As the concept of homes expands to include novel structures like shipping containers and 3D-printed homes, one type of structure literally expands that notion upward and outward. These are barndominiums: fully decked-out living quarters combined with workspace, all within a larger restored barn or barn-type metal building.
If you want to fully integrate living, entertaining, and working under one roof, building or restoring a barndominium just might be what you need.
What Is a Barndominium?
A barndominium is a restored barn or a new barn-like metal structure with spacious living quarters. With either, the living area is under the same roof as a workshop, vehicle bay, or storage area. Also called a barndo or a shop house, barndominiums are large in all ways, many with second stories and mezzanines or lofts overlooking work areas. Interior living spaces reaching almost 5,000 square feet are not uncommon.
Because of the size and unique style of most barndominiums, they are especially well-suited to acreage or larger pieces of land, especially in unincorporated areas, or for farms, hobby wineries, or even just weekend ranches.
How Much a Barndominium Costs
Expect to pay from $100 to $130 per square foot to build a complete barndominium that's fully outfitted and ready to move into.
For many buyers, the low price point of the metal barndominium shell is the draw. Sample metal building prices, uninstalled, can vary:
- $26,000: 30 feet by 50 feet by 14 feet
- $60,000: 60 feet by 80 feet by 16 feet
- $87,000: 80 feet by 100 feet by 14 feet
- $91,000: 80 feet by 100 feet by 16 feet
The cost of a barndominium is highly variable, dependent on whether or not you own the land, availability of core services such as electricity, water, sewer, and the type of barndominium structure you intend to restore or build.
Building a do-it-yourself barndominium saves on labor costs. When building a barndominium from scratch, at least half of the cost is from the foundation and the building shell. Barndominium shell kits are pre-engineered, so they just need to be assembled.
A large barndominium (72 feet by 40 feet) costs $153,000 to $182,000 for key elements:
|Plumbing Under Slab||$4,000||$6,000|
Purchasing land is often part of building a barndominium since building in developed residential areas can be difficult, due to zoning and permitting.
The average value of farm real estate reached $3,380 per acre in 2021, according to the USDA. But for purposes of building a barndominium, that cost may be less, since the USDA estimate includes land that might already have buildings.
Location matters, too. The average is skewed by just a few states with off-the-charts expensive acreage, with four states in the eastern U.S. averaging costs of more than $12,000 per acre. Except for California and Arizona, all Western U.S. states are below the national average, and some acreage even costs in the hundreds of dollars.
The site will need access from the public road. If there is no road, one must be built.
Asphalt roads cost $70 to $170 per linear foot on average to build. So, a quarter-mile of paved private road will cost from $92,400 to $224,400.
Low cost is the main driver behind the popularity of private gravel roads. For each linear foot of gravel foot, expect to pay from $14 to $25 (at 30 feet wide).
Zoning and Permits
Residential zoning may not permit the building of large metal-structure barndominiums. Large acreage located in unincorporated areas is best.
Generally, the permit process for barndominiums is the same as for residential construction. The permitting agency will charge you either by the square foot or by an estimated building cost. You'll also need to submit architectural plans, consisting of a floor plan, elevations, a basic electrical plan, and often a plumbing plan.
Also required will be a site or plat plan, so the permitting agency can see where the barndominium will be in relation to the property line and to any easements.
Finally, for metal buildings, you will be required to submit engineer drawings. If you purchased the building from a metal building manufacturer, they should be able to send you stamped, sealed engineer's drawings.
Unless the site already has power, you'll need to pay the electric company to bring wire at a cost ranging from $25 to $50 per foot. For sites that are set a half-mile back on the properties, this can mean bills of $67,000 to $132,000—just for the power.
Installing a septic tank and leach line is comparatively inexpensive: around $6,800, on average.
If the property does not have a municipal water supply, a well must be dug. The average cost of digging a well about 100 feet deep is $6,000, though low water tables can mean deeper wells and higher costs.
Adding a water treatment and purification system, necessary for drinking water, will run between $1,000 and $3,000, not including labor.
