Iowa is one of the leading agricultural states in the US, with more than 90% of the land devoted to agriculture. So, you can understand the popularity of barndominiums here.
Barndominiums, barndos, or barn homes combine agricultural barns and houses. Usually, they have plenty of living space, with large rooms and vaulted ceilings.
Typically, this is because the load-bearing walls make up the exterior perimeter. Without the necessity for interior structural supports, we can install partitions to define the rooms and use mezzanines for multiple floors.
Furthermore, although we can build barndos from wood, steel, or a combination of these and other building materials, staying with a structural steel framework with steel sidings and roof is often more affordable.
This arrangement is proof against many problems that blight traditional construction materials, especially in the Midwest with extreme weather, pests, and mold.
Barndos are quick to build, affordable, give value for money, are an excellent future investment, and complement the existing Hawkeye agrarian scenery with its combination of traditional American barn and modern home.
Some barndo owners start with a dilapidated pre-existing barn and restore it to a deluxe home. In contrast, others build a new structure from scratch or use a kit.
Typically, most owners choose a steel kit, engineered in a factory and delivered to the construction site, where skilled contractors assemble it and turn it into a new home for their customers.
We’ve already mentioned that we can make a barndo from wood, steel, or multiple materials, and many contractors specialize in one or other of these. But, steel has distinct advantages as the building’s structure, roof, and siding.
So, in this guide, we’ll concentrate on metal barn homes.
7 Benefits Of Opting For A Barndominium In Iowa
Deep in the continent’s interior, Iowa has extreme temperatures in winter and summer. Winters average 14⁰F in the northwest and around 20⁰F in the southeast.
However, there isn’t much snowfall in winter. Instead, it sometimes has heavy snowfalls in the fall and spring.
In contrast, summers are hot and humid, reaching around 86⁰-100⁰F in July, with most of the state’s summer rainfall ranging from 26″-38″ with frequent flooding. All these factors contribute to using steel barndominiums as the best option.
Let’s look at some of the most significant advantages of building a barndo in IA.
1. Open to All
Possibly, the primary benefit of building a barndominium in Iowa is the ease with which almost anyone can own a home. Even if you don’t want to construct your own home, you can still purchase a pre-owned barn home, allowing your dream to come true.
Furthermore, if you believe the cost of a home in Iowa is out of your league, think again. The USDA provides home loans to those on low incomes who wish to relocate.
2. Reduced Costs
Hawkeyes love to save money, and barndos cost less to build in Iowa than conventionally built houses because they use fewer building materials and take less time to construct, thus, fewer labor hours.
Once professionals complete the structural work, you can finish the interiors yourself or hire a local contractor.
3. Easy to Build
Because barndo kit components are designed and engineered in a factory setting, it’s guaranteed that all the pieces fit together perfectly.
Generally, a barndo kit takes about half the time necessary to construct a traditionally built house. So, if a conventional home takes just over a year to build in Iowa, a barndo takes up to six months.
Typically, barndominiums are more durable than other houses because they have a steel framework covered in steel siding and roof. A structure like this can withstand the extreme weather conditions and tornadoes that Iowa has plenty of.
According to The Gazette, on March 31, 2023, Iowa and other Midwestern States recorded at least 122 tornadoes, compared to an average of 48 per year, and experts believe the number won’t get better.
So, should we expect more people to turn to structural-steel framed homes to withstand the extreme wind loads? After all, the official tornado shelters are made from steel, so having a barndo with a storm-proof foundation will be like having your own tornado shelter.
Also, the warm, humid summer weather, with heavy rains and sometimes flooding, combined with the low winter temperatures, causes expansion and contraction in wooden buildings.
In contrast, steel structures are immune from such abuse. And, if your barndo suffers some accidental damage, it’s relatively easy for a local contractor to make repairs.
Using a post-frame steel structure as the basis of your building results in a more durable home that needs less maintenance than conventional homes.
5. Readily Customized
A steel barndo only has structural load-bearing walls around the perimeter of the shell. Therefore, we can design the interior to suit ourselves, using partition walls as dividers without compromising the structural strength.
This is also an advantage if you purchase a pre-owned barn home and don’t like the existing layout. Simply hire a local carpenter to reposition the partitions to suit your family and its lifestyle.
For example, if your hobby is restoring classic automobiles, use the first floor as a garage and workshop and move the living accommodation upstairs onto a mezzanine floor.
