Building a custom home is not for the faint of heart. But, neither does it have to be nerve-wracking. A whole host of challenges often crop up from minor snags to more complicated difficulties. These tribulations can test our endurance but with a little planning and patience, many of the frustrations can be lessened. Nearly all obstacles can be overcome, and many can be nipped in the bud before developing into bigger issues.
Some challenges that Barndo builders face come as they are acting as a general contractor for the first time. Managing subcontractors, timelines, and county regulatory offices takes some finesse. Then there’s bad weather and sluggish supply chains that create delays and may slow the build process significantly. The important thing to remember is that regardless of the challenge, in the end, you’ll end up with a beautiful home – and perhaps some interesting design, construction, and décor stories.
I sat down with Stacee Lynn to get some advice for first-time Barndo builders. She is in the process of building a third Barndo on her compound and has acted as her own general contractor for each build. She had some valuable nuggets to share.
Annette: What was one of the biggest challenges you encountered when building your first Barndo on the Creek House property?
Stacee Lynn: Well, our first building was the garage/workshop Barndo. I served as my own general contractor. A few weeks after the foundation was poured, I scheduled seven different subcontractors, back-to-back, for hour-long meetings; however, none of them showed up that day. I decided then, instead of traveling three hours round trip out to our build site, that we would upgrade the workshop into a more livable temporary Barndo and move into it prior to starting on the main Barndo. That way, I could supervise the project while living on site. I recommend this for anyone who has the option of living on their property.
Stacee Lynn decided to upgrade the workshop into a more livable temporary Barndo and move into it prior to starting on her main Barndo build so she could supervise the project while living on site.
Annette: How did you do the upgrade?
Stacee Lynn: I converted the second-floor garage storage space into a temporary sleeping space. And, the downstairs shop area became our living room. There was already a half bath which we made into a full bath (that’s another story). I added a grill, sink, and burners on the covered front porch area and created a temporary outdoor kitchen.
Annette: Ok, so now I must hear the story about the bathroom conversion.
Stacee Lynn: So, the original shop floor plan included a half bath. We needed to add a shower and some cabinetry. As the shop foundation was already poured, I had two options: 1) tear up the concrete flooring in and around the bathroom to add in foundation plumbing for the shower, reset the demo area, and pour new concrete or 2) box out and raise the proposed shower floor six inches so that new plumbing could be set under the shower without impacting the foundation. I chose the latter. It wasn’t how I would have planned it, but it was a quicker and less expensive remedy and probably saved us from a few headaches. It was going to be a shop bath. In the end, altering the original course and moving onto the property while we built our main home, was the best solution. Now, that the Creek House is built, our converted living quarters in the garage is perfect for Oliver’s office.
Annette: What were some of the other challenges you encountered with your build?
Stacee Lynn: Actually, I encountered another plumbing issue. Throughout the build, I maintained a thorough checklist of Barndominium build steps. (I can’t say enough about the value of checklists.) One of the steps included measuring all piping in the pre-plumb and measuring the location of all plumbing fixtures to ensure they were in the correct location before the foundation was poured. After getting about three-quarters of the way through my plumbing measurement checks, everything had been perfect, so I trusted that the rest was right, too. That wasn’t the case. During framing, the framer noticed that one drain for the primary bathroom’s clawfoot tub was off by four inches. Yikes.
Rather than immediately tussling with the plumber about the error he had made, I paused to consider my options. As single story Barndominiums carry their weight on the perimeter and don’t have any interior load bearing walls, I knew that we could modify the floor plan to correct this issue. I decided to move the wall back by four inches to align the clawfoot tub with the fixture. The only one who knew about the change was me.
Again, I chose the easier solution instead of taking on a bigger battle. That flexibility and willingness to compromise on the small stuff made life so much easier. Plus, who doesn’t love a bigger bathroom?
During her Creek House build, Stacee Lynn maintained a thorough checklist of Barndominium build steps. One of her steps included measuring all piping in the pre-plumb and measuring the location of all plumbing fixtures to ensure they were in the correct location before the foundation was poured.
Annette: I see that you’re teaching us that mistakes can be “undone.” And, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a big ordeal. But what happens if you’re deep into the build process and change your mind about some important things like layout and design?
Stacee Lynn: In all likelihood, you are not stuck. Don’t be afraid to course correct mid-stream. We made a number of in-process design changes. One was a design change to the upstairs. Originally, we planned to use the second floor attic area (which included a standard staircase for access – not a drop-down ladder) for a storage space. However, when we saw the amount of potential living space on the second floor, we realized it would be a waste if we didn’t utilize it for something other than storage.
I opted to raise the backside of the Barndo sidewalls eight feet and change the backside roof pitch from an 8:12 pitch to a 3:12 pitch. This allowed the floor plan to include a second en suite bedroom with a large bathroom and closet, and a combo bunk/media room that sleeps eight.
Turns out, this was the best design change I could have made. The addition of the second floor accommodates endless movie nights. It was also the perfect place for my daughter’s handball team to stay when the United States Military Academy (West Point) traveled to Houston one year for a tournament. We use the upstairs space for so many entertaining, relaxing, and recreational activities, that now it is hard to imagine life without it.
By the way, we also decided to add a 40’x15’ gabled front porch and a bump out to extend the closet of the primary bedroom after the build process began. Instead of being disappointed that I had not planned these features beforehand and settling for something less than my ideal design, I made the changes on the fly and was thrilled with the results.
Annette: So, let’s see, you found a low-drama work-around for two plumbing issues and changed your floor plan after construction began. Sounds like flexibility was definitely your friend. Were there any challenges that tested your patience?
Stacee Lynn: How much time do you have?! There’s always going to be something. But it’s how you handle it that will make the difference in your experience. For example, shortly after starting the main Barndo build, Hurricane Harvey struck. Due to material shortages from the storm and increased prices, we decided that it would be best to put the project on hold for a short time. Admittedly, the wait was frustrating. So, again, looking to turn lemons into lemonade, we made the best of the situation by using the time to make a few modifications to the Creek House.
Due to the torrential downpour, we realized that we should go with bigger gutters than originally planned. Additionally, as many of our neighbors lost power during the storm, I decided that we should commit to installing efficient electrical systems. That way, the Generac generator could more easily maintain the household for extended periods of time during power outages. Even though the construction delay wasn’t preferred, it gave us time to select gutters, appliances, and other finish out materials and to make a series of conceptual improvements to the Creek House.
I also learned the value of “in-stock” products. Instead of being frustrated over waiting many months for certain furnishings and appliances to arrive, I reset my sites on finding merchandise that retailers had readily on hand. I had to decide which items were worth waiting for and which could be replaced with readily available stock, making the ultimate move-in faster and smoother.
Annette: It seems like you adopted a “don’t sweat the small stuff” philosophy with a little “patience is key” thrown in for good measure. And it worked for you! Any final advice?
Even with unforeseen challenges from weather, supply chains, sub-contractor error, or in-process modifications – there is always a way to make the best of any situation.
Stacee Lynn: The most important lesson is to take your time. Do not rush decisions, especially if you don’t have to. What might seem like a disaster is usually a choice being handed to you. Consider your options and you’ll likely find that the situation isn’t disastrous after all. And, you may find that the solution you choose actually leaves you in a better place than where you started. Think of it as God’s way of inserting a little serendipity into your life.