We also reveal which ones give you the most kit for your money — from surprisingly sophisticated small shells you can build in a single day to those that are completely finished out onsite by the builder or other construction professionals.And, we’ll touch on how to compare barndominium kit builders and how to determine what you get — and don’t get — when buying a kit. In addition, much of the discussion in this article also critically examines the assumption that you can save money by building your own barndo or cabin by yourself or as an “owner-builder.”. We’re not saying you can’t, but we’re going to give you some resourceful information on how to decide which route might be best for you — DIY or turnkey. Finally, along those same lines, we’ll look at:
- When it’s probably safe to try a homebuilding project yourself — and when to seek help. And,
- How to effectively act as an owner/builder.
The case for Barndominium KitsThe way in which homes have traditionally been built is rapidly becoming inefficient. In many cases it just makes more sense to prefabricate a dwelling — or sections of a dwelling — off-premises and transport it to a homeowner’s property as a kit. In this way, the home gets built more quickly and more efficiently. And, it can be less expensive — a big factor especially for first home buyers or those who just can’t afford the services of a custom home builder in a pricey urban subdivision.
What exactly is a “Barndominium Kit”?Quite simply, these are either metal or wooden buildings — some quite large — that, when finished out, will include a living unit of some sort inside. Some just call this outer building a “barndominium shell.” And the entire structure is a “barndominium.” They are energy-efficient, low maintenance and — most importantly — can sometimes cost less to build than conventional custom homes. If you have construction skills, you can buy Do-It-Yourself kits from some builders. These can come on a pallet or a semi tractor trailer from the builder to your jobsite, depending on the manufacturer and the size of the structure. In some cases, you must then put them together yourself, from bottom to top, after pouring your own concrete slab or otherwise providing a stable foundation. Or, you can choose to have the manufacturer arrange for both kit and workmen to come to your location and build it from the ground up.
Which is best? DIY or turnkey?Currently, the market leaders in barndominium kits provide the following features and building elements as part of their packages:
- An engineered concrete slab
- Stained concrete floors
- Exterior doors
- Energy efficient windows (some even let you choose the number and quality of windows)
- Spray foam insulation
- A continuous roof
Okay, but how does a barndo kit differ from a custom home?Other than the metal exterior most people have come to associate with barndos, there’s not much difference between them and a custom home, really. Typically, a barndominium kit can consist of a one, two or three bedroom layout, with bathroom, living room (or great room), kitchen, dining area, laundry room and much more included. Then, as a bonus, if you’re opting for a barndominium with more than 2,000 sq ft, you’ll have all this extra space that can be utilized for many purposes, including:
- Even a riding arena, if your structure is large enough
Plain Jane or Tricked Out?On top of that, you don’t have to give up your dream of a custom home just because you’re housed inside a big metal or wooden building. Ancillary to a kit — and typically not included but available as “extras” — are such luxuries as:
- Hardwood or Spanish tile floors
- Granite countertops
- Ceiling fans
- Walk-in showers
- Hot tubs
- Even an indoor pool
- And much more
Well, just what can I expect to pay?If all you want is a barndominium shell that you can finish out for yourself, that could be the cheapest way to go. But it’s probably the most time-intensive and the hardest to accomplish by yourself. Beware anyone who says you can build a full-blown, finished-out barndo larger than 1200 sq ft for only $60 a square foot. It’s simply not going to happen, even by doing most of the work yourself over about 12 months — or longer. However, having said that, you CAN save money going the DIY route. IF you are skilled in several building trades. And IF you can manage subcontractors who may take advantage of your inexperience and do a bad job — leaving you with no recourse but to hire someone else to fix the problem — for thousands of dollars more.
That advice doesn’t necessarily apply in all casesThere are nationally recognized kit builders who will ship you a pallet full of pre-cut and pre-configured segments that go together like the old Lincoln Logs used to (if you’re old enough to remember those). Anyway, these small preassembled kits are not barndominiums in the truest sense of the word. But for many folks, they work out just fine, as preassembled cabin kits.
Still, one more warningWhen your cabinet guy shows up and demands half of his $10,000 fee, will you be prepared to pay him? If the painter or the drywall installer does a crummy job while you were busy overseeing some other part of the build, to whom will you complain? And how hard will it be to get it re-done? Especially on your tight budget? All we’re saying is that DIY — especially on a big barndominium build — is not easy even for the builders who do it every day. Please don’t underestimate the value of a reputable, professional builder. Especially if you’re sinking your life savings into a project where you might quickly be in over your head if you find you’ve made a poor choice in trying to go it alone.
NOTE: Please see our article on How to Finance a Barndominium. It’s not easy. But it can be done. With careful planning and actual bids on every aspect of the build.
