Barndominiums, a cross between “barns” and “condominiums,” also known as barndos, barn-homes, Shomes, and Shouses, are structures based on the traditional American agricultural barn architecture.
Barndos are generally one of the following:
- Steel or wood post-frame structure
- Repurposed unused barn renovated into a modern home
- Custom-built wood, steel, or multi-material construction, having the appearance of a barn
- Prefabricated steel kit
Typically, you can buy them with steel, vinyl, or wood sidings, although the most common is steel. The roof may be shingle, steel, or many other roofing materials.
Irrespective of which type you choose, they are generally more affordable than a conventionally built house. Furthermore, they always complement a rural district with agricultural architecture, as we find in Wisconsin.
Choosing a barndominium and building it yourself is one of the most satisfying homes you can live in. Generally, the style has vaulted ceilings, and open plan living spaces, is affordable, and has its load-bearing walls confined to its external perimeter walls.
Therefore, unlike a conventional home, the interior walls are partitions, able to be configured to your lifestyle without compromising the building’s structural integrity.
Many barndo owners confine living to the upper floors and use the open-plan first floor for storage, garaging, workshops, hobby rooms, or commercial use.
As there are no structural walls or pillars to interfere with movement, some owners with equestrian interests even use the first floor as a horse exercise space. If you tried this in a conventionally built house, it would probably be out of the average person’s budget.
Advantages Of Choosing A Barndominium In Wisconsin
Wisconsin, or the Badger State, as some people refer to it, is an ideal place to have a barndominium for several reasons:
WI experiences warm or hot and humid summers and frigid winters. Regularly, the State’s south has an average of 40 inches of snow in winter. In contrast, the north, around Lake Superior, averages 160 inches.
With extreme temperatures and snowfalls like these, your home must be solid and durable, warm in the winter and cool in the summer, and able to withstand the fungi and pests that plague houses in humid weather like this.
An expertly designed barndo will withstand all of these and more.
Help with Finance
Owning a home in WI is simple, even if you’re on a low income and can’t afford a downpayment. Applicants can get a home loan from the USDA to assist with buying, building, or renovating a barndominium, provided they relocate to specific rural regions within Wisconsin.
If they are eligible, they don’t need a downpayment for a home loan if it’s unaffordable.
Furthermore, current interest rates are fixed at 4.125% for low and very low-income applicants. However, this may drop even further to 1% by payment assistance.
Barndos Keep Their Value
Home loan appraisers assess properties by comparing similar houses in the region and coming up with a value. Unfortunately, compared to conventional houses, there aren’t many barndominiums in WI, so they often find it difficult to value your planned barndo.
However, barndominiums generally keep their value and slightly increase for many other reasons.
Many people believe steel buildings make the interior cold in winter and hot in summer. However, nothing could be further from the truth if you install the correct insulation in your barndominium.
Fortunately, your local building codes specify the required insulation’s R-value. But, to help with your research, you can find the following information on the Energy Star website.
|Existing 3 to 4 Inches of Insulation
|R30 to R49
|R25 to R30
|R30 to R60
|R25 to R38
|R13 to R19
|R30 to R60
|R25 to R38
|R19 to R25
|R38 to R60
|R25 to R30
|5 to 8
|R49 to R60
|R38 to R49
|R25 to R30
Table of Required R-Values. More information on wall insulation levels can be found on Energy Star’s page.
There are also federal tax incentives available for domestic energy efficiency, so you’re helping the environment, saving on your energy bills, and receiving help from the US government.
Suppose you choose a barndo as your new home in the Badger State. In that case, you’re probably doing it because it’s easier to erect, uses less labor, and is cheaper than a conventional house.
Also, metal barndos are made from steel, one of the few endlessly recyclable building materials used today. So, it’s sustainable and relatively inexpensive.
Barnominiums, especially those made from steel, are very durable and have a long lifespan. In fact, some manufacturers, particularly Rhino Steel Structures from Texas, advertise a lifetime structural guarantee. Now that’s pretty useful.
