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Barns Make Great Homes

Should you convert an old barn or build a new barn style home?

Okotoks Barn Home

Soaring ceilings, open, flowing space, and rustic charm; the traits of a barn are also those desired by contemporary house hunters. Once forgotten, centuries-old barns are now prized by homeowners for their simplistic ascetic, craftsmanship, and connection to yesteryear.

Some barn home seekers opt to convert antique barns into their new homes. Others build new homes with barn style architecture. Each pathway to a custom barn home has unique opportunities and obstacles. Today, we will be discussing the factors of customization, ease of building, and energy efficiency.

Converting a Barn into a Home

Calgary Barn ResidenceA historic pole barn or post and beam stable that has been on your family’s property for decades could be the ideal way to build your charming new farmhouse. How hard could it be to restore a barn and turn it into a home? On television, charismatic contractors transform leaning barns into luxury homes in just 60 minutes. However, turning a hallowed barn into a home is more complicated than simply hanging drywall and forming rooms.

Barns face harsh weather and often fall into disrepair. Over the years, this can lead to the deterioration of the structure. A barn that is usable for farm work may need additional structural support to meet home building codes. Even if you have the barn’s structure assessed by an engineering professional, there may be unexpected discoveries during construction.

Necessary structural fixes may limit your ability to customize your new home. While almost any room configuration is possible at first, you may have to address structural issues. For example, if you need to add a timber post in the middle of your stairs or great room, it is imperative that you rearrange the home’s layout for functionality.

Furthermore, barns do not to control the temperature and atmosphere like modern homes. In addition to structural work, installing new windows and insulation is necessary in order for a weather-tight home. Depending on the structure, you may not be able to make it as energy efficient as a new home.

Despite the possibility of major construction challenges and design changes, converting old barns into homes is very appealing to some. The nostalgia of an antique barn or preserving a precious piece of family history is worth the hard work and unknowns.

Building a New Barn Style Home

Overall, building a new barn home gives you more control over the process and outcome of your project. If you start your home design from scratch, you can customize your home any way you want. You can control the size, style, and layout. This is a great advantage if you desire a gambrel barn home in a location where bank barns are prominent. Want an elevator or lookout tower in your home? Custom elements are easier to build from scratch than adapt to an existing structure.

Although a new home may not have the history of a Dutch barn, it can still have character and uniqueness.  The craftsmanship and tradition of timber framing brings an authentic and timeless element to new barn homes.Kenton Barn Home

New barn homes are also more energy efficient than converted barns that have had an energy retrofit. Air leakage and conductive heat loss are two ways to measure energy loss. Today, new homes seal your interior from the elements and minimize energy loss.

Riverbend Timber Framing’s barn homes incorporate a building system that works together to create a highly energy-efficient structure. Riverbend’s homes begin with Advantage® brand ICFs (insulated concrete forms), which form channels for and insulate the concrete foundation. Around the timber frame barn structure, Riverbend uses Insulspan® structural insulated panels (SIPs) to form the walls and roof. The panels have a solid core of EPS (expanded polystyrene) insulation sandwiched between two boards of OSB (oriented strand board). SIPs offer structural stability and insulation in one product reducing air leaks and heat transfer at the same time. This helps you heat and cool your barn home with a minimal energy cost.

Homeowners who want more design control during their project opt to build a new barn style home. While new construction is not without challenges and unexpected issues, they can be mitigated with a new home design.

Other Barn Home Resources

When considering what home building pathway to take, there are many more factors to contemplate before you make your decision. Continue your research, access your budget, and interview barn homeowners to get the additional information you need. If you would like more information about designing or building a timber frame barn home, a Riverbend Client Representative is happy to answer your questions or discuss your project. Contact us today.

Timber Frame Barn Home Floor Plans

Barn Home Photo Galleries

Timber Frame Barns and Stables

How to Read Timber Frame Floor Plans

For most of us here at Riverbend, working for a company with over 30 years of experience means we all spend our fair share of time drawing, reviewing, and/or reading timber frame floor plans. For most of you, chances are, even if you are pursuing the idea of building a traditional timber frame home, it is unlikely you’ve reviewed design concepts that included timber posts and truss work. While you do not need to be an expert in reading floor plans, it helps to know the basics as you go through. Here are some pointers to help you discern what you are looking at.

Timber Frame Floor Plans When you look at a floor plan, typically you will see double lines for walls and openings for doors with an arch symbolizing their path of movement. When you look at a timber frame floor plan specifically (see far left image), it will be easy to notice posts right away by their box symbol. These boxes will be intersected by dotted lines that represent where a timber beam or truss is located. While this will give you a good idea of how much timber is in a plan and where it is located, it is as far as you can go with a floor plan layout. From there, you will look at a timber frame skeleton to see the timber framing itself.

Interior Floor Plans To achieve an accurate understanding of how the timber framing will come together, you can view a drawing of the timber frame skeleton. Above, the image on the right shows the timber frame skeleton that matches up with the floor plan seen on the left. By matching up the squares, it is easy to see how utilizing both of these images can help you begin to visualize how your interior spaces will look.

