House-Barn combinations (barndominiums) are fabulous. I designed, built, and lived in one with my husband, horses, and dogs for almost nine years. There are three groups of folks who benefit from house/barn combos; younger folks looking for economical living options, older folks looking for easy maintenance, and everyone in-between. If economy, eco-friendly spaces, and low maintenance are high on your list, then you’re a prime candidate for a barndominium.
Whether you’re looking for a first home, down-sizing as we were, faced with limited resources or health restrictions, or just sick to death of maintenance, barndos are a wise choice for many, but in my opinion, they’re more about lifestyle than anything else.
House-barn combinations offer the MOST for the LEAST in every category, providing the greatest return on your investments of acreage, cash, energy, and time.
Uncertain About House-Barn Combos?
In 2010, much to my surprise, my husband agreed to my suggestion that we build a house/barn combination. Living in a metal building didn’t strike then 69-year-old him as particularly homey, but he has since admitted that our barn is his favorite home of all. Why didn’t we do this sooner?
One benefit of living in a barndo was completely unexpected and, I admit, as a relationship expert, shamed me just a bit. (See #6.)
This was my last building project, the culmination of thirty-five years designing, building, and remodeling homes, properties, and horse facilities both private and public. I bred and trained horses to produce precisely what my clients and I wanted.
Conformation (structure), personality (easy and willing), soundness (sturdy and low maintenance) are biggies when breeding horses you plan to live with and be the basis of your business or dream lifestyle.
Barndominiums Are Not Drama Queens
Designing a barn home is similar to breeding gorgeous and useful horses. I don’t appreciate Drama Queens of any type, whether equine, human, or real property. Unless you’re thrilled with portable tiny homes and don’t have critters, barndos are THE top tier of efficiency and utility.
Interest in having a house and barn (or house and shop) under the same roof exploded in the past few years for good reason. If you’re curious or considering whether a barndo is the right choice for you, here are the top 7 benefits of living in one from this veteran.
Top 7 Barndominium Benefits
Click the arrow to the left of each benefit for the explanation and ideas.
- Single plumbing and electrical sources
- Ultra-low utilities
- Lower Taxes
- Lower insurance premiums
- Less maintenance costs
- Time savings
- 24/7/365 working options in the barn or shop
- Stained, stamped concrete floors are inexpensive and easy to maintain. You pay for the foundation when you build. The only added expense is stain and sealer. You can put any flooring you like in a barndominium — but why spend the money or do the work?
2. Low Maintenance
- Structural Soundness
- No paint or caulk
- No shingles
- No siding or brick
- Concrete floors can be gorgeous. And they’re easy to maintain and cheap.
- Eliminate maintenance and wear by placing concrete walkways around the foundation. No mud. No wear. No muss, fuss, or work.
When water sources and working areas are indoors, you don’t have to go out to water, feed, groom, putter, or work. I’ve always used automatic waterers. Heated Nelson waterers won’t rust or corrode. Even when it’s way below zero, water sources remain warm and open.
Unless your winters are brutal, indoor water sources seldom freeze. Even if your horses or cattle live mostly outside like ours, (they choose to sleep under the cover ALL the time), water sources don’t have to be out in the elements. You can feed and water at or under the barn roof.
- No rain
- No snow
- No frozen water buckets
- No hot drinking water in summer
- No wind
- No mud
- No sun
- Farrier and veterinarian calls are steps from your coffee pot. And indoors. No need to suit up or grab your big boots.
- Pad out to the barn side to check horses in your pajamas and slippers.
- Easy and comfy during foaling season or when you have a horse on stall rest.
- Easy to clean.
- Rest rooms and laundry within seconds of your barn or shop.
4. Energy Conservation / Eco-Friendly
- Energy efficient windows. Don’t skimp here on any house!
- Air lock hallway between house and barn sides.
- Insulation options – spray foam on metal effectively seals the building
- Keep direct sun or winds away from living/barn areas
- Add skylights and Big Ass Fans in hotter areas.
- Place your hot water heater within feet of your sinks and showers.
- Zero commute time – it was 14 seconds from my office or bedroom
- Maximizes your acreage (and budget). Alleys, walkways, drives, and building separations take up valuable real estate. Putting everything under one roof reduces space usage, eliminates a lot of foundation to maintain or beautify, and who need to trim or groom alleys, walkways, or extra drives?
- Drop your messy barn boots, jeans, or coats outside the door to your home. (Manure and horse hair happens.) You can pad indoors in your stockings, flip flops, or underwear (if that’s your preference.) Or, just wear them in and clean your concrete floors whenever. It’s up to you.
6. Horse Relationship Upgrade
This one surprised me. My horses responded in amazing ways when we started sharing the same roof. As a horse relationship expert, it also embarrassed me for not expecting it. My horses and I have always been tight. Whether in competition, ministry, as a clinician, a horse geek, or just lover of all things horse, relationship is primary.
The horses want to be with us. All the time. They look for us, hang around the breezeway, serve as an audience to all we do, and greet us whenever we pop out one of our residential doors. They notice and respond.
