled roofs
- Metal siding and roofing
Open living floor plans are standard with barndominiums.
Custom and standard floor plans are available through builders, but generally, barndos have wide interior open spaces. This helps make the home feel more spacious and welcoming.
Who Started The Barndominium Homes Trend?
Barndominiums are nothing new. In rural Texas, it was common for farmers to convert the upper level of a barn into a living space. While they weren’t called barndominiums at the time, they were exactly that: working and living spaces – all under one roof.
The term “barndominium” first came about in the 1980s when realtor Karl Nilsen coined the term. The term referred to a community that was focused on equestrian activities in Connecticut. The building project focused on cost savings and consisted of homes that were built from metal barn shells.
While the concept of a barndominium has been around since this time, it wasn’t until 2016 that the trend really started to take off. In an episode of the HGTV show Fixer Upper, Chip and Joanna Gaines renovated a barn into a home. It wasn’t long after that everyone wanted a dream barndominium of their own.
Barndominiums Picture Gallery
What are the Key Benefits of Barndominiums?
The construction industry is seeing prices soar. The market is almost unsustainable with today’s wages. Material costs are also rising, and a new build today is 18% more expensive than a year ago.
Barndominiums offer an opportunity to build a home that meets the specific requirements of the buyer while being cheaper in the process.
We are seeing more people gravitate towards metal building barndominiums as a cost-effective solution in a housing market where construction costs are increasing.
A few of the many benefits of choosing the barndominium life over traditional homes include:
- Durability. Whether you buy a bardominium kit or have a metal building floor plan erected by a contractor, you can be sure that the building process meets or exceeds local construction codes. Your home benefits from steel being stronger, resistant to rotting, termites, and fire-resistant. When compared to wood, there’s no comparison: steel building materials are far more durable.
- Low maintenance. Steel buildings are low maintenance, and while interior walls, countertops, doors and other materials will need the same maintenance seen in traditional homes, the structure of the home will require less maintenance.
- Faster construction. Barndominium kits are your best bet if you need a building project to move along quickly. A new build is faster because a lot of the components are made off-site and pre-drilled. The contractor will put the shell of the home together much faster and spend the majority of the construction time on the interior of the home. Barn homes, if they’re using a complex floor plan, can go from working on the barndominium plans to completion in six months.
- Adaptable design. Steel buildings are more structurally sound, so you don’t need load-bearing walls inside of the space. You can maximize the space of your dream barndominium with a wide-open floor plan that has expansive views and really opens up space. You’re less restricted with steel buildings than traditional homes, and you can maximize your space per square foot. Build an airplane hangar, horse stalls or even traditional homes with a barndominium kit.
- Eco-friendly design. Did you know that steel buildings are more eco-friendly than their wood counterparts? A barndominium kit has a lower carbon footprint, reduces material waste and can offer long-term energy savings. In terms of being eco-friendly, steel construction always beats wood. It’s a structure that lasts longer, requires less maintenance and wastes fewer materials.
- Fire-resistant design. The structure of a metal building is fire resistant, with steel having a melting point of 2,500°F. If the builder uses fire-resistant materials inside of the home and focuses on fireproofing, the structure will be even less susceptible to fire damage. The interior walls and wooden components can catch fire, but the shell of the home will not.
Barndominiums have a lot of benefits, but you’ll still have to pay the same price for plumbing, insulation, land and clearing the property.
The exterior of the building, or the shell, is going to provide you with the most cost-savings.
You’ll also benefit from a shorter construction time with a barndominium or any metal barn floor plan compared to traditional homes, which means significant labor cost savings.
But even with the benefits of a metal building structure and building a barndominum, there are some disadvantages, too.
Disadvantages To Consider
Steel building kits often have a lower final cost when building, but there is more to a building project than trying to make the build as affordable as possible. The following are potential disadvantages with a steel building:
- Corrosion. Metal won’t rot and offers a stronger overall house than a wood structure, but there’s always the risk of corrosion. In areas with a humid, tropical climate, the biggest risk with building a barndominium is corrosion. But your builder will discuss this with you and give you an idea of any potential risks when using certain materials on your building site.