Thanks. Now what did you say the “average” cost is?We didn’t. After reading dozens of articles and blog posts, and talking with a fair number of current barndo owners, it’s an unfortunate fact that no one can realistically or responsibly give an “average” cost to build out a barndominium — DIY or otherwise. There are just too many variables. What we can give, like everyone else who is asked this question, is a range of prices, followed by a few (hopefully) simple examples that will help you to figure out an answer to this question yourself. So, here goes. The average cost for a barndominium is anywhere from $60 to $135 a sq ft, though that top figure could easily go much higher on some kits or floor plans that are priced high right out of the box (so to speak)..
But we realize that’s not very helpful.So here’s a real-world example from Texas Barndominiums, a traditionally turnkey builder that is quite well thought of and respected in the marketplace. They lately have begun offering owner-builders the chance to finish out their dream barndo themselves after first giving them a professionally poured, engineered foundation and a quality metal shell that includes a continuous roof and as many exterior doors and windows as the owner-builder wants. However, by including the variable of limitless doors and windows — which also can be made of any brand the owner-builder chooses — the basic starting price of $38 a sq ft. will likely go up. But not by as much as if the owner had to buy the items retail at Home Depot or Lowe’s — which he would. In this way, the Texas Barndo folks are helping any owner-builder who is dead-set on finishing out large portions of the barndo himself — or by managing subs in various trades in which he is unskilled.
Let’s see if it makes sense — financially or otherwise.
This is the Texas Barndominiums 30×40 floor planThe “kit” cost, remember, starts at $38 a sq ft., based on mid-range windows and doors. But let’s say we want premium Andersen windows. That means the cost will be a minimum $45 a sq. ft. before we ever start the build-out. That would be a total of $63,000 for the “kit.”
Fair enough. Now, what else?We know we’re going to be adding the following build-out costs for barndominium materials (at a minimum)., based on the floor plan above.
- Drywall – for interior walls
- Doors – 7 interior, 1 foldout
- Electrical – wiring, boxes, etc.
- Interior Framing – wooden studs
- Cabinets – standard for kitchen and bath
- Countertops – standard in kitchen;
- Fixtures – toilets, sinks, water heater, shower
- Plumbing – for the sinks, tubs and toilets
- Paint – enough to cover all the walls and ceiling
- Flooring – finished concrete
But hold on.Let’s say we also want to:
- add 2 covered porches (an additional 200 sq ft),
- install a wood burning fireplace
- add a good quality laminate flooring throughout
- substitute custom cabinets
- substitute granite countertops, and
- install an HVAC system.
Our DIY total: $137,893 or $98.49 a sq ft.Wow! we thought. That will be totally worth it.
But wait.After talking with several barndo builders, who said we’d never get those prices — on materials or labor — as mere owner/builders, we got some actual bids. Turns out the pros were right.
There will be no margin for error here. We can’t emphasize enough the importance of having actual written bids in your barndo planning portfolio — from suppliers, tradespeople, subcontractors, the people who will be digging your well or putting in your road, or your septic field.
Without these in your pocket — and well-organized into a credible building schedule — you’ll never have a prayer of getting a loan to finance your barndo.
OK. So, here’s the “real” estimate.When we did that, we got a total DIY build-out cost of
$158,576. Or $113.26 a sq ft.That includes the “kit,” and such non-build-out direct costs as septic, appliances and fees, It was much higher than we thought it would be. But still. We thought it was a pretty good price for a fully finished out, moderately luxurious barndominium home. Of course, we will have to do the majority of the work ourselves, with the exception of septic, plumbing, electrical, fireplace and HVAC. And it may take three times as long. And much of it won’t be as perfect as if we had had it done by professionals. But it will be something we can stand out in our field and look back on in the light of a Texas sunset, and say, “We did it ourselves,”
A final note.We want to make clear that beginning the project with a quality, professionally engineered foundation and shell like the kit provided by Texas Barndominiums on the front end will save us at least $24,000 on the back end. And we will then be able to use those savings on upgrades. And maybe subbing out the tasks we’re not so good at, like drywall finishing. It will all add up.
OK. So that’s how to make an impact on square foot costsYep. Try to pick a barndominium kit that costs less going into the project, if you want to spend more on the back end.
Sharing the DIY workloadLet’s talk briefly about alternatives to doing absolutely all the work yourself. Some barndo kit builders will be very up front in saying that they won’t work with you except on a turnkey basis, in which their construction crews — or those of a partnering general contractor — perform all the work. “These are big buildings,” said one barndominium builder we talked with. “It’s a lot to handle if you don’t have residential construction experience.” Leaving this argument aside for a moment (we’ll list those who will allow DIY and those who won’t shortly), here are some ideas on getting professional construction workers — and even a construction manager — to work on your project.
One caveat: you must be careful here. There will be workers who will try to take advantage of your inexperience as a DIYer if you try to act as your own contractor. How do you keep that possibility to a minimum? Read on.
Tips on being an owner/builderYou don’t just fall out of bed and wake up as a competent owner/builder. If you’ve decided to assemble a team of workers to help complete your barndo, there are several skills you’ll need. Pick up a few pointers here.
