How to Build a ‘Barndominium’: 6 Steps to Turn a Barn Into a Home

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f you’ve fantasized about how to build a “barndominium”—a barn that’s been converted into a living space for humans—then join the club. Barn conversions are hot, thanks in large part to a famed renovation by Chip and Joanna Gaines on “Fixer Upper” (the term itself, a mashup of “barn” and “condominium,” was coined over 20 years ago by Connecticut developer Karl Nilsen).

In any case, it’s strange to think there was a time when the phrase “born in a barn” was an insult. These days, it’s a status symbol, because such properties command a premium (case in point, the Gaines-designed barndominium currently for sale for $1.2 million). There’s even a TV series dedicated to the reclaimed-barn phenomenon called “Barnwood Builders” on the DIY network; it follows developers who salvage old barns and turn them into beautiful homes.

“It’s not hard to see why old barns inspire the imagination,” says lifestyle expert Max Alexander. “The high-peaked timber frame with its massive exposed posts and rafters is reminiscent of awe-inspiring Gothic churches or medieval castles. At the same time, the rough elegance of hand-shaped beams and the rich patina of centuries-old boards have a quintessentially American feeling, connecting us to our pioneer roots.”

But what does it take to build a barndominium? Reality TV shows often gloss over the grunt work involved, but make no mistake, there’s a lot more to it than mucking out the stalls and hanging modern light fixtures. You’ll be gobsmacked by how complicated it is to bring a barn up to the codes required for residential living. Here are the steps a barn conversion typically takes.

  1. Pour a foundation

The vast majority of old barns have dirt floors. If so, the first step is to raise the barn a few inches off the ground—a complicated process involving lifting jacks—and pour a cement foundation underneath. Whew! We’re exhausted already.

  1. Rebuild the frame

Chances are the barn’s original framing has warped over the years, so you’re going to have to replace most of it. In fact, you probably have to build a whole new frame that can support a second story if you ever hope to sleep soundly in those lofts.

  1. Reroof

Barn roofs typically aren’t as well-built as roofs on homes, so most barn conversations require you to reroof to seal up leaks and prevent heat from escaping.

  1. Install plumbing, electricity, and HVAC

Once the barn’s foundation, structure, and exterior are sound, it’s time to install anything you’ll need inside the walls, such as wiring, pipes, and heating and cooling systems.

Chances are the barn was not climate-controlled, and you’ll be adding bathrooms, a kitchen, and many more electrical outlets than existed there before, so this is going to take thoughtful planning.

  1. Insulate

Rare is the barn that comes with insulated walls; you’re going to have to do that yourself. No matter what you use, it will have to be carefully placed in the framing between the exterior and interior walls.

“Property Brothers” stars Drew and Jonathan Scott suggest spray-in foam insulation, which is hardy, durable, and relatively economical.

  1. Interior finish work

Last but not least, you’ll need to install cabinets, countertops, backsplash, flooring, ceilings, and anything else you might want in your new home. The good news is that most people consider this the fun part of any building project, and you’ve already got your theme! Your new barndominium doesn’t necessarily have to be all country or farmer in the dell, however. There are people who have taken a modern or industrial theme to a barn and made it work phenomenally well.

All in all, building a barndominium takes as much, if not more, work and planning as building a house from scratch. As such, you’ll want to hire builders with barn conversion experience and make sure to know upfront what you’re in for in terms of costs, timing, and more.