However, structural strength aside, steel barndos are resistant to:
- Fires. Unfortunately, fire is something that homeowners should always be wary of. According to the Wisconsin State Fire Inspectors Association, in 2021, the State suffered 40 home fire deaths. So, isn’t it great that steel is effectively nonflammable?
- Heavy snow. And there’s plenty of the white stuff in Wisconsin during winter.
- Insects. Fortunately, only one species of termite lives in Wisconsin, limited to the southern part of the State. Even so, this bug won’t find a good meal out of steel siding.
- Mold and mildew occur when the air indoors is warm and humid, encouraging the growth of fungal spores and the rot that comes with them.
- Rodents. Cold winters attract rodents looking for somewhere warm to stay until spring arrives.
- Tornadoes. Although the State only has an average of 23 per year, the majority affect the open fields and don’t do much severe damage.
- Earthquakes. Even though Wisconsin doesn’t usually experience them. A barndo is proof against this type of seismic activity.
Legality & Feasibility Of Barndos In Wisconsin
Building a barndominium in Wisconsin is both legal and feasible. But, you must follow the existing rules laid down and enforced by the local government and its agencies.
First, you must have a project plan and understand the zoning regulations and building codes in force in your district.
Remember that laws associated with constructing or renovating a new house are there for your safety and those that enter your property. But, the regulations vary across the State, and what is legal in one town may not be permitted in another.
Furthermore, you’ll also have the local Homeowners Association to contend with. These are panels of residents who have a mandate to enforce additional rules at a local level.
For example, they may have regulations regarding the height of a garden hedge or what color you can paint your front door. These rules create a harmonious atmosphere in the neighborhood.
But, they can also specify which style house you can build, and that is where constructing a barndo may be a problem. So, if you can, build in rural areas where properties can be farther apart, and HOA rules may be less stringent.
Building codes exist to maintain a safe property and to ensure that all construction work meets the required standard.
For example, the regulations cover heating appliances and electrical work. Both of these could be extremely dangerous if not carried out correctly.
This implies that contractors must be fully trained in every aspect of their work and licensed to work in Wisconsin State.
Furthermore, they must also be fully insured. Therefore, only hire these contractors as you always need quality work for your investment.
Browse the website UpCodes for information on building codes in WI. However, confirm with your local permit office that these laws are still in force and there aren’t more related to your barndo construction project.
Local Zoning Regulations
Before buying the land where you intend to build your barndo, research the zoning regulations for that area and fully understand what you can and can’t do. You may receive a fine if you don’t know the rules, and the authorities will postpone the project until you comply.
Among the zoning rules relating to your plot will be the type of structure you can erect and the construction materials. For example, some zoning rules prohibit steel roofs or sidings, common in barndo designs.
To ensure your plans comply with the zoning rules, check that the plot is a residential zone and your barndo’s footprint doesn’t exceed the allowed area.
The zone’s usage category is important, especially if you intend to renovate an existing agricultural building, as it may not have a residential zone allocation.
If you aren’t sure, ask the local government office for information on your plot’s zoning category. However, if you find problems, applying for a zoning variance for your project to go ahead may be the solution.
To be classed as habitable, your barndo must have connected utilities. Usually, this is no problem.
But, if you intend to build many miles from the nearest habitation, it may be that the cost to connect the required utilities may be prohibitive. So, consult your local government office about the compulsory utilities.
You may be able to install renewable energy generators such as wind turbines or photovoltaic solar panels to provide electricity, drill a borehole for fresh water, and install a septic tank for sewage.
Once again, you may need a zoning variance to overcome any issues associated with utilities and their usage.
Do You Like the Area?
This might sound silly, as you wouldn’t consider building a barndo in Wisconsin if you didn’t like the State.
But, have you wondered about the locality and everything that goes on within the county or town and whether they’re compatible with your barndominium lifestyle?
Specific things to consider include:
- Medical facilities, including doctors, dental surgeons, hospitals, and clinics.
- Schools are essential if you have or are intending to have a family. Look at the entire range from preschool, elementary, middle school, and high school. Looking ahead, you should also consider community colleges and universities near your home. However, these are less important as grown-up kids are usually more self-reliant.