Barndominiums: Blending Uses
Utilitarian barndominium exteriors rarely translate to plain interiors. Most barndominiums are all about interior living and are well-appointed with multiple bedrooms and bathrooms, a fully-functioning kitchen, living areas, entertainment rooms, offices, and of course, large work sections.
Barndominium work areas are as large as needs dictate. Ranchers, farmers, and business people may reserve as much as one-third or one-half of the ground floor for vehicles and large equipment.
Owners with non-commercial interests like making beer or wine, sculpting, fixing vehicles, painting, or woodworking may need less of the barndominium devoted to work use.
Living and work areas are always accessible through inner doors or hallways—without having to step outside, a bonus during inclement weather. High BTU natural gas or electric heaters warm up workspaces and keep them toasty on cold winter days. For sizable work areas, plan on a 125,000 BTU unit at a minimum.
Barndominium Exteriors and Interiors
Barns that are restored and turned into barndominiums usually have as much design emphasis placed on the exterior as the interior.
With restored barns or outbuildings, you'll find all the rustic-chic farmhouse trappings of a true country barn: white clapboard or batten-and-board siding, horse hitches, industrial lights, natural stone, and wooden double-hung windows, to name a few.
But generally, barndominiums are business on the outside, pleasure on the inside. The mostly unadorned metal structures are sturdy, non-combustible shells that protect against rain, snow, sun, and fire (metal can be damaged by fire but not as readily as with wooden structures).
Metal structures' strength-to-weight ratios allow you to build so large and so high, with so much open interior space. Metal resists wood-boring insects, rot, mold, and all other forms of decay that plague wooden structures.
30-foot by 40-foot
A barndominium of 30 feet by 40 feet allows for a ground-level space of 1,200 square feet. Adding a second floor puts the interior space at about 2,000 square feet, enough space for two bedrooms, a small kitchen, a bathroom, and a floor-to-ceiling work bay of 400 square feet—about the size of a typical two-car garage.
40-foot by 75-foot
A barndominium measuring 40 feet wide and 75 feet long allows for 1,000 square feet of workspace and 5,000 square feet of living space between two levels, comprising two to three bedrooms, a kitchen and possibly a kitchenette, an entertainment area, and two bathrooms.
60-foot by 70-foot
The massive interior space of a 60-foot by 70-foot barndominium allows for many customizable options. The 4,200 square feet of ground-floor space can have another 4,000 square feet of second floor added.
That's a total of 8,200 square feet of space for multiple bedrooms, kitchens, and bathrooms. A completely separate apartment for relatives or employees could be added, still leaving about 4,200 square feet of living and work area with multiple barn doors that open to the exterior.
How a Barndominium Is Built
- Locate and purchase land
- Contact builder or order kit
- Build or improve road
- Clear site
- Bring in and create utilities
- Pour foundation
- Build shell
- Build out interior
- Create exterior improvements like decks, landscaping, and driveway
Is it cheaper to build a barndominium or a house?
A large prefabricated metal barndominium, like 2000 to 3000 square feet, will be less expensive than building a traditional house. Barndominiums can take half the time to construct—and time is money. Less construction time translates to less labor and fewer material needs. The total cost depends on sizes, how much you do on your own, and the materials and finishes you choose.
What is the downside to a barndominium?
Some disadvantages to barndominiums are steel construction issues are more complicated to correct than wood, brick, concrete, and mortar. Also, when working with metal, it can rust over time. It can also be challenging to get financing to build a barndo versus a home, may be more difficult to sell down the line, and zoning issues and restrictions may make it prohibitive.
What is the lifespan of a barndominium?
The average lifespan of a barndominium is between 50 and 150 years. The lifespan difference is based on what it's made of, how well it's maintained, and extreme weather. Wood tends to last longer; however, it can also be more susceptible to damage from natural disasters, dampness, insect damage, or rot.
Land Values 2021 Survey. United States Department of Agriculture.
Koones, Sheri. Prefabulous + Sustainable Building and Customizing an Affordable, Energy-Efficient Home. ABRAMS, 2013.