What Is/Makes a Barndominium Home? Who Coined It? What Qualifies It as a Steel Building?

What Makes a Barndominium a Home
What Makes a Barndominium a Home

The housing market has been in a continuous state of evolution in the 21st-century, with the need for more economically feasible and energy-efficient dwellings to the increasing population density. Conversions of garages and barns, as well as construction efforts to build new and more efficient homes, are on the rise, with the barndominium being one the most popular new concepts in the sector of cost-efficient housing. 

A barndominium home is typically made out of steel that is built to resemble a house with additional space for garage and porch additions. The term barndominium was coined in the late-1980s to signify a barn’s simplicity with the feel of a condominium. 

You may be wondering what a barndominium is and whether it is possible to live inside a steel building. Although the concept is relatively new, the logistics of barndominium living are on the rise. This article will explore all there is to know about this new housing craze and what sets a barndominium apart from a typical house.  

Who Created the Term Barndominium?

Although barndominiums are just now starting to take center stage in most real estate assessments, both the term and the structures themselves have been around since at least 1989. Connecticut real estate developer Karl Nilsen coined the word barndominium to refer to a new planning development to convert horse barns to a wider extension of a home all-in-one. 

The term and the concept were revived in the 2010s to reflect new housing options that prioritized economic and energy-efficient options with the minimal overall construction. 

Karl Nilson’s initial reasonings for building barndominiums may have started off as a great way to live near horses to manage horse farms better, yet his concept is just what was needed as population numbers continue to rise in more urban settings.  

Here is a video that explains more about the appeal of a barndominium and a detailed introduction to the overall building process:

What Is the Difference Between a Barndominium and a Regular House?

A barndominium is a house or a house/garage combination once the building process is finished, but it differs greatly from what we all think about when thinking of a typical house. A barndominium is built from simpler materials that cost a lot less than the many different materials needed to build a traditional house. With this in mind, there are some distinct differences between the two concepts.

Barndominiums usually have open space floor plans, which is where many different rooms are not separated from other rooms. The construction of walls in a barndominium is a bit more complicated due to the inconsistencies that arise with floor to roof design patterns. 

Take a look at this video to get a better visual idea of how a barndominium is laid out vs. a traditional house layout: 

Barndominiums are much easier to build than a traditional house. The differences between the two structures can be found in virtually every major comparison in both construction and functioning capabilities. The following chart compares the differences in popular categories between a barndominium and a traditional house. 

MaterialsBarndominiumRegular House
Build TimeApproximately 6 monthsApproximately 9 months
Cost$125 per square foot$145 per square foot
Energy Efficiency50 % less than a traditional house50% greater than a barndominium
Available SpaceAn open space floor plan creates more available spaceLess overall space due to less room partitioning

The differences between a barndominium and a traditional house are drastically different with better marks all around for a barndominium. Let’s take a look at each comparison specifically.


Barndominiums can be made of either steel or wood, but steel is the most popular type of material for barndominiums due to its relatively easy construction process and energy-efficient capabilities. A barndominium is made of steel sheets that make up the exterior and interior of the living space and metal framing to hold the unit in place. 

The easiest method for building a barndominium is to hire a contractor. The process can be completed with the purchase of a metal building kit that contains all the materials needed for construction. 

A typical metal building kit will include:

  • Red iron I-beam frames
  • Roof purlins and wall girts
  • Rod bracing and trim packaging
  • Steel fasteners and base closures for weather 
  • Clips for erecting beams

In addition to the necessary materials needed for building a steel barndominium, you will also need to ensure that you have an adequate foundation of your choosing. The hardest part of building a barndominium is the erection and fastening of the metal frames, which is explained in the following video:

Build Time

Not all barndominiums are the same, and you are free to choose the size and layout of your barndominium based on your preferred customization. No matter how large you choose to make your new home, the time it takes to construct a barndominium will be less than what it takes to construct a traditional house. Whether you are converting a barn or choosing to build a barndominium from scratch, it takes roughly six months. 