- Recreational facilities are vital if you like exercise and sport. But don’t forget music, visual arts, and theater.
- Accessibility is essential, especially in winter, with several feet of snow. You need an easily cleared road that won’t wash away in heavy rain and during the thaw.
- The scenery can sometimes make or break a living space. There are many types of landscape within the Upper Midwestern States, and you should ensure you like those you can see from what will be your front or back porch. Hopefully, this barndo will be your lifetime dream home, so it’s no good overlooking Lake Superior if you prefer mountains and woodland.
- Zoning regulations are often an important aspect to check. Confirm there aren’t too many restrictive regulations in your part of Wisconsin that will limit the use of your barndo.
- What are the long-term plans for the area? Find out if there are any plans to build nearby. The last thing you want is for a large corporation to construct a factory or major airport next door.
Wisconsin Barndominiums’ Build Costs
The cost of building a barndo in the Badger State will vary depending on where you are, the building’s size, and its design. But first, you must know the cost per square foot of your Wisconsin barndo.
Knowing this makes it easy to calculate the overall cost of many sizes of barndominiums, which in turn allows you to determine how much you can afford to spend on additional features and interior fixtures.
On average, you can build a conventional home in Wisconsin for around $310/sq. ft. In comparison, expect to pay between $200 and $240/sq. ft. for a barndominium.
However, expect to budget more than this because extras like quality bathroom and kitchen fixtures will make your home unique.
Let’s assume you design a 60 ft. x 40 ft. (2,400 sq. ft.) floor plan. Then, to build your barndo costs around $480,000 to $576,000 compared to $744,000 for a conventionally constructed property. You’ll agree this is quite a substantial reduction when building a barndominium.
Mostly, the lower price comes about because a barndo takes less time to build, therefore, has lower labor costs.
Many suppliers across the US engineer and supply steel barndo kits that you could use for your Badger State dream home instead of building one from scratch.
Typically, a kit costs from $18-$30/sq. ft., depending on its size and design complexity.
Furthermore, you can buy kits made from wood post-frame with all manner of siding and roof materials. However, for kits such as these, you usually have to supply labor using a local contractor for laying foundations, erection, and finishing, so these will cost extra.
Every home needs a foundation, and barndos are no exception.
But which foundation do you need, and how large should it be? Only a qualified and licensed structural engineer specializing in foundations and footings can answer these questions.
Usually, the foundation type you can expect to use will be either a basement or a concrete slab (although other types exist). The local building codes will specify which basement type you can use in your area as they depend on the soil type and other environmental factors.
But, usually, expect foundations for a typical barndo to cost between $5,000 to $14,500 or more. However, you must also clear the ground of any surface vegetation and underground tree roots, so add another $5,000 or so on top of this, depending on the density of the undergrowth.
To make your home liveable, install the following:
- Plumbing – This costs up to $5,000.
- Electrical – We suggest up to $3,000 for wiring plus whatever fittings you need.
- HVAC – Around $12,000.
- Building permit costs vary depending on the type of permit and where you live, as license prices vary with locality. Typically, the price starts at a few hundred dollars per license. But check with your local government permit office for a complete price list.
Renowned Barndominium Builders In Wisconsin
Barndominiums are an affordable and attractive alternative to conventionally built housing. They give loads of living accommodation and don’t take long to erect, thus producing a modern and spacious home with a rustic exterior appearance.
Furthermore, you can buy them in steel, wood, or multiple construction materials, and if you buy a kit, you further slash the price of your new home.
So, whether you want a custom build from wood, a renovated multi-material pre-existing barn, or an off-the-shelf steel barndo kit, you can only have a home to be proud of if you use skilled and certified barndominium suppliers and builders.
The following list of nine steel and wood barndominium builders and suppliers operate in Wisconsin. You should research and understand what each company offers because many offer entirely different services to the rest.
