Barndominiums are often praised for their durability, customizability, and affordability, but are they truly cheaper than a traditional home? The truth is hidden in the building costs and added features of the house.
Barndominiums are, on average, cheaper than a house. Traditional homes cost around $115-$145 per square foot to build, while barndominiums cost between $70 and $90 per square foot on average. Much of this is thanks to the barndo “kits,” which include the exterior walls and roof at a lower cost.
This is not to say that you can’t possibly spend more on a barndominium. Of course, you could. But the average cost of building this new fad-home is generally lower than a traditional one. In this article, we’ll compare the reasons why this is, and take a look at the costs of construction, side-by-side.
How a Traditional House Is Built
To better understand the cost differences between the two living accommodations, we should walk through how both of them are built. Much of the cost of building a traditional home comes not only from the materials but from human labor. Framing and finishing are extensive processes, and the hours it takes to complete them add up. Let’s take a look at the process of building a traditional home.
Designing the Home
While this is technically a pre-building step, it’s important to consider when comparing the costs of both styles of house. Traditional homes will often be designed by an architect that you hire to create a custom floor plan for your lot. The cost of this is, on average, from $2,500 to $8,000 US.
Note that this number is only for the first drawn plan of the home. It doesn’t include any revisions that may happen along the way, nor any electrical works or cabinetry. Once you’ve included all of these extras, you’re looking at an average price of $37,500 US.
Site Prep and Laying the Foundation
Once your architect has finished your plans, and you’ve sent them to the local government for approval, you can obtain the permits necessary to start the actual construction.
The first step in this process is to prep the lot, removing any necessary features like bushes, trees, or existing structures. Sometimes the lot needs to be leveled as well, which would happen at this time.
Once the site is fully prepped, then the foundation can be laid. Houses with basements will have more extensive digging and framing happen here, while bungalows will have more simple, but still sturdy, foundations laid. The average cost to build a foundation in the US is $9,260. This is on top of the site prep fees, which averages $2,700.
Framing the House
This next step involves the erection of the skeleton of the house, which refers to the floor, roof, and wall systems. Wooden beams are set up to outline the walls, hallways, and doorways. Rough framing of a 3,000 square foot house costs $48,000 US on average.
Installation of Plumbing, HVAC, Siding, Roofing, and Electrical
After the house has been framed, the plumbing and air conditioning and heating systems are installed. The exterior siding and roof are installed at this point as well. Once the walls and roof are complete, the electrician is able to start their job. They must wait until the walls and roof are up to do so so that the electrics are protected from the rain.
Drywall and Interior Trim
One of the most exciting steps for homeowners is seeing the interior walls go up. This is when you know you’re in the final stages of homebuilding. Drywall for a 3,000 square foot home costs, on average, $2 per square foot. That puts the cost of drywall at $6,000 for that size of a house.
After the drywall is installed over the insulation, the preliminary base coat of paint is applied. Next, the baseboards, doorways, and windowsills are installed. $1,240 is the average cost to install trim on the interior of a new home.
Exterior Finishes, Walkways, and Driveway
Now that most of the heavy-duty machines are finished being on the property, the driveway can be completed. Exterior wall treatments are also happening, like stucco, bricking, or stone. The cost to stucco a new home is $4,417, on average.
Interior Flooring, Fixtures, Doors, and Mirrors
Lastly comes the installation of all of the finishing features. Flooring, facets, and french doors are finally set in place. This is the exciting last step before final inspections and, ultimately, moving in. The cost of this stage is ultimately dependent on the types of finishings you choose, and you’ll find costs here similar to barndominiums.
How a Barndominium Is Built
Now we’ll look at the process of how a barndominium is built. Some things that are unique about these buildings are the one-piece steel walls and nearly limitless ceiling heights.
Designing the Home
Just like with a traditional home, the first step to building a barndominium is to settle on a design. However, the unique thing about these homes is that there are plenty of pre-made designs to choose from. The companies that offer these designs sell the materials needed to erect the house as well.
These materials usually include walls, the roof, and sometimes, the concrete foundation slab. The average price for a barndominium design and skeleton is $20 per square foot. Suppose we look at a 3,000 square foot house, that $60,000 US. That seems like a high price, but it saves many of the steps that were required in the traditional home, and it includes design and materials.