There are several other things in a floor plan that are helpful to know when you review them. For instance, you will find that exterior spaces are represented by faint, single lines. Assessing the image on the right, you can also see things like how windows are represented by a break in the wall lines, or how a shower is differentiated from a tub with an ‘X’ through it and a door symbol arching inward. The structure of a double-sided fireplace and how it works into the wall system is also visible in the adjacent image.

Hopefully, the explanation we have provided in this week’s blog has helped you to better understand the floor plans you view so that it is easier to get started on the customization of your own plan.

Take a look at our floor plan gallery from more examples.

Why Contemplate Turnkey Costs

When you contemplate the cost of building your timber frame home, you can think in terms of parts and pieces that go together such as; the foundation, the frame, and the roof, or you can think in Turnkey terms—considering the entire project as a whole. Turnkey Example

What is ‘Turnkey’

The term ‘turnkey’ originates from that final stage of a project when a homeowner “turns their key” and steps in to their completed home. Your turnkey cost is an accumulation of what will be spent on your project from your initial design to the final touches. However, these costs do not include any land improvements that need to be made, utilities brought in, roads, or the cost of purchasing the land.

How Thinking Turnkey Can Better Prepare You

Some Timber Frame companies will provide you package prices for your project and give you a percentage of how much your total cost will be. At Riverbend, we use turnkey estimates to help you see if the home design you have designed and chosen to build is feasible to build within your complete turnkey budget. By thinking in terms of turnkey costs, you will have an understanding of how much it will actually cost to build your home upfront, giving you the confidence to move forward into construction.

Questions to Ask Before You Begin

For centuries, people have chosen timber framing as their preferred building style because of its traditional beauty, durability, and overall visual impact. If you are planning to build, you might know from day one that you want to have a timber frame home, but how do you go about finding the right company to bring this ideal home to life? Here are a few questions to ask potential timber frame providers before you embark on your home building journey.

1.       Will the timber frame company customize their designs?

The look and feel of a home’s interior timbers depends heavily on the overall design. Many companies will offer portfolios of their standard plans to browse through. See if not only changes to the layout can be made, but also the design’s timber framing. For instance, a kit company that offers little to no customization may provide a cost-effective solution with a shorter time frame, but it can sacrifice a lot of creativity and personalization for the home’s design and timber framing.

2.       How will you acquire your design?

If you already have an architect for your project, this will not be a big issue. However, if you are looking for design services along with your timber frame, you will want to see if the company you are speaking with will provide you with a draftsman or degreed architect. The level of design and customization you want will often determine which one of these services you will require.

3.       Do they provide SIP paneling or other Energy Efficient options?

What energy efficient options does this timber frame company offer? Do they provide Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs), or does their system work with standard fiberglass or blow-in insulation. Consider the level of importance you wish to put on the energy efficiency of your home and make sure your requirements can be met by the company you are speaking with.

4.       How will they manufacture your timbers?

There are really only two options for manufacturing timbers; through handcrafting, or modern-day technology like CNC machines. While both options bring positive qualities to the building process, handcrafted timbers can increase costs and time lines, so consider these factors when making your choice.

5.       Will they raise your timber frame on your site?

Many timber frame companies offer the option of raising your timber frame on your site along with their manufacturing services. However, there are also companies that will just deliver the package to the site. By discussing what services your timber frame company provides, you will be better prepared for any scenario upon delivery.

6.       Who will build your home?

Will the timber frame company you choose be building your home, or will their services end once your timbers are delivered or installed? Will they offer you access to their network of builders or help you find a qualified builder to take over? Make sure you know the extent of your timber frame company’s services and whether or not they have a network of qualified builders.

How Building Codes Affect a Project

How Building Codes Affect a Project

When you make the decision to build a custom timber frame home, there are several things you will need to prepare for before getting started, one of them being building codes. Before you begin the actual construction of your home, there are building codes you will need to comply with. Here we answer some frequently asked questions about building codes and how they can affect your timber frame project.

Why do we have codes?

Building codes are put into place on a national, state and local level to monitor a variety of elements in your home building project. Depending on your location, these codes will hold standards for a range of factors including home health and safety, the quality of materials, design control, energy efficiency and even bug prevention.

When do I need to look into codes?

Many people believe that the compliance of building codes is something that is handled by the builder at the construction phase. However, in many cases, if you wait until the project gets to the builder, you may already have issues. Codes should always be considered in the design phase of your project.

Where will codes differ?

Building codes can vary on large and small scales—from national, to state, to even local levels. For instance, Canada has a total of 9 building codes that are separated by provincial lines, whereas the United States can have that many sets of codes in a single state. You could even have completely different codes from your neighbor across the street due to county lines.

Who should look into these codes?

If you are building the home yourself, you are responsible for getting in touch with your local officials. If you are working exclusively with a builder, they are responsible for your property’s codes and applying them to your project. At Riverbend, one of the first things we do for clients is contact local officials to understand codes before we begin the design process and to better manage the project during construction. By staying on top of your location’s specific codes, we are able to provide smoother building processes and create timber frame homes that stand the test of time.


For more information on building codes throughout North America, check out the NAHB website.