The list is in alphabetical order:
- Cleary Building Corp specializes in post-frame and pole barndominiums and will lay foundations and erect the structure. However, you need a local contractor to finish the interior. Address: 190 Paoli Street, Verona, WI 53593. Phone: 800-373-5550
- Meyer Buildings, Inc. builds prefabricated post-frame steel barndominiums. They’ll handle foundation and erection. They also offer long-term repair and maintenance contracts. But, hire a local contractor for interior finishing. Address: 201 S 4th St, Dorchester, WI 54425. Phone: 715-800-3814
- Pinno Buildings produces metal barn homes, barndominiums, and regular agricultural and commercial buildings. Furthermore, they offer wood post-frame homes using steel sidings, so full multi-material customization is possible. Also, they will help with every step up to completing the assembly, including site preparation and foundations. However, hire a contractor for interior finishing. Address: W8856 County Road T Rosendale, WI 54974. Phone: 888-567-7167
- Rhino Steel Structures supplies a wide range of prefabricated barndominium kits with various accessories such as HVAC, insulation, etc. However, you need a local contractor to erect and finish the barndo. The company also offers a lifetime structural warranty. Address: 4305 I-35 North Denton, Texas 76207. Phone: 940-312-7646
- Virtue Homes handle every aspect of building your barndo, including customization and offering a turnkey service. They’ll even buy the land for you. However, prices aren’t as cheap as regular barndos, and you’ll often pay almost the same as a conventional house. Address: N1093 Chatham Court, Greenville, WI 54942. Phone: 920-209-0305
- Walter’s Buildings is based in Wisconsin and constructs budget or luxury steel, pole, stick built, and heavy lumber barndominiums. However, you need a local contractor to handle the finishing. Address: 6600 Midland Ct. Allentown, WI 53002. Phone: 800-558-7800
- Wick Buildings builds wooden post-frame barndominiums, Shomes, and shopdominiums. In fact, any space with attached accommodation. The team designs and erects the structure and offers maintenance and repair contracts. But, you need a contractor for interior finishing. Address: 405 Walter Rd Mazomanie, WI 53560. Phone: 855-438-9425
- Wisconsin Homes is a general home builder providing foundations and erection of custom-designed barndos. They also handle interior finishing. However, pricing is close to conventional homes rather than affordable barndos. Address: 425 W McMillan St, Marshfield, WI 54449. Phone: 715-502-4036
- Worldwide Steel Buildings engineers and ships steel barndo kits across the US. The company will also organize a local contractor to lay foundations from their plans and erect the kit. However, everything else needs a local contractor. Furthermore, some of its kits have lead times as short as 2-10 weeks. Address: 10505 State Rt YY Peculiar, Missouri 64078. Phone: 800-825-0316
Wisconsin Barndominium Construction Steps
Most people steer away from organizing a large-scale construction project. There are so many things to consider and get wrong. Instead, we usually recommend using a licensed professional to ensure your project runs smoothly.
However, you should know what will happen on a typical project, so we’ve compiled a list of the main steps that you should expect when building a barndo in Wisconsin.
Buy a Plot
Finding the best building plot takes time and patience and shouldn’t be rushed. After all, there may be someplace better a few miles away.
Use a realtor who specializes in finding building land and raid their expert knowledge after explaining what you want and the price.
Once you’ve found somewhere that ticks the boxes, hire an attorney to find out if anyone has lodged plans for your plot or nearby.
It’s not a good idea to buy some land only to find that the town council has approved a cement works or lumber processing plant between you and a glorious sunset.
As WI is a big dairy and cheese producer with hundreds of acres of deciduous and coniferous forests, there will be somewhere close by with a good outlook and a landscape that complements your rural farm building barndominium.
Hire a Contractor
There are plenty of barndominium building contractors spread around the State who specialize in that type of architecture. But ensure they have appropriate insurance and a license to work in Wisconsin.
Find out their experience and ask for the names of previous customers, who you can ask about professionalism.
Many contractors already work for customers and are approved by local mortgage lenders. So you may find a valuable financial contact and an approved contractor.
Alternatively, ask your bank if they can recommend a contractor for you. Already using an approved contractor will make raising finance much more straightforward.
