Making a barn livable space...

Bar_DAugust 7, 2011

We have a few acres with a small house and a large barn on property. Because the house is so small, and we have a soon to be college student who will be living at home, we thought about possibly converting part of the barn as an apt...nothing extremely fancy. Just looking for general advice about how doable this is. A section of the barn has a concrete floor, walls, etc., but it is an older structure. The outside walls are basically just boards with small space between. How do you insulate or create an inside wall? The room is open at top all the way to rafters, so we would probably have to create a ceiling of sorts. As you can tell, I'm a real novice...just trying to collect ideas right now. I have a few pictures, but don't know how to display here.

Thanks so much for any suggestions.

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It is very doable depending on your goals and budget. I'm working on such a project at the moment. How large of a barn is it? Is it an old post and beam barn? What was the barn used for? Hay, animals, equipment?
From the little that you've described I'd probably remove all the barn boards, build proper exterior walls between the existing posts/columns sheath the whole thing and then re-side with the barn-board. Having said that however there are numerous things to consider with such a project.

Can you post some images?


    Bookmark   August 7, 2011 at 3:00PM
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OK: here's few thing to think about.

1) water supply -where would you get it from?

2) sanitary waste disposal - it's gotta go somehwere, would it tie into your existing system? Would your local authorities require a whole new septic system? That could be big bucks.

3) Local authorities: You may need zoning or planning permission to do this as many areas regulate how many dwelling units can be on one lot, even for accessory apartments. Your taxes will increase for an accessory apartment.

4) Insulation and weatherization: walls are pulled and cavity insulated. As for insulation under the roof, it can't touch the roof, it needs an air channel between roof material and insulation. Go to Owens Corning pink fiberglass company website and read about using their pre-formed foam sheets to understand how this is done. There are otherways to do it, but they explain it nicely.

5) Electrical and phone/cable. These are done while the walls are open for insulation, before sheetrocking.

6) You'll need to think about adding windows, both for aesthetics and safety (there are codes about minimum size of windows in sleeping spaces, etc.)

7) How would you heat the space? Or cool, if you live in a warm area?

8) Because of need to install new and frestanding plumbing, waste and heating systems I think this may cost more per square foot of floor space than building on to you existing house. I price it out both ways.



    Bookmark   August 7, 2011 at 3:07PM
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Start (for pics) with setting up a photobucket account, it's free & pretty easy to figure out how to copy & paste URL's from there.

I'm pretty sure there are a couple facts needed, yet, before members can help..
What zone you're in, climate is an important factor, I assume, when determining what it'll take to make the barn (comfortably) livable.
I assume there's electric - is it enough? Is there running water or - better yet - indoor plumbing of any kind there already?
How far from the main house is the barn located?
Are you planning to do the work yourself, or hire someone?

It's been done before, so it's certainly possible. My grandma survived part of her childhood in a shack with a dirt floor - you're a step-up already! She'd have thought (at the time) that your barn was some "classy digs", as is, lol! :-)

    Bookmark   August 7, 2011 at 3:11PM
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Thanks everyone for suggestions and comments. I appreciate the time and thought!

I guess making the space livable might get expensive quickly. The place is so perfect for my son though, I keep coming back to the idea. He would be willing to do a lot of work too. The barn is far enough away from the house to feel like you have your own space.

There is no electricity or water there, but it's very close by. We would have to have septic tank (seems somewhat affordable around here). We have relatives that own a heating/air business so that might help. We have a relative that's an electrician. Otherwise, we would probably have to hire out or do on our own. I don't think we would have much trouble with the zoning or getting it approved.

The barn is just a plain barn; not like those beautiful barns in the northeast! I'm leaving the link to the pictures in the body of the message because it rejects my reply otherwise. What am I doing wrong?

Thanks again!

    Bookmark   August 8, 2011 at 11:25AM
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at the bottom of the pic cut/paste the HTML code...put it in the body of your message like this:

when you do preview message you will see the pic not the code that I am seeing as I type this...great looking barn and beautiful green grass!

    Bookmark   August 9, 2011 at 1:39AM
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Two words: Fire. Egress.

I would be inclined to put in a sprinkler system.

I think maybe you need to back up a bit and go bigger picture first. What are the parameters in terms of permits, insurance, future plans for the property? You also don't say what climate you're in, so what kind of weather this structure will need to withstand.

In a big picture sense, you are considering putting a secondary residential building on your property. In your long term plans for the property, who might be living in the barn in future if not your son - might it eventually function as an in-law suite or rental/employee housing? If you are going to sell, what kind of structure would most enhance the value and salability of the property? In other words, you might be better served by making a really proper secondary residence (within these walls and floor or with entirely new ones) than by patching something together now that you will have to dismantle and redo for the next phase of your lives. And if you put a proper building in, is this the best location for it? Would it have its own parking? What would be the municipal requirements, if any, for building a proper, legal, secondary residence? And if if you don't go the permit route, what are the insurance or resale implications?

Let's say none of the above applies. Then you could do a pretty makeshift job as long as it keeps him warm and comfy. A composting-type toilet system might alleviate the need to tie into septic. Might even be fun to play with some solar energy, but I'm sure you'd need a full connection.

Might be a great project for your son to learn many skills. But it might not hurt to have professional assistance with the planning, and oversight of the skilled work. One little plumbing mistake could really mess things up.

Is the roof good? If old, might put up a metal roof to start with.

It IS a very attractive barn, by the way. Good lines and proportions. Could be beautiful.


    Bookmark   August 9, 2011 at 3:09PM
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Trailrunner, thanks for the lesson on adding the photos. I needed that! The barn does have a pretty setting, doesn't it?

KarinL, thanks for all the info...alot to think about I guess. I AM somewhat quick to think things will be simple and easy with not much thought for the big picture. The space could possibly be rented if necessary though. We're less than ten miles from a University. We are in the south so mild climate with not too many extremes. Guess I'll have to do a bit more thinking and perhaps get someone out to give a few estimates.

Many thanks!

    Bookmark   August 9, 2011 at 6:48PM
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To expand on what the above poster suggested - I'd be tempted to fly under the radar, and make it more of a rustic retreat-studio space rather than an actual "house" or full blown primary residential residence. Most places if your renovation cost exceeds a certain percentage the value of the whole thing, then it has to fit modern building codes, and by that standard it may be prohibitively expensive or they may not even allow it at all.

Your kid won't be living there forever either, so why not think more long term what you want it to be. Its a sweet spot for sure - sigh! I'm jealous -I would love to have it and would leave it rustic - would not want to lose the barnlike essence of it by modernizing or re-muddling it to death.

Still it could and should be clean, comfortable, water-tight, safe and secure. If your climate is mild you could just heat it - or some portion of it - with a pellet stove. My mom had a composting toilet in her house - they can make them now so they dont stink. Add some running water & some off the grid electricity and voila! you're done.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2011 at 12:53PM
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That is a great barn. The pics were kind of small but from what I could see you'll really want to hire an architect or an engineer to check out those (what appear to be homemade) trusses and as well as the slab condition. Then, because the structure is already there I would look at structural insulated panels for the roof and walls. I would remove the existing siding and roof to reuse. I am old and blind but it appears to be a metal roof to me. In the areas where the slab extends past the siding I would do a battered wall two to three foot high of some sort of cultured stone.


    Bookmark   August 14, 2011 at 11:38AM
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Sophie Wheeler

Building codes are there for your health and safety. It would not be wise to attempt to circumvent them. You could face some pretty serious fines if you were caught, especially for the health violations regarding waste water disposal. Don't think your neighbors wouldn't turn you in. Most would in a heartbeat.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2011 at 12:53AM
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