How to Design Your Own Barndominium (Processes, Software, Cost)

How to Design Your Own Barndominium
How to Design Your Own Barndominium

Living in modern United States, and being a first-time home buyer, means innovative home options that were not popular 20 years ago. From tiny homes to storage container homes, the barndominium or barndo is the newest style home taking roots in the South and spreading across the country.

To design your own barndominium, you will become your own architect and draw out plans. The barndominium is a new home, so there aren’t widespread architecture firms versed in its design. Today, technology is user-friendly to allow you to draw plans to scale and look like a professional did them.

It can be overwhelming to design a barndo or any living structure. Listed below are suggested steps to take before walking into the bank or talking to a general contractor. After this article, you should feel confident to design your home and know what steps to take once you designed your own barndominium.

List Must-Haves

Building a new home is a large endeavor, and it’s important to know what you want it to look like. Number of bedrooms? Bathrooms? Walls or open concept? Laundry room or pantry or both?

You may have been dreaming of your barndominium for years now, but writing it all out on paper will help you start drawing plans. Whether you are going to draw your plans yourself or are hiring an architect, the list is necessary.

Possible rooms to consider are:

  • Bedroom
  • Living Room
  • Family Room
  • Guest Room
  • Kitchen
  • Dining Room
  • Game Room/Play Room
  • Office
  • Library
  • Bathroom
  • Kitchen
  • Home Gym
  • Storage/Garage

According to the U.S. Census Characteristics of New Housing in 2019, 42% of homes built last year had four or more bedrooms, and 32% had three or more bathrooms. But a barndo is different. People who want the barndo style like the utility of the barn to combine their work and home spaces.

Work spaces include:

  • Workshops
  • Auto Shops
  • Garages and Equipment Storage
  • Plane Hangars
  • Office Spaces
  • Equestrian Buildings
  • Art Studios and Exercise Spaces
  • Vacation Rentals and Getaways
  • Barns
  • Carports, RV and Boat Storage

You may not be aware of the origin of the barndominium design. The barndominium phrase was coined by Karl Nilsen in 1989, who built barndominiums as experimental living spaces for people who wanted to stay close to their horses. Since then, with the help of Fixer Upper, the barndominium has expanded to be functional housing for those who want to “work from home.”

Make a Design Collage

Making a collage might seem like an elementary school activity, but it’s used by art psychologists for helping you visualize different areas of your life. It can help you organize your design aesthetic through images you like from magazines, Google, Pinterest barndominium boards, and more.

Collages are also used to create dream boards to help you stay focused on your future. When you take meetings with builders, loan officers, or architects, a design collage will give them a vision of what you want the barndominium to be. Because barndos are still rare in most parts of the country, professionals you talk to will want visuals.

You can certainly use Pinterest to organize your design dreams if you don’t want to print out dozens of pictures. Consider organizing your collage or board by:

  • Layout plans
  • Architectural features
  • Paint colors
  • Interiors
  • Outdoor spaces
  • Flooring/tile
  • Utility features (horse stall, art studio, etc.)


As with any home build, you will need to know your budget. This can be as simple as going to a loan officer and getting pre-approved for a loan. Unless you are paying cash, a construction loan is what you will end up with. The more prepared you are walking into the bank, the better, as construction loans are risky for the bank.

Steve and Hans Wydler, of Wydler Brothers Real Estate, suggest going into the bank with your design plans ready, builder contracted, and the lot picked out. They admit it’s backward from how most custom builds play out, but this method will increase your chance for the construction loan.

Now, this sounds confusing. Decide on a budget before designing, but have a design ready to get the loan? Yes. If you can talk to a loan officer to get a starting point for a budget, you can go ahead with designing your barndo within the amount, and be worth the risk to the bank.

Barndominium Life claims the average cost of building a barndominium is between $95/sq. foot to $125/sq. foot. Factors like hiring a general contractor, building yourself, and the quality of your materials will all affect the cost per square foot. If you want to keep the number lower, consider doing more of the work yourself. Barndominium Life states the lowest cost/sq. foot seen so far has been $30/sq. Foot.

Texas Best Construction explains more in depth what type of costs building a barndo might entail in this video:

Research Building Codes

When designing your barndominium, it’s important to be versed in your local building codes if you are not hiring an architect. FEMA defines building codes as “…sets of regulations that address structural integrity, fire resistance, safe exits, lighting, ventilation, and construction materials”.

Important building codes to keep in mind when designing your barndo include hallway width, windows in each bedroom, light switch height, and more.

The Red Iron Adventure Youtube channel explains it nicely:

Custom or Prefabricated?


If you have done any other research on designing a barndominium, then you know companies sell a prefabricated design or barndominium kit. It’s like purchasing a modular home, except the pieces arrive in a do-it-yourself package with instructions.

If the design process is overwhelming and time-consuming, or you want to save some money, then prefab might be in your best interest. This is not a “turnkey” choice, Barndominium Life states, but saves you money on an architect, general contractor, and large build crew.

Do your research and make sure the company is local to your area, or willing to ship the kit without outrageous shipping costs. The layout and design options for a barndominium kit are generous and can be customized.

Worldwide Steel Buildings shows you a quick overview of how to put together a prefabricated barndominium in this video:


A custom design will need the most work, but thankfully you have followed the earlier steps first. You know what you want in your house, what design features you want, and how big you can afford to go. Now there are two options for a custom design.

  1. Take your ideas and dream board to an architect. Hiring an architect will save you the long hours laboring over graph paper or computer software. Architects are well versed in building codes and the permitting process. In addition, they can recommend a general contractor or building crew.

Greg James from GregJames Designs describes what a design professional will need to start designing your barndominium in the video below:

If you are trying to do this on the cheap, then consider choice 2.

  1. Download design software and do it yourself. There’s a learning curve with this choice, but it will save you money up-front. The design software available today allows you to build from the floor up…literally.

You simply start by drawing the walls. These programs can help you draw a basic layout (with measurements) or build a 3D model of the finished product. Each software program will have its own instructional videos to help you get started.

Barndominium Life recommends using PlanningWiz, which will allow a free trial before subscribing for $17/month for the Pro version. Chief Architect’s Barndominium Design Software is also recommended by Barndominium Life, and like Planning Wiz, offers a free trial and a rental for $199.

Here is a short demonstration video from PlanningWiz:

There’s also CAD Pro, which is old school but offers a barndominium design feature. CAD software can be purchased for $99.95.

Worldwide Steel Buildings offer a 3D design tool straight through their website. It loads a building of 30ft. x 40ft. and you use the menu to change color, windows and doors, and porches. You can then send your design straight to the team at WWSB and get a quote. Keep in mind WWSB doesn’t do interior design, but ships to all 50 states.

Once you have your plans designed, take them to a builder or general contractor to get quotes and a contract. Find the land for your barndominium, and it is off to the bank for a construction loan.


There’s so much inspiration on the internet for your barndominium design to help you get started. It can be as easy as building a dream board and finding an architect, or downloading software to design your own barndominium. Whichever route you choose, your barndo is waiting for you.