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Building a Barndominium – 5 Things You Need To Know Before You Start

Have you fallen in love with the idea of building a barndominium? We have, too. Escaping into the countryside with a wide-open floor plan surrounded by friends and family is ideal. That said, you may be confused about where to start when building a barndominium.

Here are 5 things you need to know about building a barndominium before you get started.

everything you need to know about building a barndominium before you get started

What is a Barndominium?

They are usually — but not always — large steel structures that look like an industrial warehouse on the outside, but can be very luxurious on the inside — incorporating a shop area or even stables for your horses under the same roof.

There are also wooden structures that are more commonly called simply “barn homes” as well as barndominiums.

These can also be referred to as “post & beam” structures, or simply “post” and, being constructed of good, solid hardwood timbers, are truly built to last into your children’s and grandchildren’s time.

Which Barndominium should I choose? Metal or Wood?

That depends on the reason you’re wanting to make a change from your current living arrangements.

Many people build a “barndo” way out in the country to avoid the stress of urban living, along with the traffic and the noise. Not to mention infectious diseases like coronavirus that have made everyone want to move out of cities and suburbs!

Once you have spent a night out in some far-flung county, away from the wash of too many streetlights, out where you can still see the awesome Milky Way and point out The Big Dipper in a star-studded sky to your wide-eyed kids, your decision will soon be made. At least the “I want to move” part.

Choosing metal versus wood for a barndominium is largely a matter of individual tastes, based on how each one looks and based on your preferences.

Does it matter to you if your $175,000 new home looks like — on the outside —  a common warehouse with perhaps a wraparound porch tacked on? Or, with just four walls and zero “curb appeal.” it’s just not what you might want to spend the rest of your days in?

a more basic yet beautiful barndominium

That’s okay. Barndominiums are not for everyone. Especially metal ones, which tend to be utilitarian on the outside looks while delivering a powerful value inside.

Wood or post and beam structures have much more sex appeal to some. They will cost more because in order to build them properly you MUST use a local contractor and pay his fee to get it built right. 

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so you want to be building a barndominium graphic

You might be able to save some money by doing parts of the finish out yourself or through trusted subs.

But you’ll probably be happier with a wooden build when it’s all done if you just pay the extra 20% over cost and enjoy the sheer magnificence that some of these designs evoke.

But getting back to the metal vs wood barndominium debate…

Each one can boast energy-saving advantages, with the edge probably going to the metal barndos.

Most are sprayed during the building process with a large amount of closed or open cell insulation, which incorporates state-of-the-art technology to keep the heat or cool inside your barndo where it belongs, depending on the weather. This also keeps your utility bills much lower than typically seen in custom homes in the ‘burbs.

metal vs wood barndominium is a battle for the ages

The energy savings alone have actually decided this question — wood or metal — for many people.

But then there is the complete freedom inside a metal barndominium to finish it out just about any way you want. Vaulted ceilings, open floor plans, a “mudroom” — just like the one in your grandma’s old farmhouse where you shed your muddy boots before sitting down to a family meal (remember those?) at grandma’s big wooden table with the claw feet.

Wooden barndos can also provide a certain awe-inspiring open space in the great rooms, with soaring 14-foot ceilings — or higher — and balconies or loft areas that can overlook goings-on down below. And without a doubt, they have much more curb appeal.

As we said, it will all boil down to your individual tastes.

Contacting Builders: What To Ask When Building a Barndominium

When contacting both wood and metal barndominium builders about pricing, one of the first questions you might ask is, “Does your price include an engineered foundation?”

If you are unsuer what this means, it means the soil underlying the slab has been inspected by someone who understands the geophysical properties of your particular home site and can verify that your soil will support the concrete slab that will be poured.

It also means that it is of the highest quality and able to support the weight of both your structure and any large objects. A Caterpillar tractor, for example, that you might need to store in your shop.

building a barndominium like this requires an engineering study
One of the more amazing barndominiums we’ve ever seen. In order to make sure your soil can support this kind of weight, you need an engineered foundation.

Another good question might be: “Does your price include windows and doors — and if so, do I get to pick out the ones I want?”

Some barndominium frame erectors include doors and windows in their price, along with an engineered foundation, saving you money, time and ensuring your barndo is off to a good start.

Should I try to Build the Barndominium Myself, or Get a Professional Barndominium Builder?

This is a critical question considered by virtually everyone who is building a barndominium. Unless you are already a veteran builder with years of experience under your belt, you may want to weigh these two options very carefully.

When you act as your own general contractor, you are committing to a nearly full-time position for the time it takes to build your structure.

