Are Barn Conversions Really Worth The Money?
A Barn Conversion is exactly what it says it is, ie a barn which is no longer used for it's former purpose and has been converted to a different use such as a commercial or residential dwelling. Barns we're usually close to the farmhouse and would have been used for storing grain or fodder for animals; housing animals such as cows and horses; or places for food production or storage. Often the stables and barns we're the buildings where the business of the farms and manor houses took place so they were built to last and keep out the weather. They we're often much better built than the cottages which housed the workers and farm labourers. So it doesn't take much leap of imagination to see that once no longer needed for the intended purpose their use could be changed to provide much needed homes.
History of the Barn Conversion
About thirty or forty years ago there was a sudden spate of new dwellings known as barn conversions. I am not saying barns had never been converted into houses before but suddenly they we're all the rage. The barns attached to farms that we're no longer being used for their intended purpose became a source of capital for struggling farmers. The change in farm practices such as combine harvester's, meant that some of the barns previously used as threshing barns we're no longer needed for that purpose. What had once been a low value farm buildings could be capitalized on as building land and there was a spate of a new type of dwelling that quickly earned the nickname 'Dez Rez' for desirable residences.
The fact that barn conversions we're original old buildings yet could be renovated to a high standard while at the same time retaining their original features such as exposed beams or hay stalls, made them different from the average box type house available on the market at the time.
After the war there was an urgent need for housing and lots of homes we're put up very quickly and as cheaply as possible to house the many families left destitute after the bombing. As the standard of living improved many people wanted their own home and builders ever willing to supply to demand, built thousands of three bedroom homes to a standard design. Suddenly our country was filling up with lots of little box type housing with no character.
Now when large manor type houses are too expensive to run, they are sold off to developers who then convert the main building into flats and apartments, the barns into individual houses and building more houses on the land around the original buildings. My daughter bought her first house in one such development and her house was the original stable building with a large opening for the carriage which was converted into a large arch shaped window. It was certainly different and had lots of character with very high ceilings and lovely open plan spaces. It also proved to be a good investment in the long run.
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Types of Barns
There are a wonderful variety of barns around the country and that is why they are so popular. The original farmers used local materials that we're readily available for their barns so they vary greatly depending on the area in which they we're constructed. Again this is part of their appeal because although some may be similar you will rarely find two exactly the same.
For instance Lincolnshire has barns made with flint stones where the walls look like cement with the stones imbedded in it making an interesting pattern. These can also be found in Sussex. In the Cotswolds there are wonderful stone barns and in East Anglia clay lump.
Barns that we're originally designed for use as a threshing barn would have a large door opening for the cart to deliver the grain. There would be a raised threshing floor where the wheat was separated from the chaff and ventilation openings opposite the door to create that all important through draft for winnowing.
Near the farmhouse barns we're built to be used as milking sheds and dairies, then there we're storage barns for fodder and food as well as stables for the horses. Further away there we're barns built in fields for sheltering livestock. Often the outbuildings on a farm we're much more extensive than the farmhouse itself. Added to those mentioned above there we're the huge tithe barns used to store the church's tax of 10% from parishioners.
Finding a Barn
Finding and converting a barn is no easy task. With the new regulations in place barns available for conversion are diminishing rapidly. Opposite to my own house there we're two quite large brick built barns which the farmer sold to a developer. Being built of brick they we're in a bad state of repair, but instead of converting them the builder pulled them down and built two large modern houses on the site. He used the old bricks and created interesting features on the houses to indicate where the barns had been but they we're too far gone to be able to be useful for residential dwellings.
Many old barns are now considered by National Heritage to be buildings of historic or architectural interest and as such are listed either on a Statutory or local list. This means that listed building consent is required for alteration, extension or demolition of any statutory listed building. Where other barns are deemed worthy of protection they are placed on a borough's local list and will be available from the local borough council. It is then up to the local council to regulate any changes to the building.
A barn that is listed either as a grade I or grade II building will have an additional set of issues for conversion. It will need to be sympathetically repaired, protected and restored with original materials and workmanship involving extra costs of labour and materials.
Conservationists believe that preserving the original structure is the main criteria and non residential purpose is likely to avoid major alteration to the building.
Finding a potential barn conversion for sale is quite a challenge but there are still quite a few you there if you search for them.
Construction and Planning
Since the indiscriminate conversion of barns in the 70?s and 80?s to housing units, there has been a change of policy by the local planning authorities. Now there is a ruling in some areas which states that a barn must be declared redundant for farm purposes. Then the new use should preferably be agricultural or light commercial, or even craft shops and community resources before being accepted for residential conversion.
