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Can You Live in a Barn Legally?

If you’ve got an old barn on your property you may want to convert it to live in – so can you do this legally?

You can legally convert an old wooden or metal barn into a dwelling, provided you obtain all the relevant local and state wide planning permits and consents. However, you can’t just go and live in your barn without telling the authorites, while renting out your main house to tenants.

Let’s dive down into this subject in more detail, as there’s a lot more to converting and living in your barn than you might first think…

Can You Live in a Barn Legally?

Can You Turn a Barn Into a House & Live in it?

You certainly can convert a barn into a dwelling. Their high ceilings and open rafters make beautiful features, and in terms of interiors, you’re getting a blank canvas.

It’s not as straightforward as converting an old house. A barn wasn’t designed for modern, human living, and you’ll most likely be presented with a single large space and no windows. If you’re lucky and the barn was used recently, it may have electricity and plumbing.

There’ll also be a large gap between buying the barn / deciding to renovate and actually living in it. Before you start, you’ll need an architect and probably an engineer, and you may need to get permission before work can begin.

As usual, there may be zoning rules. Building laws vary from county to county, so if you have a barn that you’d like to convert, or you’re thinking of buying one, get in touch with your local building department.

If you have a small, structurally sound barn that looks like it could quickly be converted into additional accommodation, think twice. As we have already discussed with garages and sheds, outbuildings have to meet certain habitable criteria before they count as legal living space. Again, speak to your local authorities to avoid problems in the future.

Do Barn Conversions Hold Their Value?

Yes, your barn conversion should hold its value, especially if you’ve created a beautiful living space. But, as with any property, there are certain caveats.

The location. Is it in a lovely rural landscape? That always helps – just check that there are no plans to build something large, noisy, or unsightly in the vicinity. If it has a good view that won’t change, that definitely adds curb appeal. Is the access easy? Dirt tracks are less appealing to many buyers.

Is it a high-end conversion? Structural features like modern kitchens, en-suite bathrooms, statement staircases, and the latest heating systems are plus points. Make sure everything is well maintained and documented.

Before you begin, run your plans by a friendly realtor who knows the area. They may have some helpful suggestions about the local market.

How Long Does a Barn Conversion take?

This depends on a number of factors, and there is no single answer to this question. Before you even step onsite, there’s all the planning and permissions to sort out up front, then you have to source the right labor and materials… When the work finally starts, the length of the project is down to its complexity and how many people you have working on it.

There is plenty to think about when you’re planning your conversion time schedule. Is the barn structurally sound? A building with strong walls and an intact roof requires less work than a tumbledown barn. 

However, building a new barn-style home from scratch can be quicker than a conversion (although possibly not as rapid as Witness suggests). It can also work out cheaper per square foot (and we’ll talk about this in a moment).

Who will be carrying out the conversion work? Many hands make light work, and if you have a team on board, you’ll finish faster, especially if that team is made up from professionals. If it’s mostly you and a friend, it’ll take longer – but it could be the best time of your life.

Other things to take into account include the location of your barn, ease of access, and what materials are available locally. You may even need to create a new access road to the property, which will add time and cost onto the project.

And of course, how high-end do you want to go? If we’re looking at a sleek, contemporary-country-style barn conversion, it will take longer than a more basic finish would. 

Can I live in my barn?

How Much Does it Cost To Convert a Barn into a Home?

Again, the cost of converting a barn into a home depends on a lot of things, which can include materials, labor, and finish level. You may already have your own barn in your lot, or you may need to purchase one that’s for sale.

But how much will the conversion itself cost? We did a bit of research, and it can cost anything between $200 and $500 per square foot. That’s quite a variation.

Building a new barn-style house can be cheaper, working at as $100-$250 per square foot (although this rises up to $400 for a high-end finish).

Before starting work, you need to get your budget set out, and stick to it. Make sure you have a contingency (the standard is 10%) in case anything unexpected comes up. You’re working with an older building, so as the saying goes, expect the unexpected.

Try and stick to your plans. It’s all too easy to become excited and distracted by new features, but that’s when you see that budget start to creep up…

How Do You Insulate a Barn?

You need to make sure that your barn is warm and dry to live in, and that means insulation. There are a few different options, and we suggest speaking with your architect or engineer to find out the best material for your individual building. The walls need to be able to breathe as well as insulate, so it’s essential that you use the right method.

However, there are some basic principles you can follow, and foam board seems to be a popular option among DIY converters on forums.

Here’s a handy YouTube video by Country Family Homestead about how to insulate a pole barn. He uses inch and a half foam board between the purlins, with a stud wall on top. It’s a really clear guide: just bear in mind that he’s working on a workshop, not a home.

Can You Turn a Metal Barn into a House?

You can turn a metal barn into a house, and it should make a good, sturdy dwelling for you. As ever, check the zoning rules, as some counties are stricter than others when it comes to changing a building’s use. Talk to your local planning department before you do anything else.

We’d recommend working with an architect or building engineer, as converting a metal building brings certain challenges and it’s best to take professional advice.

The main one is insulation. Get this wrong, and you’re living in an oven. You’ll need to use the right type of insulation to turn a metal barn into a comfortable, livable space. Finish the interior with simple sheetrock walls, as you shouldn’t need any more support inside a tough metal structure.

On the outside, you can treat the metal with a rust-proof protective coating, while creating an attractive finish at the same time. Go for a weather-resistant finish that won’t fade in the sun and the rain.

If you like the idea of a metal barn-style home, you can commission new builds as well as converting old barns. They can make attractive, unusual homes that are eco-friendly to live in, and you can customize the outside to look truly awesome. The panels arrive pre-made to order, so this can be a good option if you’re looking for a simple self-build project.

In Summary

In the final analysis, yes you can turn a wooden or metal barn into a home and live in it – provided you get good advice and plans from an architect, and obtain all the relevant local planning consents. You can’t just go and live in your barn as it is without telling anybody – while renting your house out for extra cash!

Expect to pay between $200 and $500 per square foot – depending upon what finish you want, what your budget is and where you live – and don’t expect your barn build to be quick. We’ve done refits on properties before and this is a serious investment of both time and money.

However, there’s nothing like the satisfaction of completing the job well – so it’s a worthwhile investment if you get your planning and budgeting right.

Mark H.

Homeowner and property investor Mark H. aspires to bring you the very best outdoor living content, based on his years of experience managing outside spaces. Read more >