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Barndominium Cost vs House: Detailed Cost Comparison Guide

Those shopping for a home in recent months have likely encountered sticker shock. The void left in the home market by the pandemic closures has created a demand unseen in a very long time. 

This of course, creates the inflation that has seen some home prices double. As more potential home buyers find themselves priced out of the real estate market, some are looking for an alternative. 

Source: texasbarndominiums.com

A barnominium, also known as a barndo, barn house, or steel barn, was already a popular house style before the pandemic, due to the simple design and spartan exterior. Barndos are emerging as a way to offset the construction costs of traditional construction while maintaining a unique and very enjoyable home. 

Is a Barndominium Less Expensive Than a Regular House?

In some cases, barndominiums are cheaper to build than a house. Barndominiums have a quality that often makes them very customizable, which is that typical barndominiums are often constructed from a metal building. Metal structures are usually less expensive to construct than traditional buildings, which is one reason why they are used so much in commercial construction.

Metal structures are erected quickly, and tend to create large amounts of space. The initial expense of a barndo is often higher than a comparable wood frame, also known as “stick built” home, due to the expense of the machinery and labor required to erect the shell.

However, in many cases, the steel frame eliminates potential design issues by supporting the weight of the structure within the roof system. This can save the expense of bearing walls that might otherwise be required throughout the structure. It also adds to the flexibility of the interior design, allowing walls and partitions to be located virtually anywhere.

Which Is Better: Modular Home or Barndominium?

The answer often lies in the price and functionality. Barndos can be built from scratch, from an existing structure, and even from a kit. Modular homes, also known as prefabricated or pre-fabs, are constructed almost entirely off site. 

For example, a modular home is (as the name implies) constructed from modules built in a factory setting. These modules can often be interchanged with one another, resulting in customizability without re-engineering the entire structure. Customers can select different modules from a design plan and move into the structure in short order.

Source: texasbarndominiums.com

Barndos often begin with a kit, and are sometimes modified as they are constructed. Barndo kits are generally faster to build than a similar building built from scratch, but there will often be design limitations since the kit will be based on a model.

Modular homes will often be priced about 15% below a comparable wood-frame home, which is in the same price range of a barndo. Historically, however, modular homes do not hold their value as well as either a wood frame home or a barndominium. In contrast, barndos tend to hold their value much like a wood frame home, and use similar construction methods during much of the building process.

How Are Barndominiums Appraised?

The unique nature of barndominiums can have a frustrating effect on potential owners. In traditional financing, lenders can gather data on similar structures in similar areas to establish a baseline value from which to begin an appraisal. Since most wood frame homes use the same materials and are built essentially the same way, value is usually based on the number of square feet available.

Source: texasbarndominiums.com

With barndominiums, however, the project often starts out so dissimilar from a normally built home that it can make comparing the two quite difficult from a financing viewpoint. Therefore, in many cases, conventional financing can be difficult to obtain, especially without a substantial down payment.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that barndos are rarely grouped together, such as in a subdivision. One major contributing factor in the popularity of subdivisions is the predictability of future value. A home is usually the largest single purchase a person will make, and most buyers will make the purchase hoping the home will rise in value over time. This is why subdivisions have architectural committees and building restrictions. When a home is appraised for a potential sale, the latest sales figures for homes with similar square footage, location, and design will usually weigh heavily in the valuation, making the appraiser’s job easy.

Barndos often do not allow direct comparisons, as they are often very unique designs as well as sparsely available. These situations can greatly limit the ability of the appraiser to establish a value because of the small sample size from which to establish a baseline. As a result, some lenders find the evaluation too difficult and will decline to offer an attractive financing option. 

Average Cost Comparison: Barndo vs. Traditionally Built Home

Current estimates value an average 2000 square foot barndominium at around $200,000 USD making the average cost per square foot about $100.00. This is at the lower end of the price range for a similar traditionally built home, which is estimated to be between $110.00 to $170.00 dollars per square foot. This is a moving target however since the cost of building materials has skyrocketed in recent months. The good news is that since barndominiums are usually very unique structures when compared to a wood frame home, other materials can often be substituted. 

An example of this effect would be the roof. In a traditionally built home, fiberglass asphalt shingles are the norm, but a typical roof can cost in excess of $15,000 on an otherwise standard 2000 square foot home. Since the design of a barndo lends itself to a country feel, an inexpensive metal roof is not out of place. Metal roofing is much larger than fiberglass shingles and installs quickly, so the overall cost of a barndo roof can be as much as 35% less expensive.

House vs Barndo: In-Depth Cost Comparison

Design Costs

A traditionally built home will usually follow a standard methodology during construction, and most builders will have experience in this type of building. Barndos can also take advantage of standard construction techniques, but because a barndo often starts as a metal building, much of the structural concerns are avoided. This makes a barndo considerably easier and faster to construct. For example, in normal construction, a foundation will usually form the perimeter of the structure.

This includes digging the footing, pouring the footing, setting piers and laying cement blocks for the home to rest on. This stage of construction can cost 20% or more of the total bill. With a barndo, many times the foundation is poured as a monolithic slab, which creates the footings and concrete pad at the same time. Barndominiums are also commonly built using posts instead of block footings, which tends to be less expensive and much faster to build than a wood frame home. When combined with the savings of a monolithic slab, barndos often save the builder 5%-10% before the shell is even completed. 

