What Exactly Is a Barndominium? The Spacious Home Design That's More Popular Than Ever (2024)

Interest in barndominiums has steadily been on the rise over the past few years. Chip and Joanna GainesFixer Upper made farmhouse style mainstream in the mid-2010s, and in 2020, the barndominium concept took off as people desired to move away from cities, either to find more space or more affordable and available alternatives to a difficult housing market. But what exactly is a barndominium?

We asked Emily Marshall, also known as MRS Post Frame, to help us understand this popular alternative housing style. Emily and her husband, MR Post Frame, built their own barndominium and now share insights into the lifestyle and help others plan, design, and build their own barndominiums. Here, we explain what a barndominium is and what you should know before building one, so you can better consider why you might (or might not) want one.

What Is a Barndominium?

The term barndominium—sometimes abbreviated to “barndo”—is a combination of the words barn and condominium, coined in 1989 by developer Karl Nilsen. “The original barndominium was a steel frame building used as both a residence and equestrian facility,” says Marshall. Today, barndominium typically refers to large, open-concept buildings that have both living quarters and a garage or workshop.

These often-rural buildings differ from traditional homes, in part, due to their large strong framing and free-span truss design, which allows the interior of a single-story barndominium to have few, or even zero, load-bearing walls. “This gives maximum flexibility with interior layout and lends itself well to an extreme open concept design,” she says. This is how the living and garage spaces achieve a barn-like, expansive layout that includes an open floor plan, high walls and ceilings, and generous windows and doors.

Another hallmark of barndominiums is the steel exterior walls and roof, often called a shell. “Exposed fastener steel paneling on the roof and sides is the most common exterior,” says Marshall. Barndominiums are also known for their generous porches. “You almost always hear reference to the square footage of their porches since the indoor/outdoor living aspect is important to many barndominium owners,” says Marshall.

It’s important to note that the definition of barndominium often varies; sometimes the term is based on specific materials or frame construction and foundation, for example. Generally speaking, though, barndominiums are purpose-built structures; renovations of an existing barn into a home are more appropriately called barn conversions.

What Exactly Is a Barndominium? The Spacious Home Design That's More Popular Than Ever (1)

What to Know About Building a Barndominium

Different Types of Barndominiums

According to Marshall, the construction industry recognizes two main types of barndominiums.

“Steel frame barndominiums have steel trusses and columns. Most commonly they will be red iron or open web truss buildings. This style is most commonly found in Southern states,” she says. “Post frame barndominiums are built using wood trusses and columns. Some may know it as a pole barn given its popularity as an agricultural building in the Midwest.” Marshall says both styles have the free-span truss design and the common steel exterior.

The framing and exterior shell are not only what aesthetically defines barndos, but they're also integral to understanding the building process. The framing structure, roof, and exterior walls go up before the inside walls. This is different from traditional homes, which require interior walls to be completed before the exterior is in place.

“The whole exterior structure is put together before any of the interior work commences, so they look finished from the outside sooner than a stick frame build,” says Marshall. “The speed at which barndominiums are built can be quicker since they’re often simpler exteriors." Once the structure is built, the internal process is much the same as a traditionally built home. “The interior work will usually take a similar amount of time to complete as a conventional project,” says Marshall.

DIY-Friendly Designs

Like any project, you can be as involved in the barndominium building process as your interest and skills allow, from working with a builder who oversees the entire process (more expensive, least involved) to doing some or all the work yourself (less expensive, more involved). There are a few ways barndominiums can be less complex and more DIY-friendly than a traditionally built home, which can save you time and money while offering you the opportunity to invest sweat equity into your new home.

There are many companies that sell barndominium plans, and they will often work with you to customize a plan, so you’re not starting from scratch. Barndominium kits are another option. These can include the floor plan design and building materials for the frame, exterior walls and siding, framed openings for windows and doors, and the roof. With kits, materials arrive prefabricated and ready for you to build.

“Another popular option is to hire out the 'shell' so that the project is dried in and can be worked on without threat from the weather,” says Marshall. You can pay someone with the necessary skills and equipment to build the shell, then DIY or work with hired professionals to finish the interior, from framing walls to laying flooring and installing cabinetry.

Don’t forget: You’ll need to check with and conform to local building codes and requirements when building a barndominium, just like any other build.

Cost and Financing Barndominiums

“Barndominiums got the reputation of being an extremely cheap way to build when you mostly saw the 'shouse' style,” says Marshall. Shop-house (shouse) buildings have large square footage, but only a small portion is converted to living space—and the living space is where the expense lies. “What was true then is true now: less living space equals lower cost on a build,” says Marshall. “The living areas of a barndominium home are going to have the same costs as any type of home with the level of finish being considered.”

