Home Sweet Barn: The Guide to Barndominium Design
Mar 18, 2022
Are you looking to design a unique dream home with soaring ceilings, abundant light, and versatile open spaces? A barndominium could be your next home sweet home.
Barndominiums burst onto the scene when HGTV’s celebrity renovators Chip and Joanna Gaines popularized the term after retrofitting a dilapidated barn into a chic residence. Since then, the “barndo tribe” has been growing at a rapid clip, soaring in popularity since early 2020, when more people began staying and working at home.
Homeowners embracing barndominium life are either converting old barns or constructing new steel ones, especially in places where large parcels of land are available. Some are opting for custom builds, while others are using a barndominium kit. The trend has been spreading from country homes closer to the metros. For example, communities are being planned near Austin and Houston that will be barndo-friendly.
If you’re contemplating a barndominium life, consider these benefits, drawbacks, and design tips that turn a barn into a stunning living space.
Barndominiums Offer Breathing Room for Creativity
Barn homes are generally characterized by large, open spaces under a clear span roof.
A barndominium floor plan is very different from traditional homes, which must be designed with load-bearing walls that limit creativity and possibilities. A barndo’s steel framing eliminates the need for load-bearing walls, making it easy to split a home into flexible living quarters and working spaces.
Get More For Less
Since steel barndos cost significantly less per square footage than traditional homes, it is easier to house a larger space under one roof. The expansive spaciousness gives families breathing room and creative versatility in meeting lifestyle needs. Spaces are easily partitioned with sliding glass doors for working from home, working out, and entertaining in large indoor/outdoor areas.
Is it Cheaper to Build a House or a Barndominium?
Economical Building Materials
Due to cost-effective materials such as sheet metal, steel, and concrete, new barn homes are much less expensive per square foot than traditional homes. Using mainly metal instead of wood significantly decreases structural construction prices – which is why steel is so often used in commercial construction. In fact, an estimated 95% of industrial construction projects are made from steel.
The roof is a perfect example of the cost-savings of a metal building. While traditional homes typically use fiberglass asphalt shingles, a barndo looks quite at home with a metal roof. Metal roofing comes in much larger sheets than fiberglass shingles, making installation easy and swift. A metal roof can be 35% less expensive than a conventional roof – and the beautiful sound of rain playing music on the tin roof is free.
The differences in costs go from the roof down to the foundation. In traditional construction, the foundation typically forms the perimeter of the structure, which includes footing, piers, and cement blocks. In contrast, the foundation for a barndominium can usually be poured as a monolithic slab, reducing costs by 5% to 10%.
Efficient Building Processes
Due to the more streamlined building process, overall construction times are also typically shorter, thus further reducing costs from labor. A new barndominium can be built in half the time of a traditional home because they often use steel panels, making assembly quicker with higher quality control. However, they do require highly specialized skill sets and machinery (such as a crane to place the steel beams and girders setting the framework).
Barndo labor costs are typically 40% of the total build, while traditional labor costs are 50%.
What is the Average Cost of Building a Barndominium?
Average national estimates are currently $100 per square foot for a new steel barndos with quality custom finishes and $140 for a high-end build. For comparison, a traditional home is ranging from $180 to $280 per square foot, respectively.
For a quality, custom 2,000 square foot barndominium, the cost would average $200,000 vs. $360,000 for a comparable traditional build.
A prefab metal building kit is also an option. Manufacturers of a barndominium kit estimate costs at 50% of a custom build. These range from $20 to $100 per square foot, depending on how extensively the interior is fitted. Many manufacturers will work with you to customize your barndominium kit. They can come simply as the exterior metal shell, with a local contractor building out the interior based on your architect’s plans.
Keep in mind barndominium kits exclude the concrete slab, plumbing, electrical, HVAC, and labor for erecting the metal building kit.
Whether you opt for a metal building kit or custom build, make sure it meets your local building codes. The size must meet building codes for residential property approval, along with materials used and electrical and plumbing specifications.
Barndominium Construction Materials: Which are Best?
New barndos are usually steel-enclosed or steel post-and-beam buildings. Others can be hybrid construction, featuring steel trusses and I-beams with wood framing in between. Prefab steel is most cost-effective when compared against structural insulated panel constructions (SIPs) and wood-stick construction.
