Guide to Buying a Barndo

guide to buying a barndo

What is a Barndominium, Shop house, or Farmdominium?

Barndominiums or ‘Barndos’ are agricultural, industrial buildings, or ‘metal’ buildings that have been converted into residences.  Variations are known as Shop houses or ‘Shouses’ or Farmdominiums or ‘Farmdos’.  Houses can be made from pole barns, post and beam structures, or steel frame or post-frame (wood) buildings.  Typically these buildings are built on the ground (concrete slab floor) and do not have a crawl space or basement.

Best sites for ‘Barndos’, ‘Shouses’ or ‘Farmdos’

Typically these buildings are located in flatter (not mountainous or steep) rural or semi-rural areas.   Rural or agricultural areas fit the Barndominium aesthetic and also provide larger and flatter home sites.  One of the biggest advantages of agricultural/industrial buildings is that they are relatively cheap for the square footage– often the bigger the building the better the price per square foot– but to see these savings the buildings must be relatively large and built on the ground (slab) with only basic grading, excavating and retaining areas needed.  In other words, the best sites are large and flat.

What are the advantages of Barndos, Shouses, or Farmdos?

These types of buildings are trending for good reasons because the advantages are many:

Low Price Per Square Foot

An important metric in real estate is the total price of a building or property, the price per square foot, or the relative cost for the size.  As mentioned earlier the larger the Barndo the better the price per square foot.  Companies can achieve lower costs because of the relative simplicity of the design, scope, and framing.  

A traditional barn or shop building will be rectangular (4 corners only) with some lights and outlets, a modest bathroom, and maybe a small area with heating/cooling.  A modern house has a lot more heating/electrical/plumbing and space requirements than a barn or shop. Keep in mind that with increased design complexity and plumbing/electric/HVAC scope the building will be much more expensive which is why Barndos are a good candidate for people who want large open spaces and simple living.

See our article on How to Build an Affordable House

Open Living and High Ceilings

Barndos, Shouses, and Farmdos typically have high ceilings (9’ or higher) and large open spaces- perfect for people who enjoy open floor plans or for artists or live/work folks who need space with flexibility.

Master on main or one level living

Because Barndos, Shouses, and Farmdos are typically built on the ground (slab) most or all of the living space is at the main level which is perfect for the elderly (aging in place) or the disabled because this design eliminates the need for multiple levels or stairs.

Flexibility

Barndos, Shouses, and Farmdos are framed to span great distances which is why partition walls can easily be added or removed without structural concerns.  Doors and windows can also be easily added or removed and in the case of metal buildings with really tall or vaulted ceilings even lofts can be built without modifying any framing.

Durability and Low Maintenance

Barndos, Shouses, and Farmdos typically have low-maintenance exterior finishes (like metal paneling) that do not decay.  Metal roofing/siding paneling often has special coatings that can last up to 40 years.  The life expectancy of metal paneling can be extended with regular painting.  See our article on the best way to fasten a metal roof.  Concrete slab systems are typically lower maintenance than wood framing over crawl spaces or basements.  A rectangular Barndo will typically have a simple seamless gutter system that is easy to maintain and their simple roof shape with few penetrations and deep overhangs is the least problematic of all roof types.

Fast construction

Once the ordering and pre-construction planning is complete (this can take months) the actual construction of a basic metal building ‘shell’ can be completed within a week- this includes framing, insulation, roofing, siding/trim, and doors and windows- which makes it one of the fastest of all construction types.  Converting the basic shell into a house, however, could take many more months as it will require the coordination of several different contractors (plumbing, electrical, HVAC, framing, finishes, countertops, appliances, etc…).  The good news is that this additional work will be under a roof and that the building will be ‘tight to the weather’.

Energy efficiency

Because of the large spans and minimal framing, it is possible to super-insulate Barndos at the walls and ceilings.  8-10” wall insulation and 24” ceiling insulation is easily achievable for most manufacturers of ‘metal’ buildings.