Furthermore, because the main house has a separate load-bearing shell, you can construct self-contained additions with their independent load-bearing walls as your family changes and grows. The variations are almost endless.
Hot, humid weather with plenty of rain attracts mold, wood rot, and insects that shelter and feed on the wood. In contrast, in the cold winter, rodents move into your home’s warm, dry conditions by gnawing through wooden sidings or holes caused by shrinkage.
Fortunately, steel buildings don’t have these problems. Fungi and insects can’t eat steel, and if rats gnaw through steel plate, then move out and leave them to it anyway. So, steel barn homes are essentially pest-proof.
Ensure you’ve filled every hole using appropriate materials, and you can be sure your home will be for you and your family without any unwanted lodgers.
7. Minimal Maintenance
Steel barndos have a structural strength many times greater than wood, so they don’t suffer damage from pests, and weather-related or accidental damage is minimal.
Therefore, overall, these structures require less maintenance than wooden buildings.
Is It Possible To Erect A Barndominium In Iowa?
Most definitely, you can build a barndo in IA. However, don’t be surprised if the local Hawkeyes already know them as Shouses (Shed or Shop and House) and have done so for decades.
This is useful because the general populace and local authorities have grown accustomed to this building style and don’t find it unusual. Therefore, there are fewer problems with zoning regulations, building codes, and funding, but we’ll discuss these later.
Don’t imagine that Iowa is mile upon mile of gently rolling or flat fields of corn and soybeans, although there are districts like this. There are also more elevated regions and river valleys providing plenty of woodland.
Therefore, there is a variety of scenery for you to choose from when selecting your barndominium construction site. So, if you haven’t found a place that calls out to you yet, you should consider the following points before you do.
Ensure your building plot is accessible all year round and doesn’t regularly flood. Accessibility is also a requirement of mortgage and home loan lenders.
Finance companies want to ensure their money stays safe. So, they need assurance that your property has a resale value. If the house is inaccessible, its value will significantly suffer.
To be categorized as a home, regulations in Iowa insist that your home must have utilities and domestic drainage (sewerage).
Check the utilities you need with the local zoning board and ensure the connections are nearby. If they aren’t, then budget for the extra cost of connection.
Sometimes, you can go partially off-grid with septic tank drainage and a freshwater borehole. But, check before you go ahead and purchase the land.
Iowa’s terrain varies from forest in the river and lake floodplains to rolling prairie and grassland to hills and mountains. So there’s somewhere for almost everyone.
But, it also means that some areas might need more work to grade the soil and remove tree stumps before they’re suitable for foundation work. Extra labor such as this will add to the overall project costs.
Unfortunately, depending on the zoning regulations, you must build in specific areas.
Each county, town, and city has unique zoning regulations designed to complement the local government’s long-term plan for the area and ensure it’s suitable for all residents and businesses, not just yours.
Browse the Iowa Legislature website and the Iowa State University Community & Economic Development website for laws relating to zoning and planning in IA.
We’ve already mentioned some of the weather issues in Iowa. Suffice it to say that the summers are hot and humid, with thunderstorms and tornadoes. In contrast, the winters are below freezing, with snow in late fall and early spring.
Before purchasing a plot, do plenty of research to decide which area’s weather you prefer.
Homeowners in IA must comply with the local Homeowners Association rules and the state laws.
Before purchasing land, check with your area HOA rules so that there aren’t any surprises.
All habitable construction must comply with the local building codes to ensure a safe structure.
However, always check with the local permit office if codes are updated.
Iowa Barndominium Construction Costs
Homes are expensive everywhere in the US, and IA is no exception, even if you choose a barn home rather than a conventional one.
Typically, the build price for a barndominium is, on average, $195-$210/sq. ft., much less than a conventional home cost of $200-$300/sq. ft. Typically, for a 60 ft. x 40 ft. house (2,400 sq. ft.), a conventional home calculates to $480,000-$720,000. In comparison, a barndominium costs $468,000-$504,000.
A price difference like this frees up funds for purchasing many things you might have previously considered unreachable. High-end kitchen and bathroom fixtures, porches, and decks are now affordable with the money you’ve saved by selecting a barndo.
But don’t forget the other costs that building a house attracts and that you can now easily afford:
- Land purchase and clearance
- Barndo erection labor costs
- Interior design
- Garden landscaping
Barndominium Kit Costs
A basic prefabricated barndo kit might cost between $20,000-$100,000. Then, hiring a local contractor may cost $35,000-$70,000 in labor. However, this is by far the cheapest way to do the job.