- Permitting. Laws and local codes have changed a lot in recent years, with more contractors choosing steel building kits for constructing new homes. But permitting steel buildings can change drastically from one location to another. You may find that certain areas require barn homes to be made entirely from wood construction. Others have restrictions on the type of floor plan you can choose.
- Exterior limitations. Bardominiums are popping up in cities across the country, but the barndominium life isn’t for everyone. One of the main concerns with barndominium plans is that the exterior may not appeal to everyone. With that said, contractors are now offering the opportunity to build a barndominium with a variety of exterior options.
- Financing. You’ll put a lot of hard work into building your barndominium, but before any of the work begins, you’ll need money to build your house. Financing can be tricky to obtain, although more lenders are starting to fill the void with loan products designed for steel buildings. We cover more on financing deeper in this article.
- Selling. You may love your living quarters and the metal building kit plan that you chose for your home. But the trend is still picking up steam. Some people love the metal building process and the final look of these buildings, but there are still people who prefer a traditional home. At the time of writing this article, it’s harder to find buyers for a metal building, but we expect this to change in the future.
The advantages of a barndominium often make it a great option that helps you save money, offers a faster building time and higher durability compared to wood. You also benefit from higher square foot usability, expansive living quarters and an open floor plan.
You’ll want to make sure that you sit down with the builder, discuss your options and even see if you can view an example of the barndominium that you want to build. The builder may be able to bring you to the barndominium they built or show you an album of the metal buildings that they constructed.
While we’ve talked a lot about the money and project cost, let’s take a deeper look at what most contractors will charge. This breakdown will be just an example of cost, and you’ll want to talk to the builder and contractor for more information on the cost of your dream barndominium.
How Much Do Barndominiums Cost?
You’ve heard that barndominiums cost less than a stick-built home, but how much less? How much can you expect to spend on your own barndominium floor plan?
Costs – as you may have guessed – largely depend on:
- The size of the home
- Your location
- How much site work needs to be completed
- How difficult it will be to hook up utilities
Many of these costs are highly variable, but we can estimate the cost of just the barndominium itself.
According to data from HomeAdvisor, a barndominium costs, on average, $35-$48 per square foot to build. This figure assumes that the barndominium is basic (nothing custom) just a shell with exterior walls as a metal building.
When compared to a stick-built home, the savings can be significant.
Building a stick-built home costs $100 to $200 per square foot, and the building process is much longer. Even modular homes are experiencing a rise in cost per square foot due to higher lumber costs.
The same floor plan for a modular home is over $40,000 more today due to lumber pushing the final cost higher. We’re not seeing steel building kits experiencing these same price increases, making barndominium costs even more attractive.
Market conditions can change, but it’s cheaper to construct a barndominium today due to the rising prices of wood and other materials.
Keep in mind that there will still be comparable costs for the following whether you choose a metal building kit or wood-frame home:
- Granite countertops – or any material
- Sewer / septic
Interior options and materials will cost the same whether you’re opting for a metal or wood construction. House plans are not that different in terms of finishing out the interior.
Additional Costs to Consider
A barndominium has a lot of costs that often aren’t considered by the owner when building. You might find a kit for a barndominium with a low cost of $40,000, but this isn’t the only cost you need to consider.
Whether you build a barndominium or another house, you’ll need to consider the following costs before breaking ground on your barndominium:
- Land costs
- Clearing and grading
- Finish work
- Interior options
- Removal of previous structure (if applicable)
If you’re like a lot of people who are following the barndominium trend, you may be living in a rural area far from town and utilities. Internet may or may not be available, and it may not be possible to have Internet run to your barndominium.
But if there is access very close to your property, you may be able to run the Internet to your barndominium.
Electric, water and sewer hook-up (if available) will also add to your overall barndominium cost. Do you have a road to your barndominium? If not, how much will it cost to rough in a road? There is a lot to consider when building a barndominium, but these same costs exist with any home you build.
