Are Barndominiums Safe? (3 Key Features)

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Barndominiums are quickly becoming one of the most popular new-build home options on the market. That’s understandable, considering durability, longevity, and build costs from about one-third lower than traditional housing.

At the same time, you don’t want to rush into any new home construction. You want to know that your new barndo isn’t just beautiful and spacious but also that it’s safe. 

So, are barndos safe? The short answer is, yes!

The longer answer is that while barndos are safer than conventional structures in many ways, their safety will eventually depend on your following building codes and regulations and on properly assembling the kit.

If you’re having a professional team do the erection for you, you’re likely good to go on every aspect of barndominium safety. 

Let’s go deeper into that and why barndos are safe below. 

Basics Of Barndominiums Safety

Barndos are often considered safer than traditional “stick-built” housing.

However, there’s a lot that goes into that and why. 

What is a Barndominium?

A barndominium is typically a steel building with metal exterior paneling and roofing.

Normally, this means you get a 12-gauge steel frame with galvanized aluminum exterior panels. Your doors and windows will typically be the same as you’d put in any home. 

However, the term barndo can sometimes mean any barn that’s been converted into a home.

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In this case, you might have a wood or even wood paneled barn home. Here, you’d have about the same amount of safety as with any traditional wood home. 

On average, a “barndo” is a metal building kit with steel frame and metal paneling. 

The Structural Composition of Barndominiums

In most cases, a barndo is a metal building kit on a concrete slab or monolithic slab foundation. In addition, the barndo can take many forms.

For example: 

  • Standard Kit – The kit uses a “span” structure to erect the frame around roof spans. This allows for up to 200 feet of building with no center supporting columns. This provides high strength and high durability without the need for load-bearing walls in the interior. 
  • Pole Barn – The weight of the building is on the poles around the building rather than on the foundation. This means they aren’t suitable for build sites that aren’t flat. In addition, you need stable soil to build them safely. Pole barns can be made with structural steel or with laminated or compressed wood columns. 
  • Stick-Frame – The metal frame is built similarly to a standard wooden frame. Hybrid barndo structures use a combination of either a pole barn or standard “span” frame and reinforce it with a stick-built structure, sometimes a wooden one. 

In each case, you get a different type of structure depending on what you decide to build. 

Barndominiums vs. Traditional Homes: A Safety Comparison

Barndominiums are widely touted as being safer than traditional homes, but why?

In short, barndos normally use more durable materials. 

Structural Strength and Durability

The average barndominium is built to withstand winds of 160-180 miles per hour. Most also come with structural warranties of up to 50 years, or, in the case of a few manufacturers, a lifetime structural warranty.

Most homes come with a workmanship warranty of about 1 year, with no extra warranties on the structure or its longevity. 

That’s because traditional housing is built out of pine. It’s a relatively flimsy building material but it’s cheap, easy to replace if something goes wrong, and easy to build with.

As a result, many traditional homes only support a wind load of about 80-100 miles per hour. This means your traditional home is more likely to fail or collapse in the case of an extreme windstorm. 

Steel also has other advantages over wooden structures. For example, steel is not vulnerable to rot or to insects. You won’t have to worry about termites taking out your home.

You will have to inspect and maintain your home to prevent leaks and potential rust. However, issues with rot and timbers falling apart won’t ever be your problem. 

That’s also true with snow and snow load capabilities. Most “standard” roofs can take up to about 20 lbs. of snow per square foot.

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Metal buildings and barndos can take up to 140 lbs. per sq. ft. – although this will depend on the specifications set by your manufacturer. 

Resistance to Natural Disasters

Natural disasters like hurricanes, tornados, floods, earthquakes, avalanches, and wildfires can still flatten your barndo. However, your barndo is more resistant to every type of damage.

For example, with no wood structural elements, water damage won’t affect your structure. Instead, you might have to repair the drywall and the flooring, but not the substructure and the framing. 

Similarly, barndos are more wind resistant. They’re still liable to collapse at wind speeds that have a higher rating than the building. For example, if you’re in a tornado with a 250-mile-per-hour gust of wind, your barndo is unlikely to be rated for that.

However, with wind ratings as much as 100 miles per hour higher than many traditional houses, barndos are more likely to survive high winds unscathed. 