Remember, these prices vary with the size and complexity of the barndo design.
Land Clearance and Foundation
Before you excavate the foundations and footing trenches, you must remove all vegetation and tree roots from the oversite. Typically, land clearance costs $1,000-$6,000 depending on the plot size, gradient, and vegetation density.
Afterward, a typical foundation costs, on average, up to $18,000. However, remember that you must hire a structural engineer to design the foundation based on the barndo’s specifications and the local building codes.
In addition to purchasing the barndo shell, its erection, and foundations, you also have costs to make your home habitable.
These average amounts vary considerably but may be:
- HVAC – Up to $15,000
- Plumbing – $1,500-$2,000
- Electrical – $2,500-$4,000
- Insulation – $2,500-$4,000. The local building codes specify the R-value and the amount of insulation necessary for Iowa’s climate.
- Drainage – Up to $10,000
- Roofing & Siding – Usually, these items come with the kit, especially if you have a turnkey service. However, the supplier sometimes only provides the structural steel skeleton. If so, you must buy these as extras, costing at least $15,000 for roofing and $25,000 for siding.
Zoning & Legalities In Iowa For Barndominiums
The legalities of building a barndominium in Iowa are always present. They may cause issues if you don’t watch where you tread. The building codes ensure you construct a safe structure.
At the same time, zoning regulations maintain the local government’s long-term area plan by allocating specific zones for different types of buildings and functions, e.g. not allowing commercial buildings in a residential area and vice versa. However, there are sometimes exceptions depending on the common good.
Zoning regulations specify where you can build, the type of structure, its size, and its purpose. Typically, the local government’s zoning board lays down the regulations which the town enforces. If you aren’t sure about the zoning regulations in your area, contact your town’s zoning inspector, who will provide guidance.
Ensure the land you intend to build on has zoning for the residential property you want to construct. If it hasn’t, you must apply to change it to reflect its new purpose. You can request a copy of your county’s zoning information from your local planning or zoning department.
Land Use in IA
Iowa’s zoning boards classify districts in your county or township into specific zones depending on their use and property type.
Typically, some zoning classifications include:
However, the zones are further split into narrower categories.
For example, in the residential zone, you will have subdivisions specifying which type of building is allowed, such as single-story, double-story, single-family, multi-family, owned or rented, etc.
Generally, the zoning regulations specify what you can build and where. Therefore, ensure your building plot is of the correct classification before you buy it. Otherwise, you must apply for a variance.
Generally, zoning rules restrict the property using criteria as follows:
- Plot use
- Plot area and dimensions
- Property type and usage
- Property’s floor dimensions
- The height of the property’s eaves and ridge
- The position, relative to other existing properties
All US States use building codes to ensure the property built is safe to use and abides by the local laws. Iowa is no exception.
Some codes are consistent across the entire State, and some regulations are restricted to local government areas.
This aligns with the International Building Codes, which guide local government and allows them to adapt, limit, or extend the codes to suit local conditions and their legal framework.
The codes specific to barndominiums and barn homes are those for residential premises. They include the following categories and ensure safety in those areas:
- Fire safety
- Mechanical safety
- Electrical safety
- Structural safety
- Energy efficiency
- Storm shelters
For a helpful list, go to the UpCode resource for Iowa State. However, only use this resource as a guide for your research.
Contact your local Planning Department for more detailed information on building codes relevant to your project.
Zoning regulations benefit all residents and businesses and restrict properties to ensure complementary land use within each zone.
However, sometimes, these rules may be too restrictive. In this case, we can apply for a “zoning variance,” allowing a homeowner legal non-compliance with the existing zone.
For example, suppose we want to renovate a barn, previously part of a working Iowa farm, and turn it into a residential barndominium with no link to farming. In this case, the existing zone will be agricultural, but the finished barndo will be residential.
To convert the barn into a barndo and legally live in it, the zoning board grants a change of use variance as the property cannot remain in its current classification.
Generally, hiring a real estate attorney to apply for the variance is a good idea.
6 Steps To Create Your Dream Barndominium In Iowa
Constructing a barndo in the Hawkeye State isn’t too difficult if you produce a professional plan and timeline. Honestly, it’s not that different from making a conventionally built house with traditional materials.
So, let’s look at each step.
1. Find & Purchase Some Building Land
Find the right plot of land to construct your dream home. Hire an attorney to find out if any other plans are lodged with the zoning board that may affect your outlook.