What are Barndominium Kits & How Do They Work?
We’ve used the term “barndominium kit or metal building kit” quite a lot already, but what are barndominium kits?
Understanding Metal Building Kits
A barndominium kit is exactly what it sounds like: a kit to put your metal building together. The components needed to complete the outer shell of the structure are included. Barndominium kits provide the “shell” of the steel building.
The components will be delivered to the job site so that you or your builder can erect the barndominium.
What’s Included in a Barndominium Kit?
Most metal building manufacturers offer kits to match your selected floor plan.
The kit for your floor plan may be different than another person’s kit because of customizations and some developers include and exclude different components.
With that said, most kits offer these basic staples.
You can be confident that the construction will be faster with a kit because your kit will include:
- Prime framing (metal or wood options)
- Secondary framing
- Plans and drawings
- Roofing material
- Wall sheeting
But depending on the barndominium floor plan that you create with the design company, there may be additional items included. Interior items are not included with barndominium kits. You may be able to have “additions” added to your kit, which is a popular choice.
A few of the additions may be:
What you can be confident about is that you’ll have all of the materials to erect the steel building shell. You can then continue the interior of the project with materials of your choice.
You can choose the same interior options of a traditional home while benefiting from the cost-effective design that a steel barn house offers.
How Are These Steel Building Kits Erected ?
Steel building kits are designed much in the same way that a traditional home is designed.
Pre-engineered designs are made to match the code requirements for your location. For example, if you’re building your structure in Texas, the land matters because the area is known for high tornado activity.
In this case, the designer may need to create a barndominium floor plan that accounts for high wind loads.
When the materials arrive at your construction site, it’s time for the structure to be erected. The build is very similar to most construction but with metal rather than wood for the framing of the interior of the structure.
The contractors, or yourself, will have all of the plans and drawings provided by the designer to know how to piece together every component of the structure. Contractors will need to:
- Obtain permits
- Prep the land
- Meet local building codes
- Erect the building
Once you have a floor plan that you like and know that you want to begin construction on your dream barndominium, it’s time to decide who you want to construct the building. You have two main options to consider:
You can opt to choose a contractor who specializes in metal building construction, or you may be able to take the DIY approach with your barndominium.
DIY vs Using a Contractor
If you’re not a builder and don’t have experience in the steel building industry or even building a traditional home, you may assume that barndominium kits make it easy for you to erect the shell of your barn house on your own.
But even with a kit, it’s an intensive undertaking to erect a barndominium.
Pros and Cons of Building Yourself
Building a barn is difficult enough, but putting an entire steel building up on your own is intensive. Barndominium kits make the build easier, but it’s still a big undertaking. It’s often ill-advised to take on the project on your own.
The pros and cons are what you should consider:
- Save money
- Choice of own subcontractors
- Greater control over the project
- Major project
- Need in-depth knowledge of metal building construction
You’ll gain control over the project, but unless you have a network of professionals that you can rely on for your build, it’s going to be a massive undertaking.
Money is often the main reason that people consider a DIY build.
You may think that you’ll be able to fill your space with even better materials, granite countertops and high-end features because of the money that you’ll save. But unless you’re a builder and already have a network of contractors that you can rely on, you’ll spend substantially more time on the project than hiring a contractor.
Pros and Cons of Using a Contractor
Working with a professional who specializes in steel buildings is the best way to keep your barndominium cost low while making the build as stress-free as possible. Building a house is a major undertaking, and while it may seem “easy,” there is a reason why permits and inspections are needed: it takes expertise to build a house.
You want your living space to be safe, and this requires someone who has, at the very least, passed their general contractor exam.
These professionals are also insured, so if there are mistakes made, you can recuperate costs from an insurer.
A few of the reasons to consider working with a professional builder are:
- You don’t need to spend countless hours trying to understand the intricacies of putting barndominium kits together.