What this does not include, however, is the labor needed actually to build the home. Depending on the availability of local companies in your area, and of their knowledge and rates, you could find yourself paying just as much for a barndominium, if not more, than a regular house. Barndo construction is still considered a specialization in much of the USA, so ask your local barndominium construction companies about their rates before you commit.
Site Prep and Laying the Foundation
Just like with the traditional home, barndominiums require site preparation and foundations. Site preparation costs are the same, while the foundations are often included in the price of the barndominium kit. If they aren’t, then the foundation costs are similar to that of a common home.
Erecting the Steel Frame
Similar to the rough framing of a traditional home, a barndominium needs a framework to support the walls and ceiling. With a barndo, this frame is made of steel and is erected with more concern to the support of the steel than to the layout of features such as windows and doors. This means that overall, you have less flexibility with the placement of these things that with a regular home.
Raising the Walls
One of the most satisfying elements of the barndominium’s building process is the raising of the walls and the roof/ceiling. One of the most attractive things about barndominiums is that the shell of the barndominium goes up extremely quickly, with some builders having the exterior up in as little as two weeks. This means that not only do you wait less time to move in, but you pay less in labor.
Another great feature of barndominiums is that, if you live in a warm climate with little precipitation, your roof is your ceiling. There doesn’t need to be a high-pitched roof, and there doesn’t need any extra finishing on the interior of the roof (aka the ceiling). This saves a lot of time and money.
As with a traditional home, barndominiums need insulation to regulate the temperature of the building. The materials are usually the same as with a regular house: fiberglass, cellulose, or foam.
Building Out the Interior
The next step in building a barndominium is to develop and install all of the interior features. This includes the framing for walls and doorways, the cutting and installing of windows, and the hook-ups for electrical, plumbing, and HVAC.
If you thought that you could avoid framing altogether with a barndominium, it’s unfortunately not true. Any interior rooms and walls that you need to make the building a home still require framing and insulation, like any other house.
You could skip this step, but then you’d be living in a massive, echoey, rectangle. Your builder will have their rates per square foot, but you can expect them to be similar to that of a traditional home, minus the exterior walls.
Exterior Finishes and Landscaping
With each barndominium that gets built in the world, there’s another addition of personal preference. Many people enjoy customizing the exterior of their barndominiums and using the outside as one of the ways they can put their spin on the template they’ve ordered. You can finish the exterior of your barndominium with brick, wood, stone, or any other aesthetic attachment.
The landscaping can also be installed at this point. Since barndominiums tend to be more simplistic on the exterior, many people invest more in landscaping and outside features. The addition of wainscotting or colorful flowers can do wonders to make these metal buildings feel like a home.
Interior Flooring, Fixtures, Doors, and Mirrors
Much to the surprise of first-time barndominium viewers, these types of homes can have all of the same interior fixtures and finishings as a regular home. Hardwood flooring, wallpaper, and vaulted ceiling fans can all be installed in a barndominium if desired. Often, though, people opt to stain the concrete foundation and take advantage of the floor that’s already there.
This only really works if you live somewhere warm year-round. People who live in areas of the USA that vary in temperature often prefer to install flooring. One of the most attractive flooring options is another concrete slab poured over a radiant heating system. This will heat your floors in the winter, making the concrete affordable, yet pleasant to walk on.
Watch this video to see an example of radiant heat installation:
As with a traditional home, the cost of finishing your barndominium will depend on the scale of features that you select.
Comparing Costs Side by Side
Now that we understand what is involved with building both traditional houses and barndominiums, we can do a side by side comparison. This will allow us to see if choosing a barndominium will truly save you money.
|Stage of Building
|Cost for Traditional House (est.)
|Cost for Barndo (est.)
|Included in plan
|Included in plan
Examining the Differences
As you can see, barndominiums can be much cheaper to build than traditional houses. Keep in mind that these numbers are just an estimate, and in no way guarantee a lower building cost.
Let’s explore some of the reasons why barndominiums are cheaper in greater detail.
Lower Labor Costs
Because barndominiums are faster to build than traditional homes, the labor costs are much lower. The main area where these numbers show is in the time it takes to erect the exterior walls or the “skeleton” of the building. Laborers can take as long as one month to frame a 3,000 square foot wooden house. Barndos, however, can go up in as little as one week.
