A Beginners Guide to Barn Conversions: 10 Steps to a Successful Transformation

A Beginners Guide to Barn Conversions

Barn conversions are some of the most appealing conversion projects out there. With rustic charms, soaring ceilings and large open spaces, it’s not hard to see why.

They’re an immensely popular choice for anyone searching for a unique space. Of course, barn conversions take careful thought, plenty of patience and sound design. They aren’t projects to undertake on a whim. But done right, the results are more than worth the effort – both in money and time.

If you’re thinking about a barn conversion, here’s our step-by-step guide. Whether you’re still searching for a brilliant barn or putting that old outbuilding to use, let’s get your project off to the best start.

What is a barn conversion?

First things first, let’s define what a barn conversion is.

We usually think of barns as large buildings used for agricultural purposes. The word came from the Old English bere (meaning barley or grain) and aern (meaning storage space). Over time, these spaces were used for housing animals, storing tools, machines… and even domestic living.

When we talk about converting barns, this usually involves changing use from agricultural purposes to residential. Even if your barn is completely abandoned (or already habitable), it’s still a “conversion” if you’re transforming the structure.

Barn conversions provide a superb opportunity to create an exceptional home. So, what are the steps for a successful transformation?

10 steps for creating a stunning barn conversion.

1. Find your barn

If you’re searching for a barn, start with your local estate agents and auction rooms. They have indispensable knowledge of what’s on (or just about to come on) the market.

There are also specialist websites like Barns Etc, Barnfinders, and Historic England (to check listed properties) that might point you in the right direction. You can also use filter options on large property sites like On The Market to search for barn conversions.

Also consider.

When choosing a barn, remember it’s not just about the property. Carefully consider whether the area is right for you. Those rolling countryside views might be exceptional, but if you need transport links (for instance), it’s just not going to work.

On the same line.

Consider how much land you’d like with the barn. As ex-agricultural buildings, they often come with substantial plots. Is this something you’re able to manage? 

You might also discover legal stipulations covering usage and development on agricultural land – so check this thoroughly before committing.

2. Understand your financial options

Having found your barn, make sure you can afford both the purchase price and the conversion.

Securing a mortgage for a barn conversion is different from a “standard” residential mortgage. This is because mortgages for conversions are a “niche” type of finance. As a result, there’s a limited number of lenders.

You might need a “bridging loan” if your barn is uninhabitable. Once the project is underway, consider transferring this to a residential mortgage. Equally, if you’re mostly building from the ground up, a “self-build” mortgage is an option.

If you need a mortgage or loan to finance your barn conversion, working with an independent mortgage advisor is worthwhile. They’ll help with your application and find the best deals on the market.

3. Talk to surveyors and structural engineers

To create a realistic budget, you’ll need to understand how much your barn conversion might cost.

To get started.

Talk with professional building surveyors and structural engineers. Barn conversions quickly rocket in price if the condition is worse than it appears on the surface. Many barns come with shallow foundations (needing underpinning) and other structural defects (for instance, rotting timbers or spalling brickwork) . So it’s important to know what you’re getting into.

4. Know what planning permission you need

You might be able to convert your barn under what’s known as “Permitted Development Rights”. This means you don’t have to apply for full planning permission if certain conditions are met. 

This involves stipulations like:

  • The previous owners or tenants must have only used the plot for agricultural purposes.
  • If you’re converting a new barn, it must have been fully constructed by 2013.
  • The total conversion floor space is no more than 465m².
  • Your barn isn’t a listed building.
  • You aren’t just knocking the barn down and building from scratch.
  • You’ll need full planning permission if your barn sits within a conservation area, area of natural beauty, or national park.

Even with permitted development rights, you’ll still need to give “Prior Notification” (i.e., submitting your proposed designs) to your local council. You’ll also need to obtain a “lawful development certificate” for the project.

If you’re unsure.

It’s best to check with your council’s planning department. They can advise on the types of permission you need, as well as any local rules and regulations.

5. Remember building regulations

Thought you were out of the woods for planning permission? Well, another critical aspect is building regulations.

Building regulations are a legal necessity for all construction projects in the UK, ensuring these spaces are safe and healthy environments for living. These regulations cover aspects such as drainage, soundproofing, insulation and fire safety (to name a few).

Meeting building regulations means you’ll need technical drawings of your proposed build. This usually means collaborating with an experienced architect and structural engineer.

6. Research your heating options and energy costs

Open spaces and stunning interior features are just two of the reasons barn conversions make incredible homes. Of course, this also means heating and insulation need to be considered carefully. Heating costs (both in terms of installation and ongoing usage) can get expensive.

Rather than traditional insulation (in-between timbers), you might opt for external insulation. This will need to be planned early, as part of planning applications.

Heat can rise and gather in the roof space of a large, tall area (like a barn). To deal with this, you might consider a “mechanical ventilation and heat recovery system” (MVHR) together with modern underfloor heating.

Solar panels or ground source heat pumps are also efficient and eco-friendly ways of cutting long-term energy costs.

7. Prioritise good design from the start

It’s time to prioritise design discussions.

Working with an experienced architect is crucial. They’ll help you make the most of natural light and layout options

Sectioning off bedrooms and living spaces can be a challenge in barn conversions, as too many partitions could make rooms feel dark. That lofty, open feeling that made you fall in love with your barn in the first place could get lost.

Planning for natural light might involve skylights, glazed extensions and windows, making the most of any views. Adding additional openings can sometimes pose issues for planning permission, however, making professional advice invaluable.

8. Treat the exterior with as much care as the interior

As part of great design, focus on the exterior of your barn – just as much as the interior. 

Planning officials usually like to see conversions maintaining the original look of your barn. So, if you have a stone or brick barn, think about the best ways to highlight these distinctive features. If you’re joining two (or more) structures together, creating a contemporary link between them is a fantastic way to distinguish between new and old features.

Metal or black wood cladding are also popular options, particularly for timber or steel-framed barns.

9. Consider your materials carefully

As a rule of thumb, using materials that enhance your barn’s original character is a good idea.

These projects are called “barn conversions” for a reason.

After all, you want to maintain your barn’s original architecture! If your barn is listed, you’ll also have to preserve as many original features as possible.

Consider using local materials for repairs and re-using original materials wherever possible. Your structural engineer and architect will also be able to advise here.

Most UK barns fall into three categories: timber-framed, masonry construction, and metal-framed barns. Use these original materials as your guide and inspiration for the rest of the project.

10. Find an architect with barn conversion experience

Last but not least, finding an architect with previous experience in similar projects is essential. Converting a barn can be challenging, so make sure you’re working with someone you trust.

A great architect can guide your project from start to finish, providing advice from early planning to construction and final sign-off. If you’re still searching, check out our list of 30 questions to ask your architect before starting your next project.

Thank you for taking the time to read our latest article.

If you’re considering a barn conversion, get in touch with our experienced team at EV Architects. Let’s take the first steps towards making your dream conversion a reality.