Given the rise of the farmhouse aesthetic in recent years, it comes as no surprise that people have gone all-in on barndominiums. As made famous in recent years by Joanna Gaines, barndominiums are refurbished (or newly built) barns that serve as a condo, home, or otherwise usable living space.
As Bailey Carson, home expert at the home project pro network Angi, explains, “Barndominiums are a popular option for people looking to add additional dwelling units (ADUs) to their property. They often use it as a guest suite or rent it out for additional income. Now, though, they are starting to become a realistic option for a primary home, as well.”
If you’ve wondered about creating your own barndominium—either through refurbishing or construction—read on for everything experts want you to know before you go full barn.
Barndominiums Can Be Cost-Effective
“A barndominium or metal barn home can be significantly less expensive to build than a regular home, especially given the high price of lumber right now,” explains Carson. “[As of December 2021], a barndominium tends to cost an average of $30 to $40 per square foot for basic assembly, while a traditional house costs closer to $100 to $200 per square foot. Since they’re made of metal, they are also safer than wood homes when it comes to fire risk.”
While the structure itself might be more cost-effective, Carson also says it’s important to keep in mind the costs related to building on land. “Clearing land can cost between $1,300 and $4,300, including excavating and grading,” she says. Other additional costs include a new foundation, plumbing, electricity, and a sewage or septic system.
A Plan Is a Good Alternative to a Kit
If you’re building your barndominium from scratch, “before getting started, think about whether you want to build from a plan or a kit,” says Carson. “Plans cost an average of $500 to $2,000-plus, while hiring an architect to design a metal home will cost more along the lines of $2,000 to $9,000-plus. One thing to keep in mind with plans is that most manufacturers will only sell them to you if you intend to buy a kit as well.”
From there, the total cost will depend on the square footage, style, layout, and amenities of your barndominium.
There Will Be Hidden Costs
“While barndominiums are less expensive to build than traditional homes, they still need the same features if you’re going to live there,” Carson says. “Take into consideration the plan or kit as well as the foundation, plumbing, septic tank, HVAC system, siding, doors and windows, permits, and the cost of labor.”
“Barns are not typically constructed for people to live inside, so they may not come with ... some other creature comforts that you may look for in a home,” Carson notes. “Make sure that as you’re planning the build or remodel, you’re taking those into account and including them in your budget and your timeline.”
Your Local Laws Will Determine What’s Possible
On the point of permits, any ADU could be subject to local requirements, which could turn into a major consideration in your decision or ability to build a barndominium.
“Local ordinances often have size and style requirements for additional units that you’ll need to consider in the design of your barndominium,” she says. “Permits can cost between $400 and $2,000, depending on where you live and the details of the final structure, so be sure to budget for them from the beginning.”
If you’re buying a property with a pre-existing barn or barndominium, don’t assume everything was done above board, either. “If the previous owners did not build the barn to code, you may have a hard time keeping it—let alone refurbishing it,” says Carson. “Make sure you’re able to have the barn on your property and that you’ll be able to add plumbing, electrical, and anything else you may need to make it a livable space.”
Electrical Work Must Be Taken Seriously
“When converting a non-living space to a living space, major electrical system upgrades may be needed,” says Joel Worthington, president of Mr. Electric, a Neighborly company. “Keep in mind that this kind of complex electrical work should only be done by a company holding an electrical license, employing trained and skilled electrical service professionals. Preparing the needed infrastructure for things like appliances and other creature comforts will likely require this kind of work.”
Along with the standard electrical requirements necessary to make a house a home, Worthington also suggests considering other upgrades from the outset. Additional elements like USB outlets, nightlight outlets, drawer and cabinet outlets, charging stations, or recessed outlets in your kitchen are all options if you’re working with the right electrical team and want to turn your barndominium into your dream home.
You Need the Right Windows and Doors
Ken Fisk, director of technical services for Window Genie, notes that windows are particularly important for a barndominium.
“When refurbishing a barn into a home, you will want to include adequate windows,” says Fisk. “The windows need to be a minimum of four feet wide by four feet tall. Single or double-hung windows have to be a minimum of three feet wide and five feet in height.”
Brad Roberson, president of Glass Doctor, agrees that good windows are key to creating a comfortable barndominium.