Each local borough council will have their own regulations regarding their policies on conversion of rural buildings into residential dwellings. So if you fall in love with a crumbling ruin or anyone involved with converting a barn or outbuilding would be wise to find out the regulations in the area the barn is situated before you buy. Some policies will be universal throughout the country such as listed buildings or of historic or architectural interest. Generally the outside of the barn is required to retain it's original appearance without the addition of extra windows and doors.
The process of getting planning permission can be very long winded. There have to be surveys for various habitation such as bats and barn owls. In damp areas one such problem can be the blue crested newt where only specially trained people can handle them and their presence can delay the process of building for a year or more. There might have to be contamination reports or archaeological report.
On top of that there are the infrastructure issues. They may be some services connected such as electricity and water but consideration may also need to be given to sewage and gas and what the costs are of bringing such services to the building. Because the barn buildings are old then beetle infestation, timber rot, or vermin infestations will need to be treated and made good.
Old timbers found in barns are often so badly damaged that repairing in the traditional way may not be possible. However there are new resin bonding techniques to repair most structural timbers that suffer from wet or dry rot, timber splits and shakes where beams, joists and rafters can be repaired without removing the ceiling.
Although the original barn building would have been constructed before our current building regulations, they are still required to comply with the strict standards now in existence. The heat loss standards are a challenge particularly with large open spaces and fire regulations and structural stability can also be tricky to comply with.
When barns we're originally constructed there was little concern for protection against damp as they we're designed for agricultural use. They we're built without a damp course and salt contamination is often a problem. One of the major tasks when converting a barn is to resolve the issues of damp. As barns we're typically made from a wide range of materials, there is no one specific solution to all damp problems.
Not for the feint hearted barn renovations are almost guaranteed to throw up unexpected challenges, and you need to be ready to cope with them, they are generally expensive!
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Building Regulations and Costs
The special ambience and character that a converted barn has is what makes them very desirable. Prospective owners will have a feeling for the building, saying things like "When we first saw the building we just fell in love with it" Often that just means that they projected their desires and dreams onto the building imagining the life style they want will be achieved by living in that particular building.Those kinds of life decisions can often be the most expensive ones!
This means that the heart is ruling the head and sometimes means that no matter what it costs they have to have it. That is fine if you have an unlimited source of revenue to lay out, but it can be dangerous to allow spending to get out of hand so that you end up bankrupting yourself for a passion.
So let us look at the reality of converting a barn.They we're built to keep the rain out and let the air in, so they will be very draughty. They we're often put up by labourers with no real building and structural knowledge, so that there might be severe structural difficulties. The beams and walls we're built to only take the stresses of the necessary inner divisions at the time but modern regulations may require extra structural supports and strengthening to take the load of the new services required.
Barns we're never heated because they we're work places, but once you convert a barn into a dwelling it will be heated usually with central heating which will dry out the structure causing it to shrink and develop cracks that could let in water. Further services such as gas and sewage will no doubt have to be installed and improved.
A damp proof system and maybe other damp solutions will need to be included in the renovation. The restrictions on inserting windows and doors may create design problems that make the interior uncomfortably dark. Heat loss prevention is now part of the building regulations requirement and barns may not be suitable for such procedures, so further work may be necessary to comply with modern standards.
Once you have found your barn and had it surveyed and if you still want to go ahead with your barn conversion then a good architect, surveyor and builders are essential for the success of the project.
The idea of a barn conversion may be appealing because of it's ambience and character and space that it offers. However, although zero rated for VAT purposes, barn conversions are generally much more expensive than building a new house.
Converting a barn is a much more complex process than it seems because when they we're originally constructed they we're outside of any building regulations and so to comply with modern day standards they almost always need major structural alterations.
The bias against residential conversion is because too many early renovations just became glorified houses and lost the original barn effect by adding extra doors and windows. Now the strict planning regulations are aimed at deterring conversions into residential use, the preference being to retain the agricultural use of a barn or to change the use to some kind of commercial application.
Notwithstanding that, the completed barn conversion, in the correct setting, is a satisfying and beautiful sight, affording the owner and builder a sense of satisfaction and achievement.
The key indicator of success is that the barn still looks like a barn after the conversion, although it is your home inside and offers you all of the luxuries and amenities of a modern executive home.
I do hope you thought this was interesting. I will point out that the idea was suggested by Kevin at Burlington PCS. always love thoughts and opinions.
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Posted in Renovations Post Date 01/19/2015