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Which is cheaper to build Barndominium or house?

When considering building a new home, two popular options are a traditional house or a barndominium. Barndominiums have been growing in popularity in recent years as an affordable and unique home design. But when it comes to total construction costs, which option is more budget-friendly? There are a lot of factors to weigh when comparing the costs of a barndominium versus a traditional house build.

What is a Barndominium?

A barndominium is a home built using the framework of a metal agricultural barn. The interior is then customized and finished to create a living space. Barndominiums are known for having an open floor plan, exposed beams, high ceilings, and industrial inspired design elements. While the origins of barndominiums come from repurposing old barns, many are now built new from the ground up specifically to be residential homes.

Barndominium Cost Factors

When estimating the total cost to build a barndominium, here are some of the main factors to consider:

  • Barn kit – The prefabricated metal barn frame and shell is one of the biggest upfront expenses for a barndominium. Barn kits can range from $20,000 to $50,000+ depending on size.
  • Concrete foundation and slab – Since the structure is heavy, a barndominium requires poured concrete foundation and floors. This can cost $15,000 to $30,000+.
  • Framing and walls – While the exterior frame is included, the interior walls still need framing and drywall. This can cost around $15,000 to $25,000.
  • Insulation – Insulating a barndominium is critical for energy efficiency and comfort. Spray foam insulation costs $1.50-$2 per square foot.
  • HVAC system – Heating and cooling a large open space requires an HVAC system sized for the building. System and installation can range from $7,000 to $15,000.
  • Plumbing – Running water lines, drains, septic tank, and sewer lines can add $10,000 to $25,000+.
  • Electric – Wiring a barndominium can cost around $10,000 to $15,000 depending on size.
  • Finishings – Flooring, kitchen, bathrooms, lighting, painting are required finishes. This can cost at least $20,000 to $50,000.

Other potential costs are permitting, site preparation, exterior finishes, and metal roofing. When adding up the low and high estimates for the major cost components above, the total cost to build a basic barndominium can range from around $150,000 to over $300,000.

House Cost Factors

Building a traditional single family house also has significant expenses including:

  • Land acquisition – This can vary tremendously based on location.
  • Permits – Building permits average $2,000-$4,000 for a single family home.
  • Site prep – Clearing land, grading, excavation costs around $15,000 on average.
  • Foundation – Poured concrete or slab foundation can cost $20,000 to $50,000+.
  • Framing labor & materials – Roughly $20,000 to $40,000 depending on materials and size.
  • Roofing – Asphalt shingle roofing averages $10,000 to $30,000.
  • Siding – Brick, stucco, vinyl or wood siding averages $15,000 to $25,000.
  • Insulation – Essential for energy efficiency, averages $1,500-$4,000.
  • HVAC system – Can range from $7,000 to $15,000+ for equipment and ductwork.
  • Plumbing – Water lines, drainage, septic adds $10,000 to $25,000.
  • Electric – Typically costs $5,000 to $10,000.
  • Drywall & paint – Interior drywall and paint averages $15,000.
  • Cabinets & countertops – KitchenSetup costs $10,000 to $30,000.
  • Flooring – Hardwood, tile, etc. Can cost $3,000 to $15,000.
  • Bathroom fixtures – Showers, toilets, vanity cost around $5,000 to $10,000 per bath.
  • Landscaping – Sprinkler systems, plants, trees average $5,000 to $20,000.

Adding up the low and high estimates, a basic single family home can cost between $150,000 to $350,000+ to build depending on the finishes and location. Even a very basic starter home will likely cost at least $150,000 to construct.

Cost Comparison

When comparing the cost factors side-by-side, constructing a barndominium versus building a house have many overlapping expenses. Both require land acquisition, site preparation, foundations, framing, roofing, insulation, HVAC, plumbing, electric, interior finishes, and more. The main differences come down to:

  • Barn kit – This is the primary expense unique to barndominiums, averaging $20k-$50k.
  • Siding – Barndominiums use metal, houses use other finishes.
  • Drywall – More needed in traditional house builds.

Here is a table comparing the estimated price ranges for key cost components:

Cost Factor Barndominium House
Barn Kit/Framing $20k – $50k $20k – $40k
Foundation $15k – $30k $20k – $50k
Siding Included $15k – $25k
Insulation $1.50 – $2 psf $1.5k – $4k
HVAC $7k – $15k $7k – $15k
Plumbing $10k – $25k $10k – $25k
Electric $10k – $15k $5k – $10k
Drywall Minimal $15k
Total Estimate $150k – $300k+ $150k – $350k+

Looking at the typical price ranges, barndominiums and houses have very similar total costs. In some cases barndominiums may be slightly cheaper if less drywall finishing is required. But the costs are comparable for most standard build comparisons.

Cost Per Square Foot

Another useful comparison is to look at cost per square foot. This helps normalize the size difference. Typical per square foot costs range from:

  • Barndominium – $75 – $150 psf
  • House – $100 – $200 psf

Again, the price ranges show barndominiums can be on the lower end of per square foot costs. But there is significant overlap with standard house construction costs per square foot as well.

Financing Differences

One key difference to factor is the availability of financing. Constructing a new traditional house allows the use of a construction loan which can roll into a traditional mortgage. Barndominiums are sometimes limited to personal/cash loans since some areas categorize them as “agricultural.” So construction financing can affect the all-in cost comparison if qualifying for a loan is an issue.

Resale Value Differences

Resale value also merits consideration. Traditional homes generally appreciate steadily and have broad buyer appeal. Barndominiums may have a more niche buyer pool. Rural properties allow barndominiums to blend well, but some housing markets may discount barndominium value versus traditional houses when it comes time to sell.

Converting Existing Barns

If considering converting an existing barn, this alters the math. Re-purposing a barn removes the barn kit purchase cost. However, there are typically higher renovation costs for electrical, plumbing, insulation, abatement, etc. Converting an existing barn can still cost $100k – $250k+. But it saves on having to purchase the shell.

Ongoing Ownership Costs

Energy efficiency is an important ongoing cost factor. Barndominiums require careful insulation and HVAC design. But their open layout leaves more surface area vulnerable to heat loss and gain. Traditionally-framed homes divide space more efficiently for energy use. Ownership costs over time may be higher for barndominiums in some climates.

Aesthetic Preferences

Personal style also impacts the comparison. Many are drawn to barndominiums for their rustic, farmhouse character. Others prefer the look of traditional suburban homes. While cost is crucial, lifestyle and design tastes matter too.


In summary, the total upfront construction costs for barndominiums and houses are quite comparable in most cases. Barndominiums can achieve some savings due to simpler finishes and lack of drywall. But traditional framing also offers efficiencies. Overall, the cost differences are not major between the two options. The choice often comes down to:

  • Available construction financing
  • Intended resale value
  • Energy efficiency considerations
  • Personal style preferences

For those drawn to the wide-open and industrial barndominium aesthetic, the style often outweighs small potential cost differences. Barndominiums remain one of the most cost-effective ways to achieve a very unique home tailored to specific tastes. But from a pure construction budget perspective, costs are reasonably similar whether building a barndominium or traditional house in most situations.