Converted Barns: Our Agricultural Cathedrals

May 7, 2021

Barn Conversions

Many people find barns inspiring. Old barns have a unique sense of nostalgia and Americana, coupled with rustic opulence. Their soaring lofts, rustic interiors, mammoth posts, and expanse-spanning beams have a similar feel to the awe-inspiring designs of European Gothic cathedrals. Often, this sense of wonder is what makes barn conversions so appealing.

If you’ve ever looked longingly at barns turned into homes and thought that is the kind of house that’s right for you, here’s what you need to know about modern barn conversions.

Why Barn Conversions to Homes Are Popular

When a barn is converted to a house, the goal is to maintain the features and charm that make the barn itself so magnificent. An early 20th-century or older barn has a rough elegance and a sense of history, with hand-hewn pegs joining beams shaped and hammered by the skilled craftsmen of yesteryear.

In most cases, captivating architectural elements, like the posts and beams, are preserved when converting a barn into a house, making their way into the new design. The rest of the barn conversion focuses on adding the aspects you need for a comfortable home, bringing the two ideas together seamlessly.

A barn-to-house conversion can feel like the ideal property for anyone who appreciates rustic design or enjoys a hint of country flair coupled with modern conveniences. The aesthetic and functionality are part of the concept’s popularity.

Plus, barns tend to be spacious by nature. They include high ceilings, dramatic lofts, and other features many people crave in a house.

Typically, barns also function as a bit of a blank slate. The load-bearing posts and beams are usually within a wide, open space. This gives anyone doing a barn conversion ample design options, ensuring they can create the right kinds of areas for their daily living needs.

You also can’t overlook the beauty of the wood itself. Barn wood has a unique time-honed patina that’s hard – if not impossible – to replicate with new timber.

Ultimately, all of those reasons highlight why barn conversions are so popular today and why they’ll likely remain so for decades to come.

What You Can Do with Barn Conversions

As mentioned above, barns tend to have plenty of open space, allowing you to craft a customized floorplan without having to make major structural changes. While you may need to remove non-load-bearing walls, such as stalls, once that’s done, you often have very little division of the interior area.

This means, with barn conversions, the sky is often the limit. However you can re-envision the space is fair game. As long as the critical supporting structure remains in place and is shored up when needed to provide additional strength, you can divide the home in nearly any fashion.

Barn conversion interior

One splendid example of a beautifully converted barn home is in Barryville, NY. What was once simply an aging structure was transformed into a breathtaking four-bedroom home. It maintained all of the original charms thanks to the massive, aged wooden beams and soaring twenty-five-foot ceilings while also becoming a contemporary living space. In the end, it was the perfect combination of historic beauty and modern convenience. View more photos of this barn conversion sold by Global Property Systems.

The Challenges of Barn-to-House Conversions

Turning barns into homes can involve some unique challenges that you usually won’t experience with a new home build or typical remodel. Most barns weren’t designed with daily living in mind. They lack conveniently placed plumbing for kitchens, bathrooms, and laundry facilities, as well as electrical outlets every six feet. They also won’t commonly have runs drilled through studs or beams for electrical wiring or overhead lighting.

Barn conversion kitchen

Additionally, you need to take the condition of the structure into account. While an old barn may still be standing, that doesn’t mean it isn’t worse for wear. Often, you’ll need to shore up critical areas and replace certain features, such as the roof. With a barn, getting a fully dried-in interior often isn’t’ necessary. With a house, it is.

There will also be a lot of installations to navigate. If you’re converting a barn to a house in the barn’s original location, you may need to add a foundation and a floor to a standing structure. This can be incredibly challenging.

Adding insulation is typically essential, as most barns don’t have any temperature management or control features. Running new electrical, plumbing, and HVAC is similarly vital, as there’s usually little – if any – already available. You may also have to contend with insect damage and infestation mitigation.

Finally, you need to make sure the property is properly zoned and permitted. Long-standing barns weren’t positioned with today’s zoning laws in mind. It may be too close to a property line or roadway, for example. If that’s the case, you’d have to relocate the structure before moving forward with the renovation.

Getting the correct permits can also take time. The local building authority may require certain structural changes, alterations to your design plan, and more before they’ll approve the conversion.

What to Consider Before Buying a Barn for a Conversion

If you have your heart set on a barn converted to a house project, you need to make sure you purchase the right barn. Don’t get swept up in the existing woodwork or size of the space. Instead, focus on aspects of the building that determine the amount of work involved in the project.

Ideally, you want to find a barn that’s as structurally sound as possible. This includes having exterior walls, posts, and beams that are strong enough to remain in place and a structure that won’t require substantial changes to meet building code standards.

For example, there are rules about wall stud position, second-story supporting structure, window placements for egress, and much more. Once you begin a barn-to-house conversion, you’ll have to bring the property up to code. What you’re starting with plays a big role in how difficult – and expensive – that may be, so keep that in mind.

If you can find a barn that’s already in a good position based on local zoning laws, that can simplify the transition process. Having quick access to utilities may also help, particularly if you’ll rely on city electricity, water, and sewer.

If you’re not using city utilities, you’ll need to make sure that the alternatives are viable in that area. Accessing well water, adding a septic system, and similar steps can be complex. For example, some properties can’t have septic systems because a tank would negatively impact the local groundwater, a nearby waterway, or the natural environment.

Before you purchase a barn, make sure you get a thorough inspection. That will help identify structural issues, pest problems, and similar concerns you may need to address if you decide to buy the property.

Additionally, contact local building and zoning authorities to know whether a conversion is allowed and the standards you need to meet. It’s also wise to research utility access or options.

In some cases, you may want to bring in a contractor to examine the property. This can help you gauge the renovation cost in advance, allowing you to get a better idea of whether moving forward is financially plausible.

Just keep in mind that an estimate isn’t a guarantee of the total cost. New issues can be discovered that push up the price tag, so add a substantial buffer to your budget, just to be safe.

Let Us Help With Your Barn Conversion Needs

If you’re not sure where to begin, Global Property Systems partners with experts in barn conversions. Learn how we can help you make your own converted barn dreams a reality.


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