The last thing you want is for the woodland you overlook to be replaced by a new housing complex, cement factory, or meat processing plant. Satisfied that there are no plans like this, ask yourself if it’s the view you want to watch while sitting on your porch.
Also, ensure your barndo “farm building” design complements the existing scenery. As Iowa is around 90% agricultural, the chances are that it will blend in just fine.
Furthermore, consider the following:
- Is there an access road that’s open all year round?
- Are there any restrictive zoning regulations you can’t apply to change?
- Is the plot large enough to accommodate your present and future plans? For example, do you intend to keep horses and run an equestrian center?
- Are the required utilities nearby? If not, do the regulations allow you to sink a freshwater borehole, install a septic tank, or install off-grid electrical generating systems like wind turbines?
2. Look Around for a Suitable Contractor
Use a contractor licensed to work in Iowa with the required insurance.
Ensure they have experience working on barndominiums or other post-frame projects because expert knowledge is essential. Ask the contractor if they’ve previously worked with a specific mortgage lender.
Alternatively, ask your mortgage company if they recommend a particular contractor. Using an approved contractor helps your application go more smoothly and the total funds more accessible.
3. Building Permits
Find out which building permits you must comply with. Usually, the general contractor organizes this as part of their job.
Alternatively, if the barndominium kit supplier provides a turnkey project, they will handle the permits for you. However, remember that it’s your responsibility to ensure the licenses are in place.
Otherwise, you can be fined or suffer a worse penalty.
4. Clear the Ground
Clearing vegetation and trees, and grading the area before foundation excavation can be a lot of work depending on the plot size, your property’s footprint, the slope of the land, the ground conditions, and the water table’s depth.
Many contractors bring utility connections to the plot at this stage while they have excavators and other earth-moving equipment available.
As part of the building permit compliance, you already have a structural engineer’s foundation calculations and plans.
The calculations and foundation design depend on the property’s size and weight, the soil conditions, the plot’s gradient, and the building codes. So ensure they’re done professionally by a licensed foundation or structural engineer.
You can choose various foundation types depending on the ground conditions, the building codes, and your personal preferences.
Depending on the local conditions, the building codes will probably restrict these to one or two foundation types. So be prepared to change your preferences.
After trench excavation, install reinforcing bars and pour concrete to the design depth. Then, allow the concrete to cure to the required strength before continuing.
6. Barndominium Construction
The barndominium kit supplier will deliver and assemble the components for you, or you must hire a contractor.
Remember that the barndo’s exterior perimeter walls are the only load-bearing part of the structure, so fix them to the foundations per the structural engineer’s design.
Generally, Iowa allows most non-tradespeople to DIY-build metal or post-frame barndominiums. However, check with the local regulations, as you may need particular trade licenses to carry out those operations.
Unless the barndo is relatively small, with a simple design, we recommend you don’t try the DIY route, as your home will be subject to strong winds, torrential rain, and heavy snow, depending on where you live. Therefore, we suggest using professionals with the correct insurance.
Also, remember that your lender will have a say in who builds the house, and funding may be subject to a licensed, insured, and approved contractor doing the work.
Finally, if all goes well, expect to move into your new IA barndo about six months after finishing the foundations.
Reputable Barndominium Contractors In Iowa
Many people in Iowa already own barndominiums, post-frame buildings, Shouses, or Shomes®, so finding a barndominium contractor quickly should be possible. However, like anywhere else, hire someone trustworthy.
Iowa has a farming tradition, so, unsurprisingly, the idea of a barn combined with a house should be popular.
However, when looking for a contractor, don’t restrict yourself to looking for barndominiums. Instead, search for Shomes® and Shouses, which have been popular in the area for years.
When looking for a contractor, there are several ways you can find someone suitable:
- Business directories list local barndominium builders.
- Ask friends, family, and work colleagues about eligible candidates.
- Visit online forums, community, or networking groups that deal with barndominium construction.
- Visit local hardware stores. Establishments like this often have business cards advertising contractors, or maybe some can recommend a contractor with an excellent local reputation.
When you’ve found someone you think may be a good possibility, review their portfolio of previous projects and speak to their past customers for a reference.
Finally, talk to them and discuss your requirements in detail to get a clear idea of costs and timeline.
An experienced contractor will know approximately how long a project should take and can give a ballpark price without doing an in-depth quotation. However, always have everything in writing before you agree to anything.
