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What's a Barndominium? Everything to Know About the Trendy Housing Craze

We've got info about how to build a barndo, how much they cost and the pros and cons of this Fixer Upper-driven housing style.

barndominium with rock retaining wall
Barndominiums have grown in popularity since one was featured on the HGTV show Fixer Upper.
HL Custom Homes

If you're considering building a house, or if you're just an HGTV aficionado, you may have come across barndominiums -- trendy, converted barns or barn-shaped homes built from the ground up that can give you space to live and work. 

If you're wondering what exactly a barndominium (or barndo) is and if it's right for you, look no further. I talked to Mike W., director of operations for Barndominium Life (who asked to only be referred to by his last initial, as his work on the site isn't his full-time job), a media brand focused on the barndo lifestyle with instructional guides and floor plans for those interested in exploring this housing option. 

Here's what to know, including what makes a barndo a barndo, how to build one, how much a barndominium costs, and the pros and cons of living in one. (For more, check out how to build DIY pipe shelves, and how to make custom poster hangers for just $1.)

What is a barndominium? 

A barndominium, or barn and condominium, originally referred to a barn that had been converted into a living space. Today, a barndominium is any standalone, metal, barn-shaped structure that has been turned into a home (whether or not it started as a barn). 

Barndos can take many forms: Some are turned into houses with multiple rooms, while others have an open-floor layout. Still more are used as garages, workshops or for animals. There's typically room for both living quarters and a shop or garage, or whatever you'd like to use that open space for. They usually feature high ceilings, large windows and open spaces.

While the term was coined by Connecticut real estate developer Karl Nilsen in 1989, the structure's more recent popularity arose from a 2016 episode of the HGTV show Fixer Upper, in which home renovation duo Chip and Joanna Gaines converted a barn into a contemporary home in the Waco, Texas area. Search interest has climbed since then, dramatically rising over the last two years (and Texas is the state searching the term most often). Barndos are most popular in the south and midwest, but you can find them in every region. 

barndominium-search-interest.png

Search interest in barndominiums has climbed steadily since one appeared on an episode of Fixer Upper.

Screenshot/Alison DeNisco Rayome/CNET

How long does it take to build a barndominium? 

Building a barndominium typically takes between nine and 18 months. They tend to be a bit faster to build compared to a traditional home, Mike W. said. 

barndominium backyard with hot tub

Barndominiums can be built from converted barns, but many are now built from the ground up.

HL Custom Homes

How do you build a barndominium? 

To build a barndo, you'll first need a plot of land, and you'll need to make sure that land is zoned properly for the structure. You tend to find them in more rural areas that don't have strict zoning rules, Mike W. said. Next, you want to plan what type of barndo you want to build (you can find sample floor plans online, including at BarndominiumPlans.com). Next comes planning for the foundation, roofing, electrical, plumbing and everything else. You can hire a general contractor to help with this, or you can do it individually. 

Typically, the building starts with a concrete foundation. Many people use a steel building kit to make the actual structure. Then comes the insulation, framing, electrical and HVAC -- all of the steps you'd take in building a traditional stick frame house, you do for a barndo as well. 

"The actual process is not super different from building a traditional house, except for the fact that you could use a metal kit, whereas in a traditional home, you're framing it from the ground up," Mike W. said. 

How much does a barndominium cost? And is it cheaper to build a house or a barndominium? 

Costs to build a barndominium vary widely depending on region and size. The simplified average is around $100 per square foot fully finished, Mike W. said, but again, that's highly dependent on your location, your contractor, the material used and market prices for those materials. In comparison, building a traditional home costs more like $145 per square foot.

"You're not saving much in terms of the actual materials, but you typically do save some in terms of labor," Mike W. said. 

barndominium loft in Florida

A loft area inside a barndominium in Arcadia, Florida.

Getty/The Washington Post

What are the pros and cons of a barndominium? 

Barndominiums are becoming a more common architectural style, but tend to be polarizing: People either love them or hate them, Mike W. said. 

Outside of the way they look and saving some labor costs compared to building a traditional house, the benefits are primarily for people who want a certain lifestyle -- often those in more rural areas who want space to live but also to have a workshop, or store an RV, or any of the other things you can do with a barndo. 

Barndos also offer benefits in terms of durability, since metal holds up against the elements better than wood -- assuming the structure is well-constructed. They can be more energy efficient than traditional homes, depending on the type of insulation and windows used. They also tend to have lower insurance and tax rates, but again, that depends on the location and situation. 

In terms of drawbacks, since barndos typically have metal roofs, things can get loud when it rains. It can also be tough to get a cell signal in the metal structure, though there are cell signal boosters available that may help. 

For more, check out how to save hundreds on your homeowner's insurance, and what winter storm damage your home insurance will cover.