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Barndominiums: What The Heck Are They?

By Tobias Roberts Rise Writer
Oct 6, 2020

Barndominums are one of the quickest growing trends in home styles across the United States. Both practical and aesthetic, this unique home style offers benefits for homeowners looking to add space for hobbies or business without constructing a separate physical structure.

The homes that our grandparents and great-grandparents lived in were often an extension of their farm. Root cellars in the basement for storing produce and large pantries to keep canned vegetables were integral to homes built in the era. In some cases, homes were constructed above a barn or shed, combining the barn and the house into one structure. Fast forward a few generations, this unique home style is making an unexpected comeback.

Table of Contents

  1. What is a Barndominium?
  2. When Was The Barndominium Invented?
  3. What Do Barndominiums Look Like?
  4. Where Are Barndominiums Being Built?
  5. What Are The Benefits of Building a Barndominium?
  6. Are Barndominiums Safe?
  7. Do Barndominiums Hold Their Value?
  8. Are Barndominiums Taxed?
  9. How Much Does a Barndominium Cost?
  10. How Do You Build a Barndominium?
  11. Barndominium Floor Plans
  12. Can You Finance a Barndominium?
  13. How Long Does It Take to Build a Barndominium?
  14. Can You Buy Barndominium Kits?

What is a Barndominium?

A barndominium is just what it sounds like: a combination of a "barn" and a "condominium." Barndominiums combine a living area, usually built above (or around) a larger open space used as a barn, a workshop, a shed, or some other hobby requiring extra square footage. This description might invoke images of "The Little House on the Prairie" or some different rustic farmhouse style of home. However, most barndominiums built today are large, metal structures.

When Was The Barndominium Invented?

The concept of combining a home with a barn has been around for hundreds of years. The Low German House, for example, is a type of vernacular architecture found in Germany and the Netherlands that combines living quarters, byre, and barn under a single roof. Many Amish and Mennonite communities across North America continue to attach their homes, barns, and workshops into single buildings.

The term "barndominium," however, appears to have first surfaced back in 1989. Karl Nilsen was a real estate developer who, in the 1980s, was creating planned communities around the "theme" of raising horses. Just as many country-club homes are built around a golf course, Nilsen thought horse-lovers should have their own planned communities with ample space for their equine companions.

According to a 1989 New York Times article, Nilsen's horse-lovers community planned to sell homes with fenced pastureland for each family to manage their horses. Instead of building a separate stable, Nilsen planned on creating a barndominium concept. His concept placed the living quarters of the home on top of a full stable underneath. Though the real estate project never completely took off, the idea of a modern home that incorporated living quarters for both humans and animals began to take hold around the country.

Our Barndominium Life
The Creek House. Photo Credit: Our Barndominium Life

What Do Barndominiums Look Like?

Most barndominiums built today are large, open buildings constructed from a steel frame and sheet metal siding. Their large, open nature gives them the appearance of a storage building or barn structure. The interior living space is built around and above a modern and sizeable open area. Barndominuims incorporate essential comforts and amenities present in many modern homes.

Double L Ranch via Instagram
Photo Credit: Double L Ranch via Instagram

Where Are Barndominiums Being Built?

One of the most popular regions in the country for barndominium construction is in the western states such as Texas, Wyoming, and Montana. Large amounts of open land and high horse ownership (Wyoming has 5.1 humans for every horse) are driving this trend. However, barndominiums can also be a practical building style for homeowners who want extra storage space or a large open area for other activities. For example, homeowners wishing for a safe and protected place to store their RV or boat might consider a barndominium to repurpose the open space as a large, indoor garage. People who enjoy woodworking, carpentry, pottery, or other hobbies might also be able to design a studio or workshop into the design of a barndominium.

It is worth mentioning that some contracting companies are building and selling wood-framed structures that they call barndominiums. While most barndominiums are constructed almost entirely from sheet metal and steel framing, wooden barndominiums are also possible.

Five Oaks Farm
Photo Credit: Five Oaks Farm

What Are The Benefits of Building a Barndominium?

One of the main benefits of designing a barndominium is that it is straightforward to customize to fit your needs. The large, open building plans make customization reasonably easy. Though the living quarters are usually located on the home's second story above the barn, workshop, or storage area, single-story barndominiums are also popping up around the country.

Barndominiums are also generally energy efficient. The steel framing and sheet metal siding make it relatively easy to seal the building envelope completely, one of the most critical features of energy-efficient passive homes. Most barndominiums have energy-efficient windows and high-efficiency spray foam insulation.

Many barndominiums include solid, stained concrete floors and nine-foot ceilings. These features allow for large windows on the home's south-facing side. This design method is an essential part of passive solar heating, allowing heat from the sun to enter the home through large, energy-efficient windows. Then, that heat is stored in the thermal mass of the concrete floors.

Other benefits of building a barndominium include:

  • Quicker construction time: The large, open floor plan generally allows shorter construction times, reducing cost.
  • Durability: Barndominiums built from steel framing, and metal siding will generally last a lifetime and better withstand the elements.
  • Adaptive Design: Because barndominiums can be designed as a work/live space, they are an excellent option for people who want or need to work and learn from home. Their open interiors also make renovations and customizations easy, allowing homeowners to create a home for a lifetime.
Worldwide Steel Buildings
Barndominium Kit. Photo Credit: Worldwide Steel Buildings

Are Barndominiums Safe?

