Are Barns for Animals to live in and not for Humans?

Barn conversions have become a trend to a great extent. Originally, barns were farm buildings widely used for sheltering livestock, storing fodder, farm products, farm machinery, etc. However, their conversion for residential and commercial use became popular in the late 20th century.

Author: George Nicola
Author: George Nicola

George is a seasoned interior designer and property marketing strategist with over 13 years of experience. He specializes in transforming properties into visually stunning spaces, helping clients recognize the potential and beauty in each property. With an impressive international client base of exciting projects throughout Europe and America.

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, we will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and finalize a purchase.

Buying a Barn to Convert - 15 tips to consider before you buy

  1. Check zoning and regulations
    Make sure your property is zoned to allow for residential use. There may be restrictions on what you can build.
  2. Hire an inspector
    Have a professional inspector examine the barn’s structure, roof, foundation etc. to uncover any major issues.
  3. Consider accessibility
    Ensure there is adequate road access to the barn. Limited access can make construction difficult and expensive.
  4. Research utilities
    Find out if water, sewer, electricity etc. can be connected and budget for it. Lack of utilities can add significant costs.
  5. Plan for foundation work
    Most barns lack proper foundations, so plan for excavation and new foundation work in your budget.
  6. Account for demolition
    If parts of the barn are dilapidated, account for demolition and disposal costs in your budget.
  7. Mind the floors
    Barn floors are often uneven dirt or thin concrete. Leveling and installing new floors adds expense.
  8. Prepare for insulation
    Barns lack insulation. Spray foam, rigid boards etc. will be needed to insulate walls and ceilings.
  9. Consider roof repairs
    Many barn roofs need repairs or full replacement to make them weather-tight. This can be costly.
  10. Watch for asbestos
    If the barn has asbestos siding or roofing, removal by a licensed professional will add major expense.
  11. Research permits
    Determine what permits are required, including any zoning exceptions or variances. Permit costs add up.
  12. Hire professionals
    Barn conversions require expertise in engineering, architecture etc. Their fees need to be budgeted.
  13. Create a realistic budget
    A detailed, realistic budget is essential. Expect higher costs than a typical home build.
  14. Arrange financing
    Specialized construction loans or lines of credit are needed to fund staged barn conversions.
  15. Be ready for surprises
    Even with careful planning, expect the unexpected. Have contingency funds for surprises.

The most vivid additions to the old agricultural buildings are windows and chimneys, which completely alters their historic character.

Read on to know why barn conversions are popular and how you can convert one into a unique residential property.

I will also explain how to invest your money in these agricultural buildings resourcefully.

What is a Barn Conversion?

A barn conversion refers to the process of renovating a disused agricultural building and turning it into a habitable contemporary house, family home, office, studio space, or even a holiday inn. Old barns are usually spacious with high ceilings that can provide you with the ideal form, character, and materials to construct your desired residential or commercial space.

The popularity of barn conversions began in the 1980s when most landowners stopped using them as farm buildings. In 2014, planning restrictions for barn conversions relaxed, which prompted people to capitalize on converting them into stunning homes without the need to seek planning permission.

Is Barn Conversion a Good Investment?

Barn conversions are not only a good investment, but also a lucrative one because they are unique and popular among buyers in rural areas. The barns are usually very spacious to fit any new home. If you are new to investing in barn conversions, we advise you to hire the services of a professional company to help you make the right property selections in an ideal location.

Ideally, the cost of already converted barns are more less the same as a conventional house of the same size. However, if you want to buy an old barn to convert on your own, it can be slightly expensive compared to building a house from scratch.

At TALLBOX we reached out to Christopher Birt, architect and owner of Christopher-david.co.uk, to answer some key questions on converting old barns into residential homes. With decades of hands-on experience transforming historic barns across the British countryside, Mr. Birt provides his insights from the front lines of this increasingly popular renovation trend.

What is the typical cost range to convert a barn?

A “typical” cost estimate for a straightforward conversion of a structurally sound 100 sq m barn in the UK could range from £200,000-£250,000+, but there are many variables that affect specific projects. Getting professional advice on the specific barn is essential.