- Builders will have a network of professionals that can be called for everything, from the walls to roofs and plumbing.
- Help with permitting and offers one source of contact for all questions you have.
- Less cost-effective than choosing the DIY route
- You have far less control of the project
A barndominium floor plan is complex to build if you don’t have experience of the large network needed to make sure the house meets building codes and recommendations. Hiring a professional provides a high level of security that your house will be built to the specs of the designer.
When the house is complete, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to customize your living quarters.
At the very least, it’s better to work with a professional to get the shell of the barndominium put up. Interior work is often more manageable if you want to take a DIY approach. You can choose to use the contractor to put the barndominium kit together while focusing on the interior of the barndominium yourself.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is It Cheaper to Build a Regular House or Barndominium?
Yes, the cost will be more affordable to get the shell of the house complete. You’ll find that the cost varies from design to design, but the typical steel project will have a cost of $32 to $44 to put the exterior of the house up.
The cost of the shell of steel buildings is where the barndominium cost is far more affordable than a stick-built home.
You’ll find that it’s far more affordable to:
- Build the exterior
- Put on the roof
- Add metal siding
All of these initial costs are cheaper, but you’ll also benefit from a low-maintenance design concept that saves you money over the life of the home.
Of course, you can make the build less cost-effective by adding interior options that add to the cost of the building.
Add in man caves, horse stalls or even an airplane hangar, and the barndominium will be less affordable. But when compared to a traditional house, a barndominium will be cheaper when all of the interior features are the same.
Will Banks Finance A Barndominium?
Post and steel frame construction is starting to grow in popularity. Financing companies want to limit their risks, and steel buildings offer durability with a low cost – it’s a win-win for the finance company.
The value of barndominium steel buildings is similar to a traditional home and will continue to rise and fall with the market.
And some lenders and banks are offering financing that is similar in terms of:
- Mortgage rates
- Application approval
- Lending terms
You may have a harder time finding someone to finance the cost of your barndominium, but the difficulty really depends on your location. Since steel buildings are more popular than in the past, a lot of lenders are adding financing options for barndominiums.
Be sure to discuss your options with the company selling barndominium kits because they’ll often have an idea of lenders that will finance steel buildings in your area.
Are Barndominiums Safe?
Yes, a barndominium is safe. You’ll need to have the entire project permitted to ensure that it meets local building codes. Steel is a superior material compared to wood and is a great option in areas where the climate is severe.
If you’re building on a property where natural disasters are more common, a barndominium is often safer than its wood counterpart.
You’ll want to request more information from the team that designed your structure to see how well your barndominium floor plan can hold up to snow loads and high winds.
How Would A Barndominium Hold Up In A Hurricane?
Every structure, whether it’s made of wood or steel, does have a threshold where wind can cause failure. But for most hurricanes, a barndominium would hold up against the winds. You’ll need to consult with the designer of your building for specifics, but there are many steel buildings designed to withstand 170 MPH+ winds.
If your house is in the path of an F5 tornado, there’s a very low chance that the building will survive.
The majority of homes are lifted off of their foundations during an F5, leading to complete destruction of virtually everything in its path.
If your land is in an area that is prone to these severe weather patterns, you can discuss your concerns with the designer and ask for the house to be reinforced.
Are Barndominiums Energy-Efficient?
A barndominium is energy efficient due to the metal of the building. Metal provides natural weatherization and insulation for the home. If the roof is also made of metal, it can help conserve more energy, too.
But to keep the barndominium efficient, you’ll need to take the same precautions that you would with a wood design:
+ Fix gaps near doors
+ Purchase energy-efficient appliances
+ Make sure windows are sealed
In terms of efficiency, a barndominium floor plan is at least as efficient and most times more so than a wood-frame house.
How To Make My Barndominium Energy-Efficient?
While a steel building is cost-effective, you should also look at the long-term savings that an energy-efficient building offers. You may have a higher initial cost to maximize efficiency, but you’ll save more in the long term.
An energy-efficient home is cheaper to heat and cool per square foot, which is a bonus for larger buildings.