However, it is steel’s attributes that make it the strongest choice:
- Durability: Steel’s dimensional stability prevents any expansion or contraction when the moisture content changes. This is in stark contrast to lumber, which can warp, swell, crack, split, or spall with changes in environmental moisture. Steel’s durability translates to greater longevity for the building as well.
- Tensile strength: Comparing all structural framing materials, steel holds the highest strength-to-weight ratio, according to the Steel Framing Industry Association. When cold framing steel sheets are formed into C-shapes, the folds further increase strength. With this method, the components have a strength-to-weight ratio seven times stronger than dimensional lumber. This is what allows steel to achieve what is impossible architecturally with traditional timber homes.
Steel Barndos: A Very Green Choice
Steel is also one of the most renewable resources on earth, making it an incredibly eco-friendly choice in line with building codes. Architects who opt to use cold-formed steel framing can receive green building credits for LEED certification.
Steel can be recycled repeatedly without any loss to performance. Currently, steel’s overall recycling rate is 88%, making it the most recycled material on earth. In fact, the volume of recycled steel outpaces all the other materials combined, according to the American Iron and Steel Institute.
To illustrate, the average 2,000 square foot steel-framed home needs only 6 recycled junked cars for material. In contrast, the average lumber home needs 3-4 acres of timber.
Below is an excellent infographic of the eco-friendliness of steel from the Steel Framing Industry Association.
Panda now offers steel windows and doors that offer all the benefits of steel. Expansive openings of steel and glass are perfect for enhancing natural views that Barndominiums are known for. The inherent strength of steel enables it to be rolled into the thinnest profiles to unveil nearly unobstructed views.
Long-Term Cost-Effectiveness and Low-Maintenance
Beyond construction considerations, barndos are considered to be more cost-effective in the long-term as well. Metal siding and roofing require minimal maintenance since it is resistant to termites, rot, and moisture issues. As such, metal buildings are known to outperform traditional homes in longevity, due to its resistance to environmental factors that wear down traditional building process materials.
In addition, steel allows for easier repairs than traditional timber homes.
Big, Versatile, and Customizable
For those considering a new build, using steel gives greater flexibility than other design materials. Often what is impossible in a traditional home is possible with steel, whether it is cantilevers or clear-spans that give you a completely open space.
As illustrated by these unique barndominium floor plans from Our Barndominium Life, steel framing offers the ability to enjoy maximum usable space. In many cases, the steel framing supports the structure’s weight directly by the roof system – which eliminates the need for load-bearing walls. Instead, walls can be placed anywhere. Spaces can be any size, and often with Barndo-living they are massive, and any shape. If you build with steel, there is essentially no limit to your creativity and customization of the interior of your dream barndominium.
Some dream barndominiums even have pickleball courts, karaoke stages, golf simulators, rock walls, bowling alleys, penthouse playrooms, swimming pools, great halls, two-story closets, and even indoor equestrian riding arenas. Some are complete with indoor waterfalls cascading from 20 feet ceilings. The high ceilings also easily accommodate lofts. The two-story library with rolling ladders you’ve always wanted is now within easy reach.
Others have spaces fashioned out of necessity. When Hurricane Rita hit, Texan Michael Wright finished the second story of his gambrel-styled barndo – and quickly added a restroom to accommodate a family needing shelter.
Another advantage of using steel is creating an energy-efficient home. A metal barn structure, when filled with insulation, is a more energy-efficient home than wood construction. A steel building with the right insulation avoids the thermal gaps or bridging present in all lumber buildings.
Often closed-cell foam insulation is recommended for maximum thermal protection. As the polymer foam mixture dries, it creates a solid mass. This helps create a vapor barrier and makes the structure not only resistant to moisture, but also to heat and fire. Open-cell foam insulation is also an option, but since its cells are completely encapsulated and create a softer, more flexible foam, more moisture and air can enter.
More affordable options for insulation are blanket insulation or rigid boards.
In contrast, traditional homes are insulated with fiberglass, which is far less effective in thermal protection than foam insulation. Of course, fiberglass is also very dangerous when inhaled, as it could have carcinogens that cause long-term respiratory issues.
One of the smartest design choices is to pair your barn home with energy-efficient windows and doors that are thermally broken. Panda’s thermal break technology (using the superior polyamide iso-bar) separates the interior and exterior aluminum profiles of our stacking sliding doors to minimize heat loss.
