Shifting ideas about what constitutes a traditional home has given rise to attractive outside-the-box architectural designs that include hot-trending barndominiums.
Some 20 years ago, a tiny house was considered nothing more than a cramped shack. The tiny home industry has exploded in recent years based on its low cost and maximized space efficiency. And while this remains a notable shift in real estate, growing families and live-work couples cannot necessarily fit into these small spaces. But for those who like the underlying concepts of paying less for construction as well as improved space efficiency, barndominiums are all the rage.
What is a Barndominium?
The term “barndominium” is a clever way of identifying a living space that merges a barn with a condominium. When these seemingly different structures are brought together, they create a residential building that provides many of the attractive benefits of a tiny house — only with more square footage. Old wooden barns continue to be upgraded with homestyle amenities and converted into viable residential living spaces.
Newer designs rely on increasingly cost-effective materials such as metals and steel used in contemporary farm buildings as well as warehousing. These sometimes large structures can provide inexpensively spacious environments equipped with commercial perks and flexible floor plans. If tiny houses were hot commodities in recent years, don’t be surprised when barndominiums rank among the new normal homes going forward.
What Does A Barndominium Offer?
Although barndominiums were initially renovated wooden barns, the mostly metal-built living spaces trending today enjoy the sturdy construction of agricultural and commercial structures. Because these buildings are designed to withstand severe weather, hard impacts and deliver energy efficiency, people that opt for a barndominium typically gain the structural integrity that includes the following:
- Thick Engineered Concrete Slab Foundation
- Enhanced Concrete Flooring Designs
- Commercial-Grade Energy Efficient Windows & Doors
- Metal and Steel Infrastructure
- Sprayed Foam Insulation That Minimizes Air Penetrations
- Ceiling Heights of 9 to 14 Feet
What’s important to keep in mind about these specifications is that they typically outpace many of the commonly used materials and designs in residential construction. After shopping at a big box outlet, few would disagree that the products and materials don’t measure up to commercial structures. By definition, a barndominium is part commercial and part residential construction.
Are Barndominiums Suitable For The Lifestyle of Everyday People?
Deciding whether a barndominium fits your lifestyle requires an understanding of how the architectural design evolved, who has employed it, and what types of people currently favor the lifestyle.
It’s essential to note this is not necessarily a new use of architecture. Like the “shack” that predated the trendy tiny house, barndominiums have been fixtures for hundreds of years. Many consider the Low House found in Germany and the Netherlands a predecessor of the modern metal and steel architectural designs. The Low House routinely combined a residential living with barn attributes under one roof. In North America, Amish and Mennonite communities blend workshops, barns, and livings spaces together in a single structure.
Although the term “barndominium” was not attributed to historic Low Houses or Amish and Mennonite buildings, real estate developer Karl Nilsen reportedly planned housing developments for horse enthusiasts and coined the term. His vision was to design structures that merge horse stables with human living spaces surrounded by expansive fenced pastures. His concept never quite captured the imagination of the equestrian crowd, but it may have prompted other live-work occupations to rethink their use of space.
A high volume of horse ranches in Montana, Texas, and Wyoming reportedly drive barndominium construction that industry insiders anticipate could prompt small herd ranches and private owners to pivot away from a two-building format. And while the connection to horses and agricultural professions has been linked to barndominiums, people who live vastly different lifestyles see pronounced benefits from the flexible layouts. These include the following.
- Growing Families: Early incarnations of barn-home structures were often single-story buildings that included loft sleeping spaces. Some simply mirrored barn practicality, and others were makeovers of existing buildings. But the development of weather-resistant metals and sturdy framing meant larger, multi-story construction enjoyed cost-effectiveness. It’s common for barndominiums to encompass multiple floors and deliver plenty of room to grow. This makes them perfect for growing families that can build big and reallocate space for new family members.