Where do I find subcontractors?If you know a contractor, and he (or she) is willing to part with their roster of preferred subs, that would be ideal. But in actuality, the contractor will likely lobby hard to get the job himself — at a hefty markup. Still, if you’re persistent, you can find recommendations on good subs by asking current barndo owners the names of subs they used. Then it’s just a matter of making sure these workers will drive from their house to your worksite every day — long enough to finish your project. Another alternative to getting a full-fledged contractor is to find a reputable project or construction manager — someone who does this sort of thing either full or part-time — and let him do the hiring and managing of the project. It will be money well spent. About $5,000 ought to get a good one. For more good information on doing this, see this article. Or this one, in which you enter your building site address and some information, and you get the names of three local builders you can then interview.
But what if I want a kit done from start to finish by the kit maker?In that case, you would work directly with whoever they assign to your project. They should walk you through every step from choosing an exterior frame to selection of a floor plan to actual construction on your site.
We have a preliminary list below of qualified and experienced barndo builders — but we’ll admit that it’s far from comprehensive since there are so many counties in Texas. Check back from time to time for a much more comprehensive listing.
Here’s a short list of barndo kit companies
These builders will send a kit and instructions – plus limited support
- Texas Barndominiums — for the shell price, they also provide a finished foundation, and unlimited windows and exterior doors.
- Allwood Outlet — specializing in purely wooden kits – no need for a contractor, but they sell mostly ultra small cabin kits.
- Absolute Steel Texas — one of the current leaders in barndo building – they will ship you a shell DIY or help you find a contractor. They also offer turnkey options. We also feature them in a related article elsewhere on this site.
- Tri-County Builders — if you live near New Braunfels, they will work with you DIY or help line up a contractor.
- Worldwide Steel Buildings — will ship your kit anywhere and offer tips on building it yourself or working with a contractor.
- Arched Cabins — a sleek new take on the old Quonset hut, these kits are ultra affordable.
These builders will build your barndo – turnkey
- Morton Buildings – offering first-class turnkey solutions and shell-only buildings nationwide.
- Texas Barndominiums — which also provides a handy instant price calculator – we also feature them in a related article elsewhere on this site.
- Absolute Steel Texas — although primarily a DIY kit builder, they can also arrange full turnkey services
- WD Metal Buildings – providing turnkey construction services to dozens of Texas counties
- DC Structures — works with local contractors to build a premium post & beam “barn with living quarters” or cabin
- CMW General Contractors — serving the Hill Country
- Mill Creek Custom Homes — just outside Dallas
- Texas Building Center — also serving the Hill Country
- Metal Building Homes — View their photo gallery – click the right arrow to see them all
- Athens Steel Building Corp. — near Athens, Texas
- Rhino Steel Buildings — near Denton
NOTE: We have intentionally omitted a few barndominium builders from our list — including Rau Builders — due to pending complaints about them. Be sure and type into Google “name of company + complaints + reviews” to make sure your barndo building experience is a happy one.
A final word on barndominium kits in Texas
As we mentioned, several companies make plans and pre-built options for prospective barndo owners. But their availability will depend greatly on where you live.
Most will only build within a hundred mile radius of their offices and so even finding these companies can be a challenge, as noted by the highly equivocal list above.
So your challenge — if you’re thinking of buying a DIY kit — will be (a) finding a kit builder who will ship or bring their kit to your location and (b) finding someone to supervise the workers you locate to build your barndo, if that’s the route you choose.If, on the other hand, you want a company to come in and do everything for you, you can easily find someone who will be glad to do that. Just know that you will likely pay a bit more for it. Exactly how much?.From our analysis, probably not much more. Run the numbers before deciding.
Finding a DIY or turnkey barndominium kit in Texas needn’t be difficult. But adjust your expectations accordingly and choose carefully. Compare, communicate with former clients or customers on the short list of companies or individual builders you arrive at. Then follow through on the project diligently on your own or through a project manager.
Found an existing barn you want to renovate?
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Click here to see 180+ barndominiums for sale now across Texas
And, last but not leastHere are a few elevation drawings and floor plans from Countrywide Barns and Buildings. Again, they ship nationwide. Visit their site for more details at countrywidebarns.com. Click on the Barndominiums tab.
Click on each drawing to see more detail and to download a PDF.
Barndominium Plan 001–Approximately 3,200 square feet (Not Including Porch)
Plan 002–Approximately 2,580 square feet
Plan 003–Approximately 3,500 square feet
Barndominium Plan 004–Approximately 4,000 square feet
Plan 005–Approximately 4,000 square feet
Barndominium Plan 09–Approximately 2,607 square feet
Plan 13–Approximately 2,008 square feet
Barndominium Plan 17-Approximately 1,200 square feet
Plan 18–Approximately 1,335 square feet (Barn–1,728 square feet)