Barndominiums have rapidly gained popularity in the housing market. Originally designed as an affordable housing option by repurposing existing barn structures, they have evolved into a fashionable trend for those seeking flexible and open floor plans. However, building a barndominium comes with its own unique set of considerations. This article will provide a comprehensive understanding of barndominium construction, from materials and design to cost implications.

Materials and Design

Barndominiums can be constructed from a variety of materials including steel, wood, and concrete, with red iron and wood posts being quite common. Floors can be constructed from concrete slabs, raised floors over a crawl space, or wooden floors. The choice of material not only influences aesthetics but also plays a significant role in the overall cost and durability of the building.

The strength of barndominiums lies in their flexibility. They can range from small cottages to large homes with workshops, accommodating a variety of layouts and sizes. Truss designs should consider potential snow load in certain regions. Common sizes include 30×40 up to 40×60 structures, but there’s room for customization depending on the homeowner’s needs.

Design considerations include the size and placement of doors, windows, porches, and roof overhangs for weather protection. Wider doors, entries, and halls can facilitate the movement of appliances and furniture. While two stories are possible, they add complexity to the construction. Interior elements like breezeways connecting the living area to a garage or shop, bonus spaces like lofts, music rooms, and exercise rooms etc., can be incorporated into the design.

Barndominiums can be built using pre-fabricated kits or custom designs, with shell costs ranging from $30K to $250K. Using local materials can reduce cost, and both exterior and interior load-bearing elements must be designed properly.

Barndominium construction involves these additional considerations:

  • Walls are often framed with steel or wood posts 8-10 feet apart, with interior walls framed with wood studs.
  • The orientation of the structure is significant, considering factors like sunlight, views, and wind direction.
  • Patios, porches, and covered outdoor spaces are popular additions.
  • Fasteners and techniques for metal buildings differ from those for wood framing. The choice of screws, washers, and sealants matters.
  • Corner ovens and stoves can complicate kitchen layouts and can be challenging to clean.

Building Process and Timeframes

The construction time for a barndominium can range from 7-10 months to over a year, depending on factors like the size of the project, the complexity of the design, and the availability of materials and labor. Proper planning is critical to ensure that these factors are accounted for in the project timeline. Building in phases is an option, starting with a basic shell and then focusing on interior layout and finishes over time. On-site storage space for building materials during construction is recommended.

The construction process involves obtaining necessary permits, undergoing inspections, and meeting code requirements. These administrative aspects can add substantial time to the project, especially if local zoning laws and regulations are complex. Site work such as grading and drainage is crucial before pouring the slab. Soil samples, concrete strength, and system function (plumbing, HVAC) are standard tests during construction.

One option for homeowners is to build in phases—start with a basic shell and then focus on the interior layout and finishes over time. This approach requires careful storage of building materials on-site during the construction process.

Contractors and DIY

Choosing between hiring a contractor and going the DIY route is a significant decision. Hiring reputable contractors can prove beneficial, especially for those who lack the necessary skills or time to manage the project themselves. However, owners acting as their own general contractor can save on labor costs. The DIY approach can be rewarding, but it requires a substantial time commitment and a wide range of skills.

Regardless of the path chosen, it’s important to involve qualified professionals like engineers early in the process, particularly for aspects like foundation design.

Utilities and Infrastructure

The installation of utilities and infrastructure is a crucial part of constructing a barndominium. Electrical wiring, plumbing lines, and HVAC systems need to be carefully planned and installed. Ventilation, which is crucial for maintaining a healthy indoor environment, can be achieved through bath fans, range hoods, and fresh air intake for HVAC systems.

Planning is necessary for the placement of wires and conduits for TVs, internet, and phones. A utilities room or mechanical room is recommended for housing water heaters, electrical panels, etc. Plumbing lines need to be properly insulated, and PEX plumbing lines are commonly used.

In the case of off-grid installations, solar power is a viable option, but the payback period can be long, and the upfront costs can be high. Therefore, it’s important to consider the cost-effectiveness of each utility before installation.

Insulation and Energy Efficiency

Insulation is key to maintaining energy efficiency in a barndominium. Spray foam insulation (open cell or closed cell), rolled insulation, and blow-in insulation are common choices, with spray foam being a popular option due to its effectiveness in maintaining energy efficiency.

Also, consider the use of high R-value insulation, radiant barriers, and efficient windows and doors. Effective insulation also aids in soundproofing the building. Moisture and condensation issues, especially in humid climates, need to be addressed with vapor barriers and ventilation.

Other energy efficiency considerations include:

  • Wiring and plumbing lines can be run overhead, under the slab, or stubbed up through walls.
  • HVAC systems can include mini-splits, central air with ductwork, or radiant floor heating. Heated concrete floors and in-floor radiant heating are popular options.
  • Planning for wire and conduit placement for TVs, internet, and phones is necessary.
  • Security cameras, alarms, and remote utility monitoring are common for remote builds.

Cost Considerations

The cost of building a barndominium can vary widely based on factors like location, size, materials, and whether the building is contractor-built or DIY. A basic build generally ranges from $150k to $250k+. Loans can be an issue for smaller builds, with some banks requiring a minimum of 1500 sq ft.

Material choices significantly affect the cost. For example, higher-end cabinets, countertops, flooring, etc., increase the price. Additional cost factors include steel and concrete prices, architectural elements beyond a basic box structure, high-end interior finishes, and the location of the build.

Building a barndominium from scratch is often not much cheaper than building a conventional stick-built home, especially once you factor in the same needed infrastructure like septic, well, utilities, etc. While barndominiums were originally intended as an affordable housing option, costs have risen with popularity. It’s important to have a realistic budget and to plan for costs to be higher than initial estimates.

Safety and Security Features

Safety and security features like safe rooms or storm shelters can be incorporated into the design of a barndominium, often as closets or hidden rooms. These additional features not only increase the safety of the structure but also contribute to its functionality. Separate propane tanks and generators can provide backup power options.


Building a barndominium is a significant investment that requires careful planning and consideration. From the materials and design to the cost and timeframe, each aspect plays a crucial role in the project’s success. While this type of construction offers flexibility, the cost savings versus traditional construction are not as significant as some assume. Therefore, it’s important to understand the full scope of the project before beginning.

Barndominiums offer a unique housing solution that combines the simplicity of barn structures with the comfort of a traditional home. They cater to a variety of lifestyles and preferences, offering open layouts, high ceilings, and the ability for customization. However, the construction process can be complex and requires a thorough understanding of construction, regulations, and cost management.

With the right planning, a barndominium can be a cost-effective and flexible housing solution. But it is not a project to be undertaken lightly. Careful consideration of all the factors outlined in this guide will help ensure that the final result is a home that is comfortable, durable, and tailored to the homeowner’s needs.

In conclusion, whether you’re an owner-builder or hiring a contractor, building a barndominium can be a rewarding experience. With a clear vision, proper planning, and an understanding of the process, you can create a unique home that suits your lifestyle and budget.

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