Christopher Birt working on a barn conversion drawing for their Wall House project
Christopher Birt working on a barn conversion drawing for their Wall House project

Christopher: There is no single “typical” cost for converting a barn into a residential home in the UK, as the costs can vary dramatically depending on the size and condition of the barn, as well as the extent of the renovation required. 

However, here is some general guidance on barn conversion costs in the UK:

  • Size – Costs typically range from £1,500-£2,500 per square metre for a basic conversion, up to £3,000+ per sq m for a high-end finish. So for a 100 sq m barn, costs could start from £150,000 up to £300,000+.
  • Condition – Barns in poor structural condition or that need extensive repairs will be at the higher end of the cost range. Costs start lower for sound, watertight structures.
  • Specification – The more extensive the renovation, including new foundations, excavation works, insulation, electrics, plumbing, fittings (kitchen, bathrooms etc), the higher the costs. Basic, functional conversions are cheaper.
  • Location – There is some regional variation in build costs, with London and the South East at the top end.
  • Professional Fees – Architects, structural engineers, project managers etc can add 15-20%+ to the build costs.

Why a good architect is key for barn conversions?

Christopher: A skilled architect experienced in barn conversions is one of the most valuable members of your project team. They understand the unique structural and design challenges posed by these aging rural buildings and how to transform them into inviting modern homes.

More so than a typical new build, barn conversions require an architect able to develop creative spatial solutions and make aesthetically pleasing sense of the existing bones and layout.

A sketch of the Wall House project with trees all around with the main house and in the not far distance the converted stables.
A sketch of the Wall House project with trees all around with the main house and in the not far distance the converted stables.

Christopher: For example, at our Wall House project, we worked on a Grade II listed farmhouse requiring sensitive restoration to preserve its original charm while creating a modern family home. Navigating the planning regulations and liaising with conservation bodies like Historic England was crucial.

We symmetrically extended the property and reworked the internal layout to enhance functionality for contemporary living. The design thoughtfully mixes traditional features like brick and stone with custom joinery and new glazing for a timeless quality. Despite the listed status, we successfully incorporated a spa area and open-plan kitchen/dining space. The end result pays homage to the building’s heritage while introducing comforts for 21st century country living.

Christopher:  Their expertise is crucial during the planning phase to navigate the regulations, assessments and surveys needed when adapting an agricultural structure for residential use. They can identify and troubleshoot any structural issues, preserving existing elements with character.

An architect well-versed in sympathetically converting barns can pull together all the project strands – the client’s vision and practical needs, contractor input, building controls, and budget factors – culminating in a final design that artfully blends original charm with contemporary comfort. 

Given the significant financial and emotional investment in a conversion, having the right architect on board from inception can make all the difference in realizing your dream home.

Where to buy a barn to convert in UK?

The most coveted barn conversions tend to be in picturesque rural locations like the Cotswolds or Lake District. But converted barns can be found across the UK if you look in rural counties with agricultural heritage.

Here are 5 locations where barn conversions are sold in the UK:

  1. Cotswolds, England – The Cotswolds area is known for its picturesque villages and beautiful old barns. Many classic barn conversions can be found here.
  2. Lake District, England – The Lake District has many traditional barns and outbuildings that have been converted into homes. Popular areas include Windermere, Ambleside, and Keswick.
  3. Devon, England – Devon has rolling countryside and many old farm buildings perfect for barn conversions. Hotspots include Dartmoor, Exeter, and North Devon.
  4. Norfolk, England – Norfolk’s rural landscape provides opportunities for barn conversions. Key areas to find them include North Norfolk coast, Breckland, and South Norfolk.
  5. Yorkshire, England – Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors national parks have many stone barns and outbuildings converted into unique homes.

Barn or Stable Conversion - Which is better?