Increased interest

Because Barndos, Shouses and Farmdos are becoming increasingly popular these buildings should appreciate well over time.  As long as a building is permitted and constructed/maintained well there should not be additional issues when it comes time to sell.

Disadvantages of Barndos, Shouses and Farmdos?

Not all Sites are Suitable

The following types of sites may not be good candidates to build a Barndo, Shouse or Farmdo:

  • Hilly or steep sites – these sites will require a lot of grading, drainage and retaining walls which will drive up construction costs
  • Forested sites – removing trees, stumps and unsuitable soils will drive up construction costs
  • Small lots or infill lots – Smaller lots and limited access could drive up the construction costs and overall price per square foot
  • Rocks, springs, creeks, etc. – These features at or near the footprint of the building will drive up construction costs
  • Unsuitable soils –  Loose fill, un-compacted soil, on-site garbage, etc. will drive up construction costs

See our article on Buying Land

Limited amount of framing at walls and ceilings

Wall and ceiling framing can sometimes be 8’ apart which makes it difficult to install a fan or heavy mirror – it may be necessary to add custom/additional framing in some cases

Wood Framing at or below grade

Most ‘metal buildings’ are wood-framed with metal paneling installed on the exterior.  Many manufacturers of ‘metal’ buildings will install the supporting wood posts right into the ground and then pour the concrete slab separately (and leave the wood formwork in place which is more termite bait).  Even pressure-treated or decay-resistant wood that is installed at or below grade will decay or become subject to wood-destroying insects over the long term.  As inspectors of commercial buildings, we often see decay and wood-destroying insects on the wood framing of ‘metal’ buildings.  Best practice is for supporting wood posts to be installed over a thickened slab or to have their own concrete footing that provides adequate clearance between the wood framing and the ground.  Wood framing at or below grade can limit the life expectancy of the building and could cause decay, settling and air quality issues over the long term.  Steel frame buildings do not decay however metal framing should be protected from corrosion.  

Plumbing Limitations

When all the plumbing locations have been anticipated before the slab has been poured there should not be a problem however adding plumbing locations to an existing Barndo can be challenging or expensive.  Providing water supply to a plumbing fixture is typically not a problem because supply pipes can go up, down, or sideways without restrictions.  The installation of plumbing drain lines is more difficult however because they can only flow slightly downward toward the sewer or septic system.  Because with Barndos there typically isn’t access under the floors, slabs will have to be cut and trenched.  In some cases, if the proposed plumbing areas are too far from the existing drain lines a septic lift station or additional sewer/septic line will be needed (and this costs $$$$!).  When adding plumbing to an existing structure built on a slab it is always cheaper to keep new fixtures as close as possible to existing plumbing areas.

Lack of Privacy

Large open spaces are great for individuals, couples or intimate families but they can be challenging for larger families, loud occupants/pets, or roommates.  Houses with divided spaces and/or separate/insulated floors are better at providing privacy.

Contractor Considerations

If the goal is to save money then it is best if the buyer stays involved during the process as much as possible and even does a lot of work themselves (after the shell is constructed).  It will likely be necessary to find, coordinate and supervise a number of different sub-contractors (like a general contractor would).  Some buyers, however, do not have the experience or desire to be their own contractors.

Some people interested in these type of homes may discover that they cannot find a local company or contractor in the area that constructs these types of buildings, in which case, it may be necessary to find a national company.  The national company will likely not have a network of smaller contractors in your area which will require the buyers to find an additional contractor or to do the work themselves.

Increasingly more national companies are offering residential options and upgrades however most manufacturers of metal buildings still do not offer these options.  It is important to have all the plumbing and electrical rough-ins in place before the slab is poured- this work is usually best performed by a local contractor.

