How to Turn a Barn Into a House

Updated April 12, 2017

Were you raised in a barn? It's not so much an old scold about leaving the door open anymore. More builders are discovering the aesthetic and practical virtues of converting unused barns into character-filled homes with open spaces and good views. Before you rush into a major real estate renovation project, though, it's best to do your research and make sure that it's possible to turn an old barn into a new home.

Consult a structural engineer. Old barns can have many hidden problems--wood rot, unstable or nonexistent foundations, termite infestations or bad supports--that will make renovation unwise or impossible. A good engineer can provide a report of deficiencies that need to be addressed before the barn can be made liveable.

Work out a plan with an architect. Figure out the best places for plumbing and electrical connections, assuming the barn doesn't have them where you'll want them. Have the architect help you design spaces that will complement and take advantage of the barn's design, rather than simply build a house inside an old barn.

Check with your local planning board to make sure it's possible to convert an old barn into a home. Some planning commissions will place limits on the number of structures on a piece of land, or how barns can be used. Obtain any necessary building permits.

Budget carefully. Ask the builder for an estimated cost, and calculate the cost per square foot. Get bids from more than one contractor. Compare the cost to building a new barn using materials from the old barn, such as exterior siding and old beams. Consider buying an old barn if your existing barn can't be rebuilt or if it doesn't make financial sense to renovate it. There are a number of companies that specialise in disassembling old barns and rebuilding them at different sites.

Use as much of the barn's materials as possible in the renovation. Look for scrap dealers who might carry salvage materials, such as floor planks, windows, doors or other furnishings that will complement your new home.

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