If you are considering converting a barn into a real home, there is definite potential to get a unique home that has already developed character and offers a lot of space. As with any other building, it has its benefits and some potential setbacks that you need to be aware of and ready for.
Why are barns so attractive as potential homes?
One look at a barn and its magic becomes obvious - the impression it makes reminds us of Gothic churches, with its high timber frame and huge rafters and posts. There is a rough elegance to be seen in its hand-made beams and patina formed over a long period of time.
Also, a lot of people find a barn's organic look beautiful - the dried-out posts, the holes and scratches visible on the structure, and the fact that the whole barn was assembled by hand. And let's not forget the enormous space it offers.
Before you get all excited by this endeavor – know this: converting a barn doesn't just mean throwing away rusty junk that accumulated over the years, sweeping away cow manure and removing the layers of dirt with pressure cleaning - some serious work must be done, starting from the foundations and all the way to the roof.
First step - services
There is a big chance that the barn you are interested in isn't connected to the mains, as its purpose wasn't to provide living conditions, so ensuring a sewerage system, as well as water and electricity, will be your first big task.
This is also an opportunity for you to consider a green approach to energy use. For example, open spaces work great with underfloor heating provided by heat pumps, while managing to build in strong insulation without endangering the original construction is another eco step for you.
Obtaining permissions from planners
Before starting any actual work, be sure to obtain detailed work permissions and planning. The following list is just naming several things to be prepared for:
- planners are not really up for big alterations when it comes to external appearance. It means it could influence the final number of windows and doors.
- you could also be asked for drawings of the inside elevations, as planners need to assess what modern additions can be realized without damaging the building.
- buildings in conservation areas can often be subject to conversion only if you follow certain rules and restrictions.
As you can see from this, even if you’re up for doing a large part of the project yourself, you’ll have to consult professionals first. Here in Sydney, remedial builders usually offer heritage works and alterations at affordable prices, as well as obtaining planning permission for the client. No matter where you happen to be, try to find a building company that’s experienced in remedial building and offers a wide variety of services and consultations with clients. The starting point of a building conversion should always be a good collaboration between the owner and professionals.
In general, the way you are going to arrange the rooms will be limited by the location of internal structural walls. Most of the barns are usually long and narrow, so the best decision would be to have a central hallway - this way, it will be easy to circulate through the barn and to show the size of the space in all its glory.
Another cool idea is to have two separate staircases, that will lead to two bedrooms, one for you and another one for the guests on the other side of the barn, which gives you all some privacy.
Natural light can pose a problem in a barn, as barns usually have small ventilation openings and huge cart door. Planners will probably avoid adding new windows to the main elevation, but there could be some windows or door added on the secondary elevation. Also, try using roof lights or glazed roof panels. And stick to the open plan arrangement of the barn, as it will use the most from natural light. In order to keep the open plan really spacious, make sure you don't make the rooms crowded with stuff. Find another way to storage things that you occasionally use and leave the main rooms airy and open.
It's possible the exterior walls will need some repairs, and the insulation will probably have to be added to the internal side of them. Another option is to build new partition walls that match in material, so as not to change the original style. If the barn is made of timber, the insulation is that much easier. The important thing is to do repairs on the original walls whenever possible, and add changes only when absolutely necessary.
If there's a considerate volume of the barn, it may be possible to add more floors to it. The slope of the roof may limit you to some extent, but the trusses can be slightly adapted to create the first floor at least.
Maybe you'll need to remove the existing floor. In that case, check if the existing stone or brick can be used as a support to the new floor.
Of course, these are only some of the various challenges you will face if you decide to make your barn your new home. Still, you get the overall image of the amount of work that is ahead of, but one thing is for sure - if the job is done right, the results are more than satisfying.
Published by Cate Palmer