Barn Conversion

Pros

  • Are unique, character property
  • You’ll be more conversant with the property compared to a bought home
  • Located in ideal rural locations with great views and expansive land
  • Fewer repairs, maintenance, and updates
  • No need to seek planning permissions

Cons

  • Attracts overhead costs
  • Some rural locations may be inaccessible
  • It may be challenging to find specific building  materials

Stable Conversion

Pros

  • Located in ideal rural locations with great views and expansive land
  • You’ll be more conversant with the property compared to a bought home

Cons

  • Higher conversions costs and maintenance
  • Greater risk of fire
  • Increased dust levels and poorer ventilation due to build-up of organic debris produced by horses
  • You may be required to submit a prior declaration of change of destination

From the above analysis, barn conversions have more pros and less cons compared to stable conversions. Therefore, barn conversions are better.

Why the Hassle to Convert a Barn to a Residential Home?

Barns converted to residential homes are incredibly desirable among home buyers seeking to live in them or develop them further for sale purposes.

Barns are popular because you can incorporate both traditional and contemporary designs effortlessly in the living space and enjoy spectacular countryside views.

In addition, they are impressively symmetrical and are typically associated with high ceilings not to mention their potential to accommodate open-plan models.

Should You Buy a Pole Barn to Convert?

You may assume that converting a pole barn into a home is obviously cheaper, but the simplest answer to that would be, “It depends on what you’re looking for.” Generally, buying a pole barn is affordable, but converting them into a standard home can be costly, to say the least.

Besides adding footers to protect the concrete slab from freezing during winter, many lenders shy away from financing owners of pole barn homes because their demand is low on the secondary market.

Post-frame structures are ideal for conversion into garages, workshops, horse stables, and man caves. However, we don’t advise you to convert them to standard houses.

Types of Barns

Below is a detailed list of various barn types that you can choose from before investing your money to convert them.

Pole Barns

Constructed using timber, pole barns are erected using deep-set post frames placed several feet into the ground, held in place using concrete, and extend further above ground.

Pole barns can be built on uneven ground, such as gravel, which makes them very common to date thanks to their versatility and relatively low cost.

Bank Barns

Usually stone-built, bank barns are rectangular in shape and usually located beside a hill.

These two-level barns keep livestock in the lower level, while the upper level are traditionally used for storage as well as a threshing floor. You can access both levels from the ground. The earliest ones had gabled roofs before gambrel roofs were introduced later.

Post and Beam Barns

These types of barns is constructed using heavy timbers, which are fused using steel plates or carved joinery.

Post and beam barns are very expensive to construct, and their shapes vary as per the designer’s preference. Their beautifully built structures are remarkably durable and can remain standing for many decades with proper maintenance and regular upkeep.

Monitor Barns

Also known as the raised roof barn, the monitor barn is made from timber and logs and has an elevated roof at the center supported with additional walls.

The raised loft is often used to store hay, farm equipment, and as a tack room. The unique shape of this barn type appeals to many farmers because it allows them to install windows for more natural light and ventilation.

Gambrel Barns

Almost similar to the monitor barn, the gambrel barn is constructed with timber and features a full center aisle first floor, overlaid with an extended second-story loft.

Its unique feature is the double slope on both sides of the roof and a spacious roofline for storing hay and equipment. Most farmers also incorporate living quarters and office space in gamble barns.

Gable Barns

Gable barns are mainly constructed with timber. Their triangular A-frame roofs are steep on both sides not only to allow rainwater and snow to fall off faster but also to minimize leaks and rots. The roofs also provide more storage capacity and are very strong since they are more vertically aligned.

Legal Requirements to Convert a Barn into a Home

Barn conversions are governed by wide-ranging regulations, and their interpretation may differ from one local planning authority to another.

While Permitted Development Rights permits homeowners to renovate their homes without seeking permission from local authorities, Class MB – the barn conversion clause – is subject to a Prior Notification procedure. This legal requirement obligates homeowners to give ‘prior notification’ to boundary neighbors before building single-story, rear residential extensions.

With the understanding that no objections come forth, a Certificate of Lawful Development is issued. Subject to certain conditions, the certificate allows homeowners to change agricultural buildings, including barns, to ‘dwelling houses,’ of no more than five residential units, using internal floor space of up to 465 cubic meters.

Can I Build a Barn Without Planning Permission?

