We are often asked, “What is a Barndominium, and how does it differ from a conventional home?” This special edition of THE Barndominium Lady™ magazine is the perfect place to define the Barndominium. We think you will be pleasantly surprised by the casual elegance that transforms a simple metal building into a warm and welcoming home.
A Barndominium is a custom designed, steel frame, single family residence with metal roof and siding. The steel beams (or columns) carry the weight of the structure on the perimeter of the building, which allows for great expanses in living areas without the need for interior support walls. Why are Barndominium designs now more popular than ever? Primarily, there has been an emergence of designers, who understand the need to shift the design focus to Barndominiums as residences. The reliability of steel’s performance in commercial applications has been blended with some cool residential WOW to create residences that represent the Barndominium lifestyle.
While Stacee Lynn and Our Barndominium Life focuses on steel design, we do recognize another design style for the Barndominium. In parts of the country, especially in the northeast and upper Midwest, post frame Barndos, or engineered wood frame structures, are more prevalent than steel frame construction. These are often referred to as pole barns. They can offer similar options to steel design at a slightly different price point based on the use of extensive wood framing.
The concept of a barnhouse is not new. Historically, Barndominiums were rural utilitarian structures built as a blend of work building and living space. They were the first functional building a farmer or rancher built on their property to support work. They typically incorporated small living quarters while the family saved money to build a home. Early Barndominiums took on this no-frills, serviceable character. They had practical layouts without much regard for comfort or style. But there has been an evolution.
Today’s Barndominiums are stylish, highly livable homes. The design styles range from rustic to modern but are always comfortable and relaxed. Design items include soaring ceilings, simple rooflines, an abundance of windows, and covered porches. Some Barndos also boast exposed A-frame steel trusses, smart technology, and luxurious finish outs.
The term “Barndominium” was actually made popular in a 1989 New York Times article when it was used by the developer of an equestrian community in Connecticut where horse barns were attached to homes. The term “Barndominium” was coined, and it stuck.
Steel Barndominiums include two primary options for construction—weld-up and bolt-up systems. The advantage the weld-up system has is that it is highly customizable. Many Barndo shell builders, particularly in the South, focus on weld-up work. On most Barndo designs, you will usually save money on material with a weld-up project, but labor costs tend to be higher. Weld-ups require shell builders to have certified welders on their team, which is uncommon for most general contractors. Hence, service providers for weld-ups are limited, and those who do build weld-ups often build the shell only and do not act as general contractors in this space.
Overall, more service providers are involved in bolt-up construction. Imagine the bolt-up system as a life size erector kit. Bolt-up Barndos are pre-engineered structures based on the Barndominium floor plan design. There is less room for change once the building shell is manufactured. The advantage of bolt-up systems is they can be engineered to meet wind, snow and seismic loads. Usually, materials cost more for bolt-up, but labor costs are lower for erecting the Barndo shell, as it requires no measuring, welding, or cutting.
Beyond the structural differences, Barndos and conventional homes have distinct similarities and differences. So, you might ask how do Barndominiums stack up against conventional homes?
Traditional homes are built with wood frames while Barndos are usually built with steel (although they can be built with post-frame as well). There are a few key differences between the two construction styles. Barndominiums and conventional homes both offer variety in style and design, but Barndominiums tend to have some signature features.
One of the key Barndo elements is sky-high ceilings. Barndominiums almost always have at least one room with exceptionally tall ceilings. In our home – The Creek House – the great room has 25-foot vaulted ceilings. All the other rooms have 12-foot ceilings, which are high compared to traditional residential construction projects. This creates impressive spaces that make your room look and feel bigger.
Along with these lofty ceilings, Barndos often proudly showcase their structural trusses that span the overhead area. Embracing the underlying structure brings character to any Barndominium. These beams highlight wide, spacious rooms that are also Barndo hallmarks. Aside from walls to mark off bedrooms and bathrooms, Barndos tend to have open layouts. Conventional homes can be open and spacious, but most have more distinct spaces, separated by walls and hallways, which would be unusual in a Barndominium.
Finally, Barndos tend toward a more casual, practical style than conventional homes. Barndominiums often have simpler finishes. Features like crown molding and bay windows, for instance, are more commonly found in conventional homes,
but seldom in Barndominiums. On the other hand, polished concrete floors would not be out of place in a Barndominium but would be less likely found in a traditional home.
Conventional homes have three main advantages over Barndo builds. They are familiar to banks for financing, familiar to HOA design boards, and familiar to general contractors for build methods.
Conventional homes are a known entity to financial institutions, so it is usually easier to secure financing. But times are changing. Barndominiums continue to gain popularity as part of the alternative homes movement that emerged from the 2008-2009 financial crisis. We believe as Barndos continue to become a larger section of the residential build market, more financial institutions will choose to support them.
Another benefit of conventional homes is that homeowner association (HOA) design committees are familiar with the construction style and may place less limitations on that type of build. Barndos have a unique build and look, so many HOAs do not know how to respond to them initially except to say – no, they are not permitted in our subdivision. If there is an HOA associated with your build site, it is important to confirm that the HOA will allow you to build a Barndominium. With the enhanced designs of the new breed of Barndo designer, increasingly residential developments understand what a Barndominium is and are recognizing its value. This is resulting in fewer restrictions against Barndo builds. Often, the most common restriction is a minimum requirement for a masonry component on the exterior of the home. That requirement can usually be met by adding a stone skirting or stone chimney to your Barndo.
Finally, not all residential builders are comfortable with steel frame construction. It can be challenging to find a builder in your area with extensive experience in residential steel frame construction. If you find one, use them. Often though, you may need to find an erector crew to stand up the frame and shell, then use a general contractor to finish out the rest. With the growing popularity of Barndominiums, you can count on a trend where general contractors seek to add qualified shell builder subs to their team. This will benefit them and you.
Barndominiums win out over conventional construction in four major categories: shorter construction time, greater interior spans, lower maintenance requirements, and higher potential insurance savings.
One of the most frustrating things about building a home can be weather delays. Barndo shells can be erected and dried-in faster than conventional homes. In fact, simply designed homes can be dried-in in as little as 30 days (after your concrete pour has cured). Dried-in means your framing, roof, walls, windows, and exterior doors have been installed so that your project can now keep the elements out. From the outside, your build appears complete. On the inside, it looks like a warehouse. Once dried in, weather will have limited impact on the completion of your build.
An additional benefit of Barndominium design not usually associated with conventional construction is significant interior spans. Steel frames can support wide spans creating grand spaces with little or no need for center supports. If you are looking for a home with open space that flows smoothly, without the restriction of interior load-bearing walls, a Barndo beats a conventional house. There are designs, especially for two-story plans, where extra support beams will be necessary, but by and large, this is not an impediment to where you want to have—or not have—walls in your Barndo.
Steel Barndominiums are low maintenance compared to conventional homes. Metal does not attract pests, rot, crack, or mold the way wood might. This means you have less maintenance and upkeep on a Barndominium, which also translates to longer-term savings.
In addition to being more resistant to pests and wood damage, steel buildings are also more fire-resistant. As a result, a steel-frame Barndominium may also be associated with lower insurance premiums than a conventional house, leading to cost savings over time.
There are clear advantages to each type of home. For more information on your specific situation, we recommend talking to your designer, builder, steel supply house, financial institution, or HOA/POA. They can answer questions particular to your situation. We believe the drawbacks to a Barndo are few, and there are workable avenues to overcome them. In the end, for us, the Barndo build wins every time. But it is important that you choose the right kind of home and the right floor plan. I hope you will consider the Barndominium, with all its charm, splendor, and versatility as your next place to call home.