To help you find a suitable barndominium contractor, we’ve compiled a few of the many contractors available for hire in Iowa and the surrounding states.
- Kalona Post & Frame builds post-frame structures, which are ideal for your barndo. Address: 2120 Highway 22 Kalona, IA 52247. Phone: 319-656-4422
- Greiner Buildings produces post-frame and pole building plans and provides a construction team to build your new steel barndominium. They also specialize in building Shomes®, a combination of shop and home. Address: 120 East Main Street, Washington, IA 52353. Phone: 888-466-4139
- Eastern Iowa Building Inc. is a national award winner. They design and build residential metal Shomes®, Shouses, and barndominiums. Address: 114 Williams Blvd, Fairfax, IA 52228. Phone: 319-845-8000.
Out-of-State Barndo Kit Providers
Several out-of-state companies provide barndominium kits and sell them to customers in Iowa.
Using a kit from a national provider is an excellent way of building a barndominium because everything is engineered in the factory and arrives on-site, prefabricated, and ready for assembly.
Here are a few suppliers, although there are many more:
- Based in Minnesota, Lester Buildings designs and builds pole buildings and post-frame residential barndos. They also supply products to other companies in Iowa. Address: 1111 2nd Ave S, Lester Prairie, MN 55354. Phone: 320-395-2531
- US National Steel produces high-quality metal barndominium kits. Address: 631 Lucerne Ave. 201, Lake Worth, FL 33460. Phone: 877-506-8465
- Frame Up Now supplies steel frames for the nationwide barndominium industry. Address: Tucson, AZ 85715. Phone: 888-864-0184
- Worldwide Steel has offices throughout the Midwest, ideally located to serve Iowa. Specialists in steel barndominiums. Address: 10606 State Route YY Peculiar, MO 64078. Phone: 800-825-0316
- Rhino Steel Buildings provides prefabricated metal barndominium kits customized to your specifications. However, they don’t handle foundations, assembly, or finishing. Address: 4305 I-35 North Denton, Texas 76207. Phone: 940-312-7646
- Sunward Steel Buildings prefabricates and engineers barndo kits and other custom-engineered structures. They don’t provide foundations, erect, or finish your home but will align project management with your building team. Address: 600 E Hampden Ave Denver, Colorado 80224. Phone: 303-759-2255
Financing Options For Barndominiums In Iowa
Every day, more and more home-loan and mortgage companies realize the benefits of lending to potential barndominium customers. So, always check with your local bank to see if they offer finance products for your project.
Before discussing your requirements with a lender, have the necessary documentation, a sound building plan, and comply with the lender’s borrowing criteria. If you do this, finding finance in IA can be relatively painless.
However, if you fail the first time, try again and eventually find a suitable lender. Also, don’t forget to approach the lender your contractor has previously worked with.
When you take on a project like this, you usually need money up front to pay for the materials and labor as you buy them. The best method is to use a Construction Loan, which often has lower interest rates and smaller downpayments than other loans over the same duration.
Furthermore, most lenders convert a Construction Loan into a standard mortgage over 15 or 30 years when you’ve finished the construction phase.
Alternatively, the federal government has home loan programs designed to help those on a low income buy a home. But, you must satisfy the eligibility requirements. For example, current armed services personnel and veterans can use a VA home loan.
Here are a few lenders local to IA who you can contact, but don’t dismiss other banks in your search for a suitable mortgage.
This company uses an open marketplace, sourcing multiple lenders to find the right product for their customers.
Bank Iowa has multiple locations in IA specializing in agricultural lending, so you will probably quickly get a barndominium or post-frame home loan here.
Address: Multiple locations
Available Barndominium Listings In Iowa
So, are you interested in building a barndominium or barn home? They are worthwhile, and you won’t regret their affordability.
But, perhaps you believe that building a barndo from scratch in Iowa would be too much hassle. Sometimes, dealing with contractors, city hall, and the weather can get too much for many people.
But it’s a very satisfying challenge when you can sit on your porch watching the sunset with your loved ones, knowing that you contributed to building your dream home.
However, if you still think it’s too much, don’t despair. There are plenty of pre-owned barndominiums already available to buy.
And it doesn’t matter too much if you don’t like the previous owner’s room layout. One of the great things about barndominiums is that you can rearrange the internal partitions to a configuration of your choice without compromising your home’s structural integrity.
So, if you prefer buying a pre-owned barndo, look at our list. There are plenty available.
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