The first step in the building process is establishing a firm foundation. If you are converting a barn, you will need to have a concrete slab laid down with proper adjustments to match the existing or new frame. 

Once the foundation is in place, the framing process can begin where the beams are fastened to the steel sheets. This can take a bit longer if you are starting from a pre existing frame within a barn. 

The roof and the customization process to convert the barndominium into a traditional home is the final part of the process. The process has fewer construction techniques than what is commonly seen in the construction process of a traditional house, which typically takes nine months to a year to complete. 


The cost of building a barndominium is less than a traditional house since the process can be done all at once compared to the separate construction and framing of walls and a roof that is seen in a traditional house. A barndominium usually costs around $125 per square foot, but the costs can go as low as $30 per square foot, depending on the level of customization you want for your home. 

Since you can easily take on the building process yourself with a metal building kit, this can cut the construction costs down even lower, although you may have to sacrifice for a longer build time if you do not want to hire a contractor. 

Here is a video that explains an in-depth analysis of the cost of building a barndominium:

Energy Efficiency

Barndominiums are typically made of steel, which helps to reflect sunlight to drive down the need for increased energy consumption. Additionally, barndominiums offer easier alternatives to constructing more rooms due to the ease of applying metal partitioning to close off more open space inside of the unit. 

Since air-conditioning and heating have to work harder to cool or heat a larger space, partitioning is a great way to reduce the need for continuous temperature control.

You can also opt for prefabricated steel that features blown insulation to drive down energy costs even further. Most barndominiums are constructed with energy-efficient windows, although this is optional; energy savings can be driven down even further with these types of windows.  

Available Space

A barndominium can have as much or as little available space as you like. Many barndominium dwellers opt to keep an open space floor plan, which allows for an increase in available space than what is typically seen in a traditional house. Ceilings are usually higher than what is seen in a standard house, which gives a barndominium more vertical space.

You are free to customize your barndominium to your specifications, but if you see the most available space, the open space plan is the best bet. Room partitioning can reflect the best overall savings in terms of energy efficiency, but this is not recommended if you want to experience all of the available space a barndominium has to offer.  

What Qualifies a Barndominium to Be a Steel Building?

To avoid confusion, a barndominium can be made of wood or even other materials apart from steel, but steel is the typical material seen with these units. It is qualified to be a steel building due to nearly the entire make-up of the structure consisting of steel framing and walls. It also resembles a warehouse and can be mistaken for a typical industrial steel building without domestic touches added by the owner. 

When you see the term Barndominium, particularly in Texas, you can be assured this is referring strictly to a steel building and not another type of Barndominium home. 

Is a Barndominium Home Safe?

Barndominiums are very safe if the structure is built properly to avoid any potential scenarios for collapse. Since these buildings are usually made of solid steel, you run less at risk of suffering from a fire than you would in a traditional house. A fire has to work much harder to burn through metal, which would give a family much more time to escape from a fire when compared to a home constructed with wooden foundations. 

Barndominiums are popular in Texas and the midwest, which is the home to potentially catastrophic tornadoes. Since metal structures are more durable during power wind storms, a barndominium is much better in a tornado than a traditional house. This is also true in lighting storms since metal can spread out the heat and lessen the impact of a lightning strike. 

Pests and overall moisture also have a much harder time penetrating a steel barndominium than the ample amounts of cracks and crevices that make up a standard house. Mold and mildew are even harder to find in steel buildings due to the lack of moisture retention. 

You will be much safer inside a barndominium simply because steel is much more durable than structures framed with timber. Collapse is also not common as long as the framing and roof are secured and fastened the correct way according to construction regulations. 


A barndominium home can be a combination of living space and a garage or a fully residential home, depending on what you prefer. From the coining of the term until now, these energy-efficient and cost-effective homes have provided residents with the comforts of a home with less financial commitment and more available space. 

Most barndominiums are made of steel, which reflects a saving on monthly energy bills, but it is also easier to maintain.