Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Building an Upscale Barn or Garage, and Living Upstairs....

From an earlier post, this is a true barn hybrid home. The plan could be that after a home is built,  to use the upper spaces as office space, and as napping space, if you are at the barn all night caring for a sick animal.  Photo: Copyright Louisa Barns and Buildings.

This barn has space for a smaller second floor apartment.

This picture, though fuzzy, shows second floor living space also.

       A lot of people, when they see our barns ask if it would be practical to build either a garage or a barn on their large acreage, and then finish the upstairs as living space.  Theoretically, they think that they can build a barn, finish a basic home upstairs, live in it, and safe sufficient money to build their home for cash. Later, an older child, or even a tenant could occupy the house or the apartment at the top of the barn.  This idea has some merit, but there are some decided drawbacks.    First, banks may lend you the funds to build a barn on your property, but they may have great reservations in lending you sufficient funds to finish living quarters on the second floor. This would most certainly be what is known in their business as a "non-conforming loan" which many companies or banks simply won't fund or add to their portfolios.   Secondly, although you can insure a barn along with your house, you will have difficulty insuring your home atop your upscale barn, according to every insurer with whom I have spoken, here in the US.   Among other things, they express concern that if a fire occurs in the lower portion of your barn, which of course, is always a possibility, then your entire house goes up too, and this can be a difficulty for your family as well, who could have more difficulty exiting than they might in a conventionally built home.   Thirdly, although places in the US exist that are not specifically zoned and do not have a building inspector, nor are they terribly concerned with codes, most places would be.   In most places in the US, you would need to have an architect draw your plans, and make modifications to the barns second level to meet ingress and egress requirements. A proper staircase or two could be hard to incorporate, and need to be carefully considered.  Most barn windows would be inadequate to meet code as living space, and this, along with other practical matters, would need to be addressed. (Plumbing and adequate electricity)    Be sure you consider the expenses of having an architect review your project and make suggestions.  Also depending on your area, don't expect to get much of a break on your property taxes. You will still be taxed as a residence in most places.   Also, depending upon the type of animal you plan to keep in the barn below, there could be odor issues.  Alpacas are generally not odiferous when cared for properly, but pigs and chickens can be pretty bad, particularly on hot days.  A barn married to a residence would also have clear issues with mice, an issue which would have to be addressed. In addition, although a husband and wife could possibly do this without children, it could be difficult and dangerous to have small children in a second story stricture above a barn unless safety features were considered specifically for children.  It could be easy for them to be injured by unanticipated hazards.   Lastly, the possibility exists that after building a quality barn with a foundation sufficient to permit living space above, that you may have insufficient cash flow to build the dream house you planned.  Many people are stuck now in what might be insufficient living space for them because they tried a cheaper alternative, which turned out to be inadequate.  It was penny wise initially, and pound foolish.
              This said, I will reveal a little about a friend of ours.   I told him about a large and beautiful property that was offered to me, but despite it being an excellent buy, was too expensive for my family and I.  He bought it and constructed a pond and a really lovely garage with a finished upstairs.  He did have plans drawn by an architect and it was to code.  This was a logical choice for them because both their children were grown and they remained young and healthy adults.   This permitted them a place to live and work on their land, while the economy improved. Once the economy improved, they planned to build their true dream house.  This was a good plan for them because, when the economy sank, they still had living space, and they could retain their large lands without losing them, as many would have.    Their one problem occurred when they sustained major damage during an earthquake last year.   Again, because this is a hybrid structure, neither FEMA or their insurance company would help them with costly reconstruction.  Last I heard, it is being reconstructed anyway, by the family itself.
            We each have to do the best we can with the assets we have and what might be the right choice in Oklahoma or Belize, might be an horrendous choice in Northwestern rural New Jersey.   The best each of us can do, is to consider our circumstances carefully, visit other hybrid properties, do research using the internet, books, and if you get this far, finding a sympathetic architect who has experience in this very specialized type of hybrid rural building.  I do suspect though that building a hybrid barn home or a hybrid garage home may be just as costly as building a barn on your property, and then building a small home nearby or even some of the more attractive doublewide trailers,  with a plan to build your dream home on the same large acreage in another location in the future.
          This is excellent information for planning purposes:

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