And there’s a reason professional builders charge an average of 20% to 30% on top of costs to oversee your project. It’s not something you can just fall out of bed and do well.

Often, they can see just from experience when a problem develops during construction — or is likely to cause problems after the build is over and you’re all moved in.

If something needs to be done over — say the drywall in one or more rooms is sloppy, or a critical piece of electrical installation hasn’t been completed — or let’s say the countertop sub shows up with a product that is a full 1/4 of an inch less thick that you are paying for — the general contractor is on the hook to make it all right before the sub gets paid.

There are expert tips you want to consider when finding a barndominium builder.

building a barndominium with glass exterior would be tough on your own

If, on the other hand, these issues develop and you were too cheap to hire a pro to oversee these guys and you are too inexperienced to understand or even spot these problems, you likely will be living with the imperfections for as long as you own your barndominium. And the sub who created the issue, to begin with, has long since moved on to his next job.

Don’t underestimate the value of a good construction supervisor.

Every good builder who does barndominiums “turnkey” has one or more on staff, whose only reason for existence is to catch these headaches as they happen. They’re good at it. You — may be not so much.

How much can I save by doing the build myself?

The above is not to say you can’t do the build as an owner-builder anyway, and save a good 15% to 20%, just by making your first hire a qualified construction foreman to act as your advocate on these quality control issues.

What does it cost to hire a good one for the two or three months – if you’re lucky — it will take to see your barndo from groundbreaking to final punch list? 

Budget a flat 20% of the total rollup of costs for a competent construction supervisor to bring your ship into the dock, so to speak. So if the costs — just the actual costs for materials, labor, permits, etc. needed to build your barndo — are estimated at $100,000, put aside $20,000 to pay your supervisor for the invaluable job he (or she) will play in hiring the subs, pulling permits, coordinating all the trades to be onsite in the right order and at the right time. It will be money well spent.

On the other hand, you could offer him less and see if he happens to be short of work at present and might cut you a break. It never hurts to ask, and you might save as much as $5,000. But come off your lowball price quickly if you’re trying to hire someone with impeccable credentials and great references. You don’t want to offend him (or her) right at the start of what will be one of the closest and most important relationships you’ll ever form.

Where can I find a Barndominium Builder?

We have an entire builder’s directory to help you find a builder.

You can also ask around. If there are other barndominiums in your county, bake a whole bunch of brownies and show up at their doors with an open countenance and honest questions about how each of your soon-to-be neighbor barndo owners got theirs built — both the successes and the obstacles that cropped up during their build. Be courteous in your interrogation — most owners will be happy to share their knowledge.

And eventually, you’ll be tempted to ask the “c” word — “What did your barndo cost?”

Be careful here.

Some owners will not have had the benefit of this checklist to follow and will have unknowingly paid way too much for their barndo or for the services of the construction foreman they’re recommending.

If this is the case, and you can compute their markups in your head during the conversation, don’t blurt out, “Well, that’s ridiculous. You paid too much.” You’ll be shown the door, as well you should. Remember: you’re there to gain insights, not to pass judgment.

And besides, you won’t know the full story of their build in any case. Just smile and nod and write down whatever they will share. Then you can be the judge of whether they got a good deal with Builder A or Builder B or Construction Supervisor X on your own time.

barndominium on a lake

But again, remember: you haven’t built anything yet. So, to recap, if you have carefully compared costs, using either national averages for each line item in your costs rollup and you’ve decided to go the owner-builder route to save as much as $20,000 or more over the lowest turnkey price you were quoted, then take the following advice seriously:

Find a good barndominium construction supervisor early in the process

Offer to pay 15% of the overall costs, but move to 20% if he doesn’t agree pretty quickly

Check with your barndo neighbors in the county in which you want to build — and possibly the surrounding counties as well — to compare notes and get local names and information that will save you many hours of investigation on your own

Have a heart-to-heart conversation with the folks in your county’s housing permits office

IMPORTANT — Have this conversation BEFORE you buy land.

If what they tell you about permit requirements is far too complicated or highly regulated, it might be best to just look one or two counties away. Seriously. This tip might save you a boatload of issues down the road if you buy that perfect little piece of land — and THEN have a conversation that makes you feel foolish for not heeding this warning.

tractor digging while building a barndominium

Begin your “due diligence.”

That is, gather information, bids, floor plans and other data so you can make the best decision

Again, this may arguably be a more important decision than when you decided to get married (if such is your status).

We’ve tried to give helpful pointers in this overview to set you on the right path. There will be much, much more in the upcoming eBook.

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