We engineered our unique design to even include a thermally broken stile at the bottom of our sliding doors to maximize energy efficiency. Since the aluminum is no longer a conductor, Panda’s thermally broken, energy-efficient windows and doors also minimize noise, condensation, and frost. One of the most popular options is our All Aluminum Thermally Broken Slim Profile TS.83 Multi-Slide, which offers performance and thermal efficiency in an elegant, slim profile.
To learn more, we highly recommend our on-demand Green CE webinar on energy-efficient expansive openings, an AIA and GBCI approved course for Architects and LEED Professionals. This free webinar delves into how architects and builders are using glass walls and important energy-efficient design components.
Another way to achieve energy-efficient maximization in a barndo is to use partitions, which help retain heat or air in the space being used. One of the greatest appeals of a barndominium is the open floor plan. The best way to keep that open feeling, while still having energy-efficient “walls,” is to install interior glass sliding doors. This gives you the freedom to have a completely open space, but also the energy-efficient partitioned spaces as needed.
Many barndo owners report significantly lower utility bills, with some conservatively estimating a 30% to 50% savings than when they lived in a traditional home. One such barndo builder even left a gap of two feet between his interior walls and exterior metal walls for extra insulation in his Texas barndo.
Resilient Against Mother Nature
The steel of a barndo is non-combustible, which helps protect your home against fire. Steel’s melting point is around 2700 degrees F, but the average building fire temperature is 1000 degrees F and rarely over 1800 degrees.
Built for Extreme Weather
Steel barndos are also more resilient than lumber homes against earthquakes, floods, wind, and hurricanes. When you pair this framing with Panda’s hurricane impact-rated glass doors, you have a weather-resistant building that will stand the test of time.
The Panda All-Aluminum Hurricane-Rated IMPACT – IS.14 Lift & Slide, for example, underwent rigorous testing that yielded outstanding results. These include the ability to withstand structural loads at 100 pounds per square foot (PSF), water infiltration at 20 PSF, and air infiltration at 1.57 PSF. A well-built steel building can handle winds of up to 170 MPH, making it resilient against most tornados. Many municipalities specifically use steel buildings as storm shelters.
No Match for Termites
Steel also has immunity against pests like termites and vermin, in addition to resistance to mold.
Lower Home-Insurance Premiums
Due to these durability and longevity factors – and the valuation of an average barndo being lower than a conventional build – home insurance premiums are generally lower for these steel structures.
Connection to the Land
One of the most beautiful aspects of a barn home is the connection of the home to the great outdoors. Barndominium floor plans have generous covered patios that are embellished with outdoor kitchens, fireplaces, and comfortable furniture to bask in the glorious outdoors.
Imagine an entire side of your country home is made of sliding glass doors that showcase nature. Panda’s sliding glass doors provide you with an unobstructed view, with frameless options that have zero sightlines.
A very popular choice for barndominium kits and custom designs are large wraparound porches and covered balconies. The easy indoor/outdoor lifestyle is what attracts many to these country homes. Taking a page from resort living, luxury barndo architects often design for this lifestyle with Panda Multi-Slide glass doors that can be completely stacked and pocketed away. When closed, the floor-to-ceiling expanse ensures that the views of the great outdoors are just as vivid indoors.
Choosing the Best Windows and Doors for your Barndo
While many country homes often featured the quintessential sliding barn door, the lack of functionality and aesthetic appeal of these doors have led to their decline in popularity. The bulky, large size of barn doors impeded the open barndominium floor plan feel. Gaps around the doors allowed for sound to easily transmit from room to room. Proper locking mechanisms were also difficult for barn doors, all limiting options for safety and privacy.
More architects and homeowners have turned to glass doors as a gorgeous sliding barn door alternative. These can be custom-finished for any style and create spaces that match your design aesthetic perfectly.
Panda’s Horizontal Sliding Wall is a stunning innovation that maximizes openings and the expansiveness of spaces. In fact, using our top-hung individual panels that slide and stack anywhere, the opening can be cleared 100%. We can custom engineer panel parking areas to your exact design needs, including even hiding the stacking sliding doors in a closet around the corner. They are an absolutely stunning, innovative barn door alternative.
