Home » MBJ FEATURE » ‘Barndominiums’ can be a path to an affordable, safe home
Courtesy of barndominiumlife.com Barndominiums frequently begin as a metal buildings in which the house can be built out of the weather.

‘Barndominiums’ can be a path to an affordable, safe home


Maybe it isn’t such a bad thing, after all, to be raised in a barn. That is, if the barn has been converted to include comfortable living quarters. A cross between a barn and a condominium, “barndominiums” fans say there can be considerable advantages to this style of construction.

Michael Berk

Barndominiums generally start out as a steel building that can be erected quickly and relatively inexpensively. The lack of flammable materials such as wood framing can make it fire, termite and mold resistant. Insurance might be less because the fire hazard is reduced. And, if properly sited, ventilated and insulated, it can be very energy efficient. Construction costs can be less than with a conventional home.

Mississippi State University School of Architecture Professor Emeritus and Director Emeritus Michael A. Berk, AIA, said that whether barn condominiums can be a path to affordable housing depends upon how it is done.

“About 15 years ago when I was working on designing the GreenMobile (a healthful, well-designed mobile home), I came across a publication from a metal shed company, Butler Buildings, about making a house under the giant shed so the house would be protected from the sun and other elements. There are some really beautiful things that can be done. I was always intrigued about that.”

Advantages can include getting the shed up quickly and then being able to finish the interior out of the weather. Conventional houses are usually subjected to a lot of hostile conditions while under construction. The barndominium concept not only protects the building, but can make it more comfortable for workers and allow work to continue even during rain or snow.

Berk said an important consideration is siting the structure correctly so you can get good available light, and potentially some passive solar gain in the winter.

“If you are not careful with design and siting, you will have no benefit of solar gain that warms your house in the winter,” Berk said. “You forget that half of the season, you do want sun. If you are not careful, there will not be enough light in the house during winter. Also, the coldest days in the winter are usually when it is sunny and clear. That is when you need solar gain the most. That is when the sun can do a lot of work for you.”

If you have a narrow house on the southern side of the shed, that would help make sure your home space is getting access to exterior light and ventilation. The barn should be sited so the habitable space is on the south side with generous windows. The building should have an overhang generous enough to keep sun off in the summertime, but allow the sun in during the winter.

If you just open a window to the inside of a barn, there is not a lot of light. You could end up with a space that seems cavelike, and then have to use electric light versus having opening that brings in natural light. Berk said you can even consider windows to be paintings that let light in.

Since it isn’t that difficult to cut the metal and frame a window, you can even think out of the box, and perhaps have large windows at corner of the building.

“Don’t think of it as a window but an opening,” Berk said. “Where do I want to make that opening that will make that room a better experience? An opening makes a room feel bigger. It can even be situated so it also adds light to another room.”

If the metal building is properly positioned, it is also easy to add solar panels. That is particularly true for standing seam metal roofs. With or without panels, the shed roof can be used to collect rainwater. Berk said if the water is filtered, it can be used as potable water. Unfiltered, it is useful for things like watering the garden and washing the car.

“Collecting rainwater with those big generous sheds is really easy and the kits usually come with gutters, so would just need some storage tanks,” Berk said. “The rainwater can offset most of your domestic water use.”

Berk said no matter what kind of house you have, it makes sense to use metal roofs. Replacing dark shingles with metal can result is significantly less energy need for cooling. Metal is longer-lasting than shingles, more resistant to storm damage and, when light colored metal roofs are used, it can also help with climate change and local temperatures by reflecting heat back into the atmosphere. That can help keep cities cooler, which is especially welcome during heat waves.

The U.S. Department of Energy promotes “Cool Roofs” including any type of roofing material that is highly reflective. DOE says that standard or dark roofs can reach temperatures of 150°F or more in the summer sun. A cool roof under the same conditions could stay more than 50°F cooler and save energy and money by using less air conditioning.

Another advantage of metal shed buildings is that they are easy to maintain. Painting the outside is rarely needed. Some people make the barndominiums look more like a conventional home by adding wood or cement board siding and generous porches.


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About Becky Gillette