How to build a barn with living quarters

Written by jennifer malpass
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How to build a barn with living quarters
Building a dual purpose structure can be ideal for horse enthusiasts. (yellow barn image by Cathy Kovarik from

Living in a barn house is an appealing aspect for horse enthusiasts as it can provide convenience in caring for their charges. While building an efficient and safe structure to suit both human and animal needs is required, the structure need only be as elaborate as the owner's needs. In planning to build a dual purpose structure, there are regulatory, financial and design considerations to ponder before you break ground. Many of these affect the construction costs as well as the future liability cost of the structure.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Property
  • Building Permit
  • Zoning Laws
  • Architect
  • Design Plan
  • Builder

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  1. 1

    Research building codes, zoning laws and permit requirements. A barn with living quarters requires adhering to building codes for human habitation, not just for barn structures. U.S. states have adopted and follow the International Building Codes (IBC 2006), and design plans available for purchase follow this international code. Zoning and builders permit requirements, however, differ county to county. Contact the county office to research zoning laws to determine what uses, and structures, are allowed on your property. They can also give you the requirements needed to file a builders permit. When looking for property to purchase and build on, checking zoning laws and permit requirements/cost for that county location is a crucial step in determining if it is suitable for your needs before you decide to purchase it.

  2. 2

    Consider some financial implications before planning construction. Future marketability is riskier with dual purpose buildings due to its specialised use and decreased number of potential buyers. This results in longer marketing time frames and possible loss of investment. Mortgage loans are more difficult to secure due to the future marketability implications which result in increased interest rates and equity requirements from financial loan institutions. Lenders also require an appraisal which is more difficult due to the need to find comparable sales of similar properties in the same area. Homeowners insurance is higher when a barn is attached to the living quarters due to the increased risks associated with barns, particularly fires. The insurance premium applied is estimated at three to five times higher than a typical homeowner's insurance premium.

    How to build a barn with living quarters
    A loan for construction costs of a barn house has higher interest rates and equity requirements. (money matters image by Pix by Marti from
  3. 3

    Hire a qualified architect to ensure the design meets the required building code. An architect can also custom design, or modify a purchased plan, if there are no available existing plans that meet your personal needs or requirements.

    How to build a barn with living quarters
    Hiring a qualified architect can save you construction and liability costs. (builder and architect image by goce risteski from
  4. 4

    Choose a design plan. Barn home designs are single story, two stories or split level. It is important to keep in mind the building codes in your area, as well as designs that help decrease your loan and insurance risks. Single level barn homes are the easiest and most efficient designs and allow for simpler design implementations that reduce fire hazards (i.e. firewalls) and, therefore, reduce insurance premiums. Two story and split level barn homes are more difficult to design for fewer fire hazards, but are possible if the living quarters are situated over the feed, tack rooms or garages, and not over the animals' living quarters.

    How to build a barn with living quarters
    Choose a design that fits your needs and budget. (house plans image by Christopher Hall from
  5. 5

    Consider design elements that reduce risks, particularly fire hazards, and decrease loan and insurance issues and cost. Building codes may require some or all of these in a design. But even if it is not required, it is highly recommended to incorporate them in your plans to reduce liability costs. The biggest risk concerning barns is fire. Good management reduces the risk of fire but design elements directly reduce homeowner's insurance costs. Firewalls between the living quarters and barn area to reduce the spread of fire are invaluable in dual purpose structures. Enclosing all electrical wiring in metal conduit reduces risk of exposure to moisture and rodents. It is also recommended to use gas or propane heat rather then electrical and to locate the heating unit in the living quarters. Having a separate building for storing hay, bedding or power equipment will greatly reduce associated risks of combustible items in the barn area as well. Sprinkler systems can, of course, be used but are too high a cost for most home builder budgets. Other important design elements to consider are ventilation (both design and mechanical ventilation), sanitation (i.e. separate entrance for living quarters and barn) and pest control (good management and husbandry practices).

  6. 6

    Decide on the location to build on the property. Visit during or right after a heavy rain to determine natural runoffs to avoid. Choose the highest elevation on the property to avoid drainage issues and face your structure in the most efficient manner for the climate in your area. Also plan the location of your pastures and other structures to get the best and most efficient use of your property.

    How to build a barn with living quarters
    Avoid areas where water runoff conflicts with location of building. (path after the rain image by Samuel Birkan from
  7. 7

    Find a qualified builder in your area to contract the building of your barn home. Do not forget to check references and the Better Business Bureau in your state before committing to a contract.

    How to build a barn with living quarters
    Find a qualified builder to oversee construction. (raising a barn image by Tammy Mobley from

Tips and warnings

  • Visit existing barn houses to evaluate different designs and layouts.
  • Many companies sell design plans for barn houses, as well as prefab kits. See Resources for a list of a few of them.

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