There is a trend lately to find unique and affordable housing and many have turned to converting a barn into a home. In my area of East Tennessee, there are some fine examples of this including the one I converted.
It’s needless to say that there are many barns in various shapes and sizes all around. A vast majority are in bad shape. Please don’t make the mistake of buying one that is labeled a unique fixer upper opportunity. Don’t fool yourself. If a barn has gotten into the shape where the siding boards are starting to fall off, unless you’re buying it for parts, my suggestion is to leave it alone. By the time the boards start falling off the sides, there’s major flaws. The main trouble would probably be that the horizontal beams are rotting and the fasteners are turning loose.
The best candidate for remodeling would be one that was painted on the exterior walls and roof. This means that it was at least maintained to a certain degree by it’s owners over the years. If your barn has some age on it, it would probably be best to first find all the areas that have been effected by weather or urine from the livestock that was kept in that barn. Animal urine sometimes has a high acid content and anything that has been contaminated with it really needs to be removed from the structure.
Look especially in the loft areas where hay may have been stored close to the outside walls. Chances are there may have been some rain water that had soaked in through the hay bales. This is where you will find most of any rotting of the floor boards. Take a look at the underside of the roof. If you see pinholes and sunlight coming through, water can also seep in. You’ll either have to replace the tin roofing where you find these holes or dab the holes with a tar patch and then coat the roof with a fibered aluminum paint.
Inspect the interior walls and see what types of columns are used in your barn. 99% of all barns in the US are post and beam construction. If your posts are buried in the ground, check and see if there is any type of rotting. Older barns will probably not have pressure treated wood in their construction. If your barn is built with a wide open floor area, you are most certainly going to have to build masonry piers inside to support your floors and walls and also find a way to tie the existing walls into the new support system.
Check to see that the horizontal beams are not loose or if there is rotting between them and the columns. Look at the top plates for rot from water damage. If your columns are mounted on a rock or cinder block, check the bottoms of the columns for rotting.
Consult your local building inspector to make sure you can get the proper permits if needed. In my part of the country, building permits for remodeling are not required if you are in the county but your local codes may be different. It would be a shame to buy the barn only to find the powers that be will not grant the necessary permissions.
When I first began my project, all I had to work with was the old, empty barn. Being an old structure it was necessary to examine the entire building to make sure there wasn’t any type of structural flaws. Thank goodness there was only one place that had to be bolstered. The inside front left corner was starting to slide off it’s foundation stone. I solved that problem by hooking the column to my tractor and winching it back into place with a come-along. Then I built a buttress beside the column to keep it from moving again.
Tim Davis is a veteran Architectural Designer who also teaches architecture and drafting over the internet at http://houseplandrafting.us.