Barndominiums are made of solid wood timbers, steel, and metal components, making them incredibly safe. In some ways, a barndominium is as safe, if not safer, than a traditional home. Timbers, steel, and metal help protect the structure against water damage, severe weather, and wear and tear over the years.

Do Barndominiums Hold Their Value?

The ability for a barndominium to hold its value is similar to that of a traditional house. These criteria range from the desire of a barndominium in your area at the time of sale, square footage, age, construction quality, architectural features, and even upkeep.

Are Barndominiums Taxed?

Barndominiums taxation is a difficult question to answer and depends on the tax regulations in your area. Some assessors that value property for local real estate taxation purposes count unheated square footage, while others only count heated spaces. Some barndomium owners have said that their local tax office taxed their barndominium by looking at the square footage and a comparable house locally. Before building or buying a barndominium, we'd recommend consulting your local assessor to understand if and how a barndominium may impact your property tax.

How Much Does a Barndominium Cost?

The cost of a barndominium will depend on several factors, including the size of the barndominium, the amount of land that comes with it, the material used (metal most likely being cheaper than a wooden barndominium), interior customizations, and finishes. Homeowners looking for a barndominium should expect to pay $95 to $125 per square foot for a complete turnkey build. The average cost for a 2,000 square foot barndominium sits at around $220,000, comparable to other types of homes on the market.

How Do You Build a Barndominium?

Building a barndominium by yourself will require some significant DIY abilities. However, a barndominium is generally easier to construct than a traditional 2x4 stick frame structure. Barndominium construction consists of three phases: the concrete slab foundation, the metal building/framing, and the interior living build-out.

Many homeowners wanting to build their own barndominium choose to have a professional construction company pour the concrete slab, build and insulate the metal frame of the barndominium. The resulting large, insulated, open warehouse-style interior gives you free rein for all of your DIY home building ideas.

General Steel Schematic
Barndominium Schematic. Photo Credit: General Steel

Barndominium Floor Plans

Interest in barndominiums began to take off after an episode of HGTV's program "Fixer Upper" showcased the experience of a family repurposing an old barn into a beautiful barndominium. Chip and Joanna Gaines found a 1980s barn that already had a comfortable upstairs apartment. The family slowly remodeled the upstairs apartment and the stable area downstairs into a beautiful two-story, 2,700 square foot home.

Photo Credit: Magnolia

The floor plan for Chip and Joanna's barndominium included a large upstairs kitchen and living room. The first story has two family bedrooms and an indoor/outdoor gathering space for entertaining. You can see the floor plans and a few pictures of this beautiful barndominium here.

Pinterest is also full of unique ideas for designing barndominiums. This wood-framed barndominium incorporates wrap-around decks and huge floor-to-ceiling windows to help combine indoor and outdoor living spaces. This 40x60 foot single-story barndominium floor plan utilizes the open space to create a massive "family area," which is excellent for families with several children. If you like the idea of the open spaces in a home but aren't keen on the aesthetics of traditional barndominiums, this barndominium offers a sleek, modernist design. You can also find several barndominium floor plans offered for free on the WB Metal Building's website.

Can You Finance a Barndominium?

Bardominium lending isn't for all lenders, but it's not impossible either. Many barndominium owners have found financing options through local banks, credit unions, and farm credit lenders. But that is not to say the larger, national lenders are not interested in helping you finance a barndominium either. National lenders will typically apply more scrutiny and look at credit rating, plans, and whether you have a contractor or subcontractor.

Billings Barndominium Menards
Billings Barndominium. Photo Credit: Menards

How Long Does It Take to Build a Barndominium?

The build time for barndominiums can range depending on how you plan to complete the project. Conversions or new builds can take up to 6 months, while prefabricated barndomniums could significantly reduce time. The scope of your project and materials also play an essential part when estimating the build time. It would help if you considered the time to lay a solid foundation and the availability and time it takes for framing, roofing, electrical, plumbing, heating, and insulation.

Can You Buy Barndominium Kits?

Because barndominiums are essentially metal structures covered by sheet metal siding, many companies are beginning to sell the barndominium shell as a pre-fab kit. Of course, a barndominium kit might take away some of the customization ability on the exterior. But, the large open interiors are essentially a blank slate for creative homeowners to create.

General Steel Buildings offers several pre-fab barndominium kits to choose from. Their catalog includes different sizes of barndominium metal shells, including a 60-foot x 60 foot home, a 40-foot x 70-foot barndominium with a large covered deck, and a four a bedroom L-Shaped barndominium.

When searching for the best barndominium kits, it is essential to find companies that offer kits that include everything you need to build the house's shell. These necessary components are the primary and secondary framing (for all steel), exterior sheeting, trim, closures, fasteners, and stamped building plans. More elaborate kits, such as those offered by Worldwide Steel Buildings, might also come with materials to add overhangs, wrap-around porches, and other customizations.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-08-16T20:00:57+0000
Tobias Roberts

Article by:

Tobias Roberts

Tobias runs an agroecology farm and a natural building collective in the mountains of El Salvador. He specializes in earthen construction methods and uses permaculture design methods to integrate structures into the sustainability of the landscape.