A few of the key ways to make your living space more comfortable in your barndominium is to:
+ Add thermal insulation into the house
+ Weatherize the home (responsible for 40% of the energy used in a home)
+ Eliminate gaps near doorways
+ Properly seal all windows
+ Add reflective coating to the roof
Roofing is a major concern because metal is both good and bad in terms of being more efficient. Since the metal can heat up, you’ll want to coat the exterior with a reflective coating.
A simple reflective coating on your metal roof can reduce heat gain from the roofing by as much as 30%.
For even better efficiency, installing solar panels can absorb the sun’s rays while also providing similar benefits to a reflective coating.
A barndominium is also perfect for adding large windows and skylights because of the strength of the steel framing. You don’t have to be concerned about load-bearing walls with a barndominium.
If your steel building is in an area that gets a lot of natural light, you can greatly reduce energy costs, especially in the cooler winter months.
How Long Does It Take to Build a Barndominium?
A barndominium is often faster to build than a traditional style house because the kit has everything needed to complete the shell of the home quickly. But just because the barndominium has its walls up, doesn’t mean that its living space is complete.
There are a lot of variables when building a barndominium that can add to the time it takes to construct the steel building, including:
- Preparing the land for the barn house
- Permitting time
- Time to get funding
- Building time
If you’re converting a barn into a barndominium, the entire project may take six months or less. For most barndominiums, it will take six months to go from putting up the frame to being able to live inside of your barndominium.
The more complex the barndominium floor plan, such as adding multiple living quarters, man caves and other areas, the longer it will take to reach completion.
If you want an idea of going from start to barndominium, discuss the timeline with your builder first. There always seem to be delays with every new building – wood or steel – so always expect the estimate to completion to go over the expected timeframe.
How To Get a Permit for a Barndo
You’ll need to obtain a permit for your barndominium, and the process varies from one state to another. Permits ensure that the structure of the barndominium is solid and meets all local building codes. If you’re using your barndominium as your main living space, you want to be sure that everything is permitted and inspected.
Even a steel building can be built improperly, leading to safety risks.
Permitting for a barndominium will be similar to what is outlined below.
3 Steps to Permit a Barndominium
Your first step when building a barndominium or house is to check the zoning of your property. You may own the land, but if the property isn’t zoned for residential use, you may not be able to build your barndominium or a house of any kind. This is an especially tricky situation when it comes to using metal building kits.
Zoning may be able to be changed, but it’s a tedious endeavor.
If you’re not sure of what the zoning is on the land that you want to build your barndominium on, you can:
- Search the property online using GIS if it’s available in your area
- Go to your town’s zoning board and ask
Zoning may also allow you to have a special hearing where you can plead your case to have the land rezoned. In some cases, land may have been deemed commercial decades ago because of development plans that never fully materialized.
2. Obtain the Proper Permits
If you’re able to build on the property, you’ll next want to obtain all of the permits for the steel building, or barndominium, that you plan on building. County officials will help you understand what permits are required and how to apply for them.
Your city’s zoning and permitting office, or something similar, will help you understand the exact permits you need for your barndominium.
You may need permits for:
You may need a permit for even grading the area where you’re placing the barndominium, but it will depend on the city. For example, in mountainous areas where erosion control is becoming a major concern, a grading permit may be necessary.
A series of inspections are also common for every part of the barndominium, from the foundation to the final inspection for your certificate of occupancy.
3. Skip the Hassle by Choosing the Right Building Company
If you’re hiring someone to put your barndominium together, work with an experienced team. Local builders will know the city’s permitting requirements and will work with officials to have all of your building permits approved.
It may cost more than a DIY approach to hire professionals, but they’ll take on the burden of permitting for your barndominium. There’s also the benefit of the steel house being inspected by someone who is trained to ensure building codes are met.
If you want your living quarters to withstand high snow loads, winds and to last a lifetime with low maintenance, it’s worth the cost to have the project permitted and inspected properly.
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