In all cases, it is best if the buyer is experienced in construction or hires an experienced general contractor (often separate from the metal building manufacturer) to coordinate the sub-contractors.  It is always recommended to coordinate with the city or county regarding zoning and permits before construction or renovations.

Agricultural/Industrial style

The Barndominium, Farmdo and Shouse lend themselves to a certain industrial/agricultural style which may dictate the aesthetic to some extent.  The style is flexible and allows for a mix of different woods, metals, and colors however many off-the-shelf appliances, fixtures and finishes will look out of place in this type of building.

Inspecting a Barndo, Shouse or Farmdo

Un-permitted or Un-licensed work

When we inspect ‘metal’ buildings that have been converted into residences we are looking for sub-quality or un-permitted work like additions or renovations that have been performed after the initial ‘shell’ was constructed.  It is common for owners or other unlicensed contractors to have performed work.

Wood framing at or below grade

See above for more information on this.

Maintenance Neglect

All buildings are subject to maintenance neglect.  ‘Metal’ buildings, even when they are framed from wood, typically have low maintenance siding and trim (metal) however gutters that aren’t properly maintained can cause erosion and water damage.  It is important to direct water away from buildings on slabs to prevent settling/cracks.  Roofs should be maintained to prevent leaks and water damage.  

See Typical Service Life of Components in a Home for more information.

Conclusion

Barndos, Shouses and Farmdos are great options for larger, flatter sites in rural/semi-rural locations for highly involved and knowledgeable buyers looking for a certain price point and aesthetic.  Some companies offer ‘turn-key’ residential metal building products to consumers however they often charge a premium (which would negate the low price per square foot benefit).  Luckily there are several other advantages, besides affordability, that are attracting buyers like their style, spaciousness, energy efficiency, flexibility, low maintenance requirements, and durability.

Examples of Manufacturers of ‘Metal’ Buildings

A&S Building Systems
Absolute Steel
ACI Building Systems
Alliance Steel Inc.
American Buildings Co
Arco Steel Shulte Building Systems
BC Steel Buildings
Behlen Building Systems
BigBee Steel Buildings
Buck Steel, Inc.
Bulldog Steel Structures
CBC Steel Buildings
Ceco Building Systems
Dean Steel Buildings
Garco Building Systems
Gen Steel
Inland Building Systems
Maverick Steel Buildings
Mesco Building Systems
Mueller Inc
NCI Building Systems
Nucor Building Systems
Oakland Metal Buildings
Olympia Metal Buildings
Spirco Manufacturing
Titan Steel Structures
Unites Structures of America
VersaTube Building Systems
Whirlwind Steel Buildings

Examples of some Barndominium Builders are:

  1. Steel Commander Corp   2200 Corporate Blvd NW Ste 410, Boca Raton FL 33431   844-722-4766   https://steelcommandercorp.com/steel-building-homes/?gclid=Cj0KCQjw94WZBhDtARIsAKxWG–UsVCXRWq1jj0i4Wl7H82kwqavWHaooPGUeV6qrp1_xVum5erfy5caAic4EALw_wcB
  2. DC Builders   11251 SE 232nd Ave, Damascus OR 97089   888-975-2057   https://www.dcbuilding.com/barns-with-living-quarters/barndominiums/
  3. Colt Buildings & Homes   2290 Montague Ave Ext, Greenwood SC 29649   864-854-9440   https://coltbuildings.com/?gclid=Cj0KCQjw94WZBhDtARIsAKxWG-8IWR_s2b32cKoeJsm81cd5jHyBmlmYCBVaAJkKsgfoBi3sxSQCpN4aAtjcEALw_wcB
  4. R&R Iron Works   501 Salem Rd, Morganton NC 28655   828-334-3507   https://www.rrironworks.com/?gclid=Cj0KCQjw94WZBhDtARIsAKxWG–b7AQiieKJasQM6N3tVEAB0kIjXEj-00g2gFP6BT8ZGNDVMEyfmCQaAu45EALw_wcB

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