On top of that, regular homes need to have their roofs fully installed before essential interior work can begin, such as electricity. Barndominiums have their roofs/ ceilings installed with their walls so that the interior features can be installed much sooner.
While steel is more expensive than wood, ordering a steel home plan from a barndominium designer makes for more affordable materials than getting wood custom ordered, cut, and installed for a home.
The main reason for this is that the companies that build and prep the barndominium designs can offer more affordable prices on the structures. They can create all of the buildings in a few warehouses and send you the pieces afterward. This is the same principle as to why manufactured homes are so cheap.
Multiple Elements Included in One Purchase
Another reason that makes barndominiums so much cheaper than regular homes is the fact that so many of the home’s elements are included in one purchase. Picking out a prefabricated barndominium is the home builder’s equivalent of buying a meal kit.
The companies buy the materials on a mass scale, which makes them more affordable for them. They then pass on just the right amount of material to you, which you can put together. In this kit, they can include foundation, walls, and roof. They can even include garages, porches, or workrooms if you desire.
While you still pay more than the materials’ cost, you pay less than the traditional home-builder who buys each element from a different company.
No Exterior Siding Needed
Another way that barndominiums beat regular homes is in the area of exterior siding. With a barndominium, your walls are your exterior siding. The steel is durable enough and attractive enough to serve as the exterior of your home.
Of course, as with any home finishing, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. When your entire home is finished in the uniform texture of steel, it is a bit monotonous. Many people choose to add finishings, like brick overlay, to improve the outward appearance of their barndominium. This will, of course, add to the total cost, but with the amount that you’re saving, it seems okay.
Why Are Barndominium Cheaper to Own?
Not only are barndominiums cheaper to build, but they are cheaper to own, long term. There are a few key reasons for this that we will explore below.
Steel, which most barndominiums are made of, is extremely durable and is impervious to rot. The damp, dank weather, which is so deadly to wooden buildings, has little to no effect on steel. The material can still rust, but advanced home treatments increase the medium’s ability to withstand these damaging conditions.
Steel also does not warp, meaning that harsh winds or temperatures will not cause the building to lean or bow. Steel is a great option for homes in all sorts of climates, especially those that are hot and dry. The steel home also will not combust or light on fire in any circumstance. If you live in an area of the US that is prone to wildfires, a steel home is a perfect solution to the risk.
Since these steel structures are so durable, the long-term maintenance of the homes is much cheaper. There’s no exterior repainting, no re-shingling of the roof. And you won’t have to fight termites or mold, something you’ll only truly appreciate when you see a neighbor go through it.
Savings After the Homes Are Built
Not only does steel withstand heat and flame, but it is also strong enough to withstand many other natural disasters. This strength means that many insurance companies offer lower insurance rates for steel buildings.
Most barndominiums are much more energy efficient in their regular counterparts. A lot of this has to do with the ENERGY STAR rated windows, doors, and appliances. Steel buildings take special care to install these types of features, as keeping the cold out is key with the metal buildings.
Another main feature of energy saving in a barndominium is the insulation. If you decide to go with a barndominium instead of a traditional home, make sure to stress the importance of insulation to your builder. If you live somewhere that experiences all seasons, then insulating the roof of your barndominium is key.
On average, barndominiums are 30 to 40% cheaper than traditional wooden homes. Of course, how much cheaper comes down to what level of customization you want in your barndominium, and whether or not you furnish the home with luxury finishings. Overall, even if your barndominium does somehow run a higher cost than to build a regular home, the amount you’ll save over time is probably worth it.
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- New Home Source: A Step-by-step Guide to the Home Building Process
- Home Advisor: Insulation
- Home Advisor: Drywall Installation
- Home Advisor: Install Trim
- Home Advisor: Stucco Siding
- WD Metal Buildings: Barndominium Building Process
- Home Advisor: Metal Home Kit Prices
- Metal Building Homes: Barndominiums
- Harvster: Building Our Barndominium House
- Go Barndo: 7 Ways To Make A Metal Building Look Like Home
- Barndominium Life: Barndominium Cost vs. House: What’s the Difference?
- Remodeling Professionals: How Long Does it Take to Frame a House
- Home Guides: The Pros and Cons of Buying a Manufactured House
- Morton Buildings: New Morton Home Exceeds Energy Efficiency Standards