“In homes with older windows, especially single-pane ones, chances are a large chunk of your heating and cooling dollars are going to waste,” he says. “Single-pane and worn double-paned units are prone to leaks. Replacing tired, leaky windows with newer, highly-efficient IGUs can help prevent air leaks and thermal heat transfer, saving you 10 to 25 percent on your heating and cooling bills—your home’s largest energy expense.”
You can also put add-ons, such as window film and other treatments, onto your windows to make the space more durable and comfortable.
“Since these structures tend to have lots of large windows, consider window film to reduce glare and added UV protection to help reduce fading of hardwood floors, carpet, and furniture,” Fisk says. “Window film will also eliminate hot spots and can help reduce your utility bills. Window tint comes in a variety of shades, allowing the owner to customize to their specific needs.”
“You’ll also want to consider the best doors and windows for the building to make it feel less like a repurposed barn and more like a real living space,” Carson adds.
Insulation Is Essential
Barndominiums are appealing because they can be cost-effective, particularly when they involve refurbishing an existing structure, but Carson warns against cutting corners where it counts. “Insulation is one area that’s extremely important in a barndominium,” she says. “This is something that might get overlooked since the walls and roof are already in place. However, it is important for making the space comfortable and livable year-round.”
The Floors Need to Be Laid Correctly
Kamila Chalfin, marketing and brand manager at Tile Giant, says, “Ensure correct subfloor preparation. As long as the preparation and installation are carried out correctly, you can select any style of tiles and flooring that you like.”
As with the rest of your decor, “you may want to keep in line with the property's heritage and style and choose rustic [or] authentic looks,” says Chalfin. “Opt for wood herringbone floors and handmade effect wall tiles for a traditional feel or mix rustic and modern with high polished porcelain options.”
The Previous Paint Job Should Be Investigated
If you’re refurbishing a pre-existing barn, Matt Kunz, president of Five Star Painting, suggests investigating any existing paint. “Of concern is determining what type of coatings were used on the interior of the barn—was exterior paint used? [This] is not suggested for interior spaces, [as they] may include mildewcides,” says Kunz.
This is particularly true if you’re working with an historic barn. “Older barns may very well have lead paint issues that are strictly controlled by the EPA,” Kunz warns. “This goes for exterior and interior spaces, windows, siding, walls, trim, etc. It is highly likely that these areas will be disturbed during refurbishment and would need to be tested prior to the work beginning. If tested positive, the cost to remedy this goes up.”
You Can Have Outdoor Living Spaces, Too
“While many barndominiums start as pre-fab kits, they don’t have to be left that way,” says Carson. “There are lots of ways to customize your new living space both inside and out. One example is adding a deck or a patio. Since barndominiums tend to be on the smaller side, an added deck or patio is a great way to expand the living space outside.”
The Right Touches Make Your Barn a Home
“A metal home can feel cold and unwelcoming, so it’s important to be thoughtful about how to add character and warmth to your space,” Carson tells us. “Anything you can add to your barndominium to make it feel more like home will improve the experience of staying there, whether this is a full bathroom with a tub and rain shower, bigger windows to let in more natural light, or storm doors and windows to protect those indoors. The design and decor inside will also have a big impact on how the barndominium feels. This includes flooring, wall textures and colors, and even ceiling beams if they’re a good fit.”
Rugs Can Add Warmth
“Several clients in the Hudson Valley have recently renovated covered patios and barns,” says Joanna Mahserdjian, founder of Upstate Rug Supply. “They’re creating indoor/outdoor spaces and have used traditional antique rugs for warmth and durability. In a covered setting, handwoven rugs add an element of pattern and interest!”
Your Final Vision Should Guide Your Planning
“The end goal for the space will impact the features you choose and the overall layout of the space,” notes Carson. Consider whether your barndominium will function as a guest room, a home office, or a full-time living space.
“You may want to add a kitchenette or a full kitchen, install a half bath or multiple full bathrooms, make it an open studio layout, or design it more like a multi-room home,” Carson says.
After all the hard refurbishment work, when it comes to the final design, Kevin Busch, vice president of operations for Mr. Handyman, notes, “[Maintain] as much of the original look/feel/character as possible. You’re renovating a barn for a reason: Don’t lose that vision.”