Our stacking sliding doors can also be easily used to partition the great indoors of your barn home. Our design gives you complete freedom for partitioning spaces as needed, all while retaining the gorgeous, visual openness of your barndo. The panels are easily stacked when you want to completely open up the space. Our thoughtful design also allows for operable swing panels, which give you flexibility for daily use without opening the entire system.
Other options appreciated by architects for these country homes with a luxury feel include:
- Folding doors: For a harmonious transition from indoor to outdoor living space, Panda’s folding doors are also an excellent choice. These do not require a pocket for the panels. Our proprietary, top-hung design allows individual panels to fold on either and/or both sides of the frame. When folded, our stacked door panels allow for a 90% unobstructed view of your great outdoor space. Daily doors can be easily integrated within the system, allowing for convenient entry and exit.
- Lift & Slide doors: An excellent option for heavy winds and rain, Panda’s Lift and Slide door systems are heavy-duty – without sacrificing any style. The thermally-broken, extra-low U-value options give ultimate protection against the weather. These come in three options: the All Aluminum Thermally Broken TS.19, Aluminum/Wood Clad Thermally Broken TS.13, and the Aluminum/Wood Clad Thermally Broken Slim Profile TS.87 which offer the thinnest profiles for enhanced views.
- Pivot doors: Our glass pivot doors and Voyage Select premium metal-finished pivot doors are a luxurious design statement. They offer clean lines and create a dynamic, effervescent entry into the home. The engineering of our pivot front door appears to float, opening at its pivot point, instead of being attached to the full door jamb on the side. In addition to being incredibly durable, our configurations can be adapted to any aesthetic and design plan.
- Steel windows and doors: Expansive openings of steel and glass are perfect for enhancing natural views. The inherent strength of steel enables it to be rolled into the thinnest profiles to unveil nearly unobstructed views.
To Renovate vs. Build New
The barn that started it all on HGTV was dilapidated. When is it appropriate to renovate vs. build a new one? The general rule of thumb is that if more than 20% of the existing structure needs to be modified (and thus incur both demolition and new building process costs), it may be cheaper to build a new barndo to meet the family’s needs. The exception is if the remaining 80% can be occupied without much renovation.
While there are many benefits to the barndominium life, there are some important considerations to weigh:
Property tax rates. While many barndo owners report lower property taxes, it’s critical to your cost-benefit analysis to check how your specific state and county will count your square footage. Some counties only count the living space (i.e. square footage that is heated/cooled) towards your assessment, while others may try to tax the dimensions of the entire barndo.
Financing. Conventional mortgages are limited for barndos since they are not generally classified as homes. Barndos are so unique that it is difficult for traditional lenders to find direct property comparisons. Since barndos are typically not in sub-divisions, it makes predicting future value even harder for lenders.
With that said, most farm credit lenders will finance the construction of a barndo. The Farm Credit Bureau is one and has branches in all states. Other local banks may offer financing as well. Heritage Land Bank and Capital Farm Credit, for example, offer financing for barn homes in Texas and specifically have rural appraisers.
It is expected that financing for barndos will increase as its popularity continues to rise – and the market witnesses them holding their value. Wayne Young, a rural appraiser with Capital Farm Credit, shared there now is data showing they are returning “as much as a regular house.”
Aesthetic limitations. Inherently, steel construction has some limitations with aesthetics. Bay windows, for example, are expensive to build into the steel construction, as are elements like crown molding.
The interiors are truly a blank canvas, allowing you to design a space as wild as your imagination and needs. Exteriorly, however, metal barndos may leave something to the imagination. Some design ideas are to highlight the uniqueness of the structure, such as emphasizing the design of the beam-columns or raising a triangular arch for the entryway.
One of the easiest and most stylish ways to enhance steel barndos is by adding framed windows and doors. Due to the virtues of steel framing, you can easily incorporate immense sliding glass doors that seamlessly connect the indoors with the Great Outdoors.
Moisture control. A metal building requires minimal maintenance and can withstand mother nature’s lashes. Although termites are not an issue, the homeowner must be keen to maintain the steel exterior from rust. They are more durable than timber construction, but still, precaution must be taken to protect the structure from moisture.
We hope our guide will help you decide if your home sweet home is actually a barn sweet barn! For further inspiration on which doors are perfect for your dream barndominium, we welcome you to download our Residential Door Design Buying Guide or request a custom quote.
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