- Retired RV Community Members: The expansive and thick concrete foundations used in barndominiums can mirror those deployed to park heavy vehicles. A Recreational Vehicle (RV) weighs an average of about 10,000 pounds. The larger Fifth Wheel variety typically runs 15,000 pounds or greater. Retired people who travel much of the year find that a hybrid living space suits their lifestyle. One can park the RV on a sturdy slab that adjoins a comfortable indoor living space. This setup can save significant amounts of money over a traditional living space with an RV parked in the driveway.
- Digital Nomads: Living in the technology age has created an increased opportunity for people to work remotely. The number of people who no longer commute to an office or permanent structure has increased by more than 140 percent since 2005. The flexibility of working from anywhere motivated thousands of people to outfit SUVs, busses, and vans, in order to work while on the road. But the pandemic has many reevaluating the necessity of low-cost living space with an office. The barndominium solution offers digital nomads a safe haven from disruption, a place to park their rig, and a viable live-work space to come in from the cold.
- Online Business Owners: Entrepreneurs are quickly discovering the cost of living in cities and suburbs has become counterproductive to saving money for retirement and enhanced quality of life. Add costly commercial rents to the equation, and achieving life goals appear increasingly far away. The flexible floor plans offered by barndominiums allow small e-commerce innovators to buy land outside the city limits and build a live-work space that resolves financial and lifestyle challenges. A designed office can occupy one room, a wing of the building, or an entire floor. Designing it from scratch also allows online professionals to integrate the latest technology and preferred designs.
- People With Disabilities: Not every design calls for family-sized or live-work space square footage. There are times when compassionate family members want their valued elders close by to assist them and ensure they enjoy the quality of life they deserve. A barndominium on the property does not necessarily have to blend other work or lifestyle elements into the floor plan. They can be tailored to meet standards consistent with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Open floor plans can increase wheelchair and walker accessibility and position countertops and appliances at favorable distances. A barndominium can easily include handicapped bathrooms and other items to make life easier as loved ones naturally slow down with age.
- Brick-and-Mortar Small Business Owners: It wasn’t long ago that developers invested in re-imagining underused manufacturing plants as hip live-work spaces. Many were located in an urban and suburban setting, and the layout offered entrepreneurs an opportunity to reduce costs by bringing their business and apartment expenses into one monthly payment. Although that strategy may have been cost-effective at the time, access to global markets no longer requires go-getters to reside in a specific city, town, or neighborhood. Buying land and securing a loan for a barndominium allows savvy financial planners to invest in property ownership. Businesses such as bakeries, light manufacturing, IT, and service sector outfits no longer need to pay for someone else’s property.
- Seasonal Homeowners: Second homes tend to be smaller than primary residences primarily because working people and retirees want to limit the cost of another monthly premium as well as their tax liability. Barndominiums typically cost less than a traditional stick-built home, and that means lower taxes on the backend. Additionally, vacation homes with area amenities such as boating require property owners to store equipment. A barndominiums offers a one-building-fits-all-needs solution in that regard. They rank among the most budget-friendly and functional second homes available.
The key takeaway from these examples is that barndominiums can be tailored to wide-reaching needs and desires. From hobbyists wanting space to concentrate to a man cave or she-shed tucked away in a private area of the building, barndominiums offer a flexible, cost-effective solution to keeping everything under one roof.
Does A Barndominium Fit Your Lifestyle?
The decision to purchase an existing home or build one is the first question everyday people need to consider. Real estate listings offer a wide range of possibilities that were someone else’s dream home. A Trulia real estate survey indicated that approximately 90 percent of homebuyers planned to make upgrades or additions before the closing. Although refurbishing an existing stick-built home may bring it closer to your vision, taking a house from the drawing board to completion makes it solely your home.
That being said, barndominiums are not necessarily the right fit for every lifestyle. Plenty of people prefer older traditional designs that present with a sense of nostalgia. Others want that detached garage for a workshop. But if you are among the many people interested in saving on upfront cost and maximizing space efficiency, ask yourself whether your lifestyle resembles any of the examples discussed. If living in a barndominiums sounds intriguing, it may be in your best interest to conduct some due diligence and make an informed decision.