Buy Building Permits
Ask your general contractor to organize your building permits, as you need all these in place before work starts. However, if your barndo kit manufacturer offers a turnkey service, they will do this task.
One of the most important and among the first jobs is laying the foundations. When you submit the plans to the permit office, they will need a complete set of construction plans and structural calculations for the foundations and the steel frame.
So, get an architect and structural engineer involved, too. Remember, even though you can ask other people to organize the permits, paying for them and ensuring they’re in place is down to you.
You’re ultimately responsible if something is incorrect. Therefore, to ensure you don’t have a hefty fine or other penalties, ensure everything is in place before starting the construction.
Remove Surface Vegetation & Grade the Soil
Before excavating foundation trenches, remove all the surface vegetation and cut off large tree roots that may be in the way. Then, grade the soil to the correct slope and excavate the footings.
Usually, because contractors have excavators on site at this time, they connect utilities. Hence, electricity, water, and drainage are available during the build.
Excavate Trenches & Lay Foundations
You have already submitted a foundation plan to the permit office and the structural engineer’s calculations for designing the footings. So, now we can dig trenches to the correct depth, dig the oversite, and prepare reinforcing steel in the trenches for the concrete pour.
In theory, there are various foundation types you can use:
However, in practice, the building codes have already whittled down the number of basements you can use based on the soil conditions in the area.
Therefore, you will probably only have one or two choices you can make. Perhaps basement and slab-on-grade, as both these are common in WI.
After excavating the trenches, pour the concrete and allow it to cure before continuing.
Barndominium Erection & Interior Finishing
Your barndo kit arrives with all the necessary components ready to assemble.
Steel barndos transfer the entire weight of the structure through the perimeter walls into the foundations. So, you will already have stubs embedded into the concrete footings onto which you can bolt the steel frames.
Steel erection is a skilled trade that requires knowledge and experience, so ensure you use licensed steel erectors with insurance. Be wary about attempting this task yourself, as zoning regulations and mortgage lenders often stipulate qualified contractors.
After assembling the barndo shell consisting of the structural frame, sidings, doors, windows, and roof covering, complete the project by finishing the interior.
Typically, if everything goes according to plan, depending on the complexity of the design and the barndo’s size, expect to complete it within six months.
Navigating Wisconsin’s Zoning & Legal Landscape
Navigating Wisconsin’s zoning and legal landscape can be challenging if you don’t know what you’re doing. There’s always the chance of hitting a problem that delays work and puts back the project timeline by a few weeks or sometimes months.
To guarantee a safe structure that complements the surrounding landscape and doesn’t annoy the neighbors, Wisconsin, and every other state, has zoning regulations and building codes. These ensure everything goes as smoothly as possible.
Generally, you must comply with residential building codes if your barndo is a single-family residential property. In contrast, if part of the structure is devoted to commercial or agricultural work, you must build those areas using the appropriate non-residential codes.
Residential building codes maintain safety in the finished property and ensure the building complies with the law in many categories, including, but not limited to:
- Structural safety
- Energy efficiency
- Electrical safety
- Mechanical safety
- Fire safety
- Storm shelters
If you want to learn more about Wisconsin building codes, consult UpCodes.
However, the final word rests with your local planning department, so for information about code compliance necessary for your project, check with them, as some codes may have changed.
We already touched on zoning regulations. They ensure that the local government’s long-term plan for the area stays on course by maintaining a tidy and logical structure.
Zoning rules provide purpose to the various zones and benefit all residents and businesses within the jurisdiction. The regulations specify the type of house you can build, its purpose, and where you can build it.
Before you buy your plot, check which zoning category it’s in and note any restrictive regulations that may be in force. However, changing these is possible if there’s a good reason.
Talk to your planning inspector if you think you may have issues. We’ll talk about zoning variance later.
Zoning Categories & Land Use in WI
Wisconsin’s zoning boards categorize the districts within their jurisdiction for specific uses.
For example, the main zoning classifications include, but aren’t limited to:
- Heavy industrial
- Light industrial
However, these categories can be subdivided into other classes as necessary.