Class Q of The Town and Country Planning (England) Order 2015 is the primary legislation regarding building barns without planning permission.

Essentially, Class Q permitted development rights with the intention of hastening the planning process of getting new homes into the system before converting the disused ones.

Underclass Q, securing permission is obligatory before converting your barn to avoid problems in the long run.

First, however, you need to apply to your local authority to know whether the building needs prior approval as per a series of criteria, including noise pollution, transport, contamination, flood risk, and whether the location is suitable for converting barns.

Class Q requires applicants to provide details of floor plans, elevations, natural light assessment, the proposed use of all rooms, as well as dimensions of walls, doors, and windows. Generally, your barn may qualify if it meets all of the following criteria under permitted development rights:

  • It must not be listed
  • It must be structurally sound
  • It must reflect its original use
  • It must not be in a conservation area
  • It must have been in agricultural use within 10 years before your application to convert it.

Consider Wildlife When Planning a Barn Conversion

In England, planning system changes require that agricultural buildings are surveyed for protected species, such as owls and bats. If your barn site needs planning permission check for any of the following documentation on the website of your local planning authority:

  • Bat and Barn Owl Survey
  • Biodiversity Assessment
  • Ecological Survey Report
  • Environmental Statement
  • Protected Species Survey, or
  • Wildlife Survey

Barn to House Conversion Cost

The cost of converting a barn into a residential or commercial space can be high due to additional utilities like water, electricity, and gas, along with expensive structural improvements.

As stated by Checkatrade, the average cost of a barn conversion in the UK is £275,000.

Barn Conversion Cost

Cost + VAT (Low – High)

£150,000 – £400,000

Average Cost

£275,000

Barn Conversion Cost per sq. foot

Cost + VAT (Low – High)

£250 – £320 per sq. foot

Average Cost

£274 per sq. foot

Barn Conversion Cost per sq. meter

Cost + VAT (Low – High)

£2,500 – £3,500 per sq. meter

Average Cost

£2,740 per sq. meter

Small Barn Conversion cost

Cost + VAT (Low – High)

£170,000 – £230,000

Average Cost

£195,000

Steel Frame Barn Conversion cost

Cost + VAT (Low – High)

£250,000 – £600,000

Average Cost

£275,000

Barn Conversion to a House (example)

Generally building a standard home is cheaper than converting a barn. The average price of a barn on sale for conversion ranges from £300,000 to £800,000 as shown in the below examples.

Barn conversion (opportunity) for sale near Lincolnshire (£600,000)

Q-Class-Barn-conversion---Multifamily-residentials
Barn conversion (opportunity) for sale near Lincolnshire (link)

Partly converted barn for sale, Swaffham, Norfolk (£750,000)

barn conversion to a house norfolk
Partly converted barn for sale in Norfolk (link)

Barn conversion near Chesterfield, Derbyshire (£350,000)

barn conversion to a house derbyshire
Barn conversion for sale near Derbyshire (link)

How to Modernize a Barn Conversion

Barn conversion projects call for cautious planning, flexible budgeting, and a lot of patience. The below 10-step guide details the process for converting your barn into a stunning home.

Find a Potential Barn

Start by reaching out to your local council and estate agents when looking for a suitable barn to convert. If unsuccessful, it is worth visiting Plotfinder, Barns Etc as well as English Heritage, and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings to look up for potential barns.

Estimate your Budget

Generally, converting a barn costs more per square meter compared to building a new home. Below are the typical cost estimates:

  • Underpinnings: £3,500 to £3,800 per square meter.
  • Disposing asbestos: £250 to £350 per 25sq meters/per tonne.
  • Stone repointing: £25 to £30 plus £20 per square meter for pure lime mortar.
  • Spraying timbers: £1,000-£1,500 per 2,000 square foot barn.

    Always ask local estate agents to estimate the value of a barn post-conversion before buying one.

Obtain Planning Permissions

To seek approval for the ‘change of use’ of a barn, contact your local planning department before applying for planning permission. Also, check if the building is listed and whether it is located in a conservation area. Most approved applications for ‘change of use’ restrict alterations to walls, doors, and windows.