Structural steel is also the material that’s most recommended for use in building earthquake-resistant buildings.

However, if you live in an earthquake-prone area, you should still take precautions to build an earthquake-resistant foundation – as it doesn’t matter how resistant the building is if the foundation cracks. 

Fire Safety: Barndominiums vs. Traditional Wood-Framed Houses

Every home is required to meet minimum fire safety standards as set by building codes. Typically, that means a wall assembly must pass an ASTM E 119 fire test at 100% design loan after a minimum of 1 hour.

Type I and Type II wood framing can offer significant fire protection. And, if built correctly, you can get up to four hours of fire protection from a wood wall. That’s with fully applied fire protection including multiple layers of wood sandwiching to ensure optimum fire resistance. 

Structural steel typically meets the 1-hour fire rating with no additional fire protective elements. However, most steel building kits are sold with intumescent coatings or spray-applied fire-resistive materials, which can mean your frame is rated for 4+ hours.

Steel structures are also often rated to support much more weight capacity than they actually are. And, steel can support up to 60% of its load-bearing capacity at 1,000 degrees. Most house fires eventually reach this temperature.

However, steel doesn’t lose full structural support until 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit, which is rare for a housefire. 

Galvanized aluminum is also one of the most fire-resistant exterior building options you can choose. Of course, barndos can still burn. That’s especially true if you’ve used wood accents or the fire starts indoors rather than outdoors.

However, chances are high that the structural steel and the exterior paneling of the home will be fine. 

3 Key Features Ensuring Barndominium Safety

There are plenty of ways to ensure that your barndominium is safe to live in.

In addition, there are multiple features that ensure barndos are safe. 

1. Quality of Construction Materials

Barndominiums are often made of extremely high-quality materials. Most are made of structural steel, which is well stronger than is needed to support a residential home.

If you want to ensure maximum structural integrity, opting for a 12-gauge structural steel frame is often the way to go. This ensures that your building is solid. 

However, that will also extend to the foundation, where you’ll want to invest in quality footing and support for your building. The best materials are only as good as what they’re standing on. 

In addition, you’ll want high-quality and fire-resistant materials for the interior and exterior finishing of your home.

Most regions have ratings for fire resistance, water resistance, and earthquake resistance in their local building codes for a reason. Double-check those and make sure your build meets or exceeds those standards. 

And, you’ll want to ensure that risk areas, like electrical wiring, are handled by a professional to reduce risks from inside your home. 

2. Design Elements for Enhanced Safety

Safety by design is the concept of building in resistance to natural disasters so that you ensure you’re safe in case the worst happens.

This typically means taking measures like: 

  • Using fire-resistant materials and flame-treated wood 
  • Building in fire breaks
  • Investing in quality and fire-retardant insulation 
  • Building in water diversion 
  • Choosing a foundation that performs well in case of flooding 
  • Adding a flexible steel skeleton or isolation to the foundation to reduce earthquake damage 
  • Integrating sprinkler systems or other fire retardants
  • Integrate window shading and overhangs to reduce damage in case of extreme temperatures 
  • Use roof flashing and sealing to prevent losing panels to high winds 
  • Use fire-suppressing vents, flat profile soffits, and joint seals to reduce the chances of sparks igniting the roof 

In each case, it’s important to assess local risks and respond to them accordingly.

There’s no point in investing in earthquake resistance if you don’t live in an earthquake zone. That holds true as well with most types of natural disasters. 

3. Advanced Safety Installations and Upgrades

There are plenty of ways you can increase the safety of your home with advanced safety upgrades. For example, you can build a significant amount of flood resistance by using a raised foundation.

You can integrate fire suppression systems to significantly reduce the chances of fire damage. And, you can implement storm shelters and basements to ensure you stay safe even in case of extreme storms.

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Here, you’ll want to discuss your concerns and the needs of your home and choose the options accordingly. 

Potential Barndominium Safety Concerns

Barndominiums are extremely safe buildings. Provided you install them correctly and have everything installed correctly, there’s very little that can go wrong.

However, you might still be concerned and there are some issues that you can pay special attention to so you can ensure your home is as safe as you want it to be. 