Ensure your barndo’s plot has the correct zoning category before you buy it. If there are issues, consult an attorney to apply for a zoning variance to alter its current classification.
The zoning board won’t usually refuse a request if there are good reasons. But, don’t exaggerate and make up stories that aren’t true.
Typically, zoning regulations restrict your plot to ensure your property complements your neighbors’ by limiting the following to a specific range:
- What type of property is it, and what is its purpose?
- The property’s footprint dimensions
- The property’s ridge and eaves height
- Your building plot’s purpose
- The plot’s area
- Where are your buildings relative to neighbors’ property and public boundaries?
Zoning regulations are there for everyone’s benefit and maintain order by restricting property sizes and uses to complement what’s already there.
However, some barndominiums are renovated pre-owned farm buildings on land categorized as agricultural. In this case, to legally build a home to live in, you must change the current agricultural zone to residential.
There will be specific requirements that the site must have before it can change.
This may involve spending more money for additional features such as connection to municipal drainage and building an accessible road wide enough to allow fire trucks access. This change of category is called a zoning variance.
We recommend using an attorney or architect for submitting a zoning variance as they have more experience jumping through the town hall’s hoops.
Financing Your Dream Barndominium In Wisconsin
Suppose you’re fortunate enough to build or buy a barndominium in Wisconsin without borrowing funds. In that case, you can skip this section. Otherwise, read on.
If you already have a bank in WI, contact their home loan department first; you may be lucky, and they know all about barndos. And, of course, you already have a financial history with them. Otherwise, you can look elsewhere for sympathetic lenders.
But, don’t restrict your search to barndominiums or barndos. Instead, also search for post-frames, barn-homes, Shouses and Shomes®.
Furthermore, there are other ways to increase your chances of getting enough funds for your project:
- Improve your credit score.
- Increase your income.
- Decrease the amount you owe.
- Save for a larger downpayment.
- Move to a more affordable area.
Some of these are easier to do than others. But, if you can at least attempt them, it may go a long way to increasing your borrowing ability.
If you’ve done your best with this list, but it’s still not good enough, you can also ask if your state or city has downpayment assistance programs available.
You may also find some zero-downpayment mortgages available to you. But these are usually state or federal government guaranteed. We’ll talk about these next.
The federal government guarantees some mortgages to assist those who aren’t eligible for regular bank loans because of a low or very low income or who can’t save for a downpayment.
For example, the USDA home loan helps those who can’t afford a down payment or need help affording high interest rates. To be eligible, you must, among other criteria, be willing to relocate to a less populated rural state, such as Wisconsin.
If you are a member of the armed forces, a veteran, or a spouse, you can apply for a VA home loan, which helps these people buy their home in recognition of their services to the country.
However, you must satisfy each program’s strict criteria to qualify for government loans.
Barndominium Finance Lenders
Here are three of the many home loan lenders suitable for financing your barndominium. For a more comprehensive list, follow this link.
The team at Royal Bank supports agriculture in Wisconsin. They are a great bank to work with and know almost everything there is to know about rural life.
Address: Various locations around WI
Flagstar offers construction-to-permanent loans for modular homes or owner construction loans if you want to assemble a barndo kit. Their base is in MI, but they serve all the states.
Address: 5151 Corporate Drive, Troy, MI 48098
Fairway Independent Mortgage
Fairway is a large mortgage lender and offers many loan types for modular houses. Their products are better for buying a kit and paying a contractor upfront, as they don’t offer construction loans.
Address: 4750 S. Biltmore Lane, Madison, WI 53718
Wisconsin Barndominium Listings To Explore
Although building your home is immensely satisfying, you probably realize what a hassle it can be if your interests don’t lean in that direction. Instead, you would prefer to move in without the significant home construction issues.
However, don’t despair; plenty of pre-owned barndos in Wisconsin are available for sale. Look on our lists for one that ticks your boxes.
=> Looking for a custom Barndominium floor plan? Click here to fill out our form, a member of our team will be in touch.