According to HomeAdvisor, a traditional house costs $50 to $400 per square foot, while a barndominium is $100 to $150 per square foot, for a total ranging from $120K-$540K. Another source, Barndominium Life—one of many in-depth websites dedicated to the barndo lifestyle—sets costs at $30 and $125 per square foot.

However, like any home, the cost of barndominiums depends on many factors including the size, materials, finishes, location, and even the cost of the land. However, the DIY-friendly nature of barndominiums is an opportunity to save on costs. “Being able to act as your own general contractor and handling some of the construction yourself is the primary way people can save on their barndominium,” says Marshall.

“Barndominiums can be financed using traditional mortgage options,” says Marshall, noting that it used to be one of the biggest obstacles to building. The Marshalls have developed homes that qualify for this type of financing—and they work with lenders nationwide so things aren’t too regional—but you may find that financing and insurance vary depending on the construction of the building, the location, or a home-work housing situation. How a barndominium is taxed can similarly vary.

Is a Barndominium Right for You?

“Practically speaking, barndominiums can be extremely efficient, low-maintenance, and cost-effective,” says Marshall. “When designed and constructed properly, they can stand the test of time.” Considering a barndominium for your next home? These pros and cons can help you decide.

Advantages of Barndominiums

Slower Pace of Life: Part of the appeal of barndominiums is that they're generally found in rural areas, away from the hustle and bustle of city living. “For most of us, 'barndominium' means more than the house someone lives in,” says Marshall. “It represents a lifestyle usually at a slower pace, with indoor/outdoor living and more quality time with our families.”

Work-Play Space: “Barndominiums can be a perfect fit for people looking for a work-play style home that has larger than typical garage areas attached to the residence,” says Marshall. “Small businesses, car enthusiasts, animal lovers, and more find the extra space to be just what they need.” The protected indoor space is flexible and can change with your needs, whether you prefer a convenient nearby workshop for hobbies, a gathering place for parties, or simply sheltered storage for a boat, camper, or other recreational vehicles.

Durable, Low-Maintenance Exterior: Barndominiums stand out from traditional homes because they’re largely constructed from long-lasting, low-maintenance materials. Steel surfaces hold up well against weather, sunlight, and pests like termites, which can impact other common roofing and siding choices. That’s not to say a metal barndominium isn’t prone to concerns like rust, but you'll spend less time and money on exterior upkeep. “Low-maintenance exterior, high-efficiency interior— less time spent caring for the home and more time to develop the homestead!” says Marshall.

Budgeting: Because barndominiums have lots of DIY opportunities, and because the outside is constructed first, you can take your time completing the interior. “One popular option for many people is to grow into their space. A barndominium allows for large open areas in a shop or garage to remain unfinished, thus lowering the initial cost to build,” says Marshall. “Homeowners can pre-plan these spaces and finish them to their liking as finances allow.”

Disadvantages of Barndominiums

Lack of Familiarity: While barndos have become more common, they’re still not as mainstream as traditionally built houses, meaning you may find builders, financers, and other pros in your area aren't familiar with barndominiums. This can cause frustration for the homeowner, and add extra time to planning and execution. But even if barndominiums aren't common in your area, one isn’t entirely out of reach. “The barndominium-inspired home has also risen in popularity,” says Marshall, referring to a conventionally framed home that’s made to look similar to a barndominium, including a metal exterior and oversized garage and porches. “Some people choose this if an experienced post or steel frame builder is not available in their area,” she says.

Noise: Sound can be more of an issue with barndominiums than a traditional home. Metal roofs and siding can be louder in rain, for example. Even with great insulation, metal carries sound more than other exterior materials. That’s not to say you cannot mitigate the issues, but it is something to be aware of, particularly when deciding on insulation and considering other interior finishes.

Limited Styles: If you’re a fan of grand Victorians or Spanish villas, barndominiums may not be for you. The barn-like structure is, by design, less flexible in style and architecture than conventional housing styles. This is not to say that all barndominiums look the same; you can certainly customize both the exterior and the architecture. Single-story barndominiums are most common, but you can find plenty of styles that have two floors. And though steel is the common exterior for both types of barndominium, with additional sheathing, any type of exterior material can be applied, says Marshall.

What Exactly Is a Barndominium? The Spacious Home Design That's More Popular Than Ever (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Lilliana Bartoletti

Last Updated:

Views: 5340

Rating: 4.2 / 5 (73 voted)

Reviews: 80% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Lilliana Bartoletti

Birthday: 1999-11-18

Address: 58866 Tricia Spurs, North Melvinberg, HI 91346-3774

Phone: +50616620367928

Job: Real-Estate Liaison

Hobby: Graffiti, Astronomy, Handball, Magic, Origami, Fashion, Foreign language learning

Introduction: My name is Lilliana Bartoletti, I am a adventurous, pleasant, shiny, beautiful, handsome, zealous, tasty person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.