Most horse owners feed twice a day and (at best) spend time with their equine family members in scheduled time segments. When they’re as close as your kids, spouse, or family dogs, you could feed them six times a day without breaking a sweat and know what they’re up to ALL the time.
If you’re really nosey, install barn or arena cameras you can check on your smartphone. The good news is that the cameras are indoors! Which pony pushes his buddies? Check the camera or look out your kitchen window to the barn, paddock, or pasture.
Need a break? Step inside for refreshment and put your feet up for a few minutes. The horses aren’t going anywhere – and they’re happy. They’ll know precisely when you come back out. The time it used to take to drive or walk to the barn is newly discovered gold!
Do you worry when the kids play with their horses? When your home and barn share a roof, the kids and horses are almost as close as your family room. And maybe they’ll even forget about video games.
7. Design Freedom
Decide how you want to live and design your barndo to bring your dream to life. Want to keep your horses or livestock in a herd outside? You can, yet still have water and/or feed sources under cover.
Don’t want to put up individual stalls? Don’t spend the money or make the commitment. Just leave a covered are at the end of your barndominium. Animals are smart. They’ll figure out where there’s shade, soft dirt, fans, and insect control.
Want a second story art studio? Go for it! Indoor wash rack? Gourmet kitchen or just the basics? Huge master suite or something more modest? No problem.
- Options for great views
- High ceilings
- Open spaces
- Tons of room for storage and mechanical room outside the shell of your house.
Bonus Barndominium Benefit: Comfort
- Weather quits being a concern.
- Amazing ventilation.
- Reduced anxiety – you know where everyone is and what they’re up to.
- Real time savings allows you more time to relax or do something besides take care of the property or do endless chores.
Negatives of House-Barn Combinations
Surprisingly, some articles I’ve read about metal barndos warn about noise or metal fatigue.
What about Noise?
If you leave metal walls and roofs bare, then yes, I expect you’ll have to deal with annoying wind, rain, and hail noise. The solution is insulation, the same as any house. If you get pummeled with baseball size hail on any structure, you’re going to know it. Problem solved.
Ours has spray foam insulation on every surface of the house pod, which is essentially a separate structure from the barn side if you look under the hood.
The house section also has traditional bat insulation. The structure is metal, with stick framing between supporting columns. All non-load bearing walls are 100% standard framing. Exterior walls (including the one between the people and horse sides) are extra thick, with both metal and wood framing plus spray foam and bat insulation.
What about Metal Fatigue?
I’ve built barns, covered or indoor arenas, hay barns, outbuildings, and other metal structures. As far as I know, and I know about most of them, they’re all still standing and in use.
In fact, the training facility we built in Phoenix, Arizona almost 30 years ago was hit by a tornado a few years ago, 20 years after we sold it. Subsequent owners built more facility, more barns, and more covers. Much was damaged or leveled in the storm. When I checked the after photos, it looked like everything we built was still standing strong. Just saying…
Do it right and you shouldn’t have to worry about metal fatigue.
If you build a traditionally framed home from 1×2 furring strips instead of 2×4 or 2×6 lumber, then it’s likely to fail when challenged by age, wear, and weather. Metal isn’t much different.
The solution is using proper design and gauge of materials. If you live in snow country, pitch your roof the same way you’d pitch any roof.
One Design Limitation
Most everything about barndominium living is fabulous, but there is one real design limitation. OF course, there are options to deal with it.
Window placement is critical. I love natural light and want to see it in every room of my home. When one wall is shared with an indoor barn, that means that wall space isn’t available for regular windows.
The Great Room concept is well-suited to barndo design because natural light from windows in exterior walls is shared with areas that back up to the barn side of the structure.
Does your laundry room need a window? What about your office? You can always put a window into the barn. That gives you a front row seat to whatever’s going on in there. Include skylights in your barn roof and you’ll enjoy some natural daylight even through an indoor to indoor window.
I didn’t choose that option because I figured out how to get natural light without going that route. The only spaces in our three-bedroom barn house without views are the shower room and water closet in the Master Bath. Most traditional houses don’t offer windows there either.
Your freedom of design is almost limitless, but I suggest discussing window options when you make your list of features and benefits you want in your barn home.
Many cities and towns (most?) don’t permit people and livestock to live under the same roof. In our area, a house and barn must be at least 100 feet from each other. We built outside city limits. No problem.
Check local building codes before buying your land.
The Critical First Step of Barndominium Design
Design your house/barn combo to provide the lifestyle you dream of. You can’t design the right building until you know how you want to live in it.
You can either (1) design a building for a particular piece of land, or (2) buy a piece of land to accommodate your building design. We bought our land first and then did the design. I positioned the building on the property to maximize pasture size, minimize fencing, and for ease of use. After I had the design set for the property we laid out the corners and walked through the area as if the house/barn were already built.
Check the View Before You Build
When I measured to where our huge great room window would be, I looked out at my new view and realized it wasn’t what I had in mind. All I had to do was change the angle of the building on the place and move four stakes. The new view was (and is) gorgeous!
Take your design to your property and “look” out every window. It’s easy to change the view before you build by shifting the building pad and corners.
The Barndominium Lifestyle
Is it for you?
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