Upgrade the Barns’ Fabric

To best results, we advise you to use materials that reflect the original character of the barn both internally and externally. Use original materials by considering the following three broad categories of barn constructions: timber framed, metal-framed and masonry structures.

Prioritize Natural Light

Adding doors, windows, and other openings is rarely allowed; therefore, consider installing glazing into existing openings to maximize views. Use large skylights where allowed, especially if your barn has high roofing.

Upgrade the Roofing

Upgrading the roofing will attract the highest expenditure because it is the largest part of a barn. We recommend multifoil roof insulation not only to maximise the available space, but also to manage the common problems pertaining to insulation due to disrepair.

Upgrade the Flooring

For a durable, hard-wearing surface with a warm visual feel, you can maintain the barn wood flooring, which are built using large planks of wood. Since the majority of barns have concrete floor slabs, ensure the walls are not damaged in the process of excavating the old slab.

Insulating the Barn Conversion

Most agricultural buildings are uninsulated so ensure you upgrade the barn’s thermal performance in accordance with modern-day standards. Use mineral wool to insulate between timbers and then add insulated plasterboard internally or a new insulated layer externally.

Heating Fixtures for Barn Conversion

When it comes to heat recovery, install a mechanical ventilation and heat recovery system (MVHR) to warm inbound filtered air at low level. Underfloor heating is better as the radiant warmth can deliver a uniform temperature in the open-plan space.

Services and Utilities

Most barns lack key utilities like electricity, water, gas, or drainage. Ask several suppliers to give you quotes for connection before selecting the one that matches your budget. To minimize your bills, opt for renewable options, such as solar electric panels and heat pumps.

Types of Mortgages for Barn Conversions

Since barns have to be converted before one moves in, obtaining a mortgage requires more than a regular mortgage. The following are the types of mortgage options:

  1. Bridging loan – This is a 12-24 month loan for purchasing and converting a barn into a home. After completing the conversion, you can get a residential mortgage for your barn while repaying your bridging loan.
  2. Development finance – This works best if you plan on knocking down your barn before converting and/or at the same time extending it.
  3. Self-build mortgage – This is better suited when building your barn from the ground up instead of converting it. You will receive the funds in stages as per your progress.
  4. Residential mortgage – You may qualify if you are currently living in a converted barn.

Key Takeaways

  • Barn conversions are a good investment, as they unique and popular in rural areas
  • Barn conversions are governed by wide-ranging regulations that differ from one local planning authority to another.
  • The average cost of a barn conversion in the UK is £275,000.
  • Getting a mortgage for barn conversion is more difficult than getting a regular mortgage.
  • Most barns lack utilities like electricity, water, gas, or drainage, which are costly to fix.

(This text is intended to provide different technical aspects for those who are thinking of buying and converting a barn (agricultural building) into a house. Reach out to me at george@tallbox.co.uk if you have any questions about this article or selling barn conversion, buying, or designing barn conversions.)

Please do not consider this article as advice; it is my personal opinion.

Is planning permission needed to convert stables into house?

Some form of council approval is usually required and extensive renovations will need permits. Research the property carefully and talk to the local authority to understand the specific regulations and process for your area before proceeding.

  • In most cases, you will need to submit a prior declaration of change of destination when converting existing stables into residential use, as this changes the building’s purpose from agricultural to residential.
  • If the stables are isolated on agricultural land, a change of destination may not be allowed due to restrictions on new homes in the countryside.
  • If the stables are attached or close to an existing house, a change of destination is often possible, but the local council can still reject it.
  • Even if change of destination is approved, you will likely need planning permission or a work permit for renovations like adding bathrooms, walls, windows etc. that modify the building.
  • Permitted development rights allow agricultural buildings to be converted without planning permission if criteria are met, but listed buildings and areas like National Parks are exempt.
  • Prior approval from the council is still required for permitted development conversions to assess impacts like transport, noise, flooding risk etc.
  • Converting stables into a house is possible but the rules vary locally so check with your council first. Hire professionals to ensure renovations meet regulations.