Labor Costs Comparison

The labor costs will vary broadly based on the design, but generally speaking a barndominium will be less expensive to construct than a regular house. This is due in part to the way most bardos are constructed. For example, a barndominium will often not involve elements found in a regular house, such as brick work and wooden beams. More often than not, the framework of a barndo will be set by a crane using steel beams and girders. This often makes the skeleton of the structure quite simple to build.

Image Source: tunnellconstruction.com

The caveat, however, is that in most situations the barndo costs will initially be higher than traditional construction due to the machinery and specialized skill set needed. As a rule of thumb, the labor portion of a wood frame home is approximately 50% of the total, while a barndo project will often be closer to 40%. 

Should I Build a New Barndominium or Renovate?

In many instances, renovating a structure to form a barndo will be cost advantageous. However, each project will have its own cost challenges depending on the end goals of the owner. As a rule of thumb, if a project will require more than 20% of a structure to be modified to meet the demands of the plan, it will usually be cheaper to build it from scratch.

Consider that the part of an existing structure in need of modification will first have to be demolished and rebuilt. The same section in new construction will cost less in the long run by avoiding those demolition costs. That said, if the remaining 80% of the structure can be used without much renovation, the cost savings will add up.

The best strategy is often to find a structure as close to the desired plan as possible. This will take advantage of what is already there, while limiting any necessary changes. It is strongly recommended for those interested in a barndominium to consult a plan designer. These professionals can usually provide accurate cost plans based on your particular situation. 

Are Barndominium Kits Better Than a Materials List?

The answer will usually depend on what you want to build. For example, building your barndo from a kit will help ensure you have the materials you need when you need them. Building your own barndo can be quite involved, so building from a kit can make the whole process simpler.

The downside is that there may be no kit available that closely matches your design. In these cases, kits can actually be a disadvantage because they may include parts and materials that will never be used. The best strategy is usually to compare the total cost of a kit to the materials required by the design. As there is an economy of scale when purchasing a kit, sometimes the kit will still be less expensive, even if some parts are not needed. 

The average cost of a barndo kit is somewhere around $70.00 per square foot, but of course it depends on the kit. For those on a tight budget, kits can be found for under $10,000, but will usually just contain the shell. In contrast, more elaborate kits will include the shell, exterior doors and windows, and any number of amenities. This makes the project simpler for the do-it-yourselfer building their own barndominium. 

What Other Factors Should Be Considered When Comparing Costs?

Materials

In traditional construction, costs are relatively easy to compute because builders tend to use the same vendors to purchase the same materials. These materials, for the most part, will be available at a home improvement retailer any time they are needed. A barndo will often use commercial style materials however, which may not be. Therefore, careful planning and delivery of materials is critical to the success of a barndominium project.

For example, as mentioned earlier, a machine such as a crane is often used to set beams, posts, and girders as manpower alone would not do the job. Crane operators charge for the crane as well as their time, even if there is nothing for the crane to do. Therefore, having materials available when you need them can not only make the process easier, but will also save money.

Location

Just as with most any building materials, the region where they are purchased can have a dramatic effect on the cost. A home built in California will usually cost more than the same home built in Texas, so planning materials purchases as carefully as possible is time well spent. When using a kit, the geographic price fluctuations become less important because much of the materials will be shipped from outside the area anyway.

Maintenance

Where barndominiums set themselves apart from traditional construction techniques is the use of low maintenance materials. Since barndos often start as a metal building, they tend to be designed and built using materials popular in commercial structures. These buildings are often designed to need almost no regular upkeep by using low maintenance materials, such as steel siding and roofing. In fact, many barndos require nothing more than the occasional hosing off. 

Barndo Insulation and Air Ventilation

Barndominiums are often large, airy homes. They were first seen primarily in southern states like Texas where insulation is not always needed. This gave some the impression that they were more of a barn than a house.

However, as designs have evolved and spread into other areas of the country the need for insulation and sealing drafts has become apparent. As a result, most designs and kits available today make insulating a barndo simple and effective using the same materials used in regular building.

In fact, many new barndominiums built today make use of spray foam and other modern insulation techniques. As many barndos incorporate vaulted and cathedral ceilings as part of the design, the need for a sealed, insulated roof is critical to the comfortability of the barndo. 

Can I Build My Own Barndominium?

The short answer is yes. Generally speaking, building your own barndo is no more complex than building a normal wooden home and in some cases, simpler. Most do-it-yourselfers stress over the larger stages of construction, like setting trusses and keeping everything square. Since the shell of a barndo is often erected professionally, many DIYers are happy to spend that money and focus their attention on smaller details.

This method can also prevent costly do-it-yourselfer mistakes common to first time builders, such as violating code requirements and foundation problems. Mistakes made during the framing stage can have a ripple effect throughout the project, so many do-it-yourselfers will smartly leave that process to professionals.

Do Your Research and Enjoy the Process

If you are interested in building a barndominium you are not alone. As the housing market continues to climb, potential buyers are looking for a way to buy as much space as they can afford. The spartan design of a barndominium is a great way to create space inexpensively without sacrificing comfort or build quality. Especially if you plan to grow your family in the future, a barndominium may provide you with the most options.

Title Image: texasbarndominiums.com

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