Even with costs for housing spiraling above reach for many, the trend toward custom homebuilding is on the rise. Barndominiums are a smart and popular home choice. First-time homeowners are looking for more distinctive ways to build their own space. Traditional brick-and-mortar, “cookie-cutter” homes in cities or suburbs aren’t for everyone. That’s why the unique aesthetic of a Barndo in a quiet, rural setting is quickly becoming such a popular alternative.
The Barndo concept originated as a small, plain living area inside a barn. Today’s Barndo designs allow for a beautiful living space with all the upgrades that are typically in a stand-alone home or in some cases combined with a shop (called a Shouse). It could look like a barn from the outside, but inside, it’s a lovely home.
California-based Tim Lemma, principal at Lemma Construction, recently completed his first Barndo construction project for a client. He said there were plenty of reasons why the concept was gaining traction everywhere. “My client built a 4,800 square feet structure on the property, and then decided it should be the garage and shop for his cars,” he said. “I drew the architectural plan for a 3,200 square feet home, and we connected the two. It’s an ultra-custom home.” It is a monoslope roof design exquisitely situated on a beautiful 25 acre vineyard developed by the Barndo owner.
Lemma said that part of the attraction to this type of build is that a Barndo owner can save a lot of money on the building, and then use those savings on designer-upgraded finishes. The Barndo’s metal frame, combined with the designated separate-but-connected garage space, allows for almost limitless design and structural options. He added that this type of construction can also allow for more square footage within the budget.
“Building a Barndo can be more cost effective than a ‘traditional’ home for a variety of reasons,” Lemma said. Metal siding is generally less expensive in labor and materials than masonry material for the same square footage. Most Barndos sit on a concrete slab. And you can simply leave it as it is. Many people like the look of concrete floors, and there’s a lot you can do with them from a design standpoint.” This provides another opportunity for cost savings.
The steel skeleton’s main purpose is to hold up the roof system. “Within that skeleton, you can do whatever you want,” he said. “You can put windows and doors in that are as tall and wide as the openings between the beams. Cladding it is also easier. Often, you don’t do a ceiling system either, because part of the ‘barn effect’ is to expose the rafters instead of cover them, as you would in a traditional home.”
Lemma explained that exposing the ceilings also offers additional potential for savings. “This way, it’s easier to run all the mechanics, electrical and wiring in,” he said. “Subcontractors aren’t having to drill studs and beams because they aren’t there.”
The same goes for propane and natural gas and the pipes for the cook top, water heater or dryer if they are situated against a wall. The gas pipes simply run right through the holes in the studs instead of through the foundation. In a metal stud, the holes are pre-punched. That’s where the savings are. According to Lemma, “There is so much less labor involved. You could save significantly on mechanical, electrical and plumbing costs.”
There are many more options when it comes to putting in windows and doors on a Barndo. “You can put them just about anywhere except where the columns are placed,” he said. “The structural value of steel is greater than wood, so this way, unlike with conventional wood framing, there are virtually no limitations.”
Compared to traditional homes, Barndos offer superior protection against most environmental elements, which can add up to plenty of savings in the long run. All living spaces must be compliant with local fire codes. For dry climates, Lemma said that Barndos are well suited because the materials are not easily combustible, making them a safer structure during a wildfire. The concrete foundation also serves as excellent resistance against earthquakes – of particular importance to California residents.
A well-insulated, Barndo can be engineered to withstand hurricane-force winds over 150 mph – if necessary to meet wind load requirements for permitting purposes – making it unlikely to collapse and able to withstand heavy rainfall or snowfall with minimal or no damage. This can also help lower insurance costs. The steel walls make a great repellent against wood-chewing insects like termites or other pests. And unlike wood, steel is less likely to rot or warp, and contributes to the home’s overall low maintenance. Even during a flood, a steel Barndo can recover much more easily than a traditional home, with very little damage to the building’s structure or material.
Lemma said that his client’s new Barndo was built with metal studs and very little wood, except for a few accents on the exterior, the interior doors, and the cabinet doors. “It’s a huge time and money saver,” he said. “That’s why the home has so many ultra-custom features,” he said. “There is floor radiant heat in the slab that warms the concrete, all the showers are granite, and the owner chose high-end integrated lighting and HVAC,” he said. “The Barndo owner knew he’d save money on building and used it on the designer-upgraded finishes.”
The main feature in the home illustrates why Barndos are a designer’s dream. “My client put in large, free expanses of glass,” he said. “There are 12.5-foot windows from floor to ceiling between the columns. It allows for an amazing feeling of openness. We put in roof overhangs, so that in the winter, when the sun is lower on the horizon, it goes under the overhang and warms up the concrete floors.”
But in the summer, Lemma said, the overhangs help keep the sun out of the glass and making the home too warm. “It’s done just right for where he lives in Auburn, California,” Lemma said.
Barndo building materials may be minimalist, but it’s the interior design that elevates it. The best part about a Barndo, Lemma said, is the freedom to design. “You can do just about whatever you want between the support columns,” he said.
Tim Lemma is principal at Lemma Construction and places a strong emphasis on teamwork and collaboration between homeowners, subcontractors, architects, floor plan designers and all other stakeholders involved in the project. To contact him for a comprehensive evaluation, visit www.lemmaconstruction.com.
Architect & Photo Credit: JK Architecture Engineering