Challenges in Insulation and Temperature Control

Barndominiums are metal buildings, which means that they can have issues with temperature control if not properly insulated and vented.

Circumventing these problems means taking steps to insulate your building and integrate temperature control measures. For example:

  • Insulating, with special attention to the roof, to the minimum requirement set by local building codes.
  • Look for insulation that reduces condensation and uses air gaps and barriers.
  • Use a light roof color to reflect heat.
  • Add overhangs, awnings, and canopies to reduce heat exposure to the building.
  • Integrate breezeways and covered porches to reduce heat radiation.
  • Implement reflective window panes.
  • Choose reflective or cool-metal roofing systems with reflective resins.
  • Invest in good ventilation.

In each case, these steps are probably already considered in your building design. However, it’s important not to take shortcuts. 

Issues with Electrical and Plumbing Systems

Many people opt for barndos because they want to do work themselves. That leads to extra risks in the form of leaks and electrical fires.

Here, you can circumvent those risks by either ensuring that all of your work is inspected and approved by a certified plumber and electrician or paying to have the work done professionally.

In addition, investing in quality connections, properly insulating and isolating electrical wiring, and taking steps to ensure that you have fire suppression installed around key areas such as mains connections, can do a lot to increase the security of your home. 

Security Concerns Specific to Barndominiums

The largest concern for most barndominium owners is corrosion. This happens when steel is exposed to water and oxygen directly.

Most steel used in structural steel buildings is coated with a zinc or resin coating to prevent corrosion. However, if you damage the frame, the coating wears off because of corrosion (e.g. areas with an acidic atmosphere or high salt content can be vulnerable) or if something else happens, you might have issues with rust.

Here, your largest goal should be to occasionally monitor for corrosion. That means looking for leaks, checking for condensation, and monitoring the trim and flashing around the outside of the building to ensure everything is snugly in place.

You’ll also want to follow best-practice recommendations from your manufacturer for resealing the roof – which may be as often as every 5 years. 

Protecting Your Barndo Home From Natural Threats

Any home is at risk of natural disaster or damage. Barndos require many of the same precautions that traditional housing does. For example, you’ll want to clear trees and debris immediately around your home; you’ll want fire-retardant insulation.

You’ll also want impact-resistant insulation if you live in a tornado, hurricane, or earthquake zone. And, adding gentle slopes to the roof can keep snow loads down, so you don’t have to do as much maintenance in the winter.

However, there are extra steps you can take to protect your home if you live in an extreme climate or natural disaster zone. 

Building in Hurricane, Tornado, or Earthquake Zones

It’s important to assess if you are building in an at-risk area.

Taking precautions to build weather and natural disaster protection into your home will not only reduce your risks, it will likely lower your insurance premiums as well.

  • Using foundation isolation and steel foundation framing in earthquake zones
  • Choosing impact-resistant windows 

In most cases, providing you strictly follow local building codes and recommendations, you’re building a structure that’s safe to use in your climate. 

Flood-Resistant Designs and Measures

There are plenty of measures that can reduce the impact of flood and water damage to your home. However, how seriously you take them should depend on what the local risks are. 

  • Implement water diversion around the home to divert water away from the home
  • Build a slope around the home to allow better drainage
  • Implement a crawlspace or basement foundation so water goes under the foundation 
  • Consider implementing a two-story structure with the bottom floor reserved for a workshop or garage to decrease repair costs in case of a flood or water damage

You can also opt for ensuring good sealing around the outside and bottom of the home. Ensuring water doesn’t come in around the doors and windows will do a lot for ensuring floodproofing.

For example, sliding glass doors are typically much more water resistant than standard front doors which swing open. In addition, choosing materials that can cause water damage, such as stone and concrete, for your bottom floors, will reduce total water damage. 

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Weatherproofing and Durability in Extreme Climates

There are also many steps you can take to improve weatherproofing and durability in extreme climates. Here, everything starts with your manufacturer and what wind ratings they offer for the building.

If you need more than is on offer, you can always order a custom building and have it designed to meet the specifications you require. 

  • Adding impact-resistant windows and shutters
  • Integrate continuous load pathing to direct wind loads on the roof and walls down to the foundation 
  • Reinforce gable ends 
  • Use small roof overhangs or none at all
  • Use seaming to cover panels 
  • Use a moderately sloped roof with soffit ridge vents to limit wind and rain damage 
  • Use full-length wall sheathing 
  • Purchase laminated windows or storm-resistant windows
  • Use pull-down PVC shutters or hurricane shutters 
  • Select braced garage doors to withstand impacts of up to 180 mph 
  • Implement a second watertight seal underneath the primary roofing layer 

Each of these measures will reduce wind and storm damage. However, no building will ever be completely impervious to weather. 

Safety Enhancements For Modern Metal Homes

You can always invest more to improve the security of your home.

However, these measures are largely something you can install after the completion of the home. 

Smart Home Security Systems

Smart home security systems use motion sensors, thermal sensors, cameras, shock sensors, and other sensors to dynamically track the security of your home. These systems typically link to Wi-Fi or even to a mobile network and may have battery backup in case of a power outage.

This gives you real-time insight into the security of your home and allows you to respond quickly to a break-in by calling the police and getting to a safety or shelter room. 

Fire Suppression Systems and Alarms

Smoke alarms are required by law in residential buildings. However, you can always upgrade this further with state-of-the-art fire suppression systems.

These can include anything from basic sprinkler systems to powder systems designed to quickly suppress fire wherever it may be. Here, most homeowners prefer water fire suppression systems with concealed pendent sprinklers and high-pressure mist systems to reduce the risk of fire. 

Safe Room or Storm Shelter Integration

If you’re in an area with a high risk of hurricane, burglary, or other disaster that could cause your home to be unsafe, you can integrate a safe room or storm shelter.

Here, storm shelters are typically integrated under the foundation. Safe rooms can be as well. However, you can also opt for simply reinforcing a room on the ground floor in a corner of the home to provide extra support.

Keep in mind that this is not a solution if you have a pole barn, as you’ll have to simply build a smaller full structure inside the home with a pole barn. 

Legalities & Regulations

United States laws and regulations significantly regulate building standards and safety measures.

In addition, these measures update significantly from area to area, ensuring that local weather, natural disaster risks, etc., are taken into account in the building codes. This ensures the safety of your home no matter what type of building it is. 

Building Codes and Compliance

Every home must be built to a minimum standard of the International Building Code or International Residential Code (IBC/IRC) which is then further supplemented by local building codes and regulations.

If you’re hiring a builder, they will already be aware of these including the implications for fire safety and rating, minimum insulation requirements, minimum snow load, minimum wind load, etc. Those requirements can change significantly from state to state. 

However, you’ll have to prove that your building will be constructed to those standards when applying for a building permit. For this reason, you have to have a local architect stamp your building designs to sign off that it meets code requirements.

In addition, the local planning body will look at your material choices and relevant fire resistance to determine if your building will be up to code. 

Regular Safety Inspections and Certifications

Every home is inspected at multiple stages before you can move in. That’s no different with a barndo.

This means you’ll need inspections of the following: 

  • Footings
  • Plumbing rough-in 
  • Electrical wiring 
  • Foundation 
  • Structure 
  • The completed building before you’re allowed to move in 

In fact, before you can get a certificate of occupancy, you’ll have to have an inspection by the local Fire Marshal and the local building planner to ensure your home meets code requirements. 

Liability and Insurance Implications

Your barndo insurance will cover your home in much the same way as for a traditional home. However, your insurance provider may make changes to your policy to reflect actual risks.

For example, you may receive discounts for prospective fire damage. Or, if you’ve invested in an earthquake-resistant foundation, you may be able to receive a discount on the insurance premium for earthquake damage. 

In addition, you’ll have to ensure that your insurance covers all types of risks you’re likely to face.

Barndo insurance is often not the same as traditional home insurance, which means you may have to specifically request coverage for every item you want covered. 

Wrapping Up

Barndominiums are generally very safe structures. If you install and construct them to a professional standard, they tend to be more durable than traditional housing. That’s reflected in warranties on the panels, the frame, and often the paint. At the same time, barndos are often built in rural areas facing extreme weather, which can mean you will want to take extra steps to weatherproof your home. Whatever the use case, barndos are safe, secure, and easy to update to be resistant